At the start of 2020, many of us imagined the year would be remembered as the beginning of the UN Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and for marking the anniversaries of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace, and security (WPS) and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. We saw a world in which trust in institutions was at an all-time low, and considered how we could support the reinvigoration of systematic parliamentary, civil society, and people’s partnerships for peace, resilience and gender equality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered many assumptions. But the hard lessons learned from it, from response planning and implementation to recovering forward better efforts, have affirmed the power of partnerships for advancing and reshaping the WPS agenda as we deal with the COVID-19 crisis, including partnerships between parliaments and civil society. This was the key takeaway of a recent event commemorating the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, hosted by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security in partnership with UNDP and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS).
Many of the most effective COVID-19 responses have been those involving strong women’s leadership that enlisted deep grassroots support. In Sierra Leone, the Parliamentary Female Caucus with UNDP’s support joined hands with community-led organizations and women groups to map out more gender-sensitive ways to respond to the pandemic. Based on these dialogues, the caucus has advocated for the diverse participation of women in the fight against the pandemic. It has also urged dedicated support for women-led micro-businesses, hit hardest by lockdown measures, and women community-organizers who have been at the forefront of keeping communities safe. Looking ahead, the caucus is emphasizing the need for well-resourced projects for community revitalization after the pandemic has passed.
Similarly, among the most progressive recovery visions are those that include a recommitment to the complementary visions of the SDGs and the WPS agenda. Such visions recognize that inclusive processes with strong participation and equal leadership opportunities for women can lead to better and more sustainable outcomes of peace processes, crisis response and building back from COVID-19. In its recommendations to the recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy by the UK Government, a civil society organization network GAPS advocated for a holistic approach that brings together security, peacebuilding and development.
In many places, women MPs and women-led civil society groups engaging in peacebuilding and dialogue are forging new pathways for women’s political participation as we look to the post-COVID-19 era. Parliamentary cross-party groups, can play important roles in cultivating relationships between decision-makers in parliaments and a diverse representation of women peacebuilders, advocates and civil society. In Kyrgyzstan, the cross-party Forum of Women MPs together with women’s organizations and gender experts, with the support of the UNiTE campaign, have established a Council on Women's Rights and Countering Gender Violence in the Kyrgyz Parliament to jointly monitor the implementation of gender-based violence and gender equality laws. In the UK, GAPS has served as the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on WPS, which has provided a platform for an inclusive dialogue on WPS in the country.
For women’s organizations to build and maintain the capacity needed to engage with decision-makers, and to support women’s leadership and full participation more broadly, they need steady and flexible funding. The Government of Norway, which has put partnerships with civil society for gender equality and peace at the cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy, has championed various instruments that make such funding available directly to women’s organisations. Through budgetary oversight, parliaments in donor countries can help ensure their governments maintain steady levels of impactful and gender-responsive development assistance that reaches and serves those who need it the most.
UNDP, with the support of Norway, is proud to encourage stronger collaborations between parliaments and civil society for more a peaceful, sustainable and gender-equal society. Our Global Project on Parliaments and Civil Society as Partners Supporting WPS is working to empower parliamentarians to find new possibilities and ways of working with women peacebuilders in the grassroots, local government and the media. The project spotlights the societal benefits of having women represented in decision-making and leadership, both numerically and substantively. This work stands alongside other UNDP efforts to make parliaments more gender-sensitive and fit-for-purpose SDG16+ institutions--those that are effective, accountable to people, and invite a systematic and diverse participation of those for who the achievement of the SDGs will make the most difference.
The recently published “Women, peace and human security: a guidance note on parliamentary engagement during and post-COVID-19” charts the ways in which parliaments, civil society and development partners can work together so that 2020 is remembered not only as the year of COVID-19, but also a year where there was decisive action and across the board commitment to see the world we want realized.