Breaking Security Barriers

Voices of women confirm the need for a human security approach over traditional security strategies. Through personal stories and media tools, the opening panel of the 2012 Women PeaceMakers Conference, “Breaking Barriers,” called for us to question our definitions and assumptions as the first step in overcoming insecurity and building quality peace.


The panelists wove together a balance of optimism and the grim realities of promoting a gender-sensitive, human security framework. Sarah Taylor of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, noted the progress of documenting the numbers of women involved in peace negotiations. Rather than a black box around the formation of peace agreements, Taylor noted that these indicators track what types of gender expertise are at the table and how that affects final documents. However, Nadine Puechguirbal, of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, reminded the audience of the gaps in the availability of sex and age disaggregated data in conflict settings. “If we don’t have these data, how can we define security? Who is tracking it?”


Since 2006, U.N. member states have been working toward an arms treaty. Despite the delay in signing the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in July 2012, Rebecca Gerome of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) recounted the successful advocacy to integrate language on gender-based violence into the preamble and core articles of the agreement.


By organizing a side event that brought together CEDAW advocates and ATT negotiators, IANSA and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) were able to bridge silos in the U.N. system. When a former French minister from the CEDAW committee heard France was skeptical about the need to address gender-based violence, she went over and spoke with the ATT ambassador. Five minutes later, France issued a statement: Gender-based violence is a priority concern for France and it must be included in the treaty. Identifying and channeling the power of interlocutors that can persuade counterparts was an effective strategy employed in the ATT negotiations. Yet, continued advocacy is needed to maintain these advancements prior to the next round of negotiations in the coming year.


The benefit of strategic and persistent partnerships was echoed by Petra Totterman Andorff, representing WILPF. Andorff linked security concerns addressed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 to women’s increased political participation: “Women’s empowerment is a direct threat to militarism.” In Colombia, women’s groups have sent a letter to the president to be included in the November negotiations between the government and FARC, demanding a seat at the table and greater attention to women’s rights in the process.


Promoting women in leadership positions in security and peace processes is also important from the perspective of the armed forces. Lt. Col. Jesus Ignacio Gil Ruiz described recent NATO efforts to include women in uniform in their missions to improve outreach to local Afghan women, for example. Yet, he acknowledged the limits of implementing resolution 1325 into operations, which was only adopted by NATO in 2007. He explained that the E.U. and NATO have thick policy manuals, but the documentation of implementation is much thinner.


Throughout the presentations and discussion with the audience, the panelists identified four successful strategies to dismantle persistent obstacles to gender-sensitive security institutions: (1) examine language through a feminist lens to critique assumptions about security; (2) collect sex disaggregated data in all aspects of peace support operations and post-conflict reconstruction; (3) enhance advocacy through strategic partners in positions of power; and (4) increase women’s leadership in political sectors that determine security policies. These techniques call for attention to language, ensuring gender inclusion is not merely a pragmatic framing tool but results in real, tangible change; they point to the need to balance numbers and data with true agency and power; and they recognize the deep history of international norms regarding women’s participation that preceded 1325, including the Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW.


Summarizing the impact of these collective efforts to build and implement human security mechanisms, Gerome said: “This [progress] would not have been possible without all of your efforts and efforts of millions of women around the world. We use your research, we use the legal framework of UNSC 1325, and we benefit from the work the women’s movement is doing to make gender-based violence more visible. So, thank you! We will continue to build on each other’s efforts to really prevent violence” and promote “women’s agency, empowerment, to prevent, resolve, and rebuild from conflict.”