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‘Add Women and Stir?’ For the Love of Feminism, Please Put the Spoon Down!

    ‘Peace and security missions face a plethora of challenges today. In today’s world, the goals of gender equality and peacekeeping seem lofty and idealistic. Indeed, the tendency to “just add women and stir”, combined with limited cultural sensitivity and a lack of knowledge about the roles women play in conflicts, are certain to cause more harm than good.’

    Shana Dharmapuri, Just Add Women and Stir, 56-66 (2011)

    My digital drawing (right) is what I pictured the first time I heard the phrase ‘add women and stir,’ commonly used by feminists to describe the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. This ‘Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace and Security’ was based on four pillars:

    • women’s participation in peace and security governance (WPS);
    • conflict prevention;
    • protection from violent, sexual, and gender-based violence;
    • and post-conflict peacebuilding.

    The planning stages of the resolution actively included relevant NGOs and feminist activists and scholars, giving women a space to contribute their first-hand experiences of gender inequality. The resolution was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000 and presented itself as a turning point for gender equality and women’s representation in international politics.

    However, I draw on Vanessa Newby and Alanna O’Malley (2021) who write specifically on the (in)effectiveness of the WPS agenda twenty years later. While resolution 1325 certainly served as a significant milestone in women’s representation in the fields of security, conflict and peace, there is far more to be done. Every time we include women in conversations but do not listen to them, when we assume that they are always victims or inherently ‘natural peacemakers,’ and when regardless of their race, religion, or culture we refer to their realities as all the same; we place women in a bowl and stir, with a spoon carefully whittled by the hands of the patriarchy.

    Important aspirations, but slow implementation

    Twenty years later, the biggest barriers to the WPS agenda’s implementation are the lack of funding (which requires attention to be focused on raising funds rather than its core objectives) and a lack of sufficient data that allows tracking the progress of the resolution. The WPS agenda was designed to address challenges of peace and security for women everywhere in the globe; however, there are still notable differences in how the Global North and the Global South have implemented it. The WPS agenda has continued to advance slowly and unevenly despite two decades of engagement by international civil society, governments, and different UN institutions, including the UN Security Council. According to a recent study by Aggetam and Svensson (2017), women were only used as mediators in 8% of instances between 1991 and 2014. The gendered character of diplomacy can be partly blamed for this absence. For instance, males presently make up 85% of ambassadors worldwide. Additionally, since UNSCR 1325 was approved, the overall number of women who have signed peace accords has barely grown.

    Understanding the profoundly ingrained patriarchal and cultural norms across many different nations is something that the UN security projects have still not fully addressed. Simply including women in peace and security conversations does not challenge the established power structures, but sometimes can reinforce them. Furthermore, some strong global powers are reluctant to further the WPS agenda: for example, China and Russia abstained from the WPS Resolution (S/RES 2467), passed in 2019, which focused on a survivor-centred approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict. Additionally, under the Trump administration, American leadership on WPS virtually disappeared, and the country’s credibility on the subject suffered greatly as a result of its decision to stop funding any humanitarian initiatives that disseminated information on women’s sexual and reproductive health (Newby & O’Malley, 2021). Even though the Biden Administration has overturned this judgement, its permanency moving forward cannot be guaranteed due to the strong anti-abortion movement in US domestic politics.

    The WPS agenda has also been under attack with the growth of the extreme right and strongmen politicians throughout Europe. Serious setbacks for women have resulted from this, such as the recent laws practically outlawing abortion in Poland and decriminalising IPV in Russia (Newby & O’Malley, 2021). Resolution 1325 faces difficulties protecting women’s security since it is mostly ineffectual without state action in the face of such strong states taking choices that limit women’s rights. The fact that the Global North contributes the majority of the funds to the UN’s work on women’s rights, while the Global South is demonstrating more leadership in WPS agenda implementation and innovation, is even more incongruous. The Global North’s lack of sincere introspection over internal structural inequities calls for far more focus in the policy community. Additionally, extreme caution must be exercised to prevent ‘adding women and stirring’, especially in the security industry.

    While feminism has historically been a field with multiple and diverse views on how to achieve gender equality, there remains a dominant notion of liberal feminists that assumes women in the West to be educated, modern and have control of their bodies and that represent the ‘Third World Woman’ as ignorant, tradition-bound, and victimized. (Minh-ha, 1987). Creating the impression that local norms and other cultural values are incompatible with the Western-driven norms and practices produced by resolution 1325 has contributed to limiting the potential of the WPS agenda whilst also ignoring the agency of Global South actors. While holding the presidency of the security council, South Africa presented the WPS resolution that urges regional organisations to undertake several stakeholder meetings to determine doable and quantifiable actions for executing the agenda. This demand was heeded by regional organisations, especially in the Global South, where ECOWAS and the African Union later held gatherings to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of WPS. The Dakar Declaration, the ECOWAS Plan of Action for the Implementation of UNSCES 1325 and 1820 in West Africa, and the African Union Commission’s Implementing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in Africa report were all the results of these sessions (Newby & O’Malley, 2021).

    As discussed above the decreasing rights of women within Western countries speaks to the failure of ensuring security for women not only in conflict-ridden areas but in the every day as well. While the UN continues to draft resolutions meant to ensure security and peace for women, it is evident especially in the West that states are failing to ensure the rights of women, playing into the patriarchal structures of such societies. Furthermore, while there are great efforts in the Global South to enhance collaboration in order to strengthen women’s peace and security, the calls by scholars to include regional-specific strategies to promote greater gender equality have not been fully heeded. Critical studies on the dearth of diverse viewpoints and interpretations of WPS and its emancipatory potential in feminist security studies have increased; and they urge researchers not only to include more feminist scholars from the Global South but also to reconsider how feminism and the global knowledge economy are related. It is not enough simply to include women in discussions of peace and security at state and international levels without deconstructing the patriarchal structures that continue to limit their meaningful involvement. Much work remains to be done, in scholarship, in policy-making, and in practice, to ensure that women are truly involved in laying the groundwork for their own peace and security.

    What do you think?

    • Can you think of examples in your own life or workplace where you have seen the phenomenon ‘add women and stir?’ How effective has it been? What does it take to ensure genuine equality?
    • What steps can be taken to improve the implementation of the UN’s Women Peace and Security agenda, locally, nationally and internationally?
    • Are individuals and local organizations or states more important in working towards gender equality within peace and security?
    • Are there things that we as individuals can do at a very local level to support the wider implementation of the WPS agenda and to ensure that women are fully involved in establishing the conditions required for their own peace and security?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You might also enjoy A Blank Newspaper, Education: a force for sustainable peace, The Weight of a White Feather, and Of Ordinary Things.

    Maddie McCall, December 2022


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