1 December, 2023


Reframing The Debate Around Women, Peace & Security

By Shreen Abdul Saroor

Shreen Saroor

Reframing the debate around Women, Peace and Security: A UN resolution is in danger of leading peace advocates down the wrong path

When a peace deal is struck between warring factions, it is widely understood that peace has been achieved. However, when key sections of society—in most cases all women—are kept from the negotiating table, is that peace agreement likely to meet the needs of all citizens?

As an individual who has lived through conflict from a young age, I know I have a different perspective on peacebuilding than those who have sat at the negotiating table on my behalf. 

Trying to address this problem two decades ago, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.  Recognizing that women bear unique burdens of conflict and can offer critical insight on peacebuilding, UNSCR 1325 stressed the importance of ensuring that women participate in greater numbers at all stages of conflict-resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. Since its passage, Resolution 1325 has become the organizing framework for thinking about women, peace, and security and is touted by the U.N. Security Council, U.N. Women, and other powerful international organizations.

But while the impetus behind UNSCR 1325 may be sound, does its approach actually make things worse?  Unfortunately, yes.

The problem is conceptual.  UNSCR 1325 defines security in terms of national security. But national security is not the same as individual security: unless a society treats its citizens equally, national security does not guarantee security for all. If we can agree that women bear a disproportionate burden of hardship and injustice in conflict, our priority should be reforming the structures that create those inequalities in the first place.

We know that women face sexual violence in conflict and untold hardships in post-conflict reconstruction.  Their lands and resources are grabbed by the state or non-state actors.  The dead and missing are more often men, leaving women to rebuild their lives in the patriarchal societies that marginalized them to begin with. When the state takes over natural resources or land and sea access in the name of post-conflict security, war-affected women often find themselves with no means of livelihood.  Governments like mine set up factories in the name of development, plucking women from their cultural lands and reducing them to unskilled factory labour with no pathway for advancement.  Thus, the same women who were uniquely vulnerable during the war remain uniquely exploited after it. Recognizing their voices in conflict resolution and peacebuilding requires that we look at the broader context.  That context includes not just physical security from violence but a transformation of their role in relation to the state.

The drive for greater female representation in the armed forces—although ostensibly about female empowerment—works against women in the longer term, undermining arguments against violence. Indeed, the women’s peace agenda is best served by a reduction of arms and security personnel. The answer to war’s disproportionate impact on women should not be to deputize women as agents of war but instead to solicit women’s views to reduce violence and reshape the structures facilitating it.

In Sri Lanka, for example, Muslim women who for years protested the radicalisation of extremist youth were ignored by the state.  When radicalized youth detonated bombs killing hundreds in churches and hotels, the state immediately responded with a repressive national security framework, restricting religious freedom, targeting refugee and asylum seekers for expulsion, and standing idle as manic but well-organised mobs burned Muslim-owned businesses, homes, and schools. States like mine also routinely promote “counterterrorism” laws and apply them disproportionately to arrest and detain minorities. When their husbands are targeted, minority women become sole breadwinners and endure unannounced visits and harassment by security personnel. Adding women to the security apparatus will not change its basic character or incorporate women’s perspectives on peace and security. 

By defining the debate in terms of national security and working for greater participation of women in the security sector, UNSCR 1325’s influence is leading governments and international organizations, including UN Women, astray. It is incumbent on civil society stakeholders to argue for an alternative framing.

What women need is not a token seat at the table, but rather a chance to offer real input in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.  We need our values and experiences to be heard to dismantle the structures of oppression and violence that leave us uniquely vulnerable.  This means a commitment to disarmament, demilitarization, war crimes accountability, human rights and dignity, livelihood assistance, land rights, cultural rights, inheritance and divorce reforms, and lasting efforts to repair war-torn societies to a place perhaps better than before.  It is in shaping this process that women need to be heard.

How do I know I’m right? Twenty years after UNSCR 1325, impunity persists for sexual and gender-based violence.  Even as women have joined peacekeeping ranks in greater numbers, reports of rape and sexual violence against U.N. peacekeeping forces and state security personnel persist.  And despite more women in the ranks, countries like mine maintain the same counter-productive counterterrorism framework in their approaches to peace and security.  Well-qualified women are encouraged to enter politics, but when they do, they are mocked, their good intentions questioned, and forced to fight against the same patriarchal, discriminatory and often militarised structures their presence in politics seeks to change.

What gains are we making in addressing the very problems that UNSCR 1325 sought to correct?  If we take an honest assessment, it is clear we need a better path forward, one that actually considers women’s perspectives in peacebuilding rather than treating them as placeholders in the same flawed approach.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Hey look, it’s an article about Sri Lankan Muslims.
    Cue in the Modi Bhakt trolls to remind us just how evil all Muslims are, how terrible the Pakistani’s are, and give us some misinformation about Muslims from centuries ago.
    Anything to make their racist leader and his racist policies look better. Pathetic.

