Sean Molloy discusses the need to connect civil society leaders, parliamentarians, and UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) with Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agendas to promote inclusive, sustainable peacebuilding.
The post identifies challenges such as under-representation, insufficient follow-up on legislation, and competing priorities. Sean suggests that peace agreements can provide reference points and mechanisms to address these challenges, aiding parliamentarians in promoting WPS and YPS agendas.
On 18 September 2023, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), Women Political Leaders (WPL) and UN Women co-hosted a high-level dialogue to connect civil society leaders with parliamentarians to catalyze the synergy of the Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) with those on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in conflict prevention and inclusive, sustainable peacebuilding. It was a timely event, reflecting as it did that despite the promise of these agendas, they often remain unimplemented in countries around the world. This post briefly discusses the responsibilities of parliaments in supporting implementation, the challenges frequently faced and the roles that peace agreements can potentially play in supporting parliamentarians in overcoming them.
1. WPS and YPS: A Brief Background
Women, Peace and Security (WPS) is a policy framework that recognizes that women must be critical actors in all efforts to achieve sustainable international peace and security. The agenda evolved from the landmark UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which was unanimously adopted on October 31, 2000. UNSCR 1325 addresses not only the disproportionate impacts of war on women but also the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict prevention, conflict management and sustainable peace efforts. As such, its framework consists of four pillars—participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery. In the years since, the UNSC has adopted nine more resolutions on women, peace and security, in order to provide more detailed guidance on specific aspects of war and its impact on women, addressing such issues as sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking and the gendered aspects of peacekeeping efforts.
The Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda is more nascent in its existence. It is currently backed by three UNSC resolutions adopted between 2015 and 2020, namely UNSC Resolutions 2250 (2015), 2419 (2018) and 2535 (2020). The primary drivers behind the emergence of this agenda are three-fold. Firstly, the YPS responds to the profound impact that conflict has on youths. As the preamble to SC Resolution 2250 notes:
“youth account for many of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and that the disruption of youth’s access to education and economic opportunities has a dramatic impact on durable peace and reconciliation.”
Secondly, the YPS agenda reflects the fact youth are often ignored in peacebuilding and post-conflict efforts. In the context of conflict-affected settings, this exclusion can have adverse consequences on both the emergence and continuation of violence. Simpson (2019: 42; ) argues then that at its core the YPS agenda ‘is a clear acknowledgement of the political, economic and social exclusion and marginalisation of 1.8 billion young people globally, as well as the potential consequences as more than a quarter of these young women and men are persistently exposed to violence’ (See also Simpson 2018; UN General Assembly and Security Council, 2018). Thirdly, the YPS agenda seeks to harness the potential and previously untapped contributions that youth can make to building peace. SC 2250 thus identifies ‘the important and positive contribution of youth in efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security’ and affirms ‘the important role youth can play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and as a key aspect of the sustainability, inclusiveness and success of peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.’
2. The Role of Parliament in supporting WPS and YPS
Despite the increased attention directed towards not only these agendas but also other global initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there remains a gap between the ambition of commitments and actual political will and financial support. To have meaningful impact, the commitments contained with resolutions like WPS 1425 and YPS 2250 must be translated into practice. Although a range of constituents bear this responsibility, Parliaments can support the realization of both the WPS and YPS in a range of ways. These include through law-making, setting budgets, monitoring and outreach.
Parliaments as law-making bodies can support agendas like the WPS and YPS through the establishment of laws that give domestic legal effect to these global policy frameworks. For instance, National Action Plans (NAPs) are policy documents in which a government articulates priorities and actions that it will adopt to support the implementation of international, regional, or national obligations and commitments with regard to a given policy area or topic. In respect of WPS, a total of 107 UN Member States have adopted a National Action Plan. Much less countries have adopted NAPs on YPS, yet some, like Nigeria, Finland and the Democratic Republic of Congo have. Parliaments can enshrine commitments in these plans through legislation drawing on legal measures to support the realisation of a range of provisions meant to protect and empower women and youth. Where these plans have not been formulated, Parliaments can pass laws that require of governments that they produce a NAP.
