Gendered Dimensions of Conflict and Peace: Assessing the effectiveness of UNSCR 1325

Joshua Ellis, University of Cambridge, UK

Joshua Ellis is a final year student at Queens’ College, at the University of Cambridge, reading for an undergraduate degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences. His main area of interest is the issue of identity in conflict.

The unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Resolution 1325 (henceforth UNSC 1325) in 2000 provided the foundation for the international Women, Peace and Security Agenda (George and Shepherd 2016, pp. 297-306). Since then, eight further resolutions have reinforced this agenda, addressing gender-based violence in conflict and calling for increased participation of women in peace processes. UNSC 1325 is therefore seen by its supporters as a turning point, or “watershed” moment (Anderlini, 2010) in the relationship between the expectations of civil society (especially women’s organisations) and the actions of the international system, particularly the Security Council. Moreover, UNSC 1325 created awareness of the normative framework that governs issues pertaining to women, peace and security. Many in fact view this as its greatest success. However, by taking a sequential view of the stages of conflict – from pre-conflict setting through to the peace process – it will become clear that UNSC 1325 has not adequately addressed the gendered dimensions of conflict. Rather, it has failed in three key areas: pre-conflict and the militarisation of society, during conflict itself, and in peace processes. Given the resolution’s four pillars of prevention, participation, protection and peacebuilding (George and Shepherd, 2016), this failure amounts to a serious criticism of the resolution. In this sense, in order to assess adequacy this essay will identify the failure of the resolution to achieve these stated goals. We shall see that this failure has been encouraged, and at times exacerbated by a series of conceptual flaws. The first section of the essay highlights the failure of UNSC 1325 to address the pre-conflict stage. Gendered issues that stem from the militarisation of society pose a security threat to both men and women, and the failure of the resolution to take this period into account limits the scope of the resolution. The second section focuses on the conflict stage itself. The narrow definitions adopted by the resolution along with its strong liberal flavouring have seriously weakened UNSC 1325’s ability to address issues of sexual violence during conflict and the basic rights of women. The final section, on the peace process setting, highlights some of the achievements of the resolution in increasing female participation in peace negotiations. However, it notes that these improvements have been somewhat limited, and are often void of significant meaning.

Gendered Dimensions of Conflict and Peace

Before we can begin our discussion of the adequacy of UNSC 1325 in addressing the gendered dimensions of conflict and peace, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by ‘gendered dimensions’. For the purpose of this essay, it is important that we recognise the breadth of this term. Gendered dimensions do not solely refer to the violence against women in conflict or their participation in peace processes. Whilst this is certainly part of it, one cannot for instance escape the sexual violence that victimises men during conflict. Hence, it will be useful to move away from the liberal conceptualisation of gender found in UNSC 1325 (Shepherd 200, pp. 383-404). Thus, it is important that we acknowledge the gender perspective, as opposed to the just the status of women. That is to say, we consider the implications of conflict and peace for both men and women, through the prism of gender analysis. In other words, asking why the differentiation of power impacts men and women differently. This understanding will allow us to consider gendered dimensions in much more depth, thereby providing a better lens through which to analyse the success of UNSC 1325.

It is also important to be aware of the definition of security, as it is integral to this essay. Gendered dimensions of conflict in particular revolve around questions of security. So much so that UNSC 1325 sets as its goal the ambition of protecting the security of women, and preventing their security from being violated. However, the definition of security has expanded. It is no longer seen as the “absence of violence”  (UN Women, 2015), but also includes political, economic and social dimensions. In this sense, we see a further flaw in the adequacy of UNSC 1325 to deal with the gendered dimension of conflict, as it embraces a narrow definition of security and to a large extent it thereby neglects the broader security rights of women in particular.

