WPS in policy

In pursuing a new resolution on sexual violence Security Council significantly undermines women’s reproductive rights

Louise Allen and Laura Shepherd explore the complex politics of Resolution 2467.

UN Security Council, 22 April 2019

Outside of a relatively specialised circle of policy experts and advocates, negotiations over UN Security Council resolutions don’t usually get a lot of coverage in social and mainstream media. Resolution 2467, adopted on 23 April 2019 to become the ninth resolution to be adopted under the title of ‘Women and peace and security’, was somewhat different in this regard. Discussions in news and social media began days before the resolution was due to be tabled (at the annual Security Council open debate on sexual violence in conflict). These focused on whether the language in the draft resolution about sexual and reproductive healthcare for survivors of wartime sexual violence could be protected,  while attempting to strengthen accountability for sexual violence in conflict,  in the face of serious opposition, primarily from the USA. As it turned out, it could not. Here, we argue that resolution 2467, and the circumstances of its adoption, gives all of us who are interested in the Women, Peace and Security agenda reason to be very concerned about the future of the agenda and the preservation of the small and hard-fought victories that it can reasonably claim.

This latest development, which few within the WPS community have rushed to applaud, also needs to be considered with the 20th anniversary of the agenda’s inception being now just over a year around the corner. With this comes the certain likelihood that another text will be considered at this milestone, as was the case in 2015 and in 2010. While resolution 1325 was the result of a groundswell of advocacy by women civil society around the world, today’s calls emanating from women’s organisations, especially those from conflict and post-conflict affected countries, are not for another Security Council resolution. Advocacy efforts are predominantly focusing on the implementation of and accountability for the commitments enshrined in the eight – now nine – already adopted.

It is frustrating that this relentless and uncompromising pushback by the US should have come as any surprise to the Security Council. In October last year it was revealed that the Trump administration was working to remove the word ‘gender’ from UN documents as part of its strategy to undermine the recognised human rights of transgender individuals. In March this year, the administration was accused of trying to further dilute international women’s rights standards as they relate to sexual and reproductive rights at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

This proved to be an unsurmountable challenge for Germany, representatives of which had been advocating for a resolution during its presidency since October 2018. While there was varying support among Council members for stronger accountability measures and a survivor-centred approach to sexual violence in conflict, the compromise necessary to achieve this related to the very issues the USA has increasingly been rallying against. In pursuing this resolution even after key components had already been reportedly taken out during the negotiations, Council members made a calculated decision that removing sexual and reproductive health for women who had been raped in conflict was justifiable. However, the very pursuit of the resolution came at significant costs for the same individuals who the resolution was intended to bring justice for as well as for the WPS agenda.

The resolution represents a compromise on language about women’s rights to sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) that had already been negotiated and agreed upon by the Council. Inserted into the Preamble of resolution 1889, operative paragraph 19 of resolution 2106 (adopted in 2013) gives some substance to the Council’s provision in this sphere:

Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence (S/RES/2106, 2013, para. 19).

It sets a dangerous precedent for the agenda that the Trump administration was essentially able to hold the resolution hostage through threat of veto until representatives could secure a commitment to a watered-down, reduced version of this language for resolution 2467. After several further last minute cuts requested by Washington DC, 2467 makes no direct reference to SRH. The only reference to previous resolutions is in the first preambular paragraph which lists all eight WPS resolutions, but these are not mentioned in the context of SRH.

This squabble over a few words might seem insignificant. But the words are not there, and the words matter, because the words of each resolution represent the negotiated and agreed upon commitments of the Council at the time. Further, the absence of SRH language must be read through the lens of the Trump administration’s continued war on women, which began early in the administration’s tenure with the reinstating of the Mexico City policy, better known as the ‘global gag rule’. Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum on the Mexico City policy a couple of months into his presidency, suggesting that it was a matter of some priority for his administration. The policy institutes a ban on federal funding flowing to international family planning institutions that offer, among other services, advice and counselling on abortion.

The impact of the revival of the global gag rule is devastating. One report by Human Rights Watch ‘found the policy has triggered reductions in key sexual and reproductive health services from well-established organizations that cannot easily be replaced’. In Kenya and Uganda, as a result of reduced funding, organisations are having to choose between providing vital medications to people living with HIV/AIDS or counselling and access to safe abortions in an environment in which such access is not assured and in which women and girls are dying from unsafe procedures.

