Women. Power. Peace.

WAND and the UN by Sayre Sheldon

by Sayre Sheldon

Today as WAND is taking more of a leadership role in advancing work on the U.S. National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, it makes sense to look back on WAND's connection with the UN. It is a long one because from the beginning many of our members were involved in UN activities, particularly in support of its disarmament programs. WAND began to take part officially with the UN in 1994 when WAND participated in the preparatory review for the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference. The review was successful, ending for the first time with an unanimous decision to go ahead with the treaty’s provisions.

That same year, 1995, was also the year of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the final conference in a series of international women’s meetings begun in 1975. WAND registered as an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in order to send representatives to Beijing. WAND delegates stayed in Beijing and took the bus most days out to the small town of Hairou where the non-official NGO conference was being held. Thousands of women from all over the world made it an impressive and colorful event. We also went some days to the official conference, where the delegations included men--a few were entirely men.

When Hilary Clinton spoke at Hairou towards the end of the conference, the response was passionate. It was clear the she was already recognized as a world leader for women’s rights.  After Beijing, with the encouragement of the Clinton administration, WAND and other women’s groups in the Massachusetts united in a “Beijing and Beyond” effort and finally succeeded in establishing a Women’s Commission for Massachusetts.

Peggy Kerry represented WAND at the UN until she joined the U.S. Mission staff in late 1997 and had to recuse herself. Other WAND Board members took her place, mainly attending and covering the UN’s disarmament conferences. WAND reports from the UN were circulated to members in our Bulletins and at board meetings.

In May 2000, a major step for women was taken with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325). It was the long-overdue recognition that without including the perspectives and voices of women in conflict prevention and resolution, or addressing the unique impact of war on women and girls, lasting peace was not possible – particularly where the nature of war had dramatically shifted with the end of the Cold War era.

Modern conflicts disproportionately impact women and children and violence against women, specifically sexual violence, was now being used as a strategic weapon of war. SCR 1325 was adopted in October of that year but an NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG) had formed earlier which brought women’s groups together to campaign for its adoption.

WAND became a member of the NGOWG, attending its meetings in New York when possible and by conference call when not. After SCR 1325 was adopted, the NGOWG’s role became putting pressure on UN member countries to carry out its principles.  Although WAND was the only organization in the NGOWG not working outside the U.S., we believed our presence as the women’s group working politically for peace in the U.S. was important. We also felt we had a duty to lobby for the UN in the U.S. where it was being consistently attacked.

In 2000, Richard Holbrook was still U.S. ambassador and Secretary General Kofi Annan was advancing human rights, including those of women, along with the proliferation of NGO’s. There was real advancement in the growth of civil society and WAND’s director Susan Shaer points out that although the U.S. public has little awareness of the work of NGO’s, the rest of the world sees them as very important.

The election of George Bush and his appointment of John Bolton as UN ambassador a year later, made the climate for the UN in the U.S. even more difficult. Battles over U.S. funding the UN got worse and with 9/11 and the “war on terrorism,” attacks on the UN for its inclusiveness and willingness to hear different sides of a conflict increased.

Meanwhile progress - although painfully slow - was being made on the issues WAND was working for at the UN. The NGO Working Group membership changed and expanded.  The goals for women in conflict summarized as “Prevention, Participation, Protection” became clearer. At the same time the crimes of sexual violence against women seemed to be growing around the world. In 2005 the Peace-Building Commission was established with strong lobbying from the UN women’s groups for women’s participation. The Commission is the first joint subsidiary body of the Security Council and the General Assembly. It could report from “on the ground” conditions in conflict and monitor the treatment of women. Human rights were more clearly defined and standards made so that countries with poor human rights records could no longer be chairs of the Commission.

Over the decade working for a stronger women’s presence at the UN produced results. Resolution 1820 acknowledging sexual violence as a war crime was adopted.  By 2010, all the groups were united under “UN Women” headed by former president of Chile Michelle Bachelet and a UN special advisor to the Secretary General was appointed to visit conflict areas and supervise the protection and inclusion of women in all UN peacekeeping missions.  New Security Councils Resolutions were passed to strengthen this work. “Indicators” were developed and chosen as a way of measuring progress for women.  Even so UN Women has had to struggle for adequate funding and personnel.

Meanwhile in Washington, under the Obama administration, measures were taken to protect women both at home and around the world. In 2009, Boxer in the Senate and Carolyn Maloney in the House sponsored a bill supporting women in cases of human rights violations abroad including Iraq and Afghanistan arguing that our tax money was going to administrations that ignored or actively worked against women’s rights. Efforts to reintroduce the UN Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) looked hopeful when Obama chose it as one of three top UN treaties for ratification early in his first administration.

Former Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton took the UN and women and peace communities by surprise, when she announced in October 2010 at the 10th Anniversary of UN SCR 1325, the United States’ intention to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security directed by the resolution. As Secretary of State, she pushed for the adoption of a U.S. National Action Plan (U.S. NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security as mandated in the Resolution. One year later, in December 2011 the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security was introduced by Executive Order of the President.

The plan describes the course the U.S. government will take to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate United States efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peace-building activities, and conflict prevention; to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence; and to ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and in security.

The U.S. Congress is now seeking to codify the U.S. NAP and make this extraordinary administrative policy into U.S. law with the introduction of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2013. It now needs to be recognized by Congress. WAND has taken on a new role of coordinating this effort under the leadership of Tanya Henderson and working with the U.S. Civil Society Working Group. A series of round-table meetings are being held for members of Congress, for staffers, and for all the NGO’s that will be working to make the U.S. NAP a fully functioning reality.

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