Pre-Conflict Setting

Beginning with the situation before the onset of violence, we see a clear failure of UNSC 1325 to address the gendered dimensions of the pre-conflict process, most notably militarisation. Militarisation, or the build-up of a country’s military in preparation for conflict, presupposes a close relation between the political and military elites (Enloe, 1983). It brings with it pressures for men to take up arms and for women to loyally support the men. It often forces men who do not wish to fight into imprisonment or exile. This is a clear gendered consequence of militarisation, creating an environment that punishes men for not submitting to pressures of masculinity which have apparently decided he should be a solider and fight. UNSC 1325 fails to acknowledge this gender-selective issue of conflict, with no reference in the preamble or operative clauses. In fact, UNSC 1325 fails to address this period of conflict, choosing instead to focus on war-time sexual violence, participation in peace processes and the post-conflict vulnerability of displaced women. Therefore, a key problem of UNSC 1325 is in its limited scope.

In order to understand the severity of this implication, it is important to explore in more detail what happens during the pre-conflict stage. Impending conflict stokes the fires of national patriotism. This divisive discourse is often accompanied by a renewal of patriarchal familial ideology (Cockburn, 2001, p. 19) where women are reminded they are the keepers of the hearth and home and men are reminded that their duty is to protect the women. We see this in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. As national feelings intensified in the lead-up to the Bosnian War, women were urged to leave paid employment and attend to their “national duties” (p. 19). Moreover, in extreme forms of patriarchy, men’s honour is seen as depending on women’s purity. Women who seek to escape this code are killed with impunity. For example, Butalia (1995) identifies ‘honour killings’ in the context of communal strife in India as a gendered consequence of this period of militarisation. UNSC 1325 fails to prevent these acts of violence associated with the pre-conflict stage where masculinity is emphasised and patriarchal narratives are enforced. In that sense, the limited scope of UNSC 1325 seriously undermines its ability to adequately address the full extent of the gendered dimensions of conflict and peace.

Conflict Setting

Even when we move to look at conflict more directly, flaws in the adequacy of UNSC 1325 remain. First, touching on its limited definition of security – as we have already briefly discussed – the resolution fails to address issues such as the security of the right to health or the right to education, all of which have gendered dimensions in conflict. Second, UNSC 1325 is inspired by the ‘weapon of war’ narrative and deterrence logic. I shall draw on Kirby (2015) who argues that both these approaches undermine efforts to address gendered dimensions of conflict violence and terror.

Let us deal with each of these flaws in turn. In relation to the failure of UNSC 1325 to protect the gendered dimensions of an expanded understanding of security, the security of women’s education provides a particularly enlightening example. Modern forms of war have ended the public/private distinction and often it is the civilians who are worse affected. As we have seen, the supposed masculinity of the armed forces has meant that in conflict, civilians are predominately women. The story of Malala, shot on a school bus in 2012 or of the schoolgirls who were abducted in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram in 2014 serve as evidence of this gendered violation of the security of basic rights. In other words, girls’ education is threatened particularly by conflict, thereby widening the gender gap in school enrolment. Moreover, girls are frequently left at home due to their family’s strategy to cope with insecurity. This is a result of gender norms that privilege boys over girls. Whilst clause 8C of UNSC 1325 mentions the Human Rights of women, it emphasises those that relate to the constitution such as electoral rights. Furthermore, Clause 6 touches upon “rights and particular needs of women”, but it does not adequately expand on the rights it is referring to, or perhaps more importantly on how to protect such rights from gendered discrimination in conflict. Instead, the focus of the resolution is on security from violence and therefore it does not adequately address the full extent of the gendered dimensions of conflict.

Let us focus then on the aspect of security that UNSC 1325 pays particular attention to that of gender based violence “particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse” (UNSC 1325, Clause 10). The view of rape as a ‘weapon of war’ is seen most clearly in Clause 11, which calls for the prosecution of those responsible for crimes relating to violence against women and an end to the provision of amnesties. In other words, the underlying implication here is that responsibility lies with the few and not the many. It is not possible to speak of prosecution in terms of the many who commit the act of rape or sexual violence. Nor is the reference to amnesties applicable to such perpetrators. Rather, the resolution clearly adopts the rape as a weapon of war narrative and assumes that responsibility lies with the few who orchestrate this tactic. There are examples from history, which can be invoked to support this narrative. For example, McKinnon as part of her broader argument on rape as tool of genocide (2006: 219) notes that in the Rwandan Genocide, Hutu men raped Tutsi women en masse as part of the attempted destruction of that ethnic group. In some cases, leaders such as Laurent Semanza ordered these assaults. However, Kirby (2015, pp. 457-472) argues that this exclusive focus on military actors’ neglects high levels of civilian and intimate partner violence that occurs in conflict settings. For example, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a household survey revealed high levels of intimate partner sexual violence, despite a general fixation on atrocities by armed groups. In the Kivu region, the number of incidents of civilian and intimate partner violence surpasses 400,00, making it the most prevalent form of violence in this conflict zone (Kirby, 2015, pp. 457-472). Hence, when the continuum of gender violence is reduced to strategic military rape, many incidents will fall outside the purview of public policy. We can see therefore that UNSC 1325 is symptomatic of this failure, and as such it curtails its adequacy when addressing gendered dimensions of conflict.