In countries with NAPs, an initial survey of existing laws will already have been undertaken. Where they have not, Parliamentarians can also identify law reform priorities. Legislatures are well-placed to pass, for instance, employment laws, property and inheritance laws and family laws that both empower and protect women, girls and youth. Similarly, Parliaments can pass legislation regarding quotas for women and youth in national parliaments and other local and public bodies, or in state security services, as examples. To demonstrate, recently, the Indian parliament has passed a bill that guarantees a third of seats for women in the lower house of parliament and state assemblies.
It is not simply in passing laws that empower or protect women and youth that Parliaments can contribute to the realisation of WPS and YPS Agendas. Politicians play an important role in scrutinising bills before they become law and engaging in post-legislative scrutiny once laws have passed. Pre-legislative scrutiny offers the opportunity to ensure that laws proposed are gender and youth-sensitive, while post-legislative scrutiny offers the chance to interrogate the effects of laws that have been passed and are implemented. Alternatively, parliaments can help to ensure that commitments in peace agreements, particularly those targeting women and youth, are translated into legislation thus giving legal effect to what are often (although not always) political agreements.
Parliaments are also responsible for budget-setting, and this can have an important bearing on the realisation of agendas such as WPS and YPS. For instance, Parliaments can ensure that enough financial support is given to agencies and bodies responsible for implementing NAPs. They can also ensure financial support for those agencies or bodies responsible for monitoring NAP implementation or for drafting NAPs or youth and gender-focused policy more generally. Building on the previous discussion, parliament can ensure that sufficient resources are given to those bodies responsible for implementing laws (e.g., gender commission, human rights commission, ministry of justice, police or security sector), as well as those groups within parliament that taking the lead on youth and women’s rights. Budgeting is also highly pertinent to the implementation of peace agreements. Parliament can play an important role in determining where finance and resources are directed in respect of reforms included in peace agreements. Where these reforms address women and youth, whether directly or inadvertently, parliaments can be instrumental for ensuring that the necessary and appropriate resources are dedicated to these issues.
Parliamentarians can also play important roles in ensuring the implementation of commitments contained in WPS and YPS. Through various committees, and questions before the government, parliamentarians can probe the latter regarding the measures that they are taking to prevent sexual violence, support victims that suffer as a result and hold to account those guilty of committing such crimes. For example, in the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security (APPG-WPS) is a forum for the discussion and analysis of issues relating to WPS. Each year, this group hosts the UK annual Report to Parliament on Women, Peace and Security, which is described as ‘a crucial tool for holding the Government to account on its Women, Peace and Security commitments.’ At this event, Ministers from the UK Government present its Annual Report on progress on its Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS)– the UK’s Women, Peace and Security civil society network- presents its Shadow Report. The Annual Report to Parliament is an opportunity for Parliamentarians and civil society to monitor, assess and question the UK Government’s work on Women, Peace and Security. Parliaments can also hold governments to account on such issues as migration, which have a significant impact on both women and youths fleeing conflict. Beyond the domestic context, parliamentarians can also monitor compliance with agendas like WPS and YPS in their international affairs, including involvement in peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping. In addition, Parliaments can both enquire of and illuminate the role of government funding and military support to regimes in the midst of conflict, which both directly and indirectly impact youth and women in these settings.
Parliamentarians can also participate in and promote engagement with international accountability mechanisms addressing both women and youth such as, for instance, UN Committee bodies and the Universal Periodic Review as well as ensuring that the recommendations issued by these mechanisms are implemented. Monitoring and accountability of the executive are also centrally important to the realisation of peace agreements. These accords often include provisions that directly target women and youths. This includes, as examples, commitments on the inclusion both groups in peace agreement implementation, alongside reforms that address their exclusion and marginalisation. In addition, as one mechanism by which governments are held accountable, parliamentarians can seek to ensure that the commitments contained in resolutions like WPS 1325 and YPS 2025 are both informing and reflected in peace agreement implementation.
