By Matilda Nahabedian. Volunteer for the Mukwege Foundation and independent researcher on human rights, security and gender.

16 years ago today, the UN Security Council adopted a groundbreaking resolution on the role of women in conflicts. Resolution 1325 acknowledges the special needs of women and their important role in peace-making processes. Moreover, countries were called upon to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict. Yet addressing sexual violence was limited to protection and prosecution.

This commentary discusses how, though Resolution 1325 was a great first step in promoting female participation, it did not address how sexual violence victims could play a role in peacemaking and political processes, acting as agents of change. Below cases are outlined where survivors have been active, and how this action is linked to quality victim support services.

Today marks the 16th anniversary of  UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The Resolution was widely recognized as a revolutionary milestone at the time, calling upon all countries to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict and to prosecute the perpetrators. The resolution calls for equal participation, representation and full involvement of women in conflict resolution and peace-making processes.


Progress has been made since that time regarding the role of women. In the 1990s, for example, only 11 percent of the peace agreements reached made reference to the particular needs and the role of women. After the adoption of the resolution, this figure increased to 27 percent. In 2015, 7 out of 10 peace agreements included specific gender provisions.

In the fight against sexual violence in conflict, the resolution was an important step since the Security Council, for the first time, spoke out against the use of rape as a weapon of war. Furthermore, pressure from women’s groups and activists all over the world led to increased awareness and acknowledgment of the issue.

Women as actors of change

Resolution 1325 also became a landmark document because of the transition it envisions – women as actors of change. Particularly survivors as agents of change should be addressed. As Melanne Verveer, U.S Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues stated, “Too often, women’s roles are marginalized because they are not seen in terms of their leadership. We must see women as leaders, not victims.”

Since the adoption of Resolution 1325, the international community further developed the concept. Five UN resolutions on WPS and national Action Plans by 63 countries were adopted and a UN special representative for sexual violence in conflict was appointed.  Resolution 2106 goes beyond protection and prosecution to emphasize the need for, “non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence.“ This focus is imperative in the transformation from victim to agent of change. A first step before women can fully participate in peacebuilding and political processes is to ensure their recovery and healing through support services that address the full spectrum of their needs

Colombian peace process

A positive example of increased women’s involvement was the Colombian peace process where survivors participated in the peace talks in Havana as parts of a group of 60 victims. During the process, a gender subcommittee was established and the draft accord of the Agreement on the Victims of the Conflict was developed. Furthermore, survivor voices are reflected in the inclusion of sexual violence as a crime against humanity with no possibility for amnesty. Although peace talks have been re-opened after a ‘no’ vote on the referendum, the process still illustrates one case of positive progress for survivors.

Declaration for peace by South Sudanese women

In the talks to end hostilities following the conflict in South Sudan that witnessed death, displacement and sexual violence, representatives of women’s groups were fully ignored, initially. In response, South Sudanese women from different parts of the country came together and developed a common declaration for peace, protection of women and children, and participation of women in the peace processes. As a result, seven representatives participated in the official peace negotiations, bringing about the voices of survivors.

Hope for meaningful involvement of women

Exactly 16 years after the adoption of Resolution 1325 there is a lot of hope for meaningful involvement of women in peace processes, yet much more still needs to be done. The various follow-up Resolutions provide a solid framework, encompassing all the factors necessary to establish a gender equal procedure for peace and political processes. Still, the plight of survivors can be made more explicit in international framework protecting victims of sexual violence.

Matilda Nahabedian is an independent researcher on human rights, security and gender.

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