Indonesia: An Emerging and Crucial Player in Pushing the WPS Agenda Forward
Updated: Oct 1
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). One of the key players of this agenda is Indonesia, who recently passed a landmark resolution regarding women peacekeepers. Continuing with its commitment to its “investment in peace” and building on its campaign for the UNSC seat, this represents a milestone as it is the first resolution to be passed in the history of Indonesian diplomacy (1).
Resolution 2538 (2020)
Towards the end of its month-long presidency of the Security Council in August, Indonesia introduced Resolution 2538 which addresses the participation of women in the UN peacekeeping force. The Resolution was adopted with overwhelming support. Broadly, the resolution calls for an increase in the number of female personnel in UN peacekeeping missions as well as the meaningful participation of women at all levels. It recommends more training, dismantling barriers to entry, the establishment of networks for female personnel and an increase in cooperation with regional organizations. To garner support for its resolution, Indonesia employed the “sofa talks” (2) format to encourage informal discussions and stimulate dialogue between member nations. Indonesia is a pioneer of this format and first invited representatives to discuss Security Council issues in its first presidency in 2019. Even though there is no agenda or meeting records, it has proven to be useful way to test the waters on controversial issues (1).
This is an important resolution as, currently, women only constitute a paltry 6% of the total UN peacekeeping force. Indonesia is a crucial player in this respect as it is the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the current cohort of Security Council members. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia is also amongst the largest contributors of female personnel with 158 members serving in UN missions in Lebanon, South Sudan, Darfur and more (3). Moreover, it is among the handful of countries that has committed to increase its contribution to at least 4000 troops (4). This is also a unique effort to push for the inclusion of women in peace processes as it is led by a Southeast Asian nation and a non-permanent member of the Council.
Indonesia’s Record on Peace
Indonesia has long argued that women are crucial agents and stakeholders of peace. Within its own borders, Indonesia adopted the WPS agenda when it launched its National Action Plan for the Protection and Empowerment of Women and Children during Social Conflicts in 2014-2019. Although there have been several pilot runs and help from civil society, the implementation has been disappointing due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and budget problems. The government is currently revamping the NAP and formulating a new one (5).
The Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, noted that “female peacekeepers possess better situational awareness, can provide comfortable protection of civilians from sexual and gender-based violence, and are more easily acceptable in winning the hearts and minds of the local community” (4). In Afghanistan, Indonesia has supported numerous capacity and peace building efforts, independently and under the auspices of the UN. Under its presidency of the UNSC in August 2020, Indonesia also led an open debate on the challenges of sustaining peace during the coronavirus pandemic (4).
Under Indonesia’s first woman top diplomat, it actively promoted peace diplomacy and the adoption of Resolution 2538 is a landmark moment as it cements the country as a responsible and valuable geopolitical leader. By combining human rights and security, Indonesia’s diplomatic strategy relies on both track I and track II formulations, relying on bottom-up transnational advocacy as well as top-down policy. As a middle power exhibiting its capacity for international leadership, Indonesia lending its support for women in conflict-zones and highlighting the exacerbated dangers due to the pandemic is a sign of the country’s active role as a bridge-builder in the UN. This is also particularly useful for bolstering its image on the international stage not just for gaining recognition and influence but also bringing together countries with similar goals and leading the way for execution on women’s roles in peacekeeping (4). As the world’s third largest democracy and the seventh most powerful nation in terms of diplomatic influence (6), Indonesia is setting standards for other countries to follow suit.
Shortcomings in Resolution 2538
UN peacekeeping missions have a notorious reputation for rampant sexual violence committed by peacekeepers against civilians. This is a deeply pressing issue that needs to be addressed at all levels but unfortunately, the language in Resolution 2538 was very deliberate in delivering few remarks of contempt without actually proposing any concrete policy changes. The issue of sexual exploitation was removed from the final draft, leaving only a tokenistic statement “expressing concern regarding allegations of sexual harassment in peacekeeping operations” (4). Moreover, many European states and the Dominican Republic insisted on changing the language of the resolution to remove essentialist references of sexual abuse and exploitation, noting that it is not a problem exclusive to women peacekeepers (7).
The Resolution also reflects a typical middle power strategy: carry forward the status quo without setting any new agendas. According to Gayatri et al. “this resolution showcases Indonesia’s consistent foreign policy strategy which still views the military as the primary and most effective instrument in conflict resolution” (4). While it is commendable that it attempts to achieve gender parity for personnel in peacekeeping missions, there is no mention of disarmament and demilitarisation as ends. Instead, the classic add-women-and-stir (8) approach is adhered to without addressing the root causes and trauma of both overt and structural violence in conflict zones. A truly feminist approach to the WPS and, in turn, the effectiveness of the resolutions proposed under the framework would prioritise transitional justice measures and healing traumas through peaceful means and dialogue.
Implications for Regional Leadership
With Indonesia paving the way for carrying forward the legacy of the WPS agenda, we should hope to expect positive ripple effects in the Indo-Pacific region which is plagued with civil conflicts with gendered implications. So far, only Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are the only ASEAN members who have adopted NAPs on WPS (5). With Indonesia’s successful run at the UNSC, there is hope that its promotion of the agenda on the world’s most prominent international platform will inspire or even pressure other countries to also address the same.
