Dr Lina Abirafeh examines the impact of Resolution 1325 in the Arab region, and examines areas for improvement.
Progress is too slow, political will is not strong enough and pushback against the needs and interests of women is threatening the progress made.
– Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
In October 2020, twenty years will have passed since the first resolution on Women, Peace and Security, UN Security Council Resolution 1325, was adopted. The Security Council continues to reaffirm the critical nature of the WPS Agenda and remains “deeply concerned”, despite its poor track record of achievement.
The Women, Peace and Security Index measures inclusion, injustice, and security, while capturing women’s autonomy and empowerment. It brings hard data to a known truth: gender inequity knows little distinction between public and private spheres. The fight for gender equality must exist at every intersection of daily life, with localized definitions of security and justice informing our work at every level. Without security in our homes, state security is a moot point.
Women in the Arab Region: A Long Road Ahead for UNSCR 1325
The WPS Index 2019 report states that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities”. Yet, after 20 years of attempted advocacy, progress in the Arab region has been scant.
We see poor performance in the region as a whole, with high levels of organized violence and pervasive discriminatory laws. The disempowerment of women in the Arab region, where 8 out of the 10 worst performers globally are hosted, is systemic. Some improvements around discriminatory laws have been made on paper, but outdated and oppressive customs often rule over the law. Despite perceived legislative improvements, all 16 countries of the region are below the global average, 9 of them ranked among the 12 worst performers. Countries in conflict rank especially low on the Index.
Superficial Equality & Quotas
Donors focus on participation because baselines and targets can be reduced to numbers […] participation in numbers alone is low hanging fruit – the pillar that requires least dismantling of the system – WPS expert
The WPS Index highlights the pitfalls of aesthetic fixes like quotas. Having a mandated percentage of women in parliament does not result in material impact if the country fails at improving women’s economic inclusion. Quotas do not account for the factors that prevent a woman from reaching professional opportunities and positions of influence. In the case of Lebanon, 65% of women complete secondary education, 45.8 tertiary, both rates superior than men (64.8 and 39.6), yet women’s labour force participation only amounts to 25.9%.
Local & National Limitations
There are not single size solutions, especially when it comes to the National Action Plans (NAPs) encouraged as a part of 1325. What if civil society and the government are in conflict, lack transparency or communication, or fundamentally disagree about the future of the country? What if the government does not allow women’s voices into the dialogue around state-building and socio-political structures? What if, like the women in Palestine and Kurdish territories, people lack a state completely? Without a coherent, singular set of national objectives or a government willing to engage, the NAP strategy is difficult to employ.
Without a buy-in from women at the local levels, there is no commitment to WPS. More localized knowledge building on the intersections of women, peace, and security has the potential to disrupt the notion of a singular nation-wide ‘women’s agenda.’ Lacking language translations turns into a major hindrance in involving people at the local level. Twenty years on, there is still a lack of WPS resources translated in Arabic and given to women at local levels where these issues have the most damaging impact. Disconnect exists in abundance; there is a lack of acknowledgment of the role that women play at the local level in peacebuilding during conflicts as well, notably and dangerously in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
Even in places where the NAP strategy has potential, the region is not reflecting success. Only five Arab states are currently developing one at all.
The Structural Incompatibility of Conflict & Feminist Movements
Five countries in the region are considered “Fragile states”, suspended where the lack of women’s rights are the most exacerbated, and where necessary, life-affirming advocacy is most sidelined. Humanitarian response continues to fall short with gender-targeted needs. In 2017 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen issued 14 statements on the humanitarian situation, and only one included gender analysis. Funding prioritization for short term humanitarian aid often means that organizations have to pause their long-term, restorative gender justice agendas or stop them all-together.
Only 2 peace agreements address violence against women and only 26.8% (32 out of 119) of signed agreements have gendered provisions. When peace agreement rhetoric fails to account for violence against women’s bodies as a factor in conflict and peace, is there hope for structural changes beyond physical violence and a direct threat to life?
There is a lack of sustained financial commitment for women-led movements and revolutions happening all around us in the Arab region. Women’s demands cannot be a sideline issue when they are positioned at the heart of instability and inequity. Gender mainstreaming can, alongside the impacts discussed, prevent women’s needs from being ignored when conflict arises or states are being challenged or rebuilt; and help avoid a reproduction of unequal, oppressive gender roles in current humanitarian intervention practices.
Women are the first to mitigate crisis, fighting everyday despite the risks they face as protesters and rights advocates. Despite the systemic lack of funding to feminist movements and women’s organizing.
This moment we cannot miss, as it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the WPS. When the collisions of women’s demands, feminist movements, and revolution are shaking and galvanizing the Arab region. We need donors committed to bridging communities and supporting feminist and women’s organizations. Feminists and women that fight at the messy intersections of conflict, migration, climate justice, gendered violence, globalized capitalist, and human rights.
Academia plays a unique role.
As an independent convener with a long-established track record, AiW holds a neutral position that allows it to work with all kinds of civil society groups. Setting a feminist outlook while linking academia, activism and UN agencies is crucial. AiW serves as a catalyst for policy change regarding women’s rights in the region.
About the Author: Dr. Lina Abirafeh is the Executive Director of The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University. She has served in this position since 2015 and is based in New York and Lebanon. Established in 1973, AiW is the first women’s institute in the Arab region – and one of the first globally. Lina brings a strong feminist activist orientation to the Institute, promoting education and research to advance social change and policy change – and ultimately to improve the lives of women and girls in the Arab region. Prior to joining AiW, Lina spent over 20 years in development and humanitarian contexts, working with the United Nations and other international organizations in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, and others. Her specific expertise is in gender-based violence prevention and response, summarized by her TEDx talk, Women Deliver PowerTalk, keynote address for Swedish International Development Agency annual meeting, and latest podcast interview, amongst others. Lina completed her doctoral work from the London School of Economics and published “Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan: The Politics and Effects of Intervention” based on her research. She speaks and publishes frequently on a range of gender issues such as gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, what’s holding Arab women back from equality, bodily integrity and autonomy, female humanitarian aid workers, women in conflict – for instance in Sudan and Yemen, and so on. Lina is active on Twitter and blogs on current issues including the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Palestine and feminism, and other critical conversations. Lina is frequently in the media, most recently profiled in The Native Society, where she shared her story as a feminist activist. Additionally, Lina is a board member of various organizations including SheDecides, Forced Migration Review, and Greenpeace MENA, amongst others. In 2018, Lina was listed as one of the Gender Equality Top 100: The Most Influential People in Global Policy – one of only two Arabs to make the list. She received this honor again in 2019 from over 9000 nominations.