Women, War and Peace

Women, War and Peace


by Sarah Pelham


In the year 2000, history was made. A movement of activists, academics and NGO workers joined forces and pushed for change. For the first time, the United Nations (UN) Security Council put women on the international security agenda.

Before this, the international security agenda made little reference to women and girls. As a result, the effects of war on women and girls such as rape, widowhood and their role in rebuilding their communities, went largely ignored in policies and decision making.

Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security was born.

What is Resolution 1325?

At its heart, UNSCR 1325 calls on the UN and other bodies – member states such as the UK and NGOs – to work in a way that recognises and addresses the impact of war and conflict on women and girls. This means recognising that:

  • Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence in conflict and post-conflict
  • Although women often play important peacebuilding roles in their communities, when it comes to official peace processes they are often excluded

The resolution calls on the UN, member states and other stakeholders to address these issues.

These are the 3 Ps: participation, protection and prevention.

Why does it matter?

While it may sound obvious that these points need addressing, sadly, it hasn’t always been the case. In the past, sexual violence in conflict has often been dismissed as a natural and inevitable by-product of war [1]. During the 1990s sexual violence in conflict was perpetrated on such a massive and systematic scale it became impossible to ignore. Rape was being used as a weapon of war as never seen before.

According to UN agencies, more than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1991-2002, more than 40,000 in Liberia in 1989-2003, up to 60,000 in the former Yugoslavia in 1992-1995 [2].

In Rwanda, figures suggest that anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide [3]. According to Human Rights Watch, women were often targeted for rape as a result of their ethnicity or political affiliation. The impact was devastating and led to social stigmatization, poor physical and psychological health, and unwanted pregnancy [4].

Such disturbing evidence like this was used by the women’s lobby movement to build a case for the need to prioritise protection from and prevention of sexual violence in conflict.

Women_protestWomen’s participation in peace processes is imperative to rebuild communities devastated by conflict and war, especially as often women become heads of households after being widowed or separated from family. However, one UN Women study found that over a period of almost twenty years, women made up fewer than 4% per cent of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% of negotiators at peace tables [5]. This means that women have little or no say in what their post-conflict society will look like.

A compelling study found that when women do take part in peace agreements there is an increased probability that the peace will last. When women are involved there is a 20% increased probability that the peace agreement will last for 2 years, and a 35% increased probability that the peace agreement will last for 15 years [4].

Besides the case for equal representation – women make up just over 50% of the global population and have a right to be represented – it is clear that when women are present in peace agreements we are all more likely to experience a more peaceful world.

What now?

It is now over fifteen years since the resolution was passed. It is time to reflect. A time to ask difficult questions – about the impact, the successes, the failures and limitations of UNSCR 1325.

It is also a time to celebrate and see what can happen when people come together to create change.

This is the first of three posts on women, peace and security. Next up: find out more about the impact of UNSCR 1325 on the lives of women across the globe.



Sarah Pelham


Feminist in Conversation with Sarah Pelham

Sarah holds an Erasmus Mundus Research Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies (cum laude) from Utrecht University and Bologna University. Her master’s thesis explored the challenges international NGOs face to run effective women, peace and security programmes. You follow Sarah on twitter at @Sarah_Pelham.



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[1] Jenkins, R., Goetz, A.-M., 2010. Addressing Sexual Violence in Internationally Mediated Peace Negotiations. Int. Peacekeeping 17, 261–277.

[2] http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgsexualviolence.shtml

[3] UN Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights, ‘Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Rwanda’ (E/CN.4/1996/68) para 1

[4] https://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm

[5] http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/media/publications/en/01overview.pdf

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