The likelihood of the Trump administration holding women’s reproductive rights hostage in negotiations about a new WPS resolution was always high, given the administration’s track record in this area. The smart play might well have been to put the agenda into maintenance mode. As those closely involved with the agenda have noted, there are many commitments that are still yet to receive sufficient support and funding for implementation. This raises the question, then, of why a ninth resolution was sought at all and where does it leave a tenth?

Given the last few days, before even thinking of now a tenth resolution, careful consideration is needed to identity what progressive additions could feasibly be agreed to in this current climate, which genuinely reflect the identified needs and priorities of women living and working in conflict affected countries. It is also crucially important that states which call themselves friends of the agenda mount an iron-clad defence around the normative developments secured inch by inch over the last two decades and beyond.


About the authors

Louise AllenLouise Allen (@AllenLouiseA) is a Global Gender, Peace and Security Consultant and an experienced women’s rights and women, peace and security advocate. She has worked alongside women, Indigenous and refugee human rights defenders and civil society in Australia, in the Pacific and at the UN both in Geneva and New York. From 2014-September 2018, she was the Executive Director of the New York-based NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

Laura ShepherdProfessor Laura J. Shepherd (@drljshepherd) is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of International Relations in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Much of Laura’s research focuses on the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and she has published widely on related topics, including violence prevention, civil society participation in peace and security governance, and militarism.

Data on gender, WPS, and why counting women is not good enough

Rob Nagel introduces his working paper on what we know and don’t know in terms of quantitative data on gendered violence, women in armed groups, and the WPS agenda. 

Systematic data and research © via Pexels

The United Nations frequently calls for more women in their peacekeeping operations to improve effectiveness, heralding women’s role in peace processes and claiming that more women means better peacekeeping. Other international actors such as the Council on Foreign Relations, International Civil Society Action Network, UN Women, and the International Peace Institute have made similar claims about women’s participation in peace processes contributing to a narrative that if only we included more women (or only women, if we bring this to its logical conclusion), peace processes would be more effective and durable.

These claims, at times inaccurate, exaggerated, or plainly incorrect, are nonetheless instructive. They invoke an essentialist image of women as more peaceful, which resonates with donors. It’s an opportunity for governments and organizations to virtue-signal how progressive they are, “look we are including women”, without addressing hierarchical systems of oppression in which issues of class, gender, and race are often inseparable. Quantitative data take a particular role in this and receive deferential treatment; after all who would argue against statistics? This deferential treatment and over reliance on quantitative data often results in problematic use of the underlying data and leads to inaccurate representations of facts in favour of a stylized narrative. As a result these claims have engendered pushback from scholars on a wide methodological spectrum including quantitative researchers sceptical of the importance of gender analysis.

This is problematic for a number of reasons: it marginalizes qualitative research; it undermines the important normative issues of women’s inclusion and gender equality; it undermines the good quantitative work that does exist; it fails those tasked with drafting, advocating for, and implementing evidence-based policies; and it fails those meant to benefit from these policies.

Having spent my PhD using quantitative methods to examine questions on the nexus of gender and conflict resolution, I grew slightly frustrated with these claims, the problems they raise, and the apparent disconnect between existing research, popular narratives, and public policy. So I was extremely grateful when Paul Kirby asked if I had any interest in contributing to the LSE WPS Working Paper Series. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try and bridge these gaps.

In my Working Paper, I provide a short overview of what we know and don’t know in terms of quantitative data on gendered violence, women in armed groups, and the WPS agenda. I first discuss data on societal gendered violence and conflict-related sexual violence, highlighting both advances and areas for further improvement. Unfortunately, I finished my paper before Shanna Kirschner and Adam Miller’s article on peacekeeping and sexual violence was published and couldn’t include it in the overview. Spoiler: they find that peacekeeping missions limit the prevalence of sexual violence and reduce the overall chance that armed actors perpetrate sexual violence.

The second part of the paper examines what we know about women’s participation in armed groups, before I briefly discuss what we know about women’s participation in national militaries. What stands out is the lack of comprehensive data on women in national militaries. It is an incredible gap in our knowledge about women’s contributions to national defence and war fighting.

