How parliaments can work with women to create peace

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The understanding of the role of gender in conflict prevention and peacebuilding has grown greatly in the past 20 years. We now know that conflict and peacebuilding are experienced differently by women and girls than men and boys. However, the gender dimension of peace and security is still less acknowledged and women’s potential to prevent conflict and to build peace and be proponents of their own development is yet to be realized.

It is well known, for instance, that including women in peace processes can lead to more lasting peace. Research shows it can result in a 20 percent higher probability of an agreement lasting at least two years, and a 35 percent higher probability of an agreement lasting a minimum of 15 years.

The Sierra Leone parliament has adopted a historic resolution on women, peace and security (WPS), which commits the government to reforms in gender equality, including removing discriminatory clauses from a section of the 1991 Constitution. The parliament has translated the country’s WPS commitments into concrete action.

National parliaments are uniquely positioned to promote peace, gender equality and women’s empowerment, as seen by the remarkable example of Sierra Leone’s recent steps. However, their role in implementing the WPS agenda has not been given adequate attention or support, especially the potential for greater collaboration between parliamentarians, gender advocates and civil society. This missed opportunity is being addressed by the UNDP’s Global Project on the Role of Parliaments as Partners in Women, Peace and Security, and is the focus of an event this week that’s part of the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63), which takes place March 11 to 22 in New York.

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Peace is linked to gender

The WPS agenda, initiated in October 2000 by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, supports women’s full and equal representation and participation in all levels of peace processes and security. It is largely owing to the adoption of UNSCR 1325 and subsequent resolutions that peace is now linked tightly with gender equality and women’s leadership in prevention, protection and peacebuilding.

That said, while almost 80 countries and international organizations such as NATO have made WPS commitments, including National Action Plans for WPS (WPS NAPs), their implementation has been slow and patchy at best. Less than half of all WPS NAPs are reflected in national budget allocations, and 28 percent do not include monitoring and evaluation.

Typically, the executive branch leads a country’s efforts on peace, responsible for the design and implementation of laws and policies, and the national budget. This can make independent oversight by parliaments, audit institutions or civil society challenging. By extension, an often-made assumption is that policy issues such as the implementation of WPS commitments and NAPs fall under the purview of the executive.

However, this assumption overlooks parliaments. As in all other policy areas, parliament is responsible for overseeing the executive branch, ensuring a fair level of budgetary allocations and efficient use of state resources, and setting legal parameters for WPS issues. As people’s elected representatives, parliamentarians are best placed to understand citizens’ needs and concerns, bring them onto the political agenda and reflect them in laws and policies. Their role is essential in managing social crises, preventing violent conflict and shaping conditions for sustainable peace. Parliaments also have the power to pass inclusive laws that support gender equality and human rights, and to ensure that gender-sensitive reforms are adequately financed.

Great potential for change

Despite these important functions, the engagement of parliaments on WPS has not been given much systematic attention or support, with the potential for greater collaboration between MPs, gender advocates and women’s organizations particularly overlooked. UNDP’s Global Project on the Role of Parliaments as Partners in Women, Peace and Security is working to address this. Supported by the Government of Norway, it is being piloted in four countries: Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

The first results are encouraging. Sierra Leone’s parliamentary resolution was the result of over a year of consultations, dialogues and meetings supported by UNDP, including a two-day national workshop in Freetown in July 2018, which was attended by 40 MPs and followed by a briefing for the country’s president.

In Kyrgyzstan, which has a WPS National Action Plan, the parliament has developed its own WPS Road Map, which identifies specific actions to be prioritized by MPs. It’s the result of extensive consultations with women’s organizations and local decision-makers in the country’s seven provinces.

Sri Lanka has showed how MPs can work to integrate WPS issues through many national development frameworks, rather than as a standalone plan. The Public Finance Committee, supported by UNDP, held a public hearing on gender equality and WPS budget proposals, questioning ministries on their plans and budgets.

Parliaments and civil society organizations who participated in the pilot will speak at our CSW63 side event about shaping women’s participation and representation in democratic processes. The event will showcase how the project has successfully brought together the mutually-supporting agendas on WPS and SDGs, by promoting gender equality and inclusive decision-making.

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By Nika Saeedi, UNDP Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding, Gender Specialist, and Agata Walczak, UNDP Peacebuilding and Parliament Strengthening Expert

Photos: UNDP / Fay Daoud

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