Women in peace and human rights: many gains, much work still left to be done

15 years ago, the UN Security Council adopted landmark resolution 1325 establishing the “Women, Peace and Security Agenda”,

recognising women as active agents of change in conflict prevention and resolution, acknowledging the different impact of conflict on women and men, and underlining the need to include women in all aspects of peace processes.

The momentum and attention created by the resolution, as well as follow-up resolution 2242 of 2015, was surely instrumental in the role that women and gender issues have played in the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. For example, the creation of a Gender sub-commission has provided an important and necessary setting for debates and agreements on issues such as sexual and gender based violence during the conflict, and the differential experience of women combatants, among other issues.

However, critics have argued that more could certainly have been done, for example, to include women as chief negotiators in both of the negotiating teams. On a global scale, despite the rhetoric and repeated commitments surrounding resolutions 1325 and the new 2242, women’s organisations argue that the Women, Peace and Security Agenda has a long way to go before achieving comprehensive implementation in policy and practice by Member States and the UN system.

Full implementation of the Agenda would require implementation across all of its “pillars”: conflict prevention; participation; protection, relief and recovery.  These organisations argue that progress has been piecemeal. For example, although there has been some progress in recognising and addressing the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls, women’s leadership and their full and equal participation in all efforts to establish international peace and security, and the promotion and respect of their human rights, have received less attention, but are equally imperative to prevent or resolve conflicts and build peace.[1]

The rationale behind the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is that, whether via initiatives aimed at countering armed violence or the brokering of a peace accord, peace and security processes will not be effective if half the population – women – are left on the side lines.

The recognition of the value of the unique perspectives and experiences of women has also continued to increase with regard to the issues facing human rights defenders. In 2002, the Special Rapporteur of the then-new UN mandate on human rights defenders dedicated an entire section of her annual report to the particular risks facing women human rights defenders.[2]

Soon thereafter, women defenders from around the world joined forces to form the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC), of which PBI is a member. For the WHRD IC, the focus on women defenders is necessary because, as written in its 2012 global report, “the patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies shape the diverse and often inter-woven contexts in which WHRDs work… [both of which] have contributed to the development of social structures and institutions, cultural and religious beliefs and norms, laws, policies and other forms of public discourses that have resulted in the perpetuation of gender discrimination and inequality.”[3]

This gender discrimination and inequality, in turn, create situations in which women defenders often face additional obstacles on top of the threats and attacks that human rights face in general.

In 2014, PBI participated in the research and writing of a report on holistic security for women human rights defenders from around the world. During that process, researchers uncovered many concrete examples of these additional obstacles. As a Mexican defender recounted:

“I am a single mother and had to leave my home with my daughter and be relocated. I had to look for a job in my new place of residence and could not take care of my daughter, so I requested that the state cover these expenses as part of the relocation scheme. But the state did not understand that this should be part of the protection measures.”[4]

Another woman defender interviewed for the research explained that when they were negotiating with the government to cover certain expenses related to education and health under the protection measure, the Mexican government responded that the goal of their protection measures was not to eradicate poverty.[5]

These examples—as well as the many others that are included in the publication—help illustrate the complex situations that women human rights defenders face when they are threatened with violence because of their work. They are targeted because of what they do to defend human rights, but also because, as women who do this work, they are often perceived as challenging social and cultural norms, traditions and stereotypes about femininity, sexual orientation, and the role and status of women in society- their work is often seen as challenging ‘traditional’ notions of the family.[6]

The different risks and aggressions that women defenders face underscore the need for differential support and gender-specific protection measures that take into account the specific contexts in which they live and work and are also sensitive to other conditions or identities present within the diversity of human rights defenders. Women defenders interviewed for the publication emphasised the need to advance a holistic concept of security that takes into account the historical, cultural, political and social contexts in which they live. In other words, a concept of protection that takes into account how women defenders experience human rights violations differently because of their gender and other economic, social, and cultural factors.



[1] WILPF: Report on the Fifteenth Anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, October 2015

[2] Hina Jilani, “Report submitted by Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of Secretary-General on human rights defenders,” E/CN.4/2002/106, 27 February 2002

[3] WHRD IC: Global Report on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders, January 2012, pg. vi.

[4] Interview with Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Centro de Tlachinollan, Mexico. In: AWID and the WHRD IC: Our Right To Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holistic Approach To Protection, March 2014

[5] Ibid.

[6] Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, A/HRC/16/44 (20 December 2010), para 23

Leave a Reply