In the section on the Women, Peace, and Security nexus, I provide an overview of the quantitative data on issues linked to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, such as gender mainstreaming, National Action Plans, and increasing women’s participation in different aspects of peace processes, in particular peacekeeping, negotiations, and peace agreements.

In the Working Paper I also confront the limitations of quantitative data using the example of the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) dataset. Having worked as a research assistant for SVAC and other data projects, I know that, despite researchers’ best intentions, conflict-related data are always estimates – at best incomplete, at worst politically motivated. Compiling and coding data made me reflect on these inherent problems more than reading or writing could have ever done. I am convinced that if we want to ensure honest, ethical, and responsible use of data, then anyone using quantitative data should spend some time grappling with the challenges and decisions associated with collecting and coding data. It is humbling.

For more, including a look at potential future research projects, challenges, and a few pointers on best practices when collecting and interpreting quantitative data, read my Working Paper: ‘The Known Knowns and Known Unknowns in Data on Women, Peace and Security’ Robert Ulrich Nagel, LSE WPS Working Paper Series 19/2019


About the authors

Robert Ulrich Nagel (@RobertUNagel) is a PhD candidate in International Conflict Analysis at the University of Kent. He was also a research assistant on the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) project run by the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.



CEDAW, WPS and the UK Government

Reflecting on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s consideration of the situation of women’s human rights in the UK at CEDAW 72, Keina Yoshida explores the synergies between CEDAW and WPS.

UK Government representative of the Gender Equalities Office answering CEDAW members’ questions 


It has been such a significant week for human rights and WPS, and for what some have termed Brexit and Chexit.  It is a week in which an international treaty body, an international court and the UK Supreme Court all affirmed the need for greater respect by the UK Government for human rights. The Chagos Island advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down case on the 25 February 2019, the CEDAW Committee’s examination of the UK, the Women and Equalities Committee oral evidence session of abortion in Northern Ireland and the Pat Finucane decision of the Supreme Court all indicate the UK government’s failures to uphold human rights law, and highlight the determined fight for justice by families, activists, lawyers and women from around the world.


The examination of the UK government’s eighth periodic report by CEDAW in particular is likely to be of interest to readers of this blog given the Committee’s specific questioning of the UK about the arms trade and the UK’s 4th National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP). As WPS scholars and practitioners will know, following General Recommendation No 30 on the situation of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, the CEDAW Committee monitors States party compliance with the WPS framework.  This blog and the WPS Working Paper series have hosted discussions about the shortcomings of the UK’s approach to the WPS framework particularly in relation to the lack of reproductive rights and GAPS have done important work (here) to highlight how the NAP does not extend the UK Government’s WPS commitments to Northern Ireland, refugee, asylum seeking, and migrant and trafficked women. Instead the plan is outward looking, ignoring the UK’s domestic responsibilities under the WPS framework.

On the 25 February 2019, approximately 50 NGOs from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland travelled to Geneva to address the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the situation of women’s human rights in the United Kingdom. Through a procedure known as the periodic review, the CEDAW Committee examines the extent to which the UK is complying with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). During an informal meeting, NGOs have an opportunity to address the Committee members and to highlight concerns set out in their shadow reports such as indefinite immigration detention, austerity, Brexit, and lack of abortion in Northern Ireland.  Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for example made important contributions about militarisation and highlighting increased military spending during a time of austerity and also the UK’s role as having second place in the global rankings of defence exports. The many Northern Irish NGOs present in the session highlighted that the Northern Irish Assembly has been suspended since January 2017 and that there has been no movement since the CEDAW Inquiry report finding violations of the Convention in relation to the lack of sexual and reproductive services and education in Northern Ireland, and that the 4th NAP excludes Northern Ireland.

On 26 February 2019, the Committee had the opportunity to question the UK Government representatives from the Gender Equalities Office, a summary of which can be found here.  While this note is helpful, it is not a complete reflection of the dialogue, as it omits the discussion on the arms trade and environmental concerns around fracking. The Government representatives were asked many questions by Committee members who ask have a number of timed minutes to ask  questions about the rights set out in the Convention. As per the usual process, questions were asked article by article and the Government had an opportunity to respond orally and in writing.


