Gendering peace in Northern Ireland: The role of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Author:Pierson, Claire


I think if there actually was a plan (to implement 1325) it would be very controversial. We would really argue about it and we would argue about how useful it was and wasn't but it would give us a starting point ... (Focus Group 1)

The Northern Ireland peace process and subsequent peace-building efforts are rarely evaluated with regard to gender equality or inclusion. As I have argued elsewhere, this is a crucial oversight (Pierson 2017). There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that the inclusion of women in peace talks and peace-building, as well as having a positive impact on gender equality, has a positive impact on the longevity and sustainability of peace (Paffenholz 2015). The United Nations (UN) women, peace and security (WPS) agenda has a crucial role to play in providing a framework to ensure the inclusion of women and gendered perspectives in peace-building. However, direct translation of the WPS agenda may result in simply an 'add women and stir' approach, incorporating women into existing institutions and structures without fundamental change. I argue here, based on empirical evidence from key activists in the Northern Irish context, that for a truly transformative approach to the WPS agenda, a deep reading of the structural and cultural inequalities in specific social contexts--coupled with an intersectional understanding that takes account of the variety of perspectives, experiences and identities of women in conflicted societies--must be used in its implementation.

The UN passed Resolution 1325 in October 2000 after the first open session of the Security Council dedicated to 'women, peace and security'. The session was initiated after intensive lobbying by women concerned at the neglect of women's positioning during and after conflict internationally and regionally (Cockburn 2007). The Resolution acknowledges the specific impact of armed conflict on women and on women's role in preventing and resolving conflict. The UN has passed subsequent Resolutions on the WPS theme, creating a framework which highlights gendered security concerns in conflict including sexual violence, political participation and, most recently, the role of women in countering violent extremism (Ni Aolain 2015).

The explicit focus on women has powerful potential to highlight the importance, and further the inclusion, of the various lived experiences of women and girls during and after conflict (Hoewer 2013). In addition, it has the potential to disrupt gender norms and push gendered concerns higher up the political agenda (Tryggestad 2009). However, it is clear that implementation of the WPS agenda has been stymied globally by a concurrent lack of resources and (on some occasions) lack of will (Willett 2010). Both the most recent Resolution (United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2242) and the 15-year anniversary global study on the impact of the WPS agenda (UN 2015) acknowledge that implementation has been subject to obstacles and challenges. As such, although this article focuses on the Northern Irish context, it contributes to a global debate on methods to ensure the successful interpretation and implementation of the Resolutions. In addition, by acknowledging the limitations of the 1325 framework, it highlights methods to ensure a feminist reading and interpretation of the Resolutions.

Gendering peace in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland can be said to be acting in a vacuum with regard to UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The United Kingdom has affirmed its commitment to implementing the Resolution internationally yet has noted 'there are no plans to integrate provisions relating to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Northern Ireland into the UK's National Action Plan' (United Kingdom 8th Periodic Report to United Nations Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women 2018). Both of the Republic of Ireland's National Action Plans on 1325 include Northern Ireland, after intensive lobbying from civil society in both the north and south of Ireland. Locally, the Northern Ireland Assembly has established an All-Party Group on UNSCR 1325: WPS. Despite the lack of state-level implementation of the Resolution, there is a plethora of grassroots and women's groups' activities to raise awareness in local communities, lobby for implementation and produce research detailing potential issues for a Northern Ireland Action Plan (Hinds &C Donnelly 2014).

Resolution 1325 was of course passed after the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland that culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998. The Resolution was, therefore, not integrated into the Agreement, yet has potential to impact on gendering peace-building in the region through implementation in the future. The negotiation of peace agreements at an elite actor level can serve to perpetuate gender inequality (Enloe 1993). Peace agreements are largely negotiated by men, and the concept of peace and post-conflict peace-building becomes a masculinised process dominated by a focus on reducing public violence rather than a transformation of society for all. Processes of creating consociational governments demonstrate how the privileging of ethnic or religious cleavages entrenches division and ignores the importance and intersection of other identity markers such as gender or class on reducing community tensions and creating equality (Kennedy et al. 2016; Taylor 2009).

In the Northern Ireland context, the marginalisation of women in the post-Agreement landscape has not gone undocumented. Although women have made some gains in representation in formal politics, they are largely excluded from community development and politics, particularly following the release of political prisoners under terms of the Agreement (Pierson & Radford 2016). Women's centres, in order to remain funded, have focussed on service provision and to a certain extent lost their political lobbying potential (Cockburn 2013). Certain groups of women have become distinctly marginalised, and their voices excluded from mainstream discussions of peace, particularly young women (Gray & Neill 2011), Loyalist female ex-combatants (McEvoy 2009; Potter & MacMillan 2008) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) women (Ashe 2018).

In addition to formal representation, gender policy issues remain peripheral and under-developed. Gender-based violence continues to be a cause of a significant proportion of crime, with rates of reporting of sexual and domestic violence increasing since the Agreement and, in particular, historic sexual violence becoming visible (O'Rourke & Swaine 2017; Pierson 2017). The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recorded 3,443 sexual offences in the year 2017/2018 (an increase of 9.3% from the previous year) and a 17.8% increase in the number of reported rapes (with less than 2% of these resulting in a conviction) (PSNI 2018). Of more than 2,000 cases passed by the PSNI to the Public Prosecution Service between 2010 and 2014, no prosecution was pursued in 83% of them due to a belief that the case would not pass the 'evidential test'.

PSNI statistics show that reporting of domestic violence has doubled since 2004. There are an average of 39 domestic violence crimes reported every day, representing just over 13% of all crime. Policy on domestic violence in Northern Ireland has responded weakly to this violence. In 2005, the Northern Ireland Office issued a strategy for addressing domestic violence with a multi-agency approach similar to the rest of the United Kingdom and an accompanying action plan. The strategy was to operate for 5 years but was not replaced by the devolved Assembly in the interim, although the action plan was periodically updated. It was reported in 2015 that an inter-ministerial working group on domestic violence, which first met in May 2008, had only met five times in total, and not at all since November 2012 (Wilson 2016). A new strategy to be launched in March 2015 was held up for clearance by senior officials in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Made public a year later, it came with no budget attached.

While the issues of domestic and sexual violence suffer from a lack of tangible commitment by government, other gender policy matters are ignored altogether. The 1967 British Abortion Act was never extended to the region, and the Assembly continues to block any change to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. The reality for women is either to travel to England, or buy abortion pills online, illegally, risking prosecution. One online abortion pill provider has reported that 5,630 women from the island of Ireland requested the abortion pill from their website between 2010 and 2015 (Aiken et al. 2017). A number of women have undergone or are undergoing prosecution currently for procurement of the abortion pill, and the police have raided the homes and workplaces of activists who are thought to have purchased the abortion pill. The region's abortion laws have been criticised by international human rights bodies, yet political parties largely oppose change (Pierson &C Bloomer 2017).

In this context of gender inequality, Resolution 1325 could have great potential if implemented in Northern Ireland to address the exclusion of women from peace-building, allow the voices and experiences of women to be heard and ensure formal and substantive political representation. However, there is need for more nuanced and contextual analysis of the benefits and limitations of transferring international normative standards into national contexts. This author calls for an intersectional understanding of gender security and a broader consideration of those issues considered relevant to gendered peace-building in constructing the 'women, peace and security' narrative not just in Northern Ireland but globally.

Women, Peace and Security


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