Women rights

A conversation about women, peace and security to mark International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I co-hosted a panel discussion with British Ambassador Sir Simon McDonald entitled “Empowering Women on the International Stage” at the Australian Embassy on 5 March.  As this year marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, Peace and Security, panellists – former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Penny Williams, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director for Multilateral Policy Paul Arkwright and Associate Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations Magdalena Kirchner – spoke about how far UN member states had come in implementing the resolution and steps to be taken in the future.

Australian Ambassador David Ritchie (right) and British Ambassador Sir Simon McDonald (left) co-hosting the panel discussion entitled “Empowering Women on the International Stage” at the Australian Embassy in Berlin

Australian Ambassador David Ritchie (right) and British Ambassador Sir Simon McDonald (left) co-hosted the panel discussion entitled “Empowering Women on the International Stage” at the Australian Embassy in Berlin

15 years after UNSCR 1325 was adopted, the statistics remain staggering.  As Paul Arkwright pointed out, ninety percent of casualties of conflict are women, but women only represent eight percent of peace negotiators.  More needs to be done to increase women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peacekeeping, humanitarian responses and in post-conflict reconstruction.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director for Multilateral Policy Paul Arkwright, Associate Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Magdalena Kirchner and former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Penny Williams sitting on the panel

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Director for Multilateral Policy Paul Arkwright, Associate Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Magdalena Kirchner and former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Penny Williams (left-right)

Our panellist suggested that improvements could start at the UN level.  For example, a high-level role, such as that of a Special Representative, could be created to ensure the women, peace and security agenda is consistently applied throughout UN departments.

Improvements could also be made at the national level.  Only 48 out of 193 UN member states have released national action plans as called for by the UN Secretary General.  Panellists agreed that more needs to be done to encourage states to develop strategies to implement the resolution.

Penny William’s insights about her former role as Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Women and Girls shone light on Australia’s work in our region.  The role was created as a “boots in the Pacific” not Geneva or New York role.  Penny and current Ambassador Natascha Stott Despoja have spent much time working with Pacific Island governments and communities to promote gender equality and raise issues of concern.  Here, there are good stories to tell on women in policing in the Solomon Islands and women’s participation in the Bougainville Peace Process.

former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Penny Williams speaking on the panel

Former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Penny Williams

Panellists also discussed ways of institutionalising the protection of women and increasing women’s participation in this context.  For example, mandatory gender advisor and sex discrimination officer roles could be created for defence and police forces.  But beyond embedding positions and procedures in institutions, the issue needs to be mainstreamed.  As reflected in the Q&A session with the audience, there are creative ways to achieve this, including with civil society and social media.

In a year full of anniversaries – the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the 105th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (a visionary roadmap for advancing women’s rights and equality) and the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 – it is important we don’t get lost in all the celebrations and commemorations.  Our panel discussion was a stark reminder that we still have work ahead of us on gender equality and women’s empowerment in peace and security and more broadly.