UNSCR 1325: The Promise and Limitations of National Action Plans in Asia
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security is considered a landmark resolution, but its promise to transform women from victims to peacebuilders has not been realised in practice. WILPF and other civil society organisations have routinely called for clearer monitoring and evaluation of the resolution by the UN and its Member States.
In 2002, a Security Council Presidential Statement called on UN Member States to develop national level initiatives to help to implement UNSCR 1325. Globally, a number of donor states as well as countries emerging from extended periods of armed conflict have taken steps to develop National Action Plans (NAPs). WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security programme (PeaceWomen) actively monitors UNSCR 1325’s implementation and has traced the development of NAPs.
Initially driven by Northern European States, the tenth anniversary saw a spike in the development of NAPs globally, and the Philippines became the first Asian state to adopt such a plan in 2010 followed shortly after by Nepal in 2011. In 2014 the Republic of Korea (South Korea) adopted a NAP followed in 2015 by Afghanistan and Japan.
Given that many countries across Asia have experienced significant political upheaval and instability as a result of armed conflict, UNSCR 1325 is an important resolution for the region but it took a decade before the formal adoption of any national level initiative. Why hasn’t UNSCR 1325 had much traction in Asia?
Women, Peace and Security in Asia
UNSCR 1325 is highly relevant to Asian contexts, but the resolution is met with resistance. Asia is incredibly diverse as a region, with multiple cultures, ethnicities and languages. Asia’s colonial history also heavily weighs on the region, with out-dated, colonial penal laws remaining on the books in many states. Several states have experienced sustained periods of armed conflict including Nepal and the Philippines. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea pose an ongoing risk to peace and security in the region. It remains to be seen how the recent election of Taiwan’s first female president Tsai Ing-wen will impact upon cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan.
Women continue to be deeply affected by armed conflict and its aftermath across the region. South Korean ‘comfort’ women who were engaged in sexual slavery during World War II have waited decades for a formal apology and compensation from the Japanese Government. More than half a century of repressive military rule and fighting in Myanmar’s ethnic peripheries has triggered mass migration of Karen refugees across the border to Thailand. Women combatants actively participated in the decade-long Maoist insurgency against the Nepalese government. How can UNSCR 1325 be effectively implemented in Asian contexts?
Asia is increasingly important as a region with the growing prominence of China and India in global affairs. Several countries including India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines contribute a significant number of police and troops to international peacekeeping operations. But, unlike Europe or Africa, there is no region-wide human rights body.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the only recognisable international body, yet it operates differently to the European Union and relations between ASEAN Member States are based on the principles of consensus and non-interference. With no institutional momentum to drive forward national responses to UNSCR 1325, the resolution’s successful implementation is reliant on the political will of individual countries.
ASEAN’s ten Member States include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – many of which have a chequered human rights record. Although ASEAN has taken steps to tackle gender-based violence within South East Asia including human trafficking, to date only the Philippines has proactively taken steps to implement UNSCR 1325. Indonesia rejected the development of a NAP and instead adopted a Presidential Decree on the protection of women and children during civil conflict in 2014.
Asian National Action Plans
Globally, the first generation of NAPs on Women, Peace and Security were adopted by donor states including Denmark and the UK and were ‘outward’ looking. These initiatives largely focused on participation in international peacekeeping operations and bilateral programmes with conflict countries. In contrast, both the Philippines and Nepal’s NAPs are ‘inward’ looking and context-specific.
The Philippines and Nepal’s NAPs broadly reflect UNSCR 1325’s three basic pillars of prevention, participation and protection, though each has several unique features. The Philippines includes small arms within the scope of the plan, recognising how a proliferation of small arms and a culture of gun violence in Filipino society may pose a potential threat to women’s peace and security. The Nepal plan recognises fourteen categories of conflict-affected women including single women (widows) and disabled women.
Importantly, each NAP includes indicators such as the number of women in peace negotiations or the number of women candidates in elections as one method of measuring women’s participation. For both the Philippines and Nepal, a lack of resources and underdevelopment pose serious challenges to the successful implementation of the NAPs. Nepal recognises that the support of donors will be important to put the plan into action.
South Korea launched its NAP in 2014 when it was a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Though the country is not actively engaged in armed conflict with North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) tensions between sides continue. Given South Korea’s developed market and role as an international donor, the NAP is both ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ looking. Significantly, historical human rights violations are recognised, with the NAP including support services to women survivors of the ‘comfort system.’
Making UNSCR 1325 Relevant in Asian Contexts
UNSCR 1325 is highly relevant to Asian contexts, but the resolution is met with resistance. The slow rate of adoption of NAPs across the region may relate to reluctance on the part of Asian states to transplant universal norms into domestic contexts. Though ASEAN states, at least on paper, have all committed to CEDAW and have adopted resolutions on violence against women and children.
Globally, the role and effectiveness of National Action Plans remains to be seen. Many first generation plans lacked adequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, repeating UNSCR 1325’s own flaws.
The Philippines and Nepal National Action Plans present a useful illustration of how Asian states can make the women, peace and security agenda relevant to national contexts by linking UNSCR 1325 with broader developmental goals and gender equality. It is clear however, without adequate financial resources and political will to implement UNSCR 1325 these ambitious National Action Plans are also at risk of foundering.
/by Amy Barrow
About the author
Amy Barrow is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), where she is a founding member of the Centre for Rights and Justice (CRJ) as well as a member of the Gender Research Centre and the Centre for Civil Society Studies.
Amy’s research expertise includes UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the development of norms on women, peace and security; gender and the law; human rights; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, and socio-legal research methods. Amy has a keen interest in how international law filters down to the grass-roots level, and is used by multiple actors in society. Amy is a member of the WILPF 1325 Working Group.