We have already touched upon the deterrence logic that forms the backbone of the resolution’s approach to gendered violence in conflict. However, the hypothesis that increased prosecution will deter future atrocity further weakens the capacity UNSC 1325 to adequately address gendered violence in conflict settings. The “need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions” (UNSC 1325, p. Clause 11) increases the chance of spoilers in peace processes, thereby potentially lengthening the period of sexual assault. On a strong interpretation of the ‘weapon of war’ thesis, responsibility for rape lies with senior figures. This is an idea we have already explored. If one were to remove the incentive of amnesty for a cessation of harmful activity, the fear of prosecution would deter guilty parties from coming to the peace table. This would extend the length of the conflict, not just violent crimes against women. Moreover, Kirby (2015, pp. 457-472) argues that as a consequence of pursuing deterrence logic, where reliable systems of prosecution do not exist, sexual violence will increase in proportion with the perception that it will not be addressed by justice systems. Whether one accepts this argument or not, it does not alter the conclusion we seemingly reach that UNSC 1325 fails to adequately address the gendered dimensions of conflict, especially that of rape and sexual violence.

The final pitfall of UNSC 1325 with regards to gender-based violence in conflict is that it does not reflect upon the consequences of gendering sexual violence. It pays no attention to the male victims of sexual violence in conflict. Whilst male victims of rape in conflict may not be as common as women, it is still an important issue. The failure of UNSC 1325 to address this dimension further demonstrates the insufficiencies which stem from the resolution’s liberal leaning of defining gender-based violence in terms of its relation to women. In DRC, 24% of men were victims of sexual violence, 80% of whom experienced sexual violence during periods of conflict (Kirby, 2015, pp. 457-472). However, when war rape is understood as something done by men to women, and therefore patristic on heterosexual dynamics, male victims are often ignored. This gendering of victimhood can motivate homosexual rape, forcing men to occupy the role usually reserved for women. Therefore, the narrow way in which UNSC 1325 defines security, along with its gender specific approach to sexual violence presents an exclusivity to the way in which it addresses the gendered dimensions of conflict. When we take its view of rape as a ‘weapon of war’ and its reliance on deterrence logic, the resolution fails to stand up to any notion of adequacy in addressing gender-based violence – a key gendered dimension of conflict.

Indeed, gender-selective violence in conflict that specifically targets males need not be sexual in nature. In fact, Jones (1994, p.67) notes that in the former Yugoslavia the most “serious atrocities committed against males primarily on gender grounds” were executions aimed at eliminating physical resistance to Serbian occupation. He goes onto argue that the Serb ‘militarised masculinity’ was defined against the subordinate masculinity of their male victims. Puechguirbal (2010, p. 177) recognises the failure of UNSC 1325 to address such issues as symptomatic of the resolution’s position within the liberal peace agenda.

The transformative ability of the resolution has therefore fallen somewhat short of the enthusiasm that surrounded its unanimous adoption in 2000. This concern – that the potential for success of UNSC 1325 has been overstated – is shared in the literature. Cook (2009) supports the aforementioned argument, maintaining that the resolution is “poorly formulated” and its language reproduces the “restrictive gendered framework” (George and Shepherd, 2016, pp. 297-306) of the liberal peacebuilding agenda. In other words, UNSC 1325 engages with women as “gendered and vulnerable actors” (Puechguirbal, 2010, p. 173). This not only limits the scope of the resolution, as we have seen, but it also contributes to “restrictive assumptions about where and how women can contribute” (George and Shepherd, 2016, pp. 297-306) to the peace and securities project. This is most apparent in the peace process setting.

