American Univesity of Beirut

Women, Peace, and Security: A Power and Paradigm Shift

Karma Ekmekji

If played right, 2020 could be a pivotal year for the Women Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda across the world. It marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action within which one of the critical areas of concern is Women and Armed Conflict. It also ushers the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution on women, peace and security. Moreover, 2020 marks a five-year milestone towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. These anniversaries offer an opportunity to reflect on the past quarter of a century, learn from various experiences, and renew our global commitment to advancing the agenda of women, peace, and security using a more proactive, practical, and innovative approach.

First, we must give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge that in the past 25 years, much progress has been registered for women in the field of peace and security. For starters, extensive research has shown that women are crucial actors and partners of social cohesion, political legitimacy, and economic recovery. It was also recognized that women’s participation in mediation and peace processes can help ensure that peace can be achieved faster and in a more sustainable way. As such, women’s involvement enhances the legitimacy and credibility of any peace process and confirms that inclusion and sustainability go hand in hand.

Multilateral institutions and several member states have elevated the debate of women’s participation to the top level. Ten Security Council Resolutions have been passed on to the WPS agenda, as well as to national, regional, and international legal frameworks to advance this effort. Dedicated government bodies, civil society organizations, and professional networks have done a fantastic job in putting the WPS under the spotlight. Yet, despite the empirical evidence being readily available, the “sad fact” remains, as the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres stated during the Security Council Open Debate on women, peace, and security, in October 2019, that this commitment is “not translating into real change around the world”, lamenting, “it is not coming fast enough or far enough”.

Women’s representation in parliaments has stagnated at around 25% globally, as women represented only 2% of mediators, 5% of witnesses and 8% of negotiators in all major peace processes between 1990 and 2017. Why is it that 20 years after the international community pledged to increase the number of “Diplowomen” worldwide (negotiators, mediators, facilitators, ambassadors, foreign policy advisors, ministers, peacekeepers, peace builders, and special envoys) – has change not come about?

Change has not materialized as it requires, simultaneously, a Power Shift and a Paradigm Shift in the way the WPS agenda is tackled. In his first major address on Women and Power on February 27, SG Guterres admitted that women’s inequality in this day and age is “not only unacceptable; it is stupid”. It takes courage to make such a statement because it comes with an implicit commitment that men need to relinquish power to end the current status quo – a prerequisite for any real tangible change, through a wider contribution of women in peace and security and, in turn, a fundamental Power Shift. Change is imminent granted we continue fighting for it every day.

Change will also come when the those who occupy high ranks – political leaders, top tier decision makers in multilateral institutions – realize that a top down approach is not sufficient to improve the status and levels of participation of women in peace and security, and when the other relevant actors – civil society, the media, the private sector, and academia – fully unpack the mechanics and nuances of working with those in power. Change will come when there is an agreement that the way forward is through partnerships and collaboration of all actors in an effective and committed manner. Change will come, when the WPS agenda becomes less complex to grasp; the results, easier to measure; the impact of inclusion of women in peace and security, recognized by the masses.

The Power Shift would arise from the democratization of the WPS agenda which would engage the public in the debate rather than keeping it limited to the confines of the elite. “Forget politicizing science, let’s democratize science!” many argued in the early 2000s when climate change was still an “elitist” issue. The debate was limited to the top tier decision makers while the average student, teacher, blue-collar worker did not know much about the topic. Twenty years later, climate change became a household issue. It is the topic of 5th graders’ school projects, and the thesis of university students regardless of their major. Everyone, whether he or she believes that climate change is happening or not, acknowledges that climate change is a global issue with a global agenda which requires global leadership to be addressed effectively. Climate change was democratized over the years. As such, unless the traditional and non-traditional actors of the WPS agenda work together to bring the issue into the realm of the mainstream, to democratize it, the UN Secretary General in 2040 will be giving similar numbers to 2020 when taking stock of the last 20 years. This is the Power Shift.

As for the Paradigm Shift, this needs to happen in parallel with the Power Shift. The German Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Michelle Müntefering once said that Resolution 1325 was celebrated as a Paradigm Shift in the way women were included in conflict prevention, peace processes, and relief and recover. However, this was 20 years ago and much has changed since then.

The year 2020 could provide the space and time to explore a new and much needed Paradigm Shift: Understanding the changing root-causes of conflict as well as the future of conflicts. The WPS agenda must prepare for future conflicts. Efforts must be channeled to prepare girls and women from an early stage to take an active role in preventing, mediating, and resolving future conflicts. This head start will give rise to opportunities for a more active participation of women in the peace and security fields in the future. There will be a Paradigm Shift in the realm of conflict, and women must be mentored, guided, and encouraged to prepare for the “21st century conflict”. As much as it is encouraged for women to continue the demand and fight to equally participate in current peace processes and negotiations, there is a dire need to first understand the future conflicts and build the tools to address them. Future conflicts will go beyond the regular playing fields of land, air and sea, to venture into fourth and fifth strategic dimensions such as space and cyberspace. The fields of climate change, cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, trade wars, the space race, food security, credibility warfare, and migration, will all face new challenges but also opportunities in peace and security in the coming decades. As such, new, diverse and innovative tools and methods will need to be explored for conflict prevention, mediation, and resolution.

If those Power and Paradigm shifts are adopted, I believe, change will come.


​​​​​Karma Ekmekji, International Affairs Advisor to PM Saad Hariri and Founder of #Diplowomen

In line with its commitment to furthering knowledge production, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs publishes a series of weekly opinion editorials relevant to public policies. These articles seek to examine current affairs and build upon this analysis by way of introducing a set of pragmatic recommendations to the year 2020. They also seek to encourage policy and decision makers as well as those concerned, to find solutions to prevalent issues and advance research in a myriad of fields.

Opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

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