Parliamentarians also play an important role in terms of representation and outreach. As politicians are elected from local constituencies, members of national parliaments can represent the interests of local women and youth, ensuring that they have a voice. As such, parliamentarians can act as a bridge between their local constituencies and the national-level institutions and decision-making structures. In relation to peace agreement implementation, for instance, this ensures that parliamentarians are well-placed, through consultations, to assess the local-level impacts of reforms enacted by the peace accord and, using this knowledge, feed it back to those responsible for translating peace agreement commitments from pieces of paper. This flow of information is also important for NAPs. While NAPs frequently include macro-level reforms, the issue of localisation has been continuously championed as important for ensuring that the commitments and aspirations that comprise these plans have impact on the ground. Through the accumulation of local knowledge, important information that specifies those issues pertinent at the more granular level can be used both to ensure implementation at the local level is sensitive and impactful locally. The potential to engage women and youth at the constituency-level also depends, however, on providing relevant groups with opportunities to engage. This, in turn, requires educating about existing agendas like the WPS and YPS. It also necessitates providing necessary resources to help grass roots organisations to mobilise. Parliamentarians, as budget setters, are again salient in this regard.
There are, therefore, a range of ways in which parliaments, in theory, can promote the WPS and YPS agendas. However, there are myriad challenges, which often impede the translation of this potential in reality.
Firstly, while parliaments are useful mechanisms for implementing the YPS and WPS, youth and women are often inadequately represented in the legislature. In turn, the lack of representation can hinder not only the passage of relevant laws, but also a gender and youth perspective. Moreover, evidence from WPS demonstrates that achieving parity in terms of numbers is not enough. When women are included, it is usually in peripheral, advisory roles, rather than as peace negotiators and equal stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of policies and peace agreements. Thus, not only inclusion as a numbers exercise but commitments to ensuring the inclusion of women and young people in decision-making structures is essential. This is particularly important, in the context of peace agreement negotiations and implementation.
Secondly, although laws promoting the uptake and implementation of agendas like WPS and YPS are important, even when passed, they are merely the beginning of a process. In this way, roles of law-making and monitoring are interconnected; parliamentarians must ensure that the passage of legislation or adoption of policies are part of a much wider process of implementation and monitoring. However, laws are often passed without sufficient follow-up, resources, staffing, implementation, or accountability. Similarly, although parliaments can play a role in holding to account the government of the day, there are risks that as administrations change, so too does commitment to agendas like women and youth. In this way, accountability is linked to law-making and in particular the promulgation of laws that enshrine policy commitments in ways the bind subsequent governments. To this end, law-making and budgeting are also complementary- when laws are passed or polices adopted, there must be sufficient resources to ensure that they can be implemented and monitored.
Thirdly, the objectives of WPS and YPS also exist alongside a vast range of other policy and legislative priorities, which are often being championed by different interest groups with varying levels of power, resources and influence. While political will might exist in formulating NAPs or passing legislation, it can often be sidelined in favour of other matters. This challenge relates back to difficulties associated with adequate youth and gender representation to continue to champion and demand implementation.
Fourthly, while parliamentarians, as individuals elected at the local level, hold potential to engage local actors, this two-way flow of information presumes a number of prerequisites. Firstly, and as noted above, it depends on parliamentarians being willing and committed to engaging with local-level actors on these matters. Secondly, it requires that local civil society are organized, properly funded and afforded opportunities to engage with parliamentarians. This is not always the case, particularly as funding for civil society groups has come under pressure post-covid.
In other words, notwithstanding the promise of parliamentarians in supporting the uptake and implementation of SC agendas, numerous challenges exist. There are, of course and undoubtedly, many more difficulties that impede the implementation of agendas like WPS and YPS generally and UNSC Resolutions more specifically. Nevertheless, the obstacles discussed above evidence a chasm between the potential roles that parliamentarians might play in promoting these agendas and a range of issues, which frequently stifle this potential.
4. Peace Agreements as sites of support
The final section, drawing on ongoing PeaceRep research, considers how peace agreements might help support the work of parliamentarians in promoting agendas like WPS and YPS and respond to some of the difficulties that create a gap between the ambition of commitments and actual political will and financial support. The argument is not to suggest that peace agreements are panaceas. Rather, it is the more modest suggestion that peace agreements, as roadmaps for peacebuilding and the post-conflict state, can provide varying degrees of impetus for parliaments to engage. As such, in different ways peace agreements can provide useful reference points.
