This year is the 20th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR1325). UNSCR1325 recognized women’s critical and non-negotiable participation and leadership in peace and political processes. That’s the official line. But I’m uncomfortable with celebrating “anniversaries” of things we have a long way to achieve.
I was invited to speak for the opening of the photo exhibit “Women Wage Peace: Visualizing Progress on Action for Peacekeeping” alongside Bintou Keita, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, and Ambassador Marc-André Blanchard, Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN. This is of course a great honour. And one that comes with a responsibility.
I’ve said before that everyone has a voice, but not everyone has a microphone. And when I have a microphone, I have a duty to use it as best I can, to make an impact, and to fix what we know needs fixing.
On the night that I spoke, I had ironically lost my voice. And voice, agency, dignity — these are the themes that speak so strongly to me when I think of women who wage peace. It is about rights, respect, and representation — we need to see these images of women because, in so doing, we normalize what we have come to exceptionalize, and perhaps even sensationalize.
As an international “community” comprised of practitioners and policymakers, academics and activists, students and seasoned professionals, we face an accountability challenge. Are we in fact accountable? If so — to whom?
On paper, we appear to have all we need — the right language in the right agreements endorsed by the right actors. But introspection is necessary, and I would argue that we fall short in some key areas.
Firstly, we liberally claim to support women leaders, women’s organizations, feminist organizations, but our funding doesn’t measure up to our claims. If we seek a feminist peace, we must fund the organizations that have been pursuing this long before we arrived, and who will be cultivating it long after we leave. This funding must be flexible, long-term, meaningful — with priorities defined by the women leaders themselves.
And, secondly, we continue to fall short in ending violence against women. This is the greatest impediment to peace, progress, prosperity — and to women’s participation. Without safety for women, nothing else we do will matter. Again, if we examine the funding allocated to this, we see that it is too slow, too small, too short-term. And yet we know that this is integral to achieving peace and security.
But it’s not just about crisis. We need to view every single thing we do through the lens of women’s safety. Supporting women and ending violence is the most effective prevention method. We need to revisit our early warning indicators. The bottom line is this: If women are not safe, no one is safe.
And when we refer to women, peace, and security, we’ve reduced it to a little acronym — WPS. In doing so, we forget the power behind the words. And we risk turning this work into a sub-category, a sideshow, or an add-on. Imagine if we could just say “peace and security” with the full recognition that women are indispensable to this effort. Globally, there will be no P and no S without W.
In the Arab region, where I now focus my energies, we have too many protracted crises to manage, and too few commitments to women — in peace, security, and every other sector. I come from layers of insecurity — I am a Lebanese/Palestinian former humanitarian aid worker who has covered most of the countries displayed in the photo exhibit. I focused on ending sexual violence. I succeeded nowhere.
And even simply existing as a woman in the world today — that is an emergency. We face a colossal global pushback, making the fight for women’s rights harder than ever. The photos on display are images of women transforming peace as leaders and agents of change, taking charge of their lives and their choices, raising their voices, galvanizing support for peace, and not just claiming a seat at the table — but building their own tables.
These women are not the exception. This is not an add-on or an afterthought. This is the global norm. It is our daily fight — for our very own lives.
Look around us. Women wage peace everywhere all the time — home, community, country, and at the global level. Women are not just vulnerable in times of war. They have value. The world loses when we fail to acknowledge that value. We need to take these as a small example, a minute acknowledgement of a massive contribution, a contribution that deserves to be fully resourced and respected.
Women worldwide deserve no less.
Lina AbiRafeh is Executive Director of The Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Ai4Women.
The exhibition “Women Wage Peace: Visualizing Progress on Action for Peacekeeping”, will be open at the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University in New York, at 211 East 46th Street, until 3 April from 9am-5pm.