‍21 Years of 1325: What if the Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace and Security had been implemented in Afghanistan?

Tanya Henderson
Tanya Henderson
October 30, 2021

October 31 marks the anniversary of the passing of the United Nations Security Council’s landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325). To mark the occasion, Mina’s List Founder and Executive Director Tanya Henderson spoke with Professor Cynthia Enloe, an award-winning theorist and professor on feminist international relations, gender and militarism at Clark University, to discuss the resolution, its fragmented and piecemeal implementation, and why - after all these years - we’re still waiting for the meaningful inclusion of women in peace negotiations, conflict resolution, peace keeping, and humanitarian responses.

Watch the full interview and read the transcript below.

Tanya Henderson: Hello and welcome to our discussion on UN Security Council Resolution 1325: The United Nation’s Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security. My name is Tanya Henderson and I am the founder and Executive Director of Mina’s List.

UNSCR 1325 was passed 21 years ago on October 31, 2000. The resolution “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” It also calls on all UN member states to take measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict. It urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts.

It has also served as the basis for the legal frameworks on women, peace and security developed in countries and organizations around the world - including in the United States, the European Union, Norway, and beyond. 98 UN Member States have adopted a 1325 National Action Plan.

We are all well aware of why women must be included in conflict resolution, peace negotiations, humanitarian responses, and post-conflict reconstruction. Research - much of which is available on the Mina’s List website under “Library” - has shown that women’s inclusion leads to stronger, longer-lasting and more just peace.

Unfortunately, none of these principles were applied in Afghanistan. Afghan women were almost completely excluded from peace negotiations with the Taliban; they were continually deprioritized for evacuations during the chaotic withdrawal period in August 2021; and they have now seen their lives and ambitions completely derailed under Taliban rule.

What if things had been different? What if Afghan women had been included in the negotiations? What would have happened if their warnings about what was likely to happen after the withdrawal were heeded? ? How would things look now?

Today, I’m so fortunate to be joined by Professor Cynthia Enloe from Clark University to discuss a crucial question as we mark 21 years of the women, peace and security resolution. Cynthia is an award-winning theorist and professor on feminist international relations and gender and militarism, and one of my personal mentors.

Cynthia, thank you so much for joining us today. So let's start off with asking, why, why is it so crucial—and why do we have to keep asking this question—that women are included in conflict resolution, peace negotiations, humanitarian responses, and reconstruction?

Cynthia Enloe: First of all, Tanya, it's great to be in conversation with you, as always. Tanya and my conversation goes way back, so this is the next step in a long and fruitful, and for me, a learning conversation.

I think that the kind of simple answer is: because women are smart. That is, because they have very particular knowledge,  not because of some gender stereotype about women's intuition, but rather because of diverse experiences. They have learned what armed conflict does to men, what it does to women, what it does to boys, what it does to girls, and what it does to the relationships of every one of those to armed groups and to governments. That's why women have to be included: because they have knowledge without which you cannot create sustainable or even temporarily effective peace. That's why.

TH: Right. So how did UN Security Council Resolution 1325 come about? How transformational was it in terms of the inclusion of women in the diplomatic and security spheres?

CE: The UN Security Council’s historic vote on 1325 in October, 2000 was in the wake of the terrible civil wars, which became international wars, in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. These were very different kinds of conflicts in that they had different origins and different actors, but in both of them, a fruitful combination of feminist journalists, feminist health workers, and feminist activists began to alert the world that sexual violence against women by armed men was central, not just off on the side, but central to the way that each of those violent conflicts were strategized and conducted by male leaders. And yet that information was buried. The knowledge of it took years, in both the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, to be documented and then published by feminists. And those revelations informed so many of the women in international NGOs and international agencies to think seriously about where women are, in not just wartime violence, but in the ending of it. Those feminist activists are the ones who originally drafted 1325.

Those who are very familiar with 1325, or who think they are, should do what I do every year or so:  go back and read the “whereas''-es at the start of the resolution. These statements, beginning with “whereas'', describe the realities of wartime that require us all to take new action: because that is the reality, because that happened,  because those were women's experiences...“Therefore, we recognize these new commitments.” It’s such a powerful document because those NGO activist women, informed by feminist curiosities, drafted the “Whereas”-es and the “Therefore”s of the resolution.

TH: So then once we had this Resolution 1325, what practical impact did it have on institutions like NATO or the US military and the various National Actions Plans that were drafted, including the US Women, Peace and Security Act that passed in 2017? What kind of impact did this resolution then have?

CE: Well, you know this better than I do because you're right there trying to make it happen, but it has also been a lesson to me and we know this: for the impact of every law, whether it’s national or international, implementation is always up to the advocates who got it passed in the first place. If the people who did the drafting, the knowledge collection, the lobbying and the pressuring, and the persuading, go home and go back to their personal lives, nothing will get implemented. And that’s because none of these governments and none of the agencies in the United Nations -- though there are good committed people inside them -- but as a whole, none of them really want to do anything more than pass the resolution and wave it around to show that they were “good guys. “ They had no commitment to implementing it.

So the implementation of 1325, as partial, fragmented and frustratingly incomplete as it's been, has been up to people like you, the people who drafted it, and the people on the ground who have learned about it in places like Cote d'Ivoire, the DRC, or Afghanistan. It's only women on the ground , along with their international supporters, who have had a stake in using all of its provsiions to hold  governments and agencies to account.

The shrinking of 1325, the diluting of it, the misinterpreting of it has been done by those who never wanted to implement, who have constantly searched for a digestible, swallowable version of it , a version that allows them to avoid genuine change in the way they conduct themselves. Feminists pressing, officials diluting: that's the 21 years of 1325. The result has been fragmented, impartial, but not insignificant, gains for the better.