Peace Process Setting

Aside from its concentration on gender-based violence, the main thrust of the resolution concerns women’s participation in peace processes. On reflection, the resolution in this regard has not been without success, albeit incremental. There has been a rise in the number of references to women in the text of peace process, from 11% prior to 2000, to 27% following the adoption of UNSC 1325 (UN Women, 2015). Whilst the percentage is still low, it is a positive trend. Moreover, the overall participation of women in peace processes is ‘inching’ upwards. The Philippines is an example of this success. The peace agreement that ended 17 years of negotiations between the Filipino government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed in March 2014, had strong provisions on women’s rights. Half of the articles mention mechanisms to engage women in governance and protect them against violence. This was seen as a direct result of women participating in negotiations. Furthermore, the important shift came in 2001, a year after the adoption of UNSC 1325, when two women were appointed to the five-member government panel. By 2014, a third of this panel were female (UN Women, 2015).

However, a more nuanced approach questions the real significance of this example. An improvement in numbers does not mean that women are able to effectively influence negotiations and shape their implementation. Sarah Taylor (2008, no pagination), a member of Human Rights Watch, recognised that “it is not enough to acknowledge the right of women to participate in peace processes”, but instead one must actively seek to facilitate their inclusion, and ensure their equality in decision making processes. In Somalia for instance, during the 2001 peace process, women were allocated a quota in all six reconciliation committees. However, any decision required the authorisation of a leadership committee of male clan elders. Hence, it is in this regard that UNSC 1325 has failed to adequately address the gendered dimension of peace processes.


We have therefore seen that UNSC 1325 quite clearly fails to adequately address the gendered dimensions of both conflict and peace. However, in order to show this, I have expanded the original mandate of the resolution. It did not seek to tackle the gendered dimensions of conflict and peace as such, but rather the original intention of the resolution was to establish a normative framework going forward that protected women from gender-based violence in conflict and ensured they would be included in peace processes. There is an element of political necessity here, which my arguments ignored. To construct a resolution that aims to adequately address the entirety of the gendered dimensions of conflict and peace would not be feasible. Its sheer breadth would undermine the political will to implement, let alone the practicality of funding such a project.

In this sense, the most pertinent arguments that relate to the success of the resolution on its own terms are reflected primarily in its failure to protect women from gender-based violence in conflict, and the extremely slow pace of improvement in women’s representation in peace processes. The rape of 500 women in DRC in 2010 just miles from a UN peacekeeping station exemplifies this failure. George and Shepherd (2016, pp. 297-306) note in their review of UNSC 1325 that the main pillars of the resolution include participation, prevention and protection: the resolution focused on “the protection of both the rights and bodies of women” and addressing the issue of women’s role in peace and security governance. Therefore, in the specific terms of the resolution itself, it has failed to adequately address the issues it set out to resolve. Furthermore, in the broad terms of the question, UNSC 1325 has also failed to adequately address the gendered dimensions of conflict on account of its narrow definitions of security and rape, its failure to address gendered dimensions of pre-conflict militarisation and its enervating progress at generating equality for women during peace processes.


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Cook, S. 2009. ‘Security Council Resolution 1820: On militarism, flashlights, raincoats and rooms without doors – a political perspective on where it came from and what it adds’. Emory International Law Review. 23, pp. 125–139

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George, N. and Shepherd, L. 2016. ‘Women, Peace and Security: Exploring the implementation and integration of UNSCR 1325’. International Political Science Review37(3), pp. 297-306.

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Kirby, P. 2015. ‘Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: The Preventing of Sexual Violence Initiative and its Critics’. International Affairs91(3), pp. 457-472

MacKinnon, C. 2007. Are women human? Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Puechguirbal, N. (2010). Discourses on Gender, Patriarchy and Resolution 1325: A textual analysis of UN documents. International Peacekeeping 17(2), pp.172–187

Shepherd, L. 2008. Power and authority in the production of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. International Studies Quarterly52(2), pp. 383-404

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