Palais De Nations, UN, Geneva

The UK delegation were asked inter alia, about the lack of a gender assessment in relation to rural women and the effects of fracking, about the case of Shamima Begum and the UK’s nationality laws, the lack of a children’s rights perspective in respect of Universal Credit,the export of weapons and the lack of implementation of 1325 in Northern Ireland. While the Government were congratulated in taking a leading role in tackling sexual violence in conflict, the Committee raised concerns about the narrow approach, specifically with respect to how the government was engendering peace in Northern Ireland. The Government were also asked about women’s participation and leadership in Northern Ireland, and its policies in relation to paramilitaries. The UK government’s response on WPS was to maintain the status quo and insist that WPS is an outward facing policy.


The exclusion of Northern Ireland in the NAP is very difficult to justify given its recent history and the ongoing struggles for truth and justice. Just one day later, the UK Supreme Court held on the 27 February 2019 that the inquiry held into the death of Pat Finucane, a lawyer who was shot dead in front of his family 30 years ago by loyalist gunmen in circumstances of state collusion was insufficient. The Finucane judgment underlines Northern Ireland’s post agreement/conflict context. The CEDAW72 session and the examination of the 4th NAP was a real opportunity for the UK government to indicate to the Committee that it was listening to women who have pushed for NI’s inclusion. The Government’s basis of the “outward facing” stance was that 1325, in the context of Northern Ireland “UK armed forces were deployed in support of civil power, so 1325 does not apply. We do however recognise the important role of Northern Irish women.” This is an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of the WPS agenda, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain wrote in International Affairs, while the conflicts considered to fall within the scope of the WPS agenda were narrowly defined,

“…the most recent WPS resolution portends to a widening of the range of conflicts and insecure settings to which the WPS agenda might apply by expanding the agenda to include the context of terrorism and counterterrorism. Despite this apparently inclusive move, I argue that the shift brings with it real risks of creating greater insecurity and gender essentialism in the management of war, conflict and security for women.”

In other words the criteria is narrow when it comes to domestic policy and accountability but wider in scope when the terms of inclusion suit the purposes of the UK’s governments foreign policy, rather than their commitment to rights set out in CEDAW30 or the WPS pillars in relation to women’s participation.


While the responses on the WPS/CEDAW nexus were disappointing, the procedure underlines the importance of the synergies between GR30 and the WPS framework as highlighted by Aisling Swaine and Catherine O’Rourke. The session was another opportunity for NGOs and civil society to push the Government into taking a more holistic stance to WPS and to highlight the ongoing gaps in the 4th National Action Plan. The contrast of the impact of the austerity policies on women and children, and the increase in military spending and profit of private security companies operating immigration centres, illustrated the clear links between violations of women’s rights and securitisation. The Concluding Observations (expected in March) are eagerly awaited.

About the author

Dr Keina YoshidaKeina Yoshida is a research officer on the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security research project at the Centre for Women Peace and Security and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She attended the #CEDAW72 sessions along with Centre member Lisa Gormley and many other members of civil society.
Keina thanks Lisa Gormley for her comments on this post.

Special Rapporteur on Trafficking urges human rights approach and integration with the WPS agenda

Christine Chinkin and Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana analyse the latest report from the UN trafficking expert, and find reason and opportunity for a more joined up approach to tackling trafficking of women and girls.

Heat map of human trafficking activity across the world. By DARPA graphic

Last year the Centre for Women, Peace and Security published a Working Paper that reflected upon the interplay between the different international legal regimes that have evolved for combatting gender-based violence against women, in peacetime and in conflict, and human trafficking. The report presented to the UN General Assembly on 26 October 2018 by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and girls, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (SR), built upon some of the arguments in urging states to adopt a human rights approach to trafficking and for its integration with the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The SR emphasises the gendered dimensions of trafficking in persons and its disproportionate impact upon women and girls in conflict and post-conflict. She notes that while the number of male victims of trafficking has significantly increased over the past decade, women and girls make up 51% and 20% of trafficking victims respectively. Women and girls are disproportionately subject to trafficking for sexual exploitation, which, when committed in conflict, can constitute conflict-related sexual violence. Nevertheless, recognition of trafficking as a gendered phenomenon has only been slowly acknowledged.

Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 (2000) the UN Security Council has considered sexual violence against women and girls in conflict as a threat to international peace and security. In its subsequent WPS resolution 1820 (2008) the Council affirmed that effective measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence as a tactic of war can ‘significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security’ and demanded that ‘all parties’ to armed conflict protect civilians against such violence. The Council has also addressed human trafficking, (Resolution 2331 (2016); Resolution 2388 (2017), and has identified the relationship between trafficking, sexual violence in armed conflict and terrorism, all of which threaten international peace and security. But it has failed to integrate this understanding with its own WPS agenda. This disconnect undermines a holistic approach towards combatting trafficking in persons, conflict-affected sexual violence and gender-based violence against women, crimes that in the lived experiences of women are often interlinked and not easily separated. It also casts doubt on the Council’s awareness of debates around the continuum of sexual violence across war and peace, as well as its multiple conflict-related manifestations outside those of certain terrorist groups, which are the primary focus of the resolutions on trafficking.

In contrast the SR recommends the integration of trafficking into the WPS agenda to complement ongoing anti-trafficking efforts at the global level, including those of the Security Council. This tactic reinforces the importance of human rights in tackling human trafficking: WPS is in essence a human rights, not a security, agenda, the SR is a human rights mandate and trafficking of women and girls constitutes a violation of their human rights and gender-based violence against women. Under human rights law states must exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violence against women and accord appropriate reparations to its victims. Most states however perceive human trafficking through a criminal law, immigration and/or security lens that gives little attention to their human rights obligations.

Integrating human trafficking into WPS allows for a breakdown of appropriate responses under the four pillars of prevention, protection, participation and relief and recovery. The SR provides examples under each of these heads as well as practical recommendations. For instance under the prevention pillar she elucidates that conflict is systematically and systemically linked with the risk of being trafficked; this risk should be routinely taken into account from the very onset of conflict and immediate preventive measures introduced. Another constant consequence of conflict is the vulnerability of displaced and fleeing persons to trafficking. She suggests that IDP and refugee camps establish a registry of all persons residing in the camp as a protective measure against disappearance in conjunction with facilities for immediate and secure reporting of missing persons to allow for prompt investigation. Delay reduces the probability of a successful outcome to any such investigation. (Cottonfield; Guatemala). Most fundamentally, given the intersection between trafficking and other forms of violence against women, preventative anti-trafficking measures are to be considered ‘both as life-saving interventions and as being aimed at preventing violence against women.’

The need for consultation with women is captured by the WPS pillars for protection and prevention, as well as for participation. The SR emphasises its importance in the context of trafficked women observing that a widespread failure to recognise the connection between conflict and trafficking as a form of conflict-affected sexual violence means that it is often overlooked during conflict and is omitted from peace processes and planning for post-conflict reconstruction. But survivors of trafficking can make significant contributions to designing and implementing anti-trafficking programmes that are essential to breaking the cycle of violence that impedes a sustainable gendered peace. Women can provide insights into the local economy and assist in programme for reduction of the economic dependency that underpins further vulnerability to trafficking. Victims of trafficking can work with others to raise awareness of the predatory post-conflict economy that fuels demand for trafficking and to establish community-based protective networks. Effective programmes for relief and recovery with informed input from trafficked persons and a gendered approach toward access to and delivery of economic and social rights are described as ‘essential’ to long term recovery. Failure to develop and implement such policies lessens the likelihood of achieving stability and human security post-conflict (including food, health, gender and physical security) that are crucial elements in the prevention of extremism and trafficking.

