OP-ED: Partnering as a key gateway to implement the women peace and security agenda

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The European Union (EU) and South Africa have worked closely to improve women’s participation in peacebuilding. (Image: Supplied)
The European Union (EU) and South Africa have worked closely to improve women’s participation in peacebuilding. (Image: Supplied)

By Cheryl Hendricks

The global campaign, 16 days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence, held annually from 25 November to 10 December, was initiated 31 years ago. UNSCR 1325, a landmark resolution for the Women’s Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, was unanimously adopted 21 years ago, calling for women’s participation in peace processes, the prevention of violence against women, the protection of women during conflict, and gender mainstreaming in relief and recovery efforts.

Yet, women, gender non-conforming persons and the girl child continue to be subjected to the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) and are still marginalised from peace processes. According to UNWOMEN, one in three women experience physical and sexual violence globally.

South Africa launched its WPS National Action Plan (NAP) in March 2021. This comprehensive and inclusive framework draws on the four pillars of UNSCR 1325. It places emphasis on conflict prevention and calls for the building of a comprehensive national peacebuilding architecture and for cultivating a culture of peace. To implement the agenda both globally and nationally will require strong partnerships, across the board.

The European Union (EU) and South Africa have worked closely to improve women’s participation in peacebuilding. Both prioritise the implementation of the WPS Agenda and have agreed to strengthen this partnership. In this regard, at a webinar held on 3 December 2021 on “Implementing the Conflict Prevention Pillar of the Women Peace and Security Agenda,” women from government and civil society and EU representatives, reflected on the implementation of the WPS agenda, shared lessons and best practices and identified points of co-operation.

This meeting formed part of a larger undertaking titled Gateways for Peace: Strengthening European Union – South Africa Partnership for Peace and Security. Minister Naledi Pandor, in her opening remarks, emphasised that the WPS agenda is not about “making wars safer for women”; it is about “creating a world free of armed conflict and violence”. WPS must therefore always be viewed as an integral part of the Peace and Security Agenda, it is not an add-on or marginal to it.

The EU to South Africa Ambassador, Riina Kionka, noted that the EU is prioritising the WPS Agenda through, firstly, engagement with civil society organisations in peace negotiations; secondly, partnerships and alliances to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the context of conflicts and migration; and thirdly, collaborative, innovative solutions for peace and security.

South Africa has done well in terms of women’s representation in decision-making and in the security sector. Women’s representation is a fundamental right, but there is no mechanical correlation between women’s representation and women’s actual safety and security. Decisive gender sensitive interventions are needed for representation to translate into security; this is borne out by the GBV statistics nationally and in the conflict areas to which South Africa deploys.

Simply put, there must be a reprioritisation of gender mainstreaming if we are to see meaningful impact between participation and prevention and protection. The political and executive leadership should be at the forefront of promoting the WPS agenda. The disjuncture between policy commitments and implementation however speak to the need for accountability. One way to achieve this is to make it part of the leadership’s job descriptions and performance agreements.

Greater bi-lateral and multilateral co-operation, as well as multi-stakeholder cooperation between government and civil society, are required for the successful implementation of the WPS agenda. Moreover, women’s networks and organisations need to be resourced and supported. Youth should also increasingly be driving the agenda, for their actions now will determine the future of women, gender-nonconforming persons and girls.

Early warning is a key component of conflict prevention. Election early warning mechanism have already evolved and need further support. More investment in community based early warning should form part of a larger project to build an infrastructure for peace. The July 2021 unrest in South Africa highlighted the need for this. South Africa’s NAP calls for the establishment of a Peace Centre that will enable a holistic and coordinated response to sustaining peace in the country and for its external engagements.

It is within the above context that the December meeting concluded that South Africa and EU could further share best practices on peace and security and proposed a joint high level regional dialogue on civil-military relations. There is also opportunity for the EU and South Africa to work collaboratively on promoting WPS in Mozambique, where both are supporting the peace and security effort (South Africa through the SADC mission and the EU through its training mission) and for the EU to support the implementation of the South Africa NAP on WPS.

The strengthening of the partnership between the EU and South Africa, and between government and civil society, will assist in closing the gap between policy formulation and policy implementation with respect to WPS.

*Professor Cheryl Hendricks, Executive Director, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Project Team Leader, Gateways for Peace - Strengthening EU-SA partnership for Peace and Security.

This post and content is sponsored and provided by the European Union.

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