Empty chair policy? The EEAS and WPS in 2021

By Laura Davis

At the end of 2020, the peacebuilding sector marked the twentieth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women Peace and Security. Many EPLO members and Academic Friends held and participated in events marking the anniversary. 

These events took place, of course, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which have themselves been heavily gendered, including worsening the so-called ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women and girls.  Online events were able to bring different people together who might otherwise not have been able to meet. These same events excluded others who could not participate either due to lack of access to equipment and stable internet,  or due to the dangers of online participation faced, in particular, by women and LGBT human rights defenders and peacebuilders. 

Reviewing UNSCR 1325 from the perspective of EPLO’s work, one of the key achievements of the last years is surely the EU’s adoption of its Strategic Approach to Women, Peace and Security (2018) and the accompanying Action Plan (2019). The Strategic Approach is a holistic policy, emphasising the centrality of WPS to all external action, and the Action Plan is intended to monitor implementation. The Action Plan has subsequently been integrated into the European Commission’s Gender Action Plan (GAP) III, which makes implementation more likely.

The EU’s Principal Adviser on Gender (PAG), Ambassador Maria Marinaki managed a deeply consultative process that engaged European civil society experts in drafting the Strategy, despite very limited resources.

(A sad irony, however, is that civil society was then dropped from the EU’s informal Task Force on WPS, the only EU platform for systematic civil society consultation on WPS, after the adoption of the Strategy).

Ambassador Marinaki’s term came to an end in 2020. We at EPLO thank her for her leadership on pushing gender equality in EU foreign policy, for deftly shepherding the Strategy and Action Plan to adoption, and for setting up mechanisms to ensure that the Strategy is not left as words on paper, as too often happened to the earlier EU’s Comprehensive Approach on WPS. 

The rights of women and LGBTIQ people within the EU are under intense pressure now. We welcomed the Commission’s first ever LGBTIQ Equality Strategy and its explicit reminder that the EU is bound to protect and promote the rights of LGBTIQ people in its external action, too. 

However, the role of Principal Adviser on Gender (or equivalent) has not been filled – and it is thanks to pressure from MEPs that the recruitment process has been launched. This empty chair suggests that the EEAS senior management does not take gender equality as seriously as the Treaty, as well as the Strategy on WPS requires it to. 

Equality, as we have had several thousand years to discover, does not happen by itself. The EEAS urgently requires a senior adviser to ensure EU external action, including peacebuilding, meets its Treaty obligations. 

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