Firstly, peace agreements can draw attention to agendas like the WPS and YPS and the resolutions passed under their aegis. Agreements in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and Uganda, for instance, have referenced UNSC 1325. In some instances, like in Sudan, there are express commitments to codify SC 1325. In doing so, peace agreements can help to ensure that these agendas form part of the post-conflict landscape and are not sidelined in favour of other objectives. Alternatively, peace agreements can include commitments to formulate or implement existing NAPs (See, for example, Afghanistan, 08/07/2012, Tokyo Declaration Partnership for Self-Reliance in Afghanistan from Transition to Transformation (Tokyo Conference)). In doing so, peace agreements provide parliamentarians with useful points of reference to support their advocacy in pursuing agendas on women and youth.
Secondly, peace agreements can help respond to challenges associated with the lack of women and youth in parliament, and the impacts that this can have on law reform in these. At a basic level, peace agreements can underline the salience of engaging groups like youth in democracy and political participation. In respect of youth, for instance, peace agreements can make general commitments to ‘increase the participation of young people in the decision-making process’ (Bahrain, 28/07/2011, Bahrain National Dialogue Proposals, Executive Summary) or to ‘ensure actual representation of women and young people on the candidate rolls’ (Democratic Republic of Congo, 31/12/2016, Global and Inclusive Political Agreement of the Inter-diocesan Center of Kinshasa). Peace agreements can also create or designate portfolios such as ministries on youth or Gender and Development that are to be responsible for reforms (Liberia, 18/08/2003, Peace Agreement between the Government of Liberia, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the Movement of Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and the Political Parties (Accra Agreement)) or reiterate the responsibilities of governments in protecting and empowering groups like youth (See, for example, Iraq, 15/10/2005, Constitution of Iraq). More concretely, peace agreements can include provisions on quotas for both groups in parliament. For instance, the 2005 peace agreement constitution in Burundi required that the National Assembly comprise, at a minimum, 30% of women, while in Somalia, the 2012 Protocol Establishing the Somali National Constituent Assembly stated that of the 825 delegate who were to make up the National Constituent Assembly, 30% must be women. Measures such as these can help respond to the challenges associated with the relative exclusion of these groups, while at the same time providing important reference points for ensuring that governments are meeting their obligations under WPS and YPS.
While Parliaments can identify areas for law reform and legislation, so too can peace agreements thereby supporting those parliamentarians attempting to legislate in these areas. This can be done by stipulating areas for legislative reform or, alternatively, identifying specific matters that could help inform parliamentarians about issues for future reform. In terms of specific references to legislative changes, in some instances, peace agreements are general in the legal reforms envisioned. An agreement in the Philippines, as an example, commits that the Bangsamoro Government will enact ‘Special development programs and laws for women, the youth, the elderly, labor, the differently-abled, and indigenous cultural communities.’ In other instances, however, peace agreements can be more specific. A useful example comes from Yemen under the 2014 National Dialogue Conference Outcomes Document. Expressed as recommendations, this agreement promotes the ‘preparation of the law of associations and civic institutions that promotes the role of women, youth, the marginalized, the disabled and children.’ Under a different section entitled guidelines, the agreement stipulates that:
The law shall provide for the amendments of tax and fiscal legislations to ensure that they contain temporary and regulated tax exemption for projects that aim at economically empowering women and youth.
Beyond specific references to law reform, peace agreements can also help to identify the areas for necessary change. In respect of youth, for instance, peace agreements have addressed issues like youth employment, education and health alongside protection of youth. A much wider range of issues have been addressed as they relate to women. Alongside those mentioned in respect of youth, peace agreements can also address such issues as reproductive rights, sexual violence, and gender-based violence.
Thirdly, both WPS and YPS stress the importance of including women and youth in peace processes. To this end, peace agreements can provide for the involvement of youth and women in development and reconstruction. Peace agreements can encourage groups like youth to be involved in supporting peace, while other agreements are signed by women. Peace agreements can also promote the inclusion and participation of groups like women and youth in transitional justice mechanisms, DDR and security sector reform.
Importantly, peace agreements often create mechanisms to support the implementation of peace agreements, committing parties to ensure the inclusion of groups like youth and women in these. As an example, an agreement in Somalia stipulates that:
This agreement will be implemented by a central coordinating committee, comprising the following sub-committees (Giddi-Hoosaad):
… These sub-committees will comprise of various community representatives, including religious leaders, local politicians, intellectuals, armed forces officers, elders, women and youth members. They will assume responsibilities under the oath of the Holy Qur’aan that they will fulfil their duties honestly.
