UK government commits more resources to conflict-affected and fragile states: but what does this mean for women?

by 17th Mar 2016
Nyanor Miakoh (centre) walked two days from her hometown of Panyang to Yida, in the far north of South Sudan's Unity State, to escape the violence that saw her lose her home, her livelihood and two members of her family (August 2014) Nyanor Miakoh (centre) walked two days from her hometown of Panyang to Yida, in the far north of South Sudan's Unity State, to escape the violence that saw her lose her home, her livelihood and two members of her family (August 2014)

50 per cent of DFID’s budget is now allocated to conflict-affected and fragile states. The UK government is also demonstrating a leading role on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda with ambitious commitments made at the High-Level Review of UNSCR 1325. But is political commitment to WPS stuck at the global level? What is being done to improve the situation for women and girls on the ground?

As part of my internship with CARE International UK, I spent two days in Parliament last month at events on women in conflict and peace-building. The new UK aid strategy allocates 50 per cent of DFID’s budget to conflict-affected and fragile states, so I was keen to find out what the current political commitment to the Women, Peace and Security agenda looks like – and how this plays out in country.

A ‘golden moment’ at the APPG on Women, Peace and Security

My first insight into the UK government’s current political commitment was at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women, Peace and Security. Baroness Hodgson described the event as a ‘golden moment’ for the WPS agenda, with three committed ministers from the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence working closely together for the first time. This is a welcome initiative, and demonstrates the government’s willingness for joined-up thinking and a leadership role in the agenda.

The APPG focused on tangible action around the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2014-2017. So what progress has been made?

Firstly, it is clear that the UK Government is a key player in the Women, Peace and Security agenda on the global stage, with significant input into the High-Level Review of UNSCR 1325 helping to frame it as an opportunity for governments worldwide to make ambitious commitments.

The UK also made its own important pledges at the High-Level Review to ensure that women’s voices are heard in all future UK-hosted peace-building events and to help secure positive outcomes for women and girls at the World Humanitarian Summit.

But what are the gaps?

The APPG also saw the launch of a new shadow report from Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), of which CARE is a member.

GAPS welcomed the pledges made at the UN High-Level Review, but the report also highlighted the need to translate this commitment at the global level into comprehensive action in Whitehall. With champion governments such as Sweden formulating a ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’, surely this is a challenge to the UK government to do the same?

Further, there is work to be done on ensuring the meaningful participation of women from conflict-affected contexts in peace-building events. This means more than just tokenistic representation and will require UK officials and partners to collaborate more with local level networks and platforms already established in country. Not only is this positive for gender equality but it also helps build better and more durable peace agreements.

Focus on Afghanistan – lessons learnt

The second event I attended was a parliamentary briefing by Women for Women International on women’s rights in Afghanistan – one of the six UK National Action Plan focus countries.

More than five years ago (November 2010), CARE released a report on women’s participation in peace-building and post-conflict governance in Afghanistan. It was, perhaps, telling that Mandana Hendessi opened with an appeal from the women she works with: ‘Please do not forget us. Please stay with us.’ Afghan women’s voices need to be placed firmly on the political agenda, because progress on gender equality in Afghanistan is still fragile, and women continue to suffer disproportionately to men. Advancing women’s rights is a progressive agenda, demanding significant changes in the balance of power, and so progress is also volatile.

However, I took away two important ‘lessons learnt’ in Afghanistan on what the international community should be doing in order to strengthen commitment to achieving gender equality and peaceful societies globally.

Firstly, the need to work to engage men and boys. It is essential to create the spaces for men to learn about women’s rights. This is an approach CARE has worked on a lot and continues to explore how to do this effectively. I heard how in Afghanistan, for example,  legal guarantees of human rights are in place, but without engaging men and boys as allies in gender equality, these laws will not become a reality in homes and on the street.

And secondly, the need to strengthen women’s capacity to influence at international peace talks. CARE has long called for greater participation of women and girls in peace, security and development talks. Afghanistan now has its first female Judge in the Supreme Court and a female Deputy Chair at the High Peace Council. These are positive steps forwards, but there is still work to be done on supporting women to effectively participate in decision-making within these forums. And when it’s not possible for women to gain a formal seat at the table, ‘quiet lobbying’ at peace talks in informal spaces is really valuable.

It is clear that the WPS agenda creates an enabling environment for real progress, but it’s equally clear that more needs to be done to translate commitments on the global stage into real change at the local level.

By Madeline Moore, Policy and Advocacy Intern, CARE International UK