The annual United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate on Women, Peace and Security reviewed the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Women, Peace and Security, and focused on “Promoting the Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and Sustaining Peace through Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment” organized by the Plurinational State of Bolivia. This debate was an opportunity for representatives of Member States, Observer States and regional organisations to assess their progress in implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda as well as make new commitments towards advancing WPS at local, national and regional levels.

In his intervention, the Secretary-General focused on the importance of securing funding for women’s organisations and expertise, as well as supporting women’s participation in peacebuilding at the local level. Civil society speaker Randa Siniora Atallah, the first Palestinian woman to address the UNSC in official public proceedings, Shared the experiences of women in the Israeli occupation. The most prominent themes of the discussion included the barriers that structural inequality poses to women, the effects of the lack of resources on women’s meaningful participation, and the importance of civil society in future implementation.

Many representatives used their statements to address structural inequalities as an important theme to overcoming obstacles to women’s meaningful participation and how they are linked. The representative of Bolivia highlighted masculinities and patriarchal society as barriers to combating violence and ensuring women’s participation. The representative of Albania highlighted that masculinity was rooted in power. However, the discussion of such inequalities went beyond tangible barriers; for example, the representative of the International Organization of La Francophonie questioned the usefulness of discussing empowerment altogether, suggesting that the concept of women’s empowerment implied a stereotype that women required capacity-building to perform duties, a question which was not mentioned when discussing men’s capacity in peacebuilding. Therefore, the speakers agreed that it is critical to dismantle stereotypes.

Given the increase in civil society speakers that were invited to brief in the UNSC in the past three years, 6 (7%) of the 81 representatives praised this inclusion as progress for women’s meaningful participation. In particular, the representatives of Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States highlighted the importance of increasing the number of civil society speakers in future UNSC briefings.

Overall, the four pillars of the WPS Agenda, namely participation, prevention, protection and relief & recovery, were generally referenced by representatives. The theme of participation was addressed by 76 (94%) of the 81 representatives, primarily through general affirmations of the importance of women’s participation as a necessary step to accessing economic resources. Prevention and Relief & Recovery were both referenced frequently by Member States, by 55 (68%) and 53 (65%) representatives, respectively. These references were in the context of women’s participation as critical to ensuring peace in pre- and post-conflict societies. Protection was referenced by 48 (59%) Member States, largely within the capacity of providing protection services to women in relation to SGBV.

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