By Lamprini Basdeki, International security expert
While the world is busy with the ongoing conflict in Syria and conflicts in other parts of the planet, and while the nature of modern conflicts has been radically changing, there is a very important issue that the international community has been trying to address: what happens after a conflict ends? How can we create safer post-conflict environments and how can we better manage them in general, so as to achieve sustainable peace?
It is indisputable that in countries where we can see gender inequality, it is more likely to have interstate disputes and violence generated (Caprioli 2005). Apart from being a driving force in conflict generation, it can also be a destabilizing factor in post-conflict societies, as gender inequality holds the risk of creating unstable societies, even after the war/conflict. In that sense, this factor is not to be underestimated. This article will argue that the positive results of the Western Balkans and their use of UNSCR 1325 as an advocacy tool by the civil society organizations can actually be the key towards the reconstruction of post-conflict areas through a gender perspective.
The importance of gender equality in fragile environments
Surely securing peace, reconciliation, and stability is the priority in such fragile contexts, such as the post-conflict ones. But, is it really that much of a “luxury” to add a gender perspective? It sounds a little bit like it is the optional extra which we simply can’t manage in post-conflict contexts, because we have more important things to do. However, “tackling gender inequality must be heart and centre of fragility programming, to both secure women’s rights and promote peace and stability in such contexts” (Fooks 2014). Peace, reconciliation and stability are entirely linked to gender equality, and as long as inequality persists, then instability is an imminent danger. (OECD 2013) An example is that countries with only 10% of women in the labor force are nearly 30 times more likely to experience internal conflict than are states with 40% of women in the labor force. (Melander 2005)
The role of women in societies suffering from conflict has indeed increased, as women take often the role of mediators and effective leaders in communities. However, this is not the case in the post-conflict environments. It is, therefore, an issue that must be addressed in the transitional governance arrangements, otherwise instability will continue and the political settlement will be in danger. (UNWomen 2013) It has taken decades, though, to achieve positive results – and decades to push international documents such as UNSCR 1325.
The breakthrough, namely UNSCR 1325
In October 2000, the landmark resolution 1325 was unanimously adopted by the United Nations Security Council. The importance of 1325 has been critical so as to reach a better understanding of the different roles that women and men can play when it comes to post – conflict management, conflict resolution and restoration of peace. Although not binding, the resolution carries great normative weight, as it has been reiterated in subsequent resolutions and numerous statements by international bodies and national and political actors.
It is important to mention here that the conflicts in the Balkans were central with regards to the formation and the final adoption of the UNSCR 1325. In this particular region, the women’s organizations and other groups have been very active, even before the adoption of UNSCR 1325. It is thanks to them, that the establishment of the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia has turned into reality and that evidence for the wartime crimes were gathered (Irvine 2012).
Lessons learned: the Western Balkan storytelling
The UN and other international actors have present in the Balkan region before and after the conflicts, defending in theory gender equality and women’s rights. However, it was quickly understood by the civil groups that the UN personnel and other international actors in the region were not really concerned about promoting gender equality in practice. This was immediately noticed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo that were already under the UN administration. (Irvine, 2012) Consequently, women and other civil organizations came together in the region with the purpose of promoting political change through the use of the UNSCR 1325, which had just been adopted.
This evolution has been a major breakthrough. While countries experiencing conflict and transition are becoming increasingly complex on a political and security level, the civil society’s regional collaboration in the Balkans have shown exquisite results: there has been an overall 30% of participation of women in the political and security sector in the region, in comparison to the previous period, which marks the use of international law in the effort to underpin women’s participation and gender equality in transitional contexts. (Bjeloš 2013) This significant percentage is showing the results of the UNSCR 1325 use as an advocacy tool in the Balkan area. Apart from what we see in terms of participation, we can also see significant results in the governmental and rule of law sphere: in Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Kosovo we can see that there has been gender relevant legislation adopted, such as Gender Equality Act, Antidiscrimination Act, strategies for fighting gender based violence and similar documents. According to the report conducted by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (Bjeloš, 2013), the creation of legal framework was accompanied with the establishment of various gender equality mechanisms at national, provincial/entity and local level. Last but not least, all the countries have a National Action Plan (NAP), in accordance with the 1325 resolution and the ones following it.
The Balkan states stand out in comparison to all other civil society efforts for a number of reasons. First of all, the ways with which the local organizations have managed to gain and transmit the knowledge provided by UNSCR 1325 into their national governments is helping us formulate a regional and civil perspective. In that sense, the Western Balkans consist the very first case that is providing us with a regional collaboration approach of the UNSCR 1325 implementation, from a civil society perspective. This is a clear example of a cross-border collaboration, in a post-conflict setting, which has shown some positive results in the implementation of the UNSCR thus achieving some inclusion and increasing women’s representation in a number of sectors. In addition, just as Jill Irvine explains in her work “Leveraging change”, the local organizations brought about results that international mechanisms haven’t. To be more specific, Irvine uses the term “double boomerang strategy” (1) to explain us that women’s organizations are more appealing to both international organizations, but also to local institutions, which is making them capable of exerting pressure to both sides (Irvine, 2012). It is important to mention here that the civil society organizations might be appealing, but they are not “perceived as partners to the government. CSOs are of opinion that government does not appreciate their expertise and not using it for the implementation of Resolution”. (Bjeloš, 2013, p. 5)
The UNSCR 1325 has been rightfully accused of being ineffective while a lot of organizations worldwide claim that it remains unimplemented at large. There are of course a number of obstacles in implementing the UNSCR 1325 and it is undeniable that there is a long way ahead in order to fully reach gender equal societies, which will therefore guarantee us sustainable peace in the future. Looking at the Western Balkans, though, and their cross collaboration, we can come to the realization that there is room for improvement, this time from home – and not from international mechanisms. It might just be a different approach of the UNSCR 1325 that we need, so as to reach the desired results and so as to prevent future failures.
(1) The “boomerang mechanism” was introduced by While Keck and Sikkink’s, which is a method that explains us the important dynamics of activists’ strategies as well as the key element of their success. Irvine is creating a new term here, called “double boomerang”, which refers to the strategy employed by women’s organizations and that being sometimes appealing to both the international mechanisms and the local authorities, thus making it more efficient.
Bjeloš, M. The regional dialogue on Gender and Security: Uniting Governments’ and CSOs’ Efforts in Implementation of the UNSCR 1325 Agenda. Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2013.
Caprioli, M. “Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict.” International Studies Quarterly 49, 2005: 161–178.
Fooks, Louie. Policy and Practice Blog. March 5, 2014. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/blog/2014/03/gender-inequality-as-a-driver-of-conflict (accessed April 27, 2015).
Irvine, J. “Leveraging Change, Women’s Organizations and the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 in the Balkans.” International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2012: 1-19.
Melander. “Gender Equality and Intrastate Armed Conflict.” International Studies Quarterly 49, 2005: 695–714.
OECD. Conflict and Fragility: Gender and Statebuilding in Fragile and Conflict-affected states. OECD Publishing, 2013.
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UN. UNSCR 1325. New York: United Nations, 2000.
UNWomen. Gender and Post-Conflict Governance: Understanding the Challenges. New York: UN, 2013.