In line with its multilateral diplomacy tactics, Indonesia organised regional training for diplomats from neighbouring ASEAN countries in capacity building and establishing lasting post-conflict peace (9). Marsudi opined that Indonesia intends to nurture a pool of Southeast Asian peacekeepers and mediators, creating a regional network with a strong presence within the global one. She also signalled her commitment to strengthen the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and make sure that gender is mainstreamed into its peacebuilding and conflict resolution policies (10).
Notwithstanding this, due to the non-intervention principle of the ASEAN group, Indonesia appears to demonstrate some reluctance to address issues of sexual and gender-based violence and human rights violations in Myanmar (5). Although Indonesia coordinates with ASEAN to settle Rohingya refugees and is a key decision-maker in the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (8), its overall efforts in aiding displaced persons is inadequate. Therefore, the salience of the non-intervention principal and the fact that Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee convention demonstrate the constraints (11).
Moreover, even though Indonesia has been at the forefront of humanitarian assistance in the region, it has yet to put forth a concrete plan to address the dual crisis for refugees with respect to the pandemic and insecurity under the Bali Process and the 2016 Bali Declaration (12). While the new resolution will hopefully bring in more female peacekeepers, it is essentialist to think that they can “provide comfortable protection of civilians from sexual and gender-based violence” (4) without considering not only how “displacement amplifies pre-existing inequalities but also gives rise to new gendered risks that require specific responses” (13). On multiple occasions, the SC has addressed the rights and traumas of displaced women in conflict. Thus, with Indonesia’s growing prowess in this area, it is a great opportunity for them to carry forward the legacy of the WPS in the necessary intersectional approach in the Rakhine state.
Ultimately, Indonesia is rooting itself as a reliable and progressive champion of the WPS agenda at a very timely moment, as the 20th anniversary of the beginning of this movement is just around the corner. Although the country is establishing itself as an emerging regional, middle and influential power in these areas by strengthening the status quo of the existing norms of the WPS agenda, it is not enough. There could be no other opportune time such as now for Indonesia to further support women’s meaningful participation in peace and security in its own neighbourhood, by going one step forward to consider an intersectional focus on the gender-differential impacts of conflict.
1. Septiari. D, (2020, September 1), Indonesia ends UNSC presidency with focus on peacekeeping, The Jakarta Post, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/08/31/indonesia-ends-unsc-presidency-with-focus-on-peacekeeping.html
2. Septiari. D, (2019, June 14), Indonesia introduces informal sofa talk, The Jakarta Post, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/06/14/indonesia-introduces-informal-sofa-talk.html
3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2020, August 29), UN Security Council Passes Indonesia’s Resolution on Female Peacekeepers, Cabinet Secretariat of The Republic of Indonesia, https://setkab.go.id/en/un-security-council-passes-indonesias-resolution-on-female-peacekeepers/
4. I.H Gayatri, N.W Veronika, J. True, (2020, September 1), Indonesia’s UN Security Council drive for inclusive peace and security, the interpreter, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/indonesia-s-un-security-council-drive-inclusive-peace-and-security
5. I.H Gayatri, N.W Veronika, J. True, (2020, September 3), What Indonesia’s stint on the UN Security Council means for peace-building in the Indo-Pacific region, LENS Monash University, https://lens.monash.edu/@politics-society/2020/09/03/1381203/what-indonesias-stint-on-the-un-security-council-means-for-peacebuilding-in-the-indo-pacific-region
7. D. Johnson (2020, September 4), Women in Peacekeeping: Signs of Change at the United Nations?, School of Blogal Studies, University of Gothenburg, https://www.blogalstudies.com/post/women-in-peacekeeping-signs-of-change-at-the-united-nations
8. S. Dharmapuri, (2011), Just Add Women and Stir?, https://genderandsecurity.org/projects-resources/research/just-add-women-and-stir
9. M. Ariesta, (2019, April 8), Indonesia Hosts Regional Training on Women, Peace and Security, medcom.id, https://www.medcom.id/english/world/VNxqmrab-indonesia-hosts-regional-training-on-women-peace-and-security
10. R. Marsudi, (2019, April 9), Creating global network of female peacekeepers, The Jakarta Post, https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/04/09/creating-global-network-of-female-peacekeepers.html
11. Septiari. D, (2020, June 29), Indonesia draws praise for assisting rohingya as ASEAN fails to mitigate crisis, The Jakarta Post, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/29/indonesia-draws-praise-for-assisting-rohingya-as-asean-fails-to-mitigate-crisis.html
12. Septiari. D, (2020, May 17), Indonesia, Australia to explore solution to Rohingya refugee crisis under Bali process, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/05/17/indonesia-australia-explore-solution-to-rohingya-refugee-crisis-under-bali-process.html
13. M. Choudhury and L. Arimatsu, (2019, September 27), Reclaiming the WPS Agenda: it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room, LSE Blogs, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2019/09/27/reclaiming-the-wps-agenda-its-time-to-talk-about-the-elephant-in-the-room/