As in all politics, in the United Nations Security Council, language is power. Gender-sensitive language is thus fundamental for gender empowerment. A successful implementation of the WPS (“Women, Peace and Security”) agenda requires that every peacekeeping operation is equipped with a proper mandate to do so. However, the inclusion of WPS language in resolutions of the Security Council is highly inconsistent. Therefore, the following article offers explanations and recommendations on how to push for more inclusion of WPS language.
WPS as an established political process
Twenty years after the first resolution on the topic was passed in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the WPS agenda has gained an impressive standing, underlined by a growing body of follow-up resolutions with renewed and extended commitments. Quite recently, Resolution 2467 tried to give the WPS agenda a new impetus, demanding inter alia a survivor-centered approach. Despite several heavy points of criticism, such as a missing commitment to advancing women’s access to sexual and reproductive healthcare in conflict situations, the call to focus more on the implementation clearly grew louder.
Why WPS matters for peacekeeping operations
For some time now, the implementation of the resolution’s provisions and its future prospects have been labeled “largely aspirational”. Obviously, effective implementation of the WPS agenda must be based on peacekeeping mandates reflecting its headline ambition to achieve global gender equality. It must enable deployed peacekeepers, the “main actors in the implementation of the WPS mandates”, to act on these commitments. This has been at the heart of the WPS agenda, since Resolution 1325 bound the Council to “incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations”, among other goals.
It is therefore worthwhile to look at the way peacekeeping mandates of the UNSC are equipped with WPS language, i.e. citing commitments from Resolution 1325 or follow-up resolutions. By doing so, we can see how specific power structures (the “penholder system”) work within the Council and can provide proposals for action. One can assume that the first meaningful step towards actual implementation is the inclusion of language. Including WPS language shapes the goal of the mission and is the legal basis for negotiations on financing. I am going to focus on the year after the passing of Resolution 2467 in 2019 and argue that resolutions need to be scrutinized case by case, if we want to advance the overall goal of the WPS agenda.
Inconsistent inclusion of WPS language across resolutions
It will come as no surprise that the overall inclusion of WPS language falls short of expectations. Quite a few mandates, which are the legal basis of any peace operations and are adopted as resolutions by the Security Council, do not contain any reference to the WPS agenda’s goals. Many resolutions contain some references, only covering selective aspects. Moreover, there are very few resolutions which include (almost) all aspects of the agenda in their mandate. Two examples here are the mandate renewals for the peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, MONUSCO and MINUSMA, both under French penholdership. But one should not hastily conclude that the inclusion of WPS language is overall insufficient. Let’s take a closer look: There are vast differences regarding the inclusion among different mandates – and these differences remain very stable over time. Two examples show this clearly: Throughout the last seven mandate renewals, MINURSO’s mandate (UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) has only contained references pertaining to training measures for deployed troops to increase awareness about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). While one would expect progressive inclusion of WPS language due to the growing relevance of the WPS’s goals, there has been almost no change or more inclusion of WPS language over the last five years. The same constancy can be observed for MINUSMA, though on a different level. Since 2015, the mandate consistently included references to almost all relevant aspects of the WPS agenda, from the call to integrate a gender perspective in all aspects of the mission to demands for the increased participation of women in peace talks to installing Women Protection Advisors, monitoring components on SGBV and awareness-raising for troops.
One notable exception, regarding both stability and progressive inclusion of WPS language, is the case of UNAMID, which had long been under British penholdership: while more and more WPS language had been added for several years, all references to the agenda were deleted after the mission’s drawdown in 2019. The mandate was considerably shortened and WPS references became “collateral damage”.
High vs. low inclusion of WPS language in the penholder system
These “stable differences” in inclusion correspond heavily with the distribution of work in the UNSC, which has been labeled the “penholder system”: An informal practice within the Council, where France, the UK and the US (the “permanent three” or “P3”) divide a great share of all mandates and make it their respective prerogative to draft the outcome text and chair the negotiations, thereby increasing their informal power in the Council. While all of the resolutions under French penholdership are well equipped with WPS references, the UK and the US fall behind. This makes apparent that demanding more effective implementation of the WPS agenda depends highly from the respective penholders.
Thematic resolutions as codification, not innovation
Furthermore, one has to keep in mind that new WPS language might be included in peacekeeping mandates before they are agreed upon in a thematic resolution. In the case of Resolution 2467, the call for a survivor-centered approach had already been preceded by language in the MINUSMA mandate since 2017. We can thus conclude that the Council’s practice can precede its symbolic action.
Why does it matter? – Conclusions
WPS implementation does not stop after the mandate has been passed. In fact, it only starts there. But including references to WPS into the text and thus equipping the mission with a mandate that advances the WPS agenda is the first meaningful step for its actual implementation and knowing the practices which structure the outcomes is important for activists and NGOs striving to advance the WPS agenda’s goals.
Also, the scope of WPS obviously goes way beyond peacekeeping missions. Nevertheless, advancing its implementation in the Security Council can do two things: firstly, enable peacekeepers to enact the goals of the WPS agenda on the ground and secondly, have a broader impact on the recognition and further advancement of the WPS agenda by increasing its legitimacy through action.
- Political attention must shift towards inclusion of langugage at the level of individual mandates: WPS mainstreaming can only happen if there is pressure on every single mandate negotiation to include provisions relating to the WPS agenda. Therefore, every mandate renewal needs to be scrutinized.
- Phases of mission drawdown are extremely prone to dwindling support for WPS: these phases must be anticipated and accompanied by efforts to uphold commitments related to WPS after the drawdown as well.
- For missions with already high inclusion of WPS language: focus on implementation on the ground.
- For missions with low inclusion of WPS language: push for inclusion in mandate, then implementation on the ground.
- Thematic resolutions can be helpful in codifying specific language, but their negotiation should not remain the single center of attention.
Ole Jakob Weber, born in 1995, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in political science at Freie Universität Berlin. He is also working as a project assistant at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Before, he interned at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, focusing on peacekeeping and peacebuilding and in the East Africa division of KfW Development Bank, focusing on governance and stabilization.