TH: We know that the Afghan government launched their own 1325 National Action Plan in 2015. It wasn't ever properly implemented, like many others, and we saw the effect of this on the peace process and the peace talks. Women were largely not represented or marginally represented in both the US negotiations with the Taliban and the inter-Afghan government talks. There were four women, extraordinary courageous women, on the Afghan government negotiation team and no women on the Taliban team. So I guess my question is, where was the US leading this process, where we had our own National Action Plan, the Women, Peace and Security Strategy as it's now called,  and the Women, Peace and Security Act, how, why did they not push for women's full and equal representation? What do you think?

CE: Well, they didn't want it to begin with. I don't know any government or official state-representing team on any so-called peace negotiation that really has wanted women to be empowered in their own peace negotiations. I don't know if you can think of any. Every once in a while, there'll be a guy - or a woman who is “allowed on” the team - who genuinely understands why women's empowerment is foundational for sustainable peace and genuine security in their countries. There are individuals - and I don't want to discount those - but as far as the institution of a peace negotiation delegation, I don't know of a single one that actually, genuinely, in their most analytical moments, really has believed that women's empowerment, women's security, women's safety, and women's skills enhancement, paves the path towards their own country's sustainable peace. Not enough of them have ever taken Women's Studies courses! To many people in and behind peace negotiations know how to “talk to the talk,” but they've learned to “walk the walk” skillfully sideways. To engage effectively in the implementation of the actual commitments spelled out in 1325, you have to change your notion of what it means to be a negotiator and a peacemaker. That transformation is hard work.

TH: Cynthia, you talked about how the women activists on the ground, the women leaders, the feminist thinkers, and the drafters of the 1325 resolution are so essential to effective implementation. I think that Afghan women showed us an extraordinary example of this.

In response to their exclusion from the peace talks, Afghan women made plans to hold their own parallel peace process to make sure that their voices were heard. Mina’s List had the fortune to be heavily involved in these talks, but they never actually happened because President Biden canceled the Istanbul Peace Conference just one week before the talks were scheduled to commence and instead laid out a timetable for the US and NATO's unconditional withdrawal. But the parallel peace process that the women were organizing would have been significant. We had diverse women delegates from 25 provinces across the country and support from the highest levels of the US government and other key international and regional players. The delegates were prepared to develop recommendations and red lines on each of the topic areas that were scheduled to be discussed in the official negotiation. We scheduled meetings for these women with the official negotiation teams, high-up high-level mediators, and other country’s stakeholders for them to present their recommendations and red lines.

Because the talks were canceled, the parallel peace process wasn't able to happen. Well, the women again stepped up and decided to hold their own parallel peace process in Kabul and continued to have their dialogues and make their recommendations.

I'd like us to think about what it could have looked like had the Istanbul talks continued and had this parallel peace process happened in Turkey alongside the formal talks. How do you think the international actors would have responded, understanding that they have their own 1325 National Action Plans? Do you think they would have been able to put pressure on the negotiations to include the women's recommendations and red lines? Would there have been any discussion around the protection of women's rights as a non-negotiable term in a resulting agreement? Do you think the withdrawal may have been different?

CE: I think it would have turned up the heat somewhat, and that's no mean feat. That is, holding this alternative peace summit on Afghanistan last spring would have made the mainly male and rival negotiators meeting in Doha feel that they were more scrutinized. That always should be counted as an accomplishment. It would have made them feel as though they were under the critical spotlight when they made no explicit commitments on women's empowerment, women's representation, and women's genuine security.

And achieving that might have changed some of the terms of the Afghan peace agreement. Maybe. I'm not cynical. To turn up the heat to to a degree people feel scrutinized, to make them feel as though they can't just do whatever they want because nobody cares and nobody's paying attention, to change that all-too-common sense is really an achievement, and I think that, had it happened, it might have had some positive effect in Doha.

​​Short of that, all of us should print out, read, and then re-read the recommendations announced by the Afghan women delegates at their Kabul workshops in April, 2021. Reading these recommendations now, at a time when Taliban male commanders hold the reins of state power in Afghanistan is really important. If you read this declarations you cannot slide into the awful presumption that Afghan women are mainly victims, in hiding or fleeing for their lives. Afghan women are thinkers. They are strategists. They are full of practical knowledge. This detailed declaration shows that. This understanding of what peace requires is what they would have brought to bear on the male-dominated peace negotiators.

TH: I agree. And even if it just made the male-dominated peace negotiators talk the talk, it could have been translated into resulting agreements, and then we could have new policies and new laws that then further can be used as tools for advocacy moving forward.

I learned so much from you tonight on that. Thank you.

Sadly, the situation in Afghanistan is unlikely to be the last time women get sidelined and ignored in situations of conflict and in peacebuilding and humanitarian responses. So what else would you suggest? What more can we do?

CE: Keep our eyes wide open. Never shrug our shoulders. Always listen to women organizers on the ground. Always.

Don't ever become cynical. I am such a foe of cynicism because it's false knowledge. Cynicism is just passivity dressed up to look like sophistication. We need to support feminist-curious journalists, to support local organizers, to support those international groups that ally with the local women’s groups. And we have to keep learning.

TH: Thank you so much, Cynthia, this was such a treat, and I wish I could talk to you every day like this. It’s a rare, rare gift and privilege to have this opportunity. Thank you for your time and your incredible insight and wisdom. Thank you.

CE: It works both ways, Tanya.

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Tanya Henderson
Tanya Henderson
Founder & President