A Ray of Hope for the WPS Agenda
By Kirthi Jayakumar
Image: Creator: UN Photo/Manuel Elias
A resolution that had the potential to dilute the WPS agenda did not see the light of day at the United Nations in October. Russia, which held the presidency of the Security Council in October 2020, presented a draft resolution (S/2020/1054) while presiding over the annual open debate on the WPS Agenda on October 29, 2020. The draft resolution was met with 10 abstentions and 5 votes in favour (Russia, China, South Africa, Vietnam, and Indonesia). Had the Russian-sponsored resolution been adopted, two decades of hard work and feminist labour in pursuing the WPS Agenda would have been effectively diluted.
Russia’s proposed resolution follows its demonstrated lack of support for the WPS Agenda, which has manifested in its pointed questions about whether gender issues fall within the scope of the Security Council’s operations, and its averring that other bodies of the UN would be more appropriate to engage on such issues. Unsurprisingly, its resolution reflected a similar, if not entirely the same, mindset. Draft Resolution S/2020/1054 clearly omitted some of the key provisions found in the WPS Agenda, and even cut back on some of the previously agreed and established standards such as the human rights of women and girls, addressing sexual violence in armed conflict, the engagement of women’s civil society initiatives in furthering and implementing the WPS Agenda, and enhanced participation of women in peace and post-conflict processes.
Russia has supported all ten resolutions under the WPS Agenda thus far. However, the country rarely drafts or proposes resolutions, and this measure was received with suspicion and surprise. In effect, despite voting for the resolutions constituting the substratum of the WPS Agenda, the Russian draft resolution threatened to roll back the “protection of women’s human rights, prevention of conflict-related sexual violence, and complete and meaningful participation of women in decisions that impact their lives.” The NGO Working Group on WPS specifically identified that the resolution would have been the weakest among the WPS Resolutions, had it been adopted. The draft resolution did not call on member states to uphold commitments under International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. It ignored the standards set by the previous resolutions and the CEDAW’s General Recommendation 30, and enabled structural and systemic gender inequality by failing to explicitly address it. It also made no references to the role and engagement of civil society in the implementation of the WPS Agenda.
Is the WPS Agenda under threat?
Between the US’ aversion to the inclusion of “sexual and reproductive health rights” within the ambit of Resolutions 2467 and 2493 and Russia’s pursuit of an attempt to dilute the agenda, it may seem like the WPS Agenda is under threat. However, in the two decades since its inception, the most affirmative bottomline is the prevalence of state commitment to keep up with the implementation of the resolutions in full.
Responding to the resolution, China, Russia, and Vietnam – which had presented the draft that became Resolution 1889 (part of the WPS Agenda), Indonesia – which presented the draft that became Resolution 2538 (calling for the enhanced participation of women in peace processes) this year, along with South Africa, which presented the draft that became Resolution 2493 (part of the WPS Agenda) last year, voted in favor. The other 10 members – Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, the UK, and the US – however, defended the WPS Agenda by abstaining from voting altogether, affirming their commitment to furthering the agenda rather than to lead to measures that would be detrimental to its progress.
Russia persisted in pushing the draft forward, and in response, states offered proposals toward improving the draft, focusing on thematic areas such as women’s rights, accountability, inclusion and participation of civil society, and addressing socio-economic marginalization of women and the adverse impact on their rights. The 10 countries that abstained from voting were clear about their stance in pursuing their commitments under the WPS Agenda. For example, the UK indicated clearly that that it would not tolerate a “roll-back of the progress made on women’s rights over the last 20 years,” and warned against efforts that would “unpick the framework that has been so hard-fought.” Further, the Dominican Republic called on States to guarantee that the “gains achieved over the last 20 years are not derailed.” In the words of the German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen:
"Had this resolution been adopted, it would have eroded the hard-won gains of the WPS agenda and watered down previous achievements on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of SCR 1325. This is why Germany along with 9 other Council members was forced to abstain on this draft resolution. There is no monopoly on women’s human rights or WPS. This agenda belongs to all women, everywhere. It is our job to make it possible for the all these women to finally take their rightful place."
That the ten states not only abstained but made it clear that they would not tolerate a watering down or dilution of the WPS Agenda, and their commitment to its advancement by enjoining other members to participate, as well, reflects on the reality that the resolutions have the dedicated and committed backing of state parties.