    Do us a favor and stop spreading the poison that is already going on in India, and stay out of our affairs.

    • 8

      This is a Sinhala Buddhist country. Remember that, Manel. We Buddhists have accommodated Islam for too long only to get bombed and killed. Muslims only took from Sri Lanka and never gave anything in return. They refused to integrate and respect us.

      • 0

        We never fail to realize it IS a Sinhala Buddhist country, every time the gully stories are spread, or mobs go attacking Mosques, burning Muslim businesses and homes, and Muslims are killed inside Mosques. You have no clue do you? Muslims have integrated and got along with the Sinhalese for decades, they have enjoy employment in Muslim establishments, and they have fought in the military and given their lives for the country, but then haters who want to spread poison here, are so full of BS, it is unbelievable. Your “Le” must be Modi “le”. Stay out of our country.
        As I was saying here comes the trolls….

        • 6

          What Islamic rubbish. You guys built mosques all over, placed loudspeakers to drown everything else, imported drugs and contraband, stole our gems and stashed money overseas, had Ministers in every Government to continue expanding, built a Shariah University on Mahaweli land, desecrated our Buddhist temples, encroached on Dalada land, encroached in Dambulla and Dighavapi, and undermined Sinhala businesses. Like the Rohingya, you then multiple like rabbits while circumcising your poor women. And then the Easter bombs to top it off. What barbarism.

          • 4

            Sinhe Le, You fail to mention the Sinha Le Buddhist politicians bombing Tamils to smithereens and proclaiming Buddhism is a peaceful religion.

            Then, these Buddhist Politicians come to the Parliament in bicycles and leave in Mercedes Benz.

            Stop your distractions, and look at your own tribe bro!

            • 0

              That may not be a “Sinhe” Le, but just a paid troll, with too much time on their hands, paid to write hate comments. The Le might be from anywhere, even a Modi Bhakt troll spreading lies and poison in Sri Lanka. Something is lacking in their lives.

          • 3

            Sinha Le,

            Now there is not a single Muslim minister in the govt; is everything going well & smooth? Similarly, even if Muslims stop, the drugs will continue. Corruption will continue, encroachment will continue, etc., etc.

            You sound like, “Corruption is okay as long as done by a Le”

          • 1

            Stupid Islamaphobic propaganda. Full of hate, ignorance, and signs your life is pathetic, and sadly lacking. You will never, ever, turn Sri Lanka into Modi’s India, despite many attempts to poison this country. I guess your upbringing, and lack of education, leads you to write this way. No job, or no job satisfaction. I detect bitterness too.
            Everything you keep saying is straight from the anti Muslim websites, Repeating the same drivel, over and over, does not make it true. You want real barbarism? Take a look at Modi’s India. Pogroms, cow vigilantes, Mosques destroyed, rapes, anti Muslim laws, riots, which the world condemns. Leave Sri Lanka alone.

      • 4

        Sinha Le said, “This is a Sinhala Buddhist country. Remember that, Manel. We Buddhists have accommodated Islam for too long only to get bombed and killed. Muslims only took from Sri Lanka and never gave anything in return. They refused to integrate and respect us”.

        Sinha Le, how can we say that we did not give anything in return? Remember, before Muslims came to Sri Lanka, you ancestors were wearing Amudae and your ladies were walking naked?

  • 5

    Shreen Saroor:

    “In Sri Lanka, for example, Muslim women who for years protested the radicalisation of extremist youth were ignored by the state. “

    Very good! Now put the blame on state, that easy. Do you know that those radicalized Muslim youth had mothers & fathers since they were born, through their childhood up until their teen-hood? Muslim fathers are too busy making money, mothers are too lazy… what you expect children to be?

  • 3

    how terrible the Pakistani’s

    China is an Budhist country, ‘The Islamic Republic’ of Pakistan’ trusts it like it trusts no other nation in the world, Moreover Chinese also trust Pakistan, Chinese have pressed pakistan at every stage to become self reliant.Pakistan’s helped Chinese technology to exploit it’s mineral wealth and develop it’s military and industrial capabilities. also they have shared experience over the past 70 years has convinced both

  • 0

    Writing about women for Women’s Day is like saying “I love you mom” on a Mother’s Day. I hate that.

  • 0

    I am sorry that most commentators have missed the point of your article, by failing to realise that it is a cry for humanity from a person whose concern was never restrained by barriers of ethnicity or religion. All armies are a nuisance, and having more women in uniform to solve political problems exacerbated having armies on the loose, is a bizarre approach to the issue. We can have peace only when numbers in armies are kept to a bare minimum. Armies do not contribute to development and are called into business by sabre-rattling politicians. It is from here that we must approach a solution.

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