Time to engage, empower, protect and support women and girls in peacebuilding

By Dr Laura Davis

On 10 December 2018, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions on women, peace and security (WPS). This includes a new policy, the EU Strategic Approach to WPS.

The process for drafting the new Strategic Approach, led by the EU’s Principal Adviser on Gender and on the implementation of United Nationals Security Council Resolution 1325 on WPS, was consultative and EPLO has been closely involved in it both through our Working Group on Gender, Peace and Security (GPS WG) and through a Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) expert working meeting in September that brought together civil society experts and the penholder.

The Strategic Approach is a much stronger policy than the 2008 EU Comprehensive Approach to WPS, which it replaces. In particular, it underlines the importance of preventing violent conflict. It stresses that all EU external action must be based on robust gender and conflict analysis that identify and address gendered root causes of violence. This is important as key priority areas for the EU – such as preventing/countering violent extremism (P/CVE), counter-terrorism (CT) and responding to migration – have been largely gender-blind to date, and therefore likely to do harm and unlikely to be effective in their own terms.

The Strategy recognises the importance of international, national and local civil society in transforming gender norms and building peace – as well as the particular strategies of repression that opponents use to target women peace activists and human rights defenders face as civic space shrinks. The Strategy commits the EU to engage with inclusive civil society and women leaders throughout the policy and programming cycle – and to engage women from diverse backgrounds on the whole range of issues facing their societies, not just ‘women’s issues’. However, it does not go far enough in guaranteeing adequate and predictable financing for civil society organisations (CSOs), even though it acknowledges the importance of this funding particularly in places at risk of violent conflict.

The Strategy prioritises women’s leadership and agency over victimhood – which is welcome. Women, men, boys and girls must be protected from atrocities, including sexual violence, and impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes must end. Recognising women’s and girl’s leadership and agency throughout society and at all stages of peacebuilding, mediation and public life, and working with men and boys to change gender norms are important steps in addressing gendered root causes of violence and inequality. It is regrettable, however, that the Strategy does not explicitly mention sexual and gender minorities, who are too often at extreme risk during conflict and marginalised in peacebuilding, or indeed the EU’s own 2013 guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.  It is also a missed opportunity for underscoring women’s sexual and reproductive rights as well as information and healthcare.

Overall, the policy is strong, but the main challenge will be in implementation and in particular ensuring that the commitments the Council has made to ensuring gender and conflict analysis informs all EU external action, for example, is followed through. The Strategy needs to be complemented as soon as possible with an action plan that assigns responsibility for tasks to the various EU actors involved, and that these are held accountable for progress. At the same time, the Council needs to ensure that in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework there is adequate, ring-fenced financing for conflict prevention and for inclusive CSOs building peace and working towards gender equality worldwide.

Dr Laura Davis is the Senior Associate responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 4 (To strengthen the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach in EU policy and practice which enables the EU to be more inclusive and effective in promoting peace).

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