Women, Peace And Security —Challenges And Opportunities In Light Of The Corona Pandemic

'Birdcage' mosaic, part of 'Out of the Darkness Into the Marvelous Light' project with victims of domestic violence, YMCA Wilmington, Delaware. Photo Credit: CYNTHIA J. THOMASSET, WWW.CYNTHIATHOMASSET.COM

This year marks the 20th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It addresses how women and girls are differentially impacted by conflict and recognizes the critical role that women can and already do play in peace building efforts. As the world gets ready to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, this resolution matters—possibly more than ever, including for the private sector. Here is why.

One out of three women in the world experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. During times of crisis—such as natural disasters and wars—the risk of gender-based-violence escalates. This holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. Stay-at-home lockdowns in response to the coronavirus crisis have brought dramatic increases of domestic violence incidents as reported all over the world, including from Brazil, China, Cyprus, Italy, to Spain. In Australia, during the outbreak Google has registered the most searches for ‘domestic violence help’ with an increase of 75% in the past five years.

Linking the security of women and the security of nations

When women experience violence, entire families and communities suffer. In fact, violence against women impacts entire economies. Globally, according to the Copenhagen Consensus Center (using 2013 data), the annual cost of intimate partner violence worldwide is $4.4 trillion, which is about 5.2 percent of global GDP. This also has a cost for the private sector: women (and employers) in the United States lose almost 8 million days of paid work each year because of intimate partner violence. That’s the equivalent of 32,114 full-time jobs. Annual costs of domestic violence are significantly higher when accounting for higher medical expenses ($5.8 billion), lost productivity ($2.5 billion), or demands on the legal system.

Domestic violence is rooted in a need for power and control—not only in times of crisis, instability and war, but also during times of peace. In fact, the prevalence of violence against women in a country can be a predictor of a country’s proneness toward terrorism and civil conflict. “Curse your women, and you curse your nation. And you curse our world with all the instability caused as a result,” notes Valerie Hudson, a professor and co-author of The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide.

A nation-by-nation WomanStats Database as well as the Women, Peace, and Security Index  help establish an empirical link between the security of women and the stability of nations: nations with higher levels of social, economic, and political gender equality are more stable and less likely to rely on military force to settle disputes.

Making progress on Resolution 1325

Despite adopting Resolution 1325 unanimously, to date only 83 nations (or 43% of all UN member states) developed follow-up actions plans, of which 28 (34%) include an allocated budget for implementation.

An important component of Resolution 1325 is the inclusion of women in peace processes. Yet, between 1992 and 2018, women constituted only 13% of negotiators, 3% of mediators and only 4% of signatories in major peace processes tracked by the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2018, out of 52 agreements, only four (8%) contained gender-related provisions according to UN Women.

Germany, a current member of the UN Security Council which is about to take on the EU Council’s presidency in July 2020, is keen on furthering the realization of Resolution 1325. At a recent GIZ event, Niels Annen, minister of state at the federal foreign office and member of parliament, highlighted “Only through gender-specific analysis and measures of relief and recovery efforts will we manage to establish more equal societies, which are not only more resilient to a new outbreak of violence, but also to the re-occurrence of conflict-related sexual violence.”

While many countries have made legislative progress over the past twenty years, some countries have actually regressed: in Bangladesh, for example, child marriage had previously been illegal—until 2017, when a law declared child marriage permissible if it was in the “best interest” of the child.

A role for the private sector: stability is good for business

In many ways, women pay the double burden of economic and familial responsibility in post-conflict settings, particularly in absence of men who are often imprisoned, disabled, or dead. Reconstruction efforts can only be effective if women are recognized as valuable economic participants, rather than as a “vulnerable group”.

Investing in women’s economic participation is crucial for the stability of many fragile economies of conflict-affected societies—and thus for private sector companies’ stability. For example, commercial banks can play an important role in promoting women’s business and thereby support many women-headed households. Businesses can also play an important role in hiring women as employees while gaining critical insights into the women’s customer market.

When legal reform initiatives are carried out after conflict, the private sector can often lend a voice and help identify opportunities for women’s economic participation. According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project, globally women have on average just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men regarding economic opportunities.

What is next?

High- and low-income economies alike will be hit by the coronavirus which is likely to contribute further to political and economic instabilities.

A new initiative by Finland and Spain, Commitment 2025, was launched to ensure that women’s inclusion and meaningful participation in peace processes becomes the norm by 2025. Commitment 2025 could explore critical partnerships with the private sector to match any public sector shortcomings and gaps.

Organizations like the United Nations Global Compact have already initiated mechanisms in which the private sector can play a larger role. For example, Business for Peace  is a global platform of close to 150 leading companies and business associations dedicated to advance peace. Including them in consultations, similar to those of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security could be key to re-energizing civil society engagement on Resolution 1325.

The executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and special representative on gender issues for the OSCE Chairmanship, Ambassador Melanne Verveer,  is optimistic. Reflecting on the pandemic she says: “History has shown that highly disruptive scenarios can create new opportunities. We cannot write off the talent of half the world and expect to confront our challenges.”



Carmen Niethammer is a global gender/diversity and inclusion leader. She has facilitated and informed numerous public-private partnerships around the world that have successfully impacted women's business leadership, employment, and entrepreneurship. Focusing on the business case, Carmen has also led multiple initiatives across industries and geographies, closing systemic gender gaps while fostering private sector gains in productivity, competitiveness, and innovation.

Carmen is also a Forbes contributor. A longer version of this article was previously published at Forbes online.