On 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (SC1325) affirming the importance of women's voices in the resolution of war and conflict. For women and women's organisations, this was an extraordinary achievement. The UN remains, as it has ever been, male-dominated. No woman has ever headed the UN. Despite the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in all top level positions, women tend to be discounted as leaders, for women figure in far fewer numbers in any but lower level and support roles. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson then Louise Arbor held the highest positions women had attained in the UN. Women have held the office of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women since its inception in 2009. Meanwhile a woman heads the women's division – now titled UN Women. Despite these appointments, little has changed since 1973, when Shirley Hazzard wrote her searing critique of the UN, The Defeat of an Ideal, which she followed in 1990 with Countenance of Truth.
The UN Security Council is most patriarchal of all. Nonetheless, after years of lobbying, it acknowledged the importance of women's place not only at the conference table but at all levels in post-conflict and post-war negotiations. Of course, this recognition would not have come without the concerted efforts of women and women's organisations and still, more than ten years on, despite SC1325, women's inclusion under SC Resolution 1325 has increased to 11 per cent only.
In Iraq, women say they have 'less political influence' now than 'at any time before the US invasion'. Despite a parliamentary quota which means women members constitute 25 per cent, today women's affairs is the sole portfolio held by a woman. No woman was included in the negotiations that determined upon a compromise government, although over the period 2006-2010 six women, then four, led ministries. SC1325 appears to have had minimal, if any, impact on reconstruction or plans for moving forward.
In Afghanistan, women have been lobbying for inclusion in talks involving the Taliban, but are not confident that commitments will be honoured. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the organisation most constructively orientated and best placed to provide non-adversarial insights into resolving not only the political conflict, but the economic programme necessary to ensure forward movement in health and education is ignored. RAWA's programme of training and development stands as a beacon in a ravaged landscape. Yet RAWA is seen by some as antagonistic to Afghanistan's development, simply because RAWA promotes women and girls' education and sees foreign occupation as detrimental to Afghanistan's future.
In Africa, despite strong women and the cooperative strength of women's organisations, the picture is bleak. Rwanda has made a gigantic leap, with a parliament seating more than 50 per cent women, a woman Speaker and eight ministries held by women. Yet this is the exception. Despite women's central role in ending South African apartheid and ensuring the Constitution recognises women as fully autonomous political, social and economic beings, the ANC and the Parliament have not embraced women's equality as meaning precisely that: equal numbers of women, equal power of women, everywhere and nowhere ignored. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) generational rape of women and girls continues unremittingly. Women have established 'recovery camps' for victims/survivors, many of whom are accompanied by the children born of rapes, and some of whom are themselves the offspring of raped mothers. Women's equal participation in negotiations and discussions for seeking an end to the conflict is remote.
The 'Arab Spring' has seen no ice-thaw so far as women's power and presence at the negotiation table is concerned. Women were at the forefront of demonstrations in Egypt to dislodge Hosni Mubarak and his charlatan cohort. Yet come his departure and the purported reconstruction of the country and its politics, women are sidelined. SC1325 apparently has no meaning, with the part played by women in seeking a free future for Egypt – women and men, girls and boys – has passed into (or more likely out of) history. Even before Mubarak's departure, women demonstrators were attacked and sexually harassed in Tahrir Square. Is it solely the women of Egypt, together with women around the world who saw and identified with them, who will remember, in herstory, these brave demonstrators for liberty, equality and unity in struggle?
There is, too, another dimension to the application of SC1325 – this not even recognised in its breach. While UN Member States such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia call for women's equality in the remaking of countries riven by war and conflict, there is no recognition of SC1325 as having application in resolving conflicts in these 'first world' nations themselves. Why not?
The Preamble to SC1325 refers initially to 'armed conflict'. Yet SC1325 does not limit itself to war and conflicts where arms are employed. Rather, it affirms 'the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building', further 'stressing the importance of [women's] equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase [women's] role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution'. It affirms, too, 'the need to implement fully international humanitarian and human rights law that protects the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts'.
'Armed' conflict returns, again, in that part of SC1325 'urging' and 'encouraging' action on the part of Member States and the Secretary-General. At the same time, 'conflict' (without the 'armed' qualifier) appears in significant paragraphs, including but not limited to those where the SC:
1. Urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict;
2. Encourages the Secretary-General to implement his strategic plan of action … calling for an increase in the participation of women at decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes; …
Conflicts are not limited to Africa, the Balkans or the Middle-East. The United States has experienced race rioting at various periods of its history, most recently in Cincinatti in 2001 following the shooting of a 19-year-old African American, Timothy Thomas, by a 'white' police officer, as has the United Kingdom. In August 2011, riots occurred in London, Birmingham and other centres, whilst for Australia, in 2005 race riots occurred on Sydney's northern beaches, spreading to other suburbs. This was not the first time race and riots had become an issue for Australia.
She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.