Similarly, in the Central African Republic, the Khartoum agreement creates a prefectural implementation committee which is to comprise, amongst others, civil society organisations representing youth and women. These commitments again provide important points of reference for parliamentarians attempting to ensure the implementation of resolutions like WPS 1325 and YPS 2250 by committing governments to ensure the inclusion of women and youth in peace processes more generally and implementation specifically.
Fourthly, peace agreements can also respond to other challenges around funding, accountability and engaging civil society. In terms of funding, while parliaments must grapple with budgeting for a vast range of issues, peace agreements can include direct commitments to funding specific matters. Thus, agreements in places like Mali, Kenya, Northern Ireland and South Sudan include commitments to fund youth-based reforms and projects thereby, in theory, overcoming challenges associated with designating funds as part of the parliamentary process.
Regarding monitoring, although parliaments play an important role in holding governments to account for how they are implementing parts of a peace accord that address groups like women and youth, peace agreements can also support these efforts in different ways. As an illustration, peace agreements can also create or designate specific bodies responsible for monitoring implementation. These include, as examples, UN human rights mechanisms. As such, in some instances, those peace agreement provisions that target specific groups, like women and youth, will be subject to additional monitoring that can support the work of parliamentarians in ensuring implementation. Moreover, international organisations can also be responsible for addressing particular issues thereby providing additional avenues for ensuring the realization of certain aspects of WPS and YPS beyond the government. As an example, in the DRC, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is tasked with advocating for job creation for young people and unemployed adults’ and the training of youth in creating a culture for peace (Recommendations, 05/06/2018).
As a final example, peace agreements can encourage engagement of civil society organisations working on youth and children to help inform debate and dialogue on a range of issues. As noted, engaging with civil society organisations working on issues like women’s or youth rights, or representing the interests of these groups, are particularly important for ensuring that their views and voices are represented. In pursuance of bottom-up involvement, peace agreements can support the inclusion of youth and women’s based grassroot civil society organisations in implementation committees (Kenya, 04/02/2008, Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation: Public Statement; Nigeria, 01/06/2017, Oyo State Workshop Resolutions on the Promotion of Community Dialogue, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding for Share and Tsaragi Communities or commit to the promulgation of legislation regarding the organisation of youth associations, movements and organisations (Democratic Republic of Congo, 02/04/2003, Intercongolese Negotiations: The Final Act (‘The Sun City Agreement’)).
None of the above is to say, of course, that peace agreements are panaceas. For example, peace agreements frequently fail to address young women, as individuals that straddle both agendas. The intersectionality of youths is often largely unaddressed in peace agreements, treating youths as a homogenous group without reflecting or responding to those areas of discrimination relating to race, sexual orientation, or class, as examples. Moreover, the impact of any peace agreement provision is itself subject to the extent to which it is implemented, and peace agreements often fail. Nevertheless, particularly when the challenges facing parliamentarians in promoting agendas on women and youth, peace agreements could provide an important source of support, legitimacy, ideas, and political will, to help parliamentarians both promote and take the necessary steps to ensure the realization of the substantive commitments found in resolutions like WPS 1325 and YPS 2250.
Parliaments can support the realization of both the WPS and YPS in a range of ways. These include through law-making, budgeting, monitoring, and outreach. Nevertheless, various difficulties and challenges create a chasm between the potential roles that parliamentarians might play in promoting these agendas generally or resolutions specifically and the realities on the ground. For this reason, there are ongoing efforts to bridge this gap. The high-level meeting was one such initiative but others exist in the form of guidelines, handbooks, and scoping studies.
However, while a significant amount of research exists on women and peace agreements, including the PA-X Gender Database, and to a lesser extent, youth and peace agreements, there is little discussion dedicated to the potential relationships between the WPS and YPS agenda, peace agreements and parliaments. This blog post has attempted to trace some of the potential ways in which peace agreements might offer some support to these efforts. These insights suggest that for those parliamentarians attempting to promote the uptake and implementation of agendas like YPS and WPS could utilize peace agreements, their content, and commitments, as sources of authority, support, and inspiration when doing so.