The same is true of land reform. Access to land and livelihoods are frequently understood as post-conflict economic reconstruction rather than as aspects of combatting conflict-related sexual violence and its continuation in post-conflict. The SR describes the connection between conflict-related sexual violence and the forcible seizing of land, mines and natural resources that leads to forced displacement and enhances vulnerability to being trafficked. Victims are subjected to sexual exploitation and forced labour in illegal mines, and become economic commodities in the male dominated extractive industries that are operated by non-state actors outside the protection of the state. In seeking further research into the linkages between conflict-related sexual violence, trafficking, dispossession of land, exploitation of natural resources and of women, the SR expresses concerns in common with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on conflict-related sexual violence. The latter also explains how sexual violence is used strategically to grasp control of land and resources, destroying the physical and economic security of displaced women and making socioeconomic reintegration vital to relief and recovery. The SRSG urges the Security Council to address the nexus between trafficking in persons and conflict-related sexual violence. Her mandate stems from Resolution 1888 (2009) thus strengthening the argument for integration of these currently separated agendas. The CEDAW Committee too has explained that trafficking is exacerbated during and after conflict and that conflict-affected areas constitute places of origin, transit and destination for trafficking (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 30). Taken together these expert opinions facilitate ‘joined up thinking … grounded in international law and a rights-based and victim-centred approach that is focused on the prevention of gender-based violence and the protection of women and girls from such violence in situations of armed conflict, displacement and post-conflict settings.’


About the authors

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads two major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC and ‘Gendered Peace’, funded by the ERC.


Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana is a Spanish human rights lawyer who specialises in human trafficking, violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights. She is managing attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide.


From Pillars to Progress in Women, Peace and Security

In advance of the launch at LSE on Thursday 29 November, co-editors Sara Davies and Jacqui True introduce the Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security.

The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security is a testament to two decades of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and a century of women’s peace activism.

Our starting point for the Handbook was the recognition that key tensions and ambiguities underlie the Women, Peace and Security agenda that need to be seriously reflected upon by the fast growing WPS community of theory and practice: That the agenda actively engages with political and economic institutions in order to transform gender power relations – the very institutions that have marginalised women’s representation and livelihoods for decades is one among many such tensions. That WPS has its roots in anti-war women’s movements whereas the agenda now promotes gender mainstreaming in militaries and peacekeeping missions is another. How do we make sense of these paradoxes as well as the progress in Women, Peace and Security? How do we recognise the turf wars, the resourcing shortfalls, the politics, and the regionalism while still pursuing an inclusive, global agenda? How do we act in ways that ensures WPS is heard in the halls of power, but not at the cost of ignoring those who cannot travel to New York or Geneva?

This volume is inspired by discussions taking place around the world about the promise of women’s representation in peace and security institutions and about the lack of progress on the Security Council thematic agenda. How do we build an evidence-based argument for women’s right to representation when they continue to represent less than 20 per cent of the membership at peace tables and international summits, in parliaments, senior positions within international organisations and militaries? Despite being 50 per cent of the world’s population women are not assured of this right. Rather, the onus has been on the WPS scholars and experts to prove that women’s presence will make what difference to national and international peace and security. Yet what evidence is there that neglecting women makes for a peaceful and secure world? The Handbook across its 67 chapters showcases the evidence, advocacy and concrete conflict and country situations where women’s representation improves the security of communities and all their members.

The Handbook is a counterpoint to the pessimism we may have about the achievements of WPS and the major challenges to realising peace and security, and women’s security in particular, given the tragic failures of peacemaking in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, the Congo, and South Sudan just to mention possibly the worst situations. With 93 authors and two excellent research assistants, we have been able to identify some positive findings in this Handbook and five reasons to be hopeful about the future progress of the WPS agenda.

First, when assessing the WPS Agenda, do not turn just to the UN Security Council for evidence. Change does not only happen in New York. The CEDAW General Recommendation 30 makes that clear. The agenda has emboldened women civil society activists to risk their lives to brief UN Missions, international civil society organizations, and (sometimes) the Security Council on situations where they risk political exclusion and human rights violations. That is significant progress as much as a Resolution registers measurable progress.  Change is happening at all levels and across many institutions. There are multiple dialogues and sites to be engaged in to realise just security and equal peace.  There are many sites needed to ensure women human rights advocates can report and speak in safety.   And it is not only human rights institutions that have a role to play. Economic institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank are key peace and security actors in relief and recovery from conflict, but also in defining the terms of the economic peace to prevent conflict.

Second, innovation can occur when local women and security practitioners engage in joint problem-solving. Ensuring the flexibility of frameworks so that WPS strategies can respond to local situations is vital and that comes from understanding the practices and priorities of local women, not donors.  Chapters in the Handbook highlight numerous examples of such innovations including firewood patrols with women, women’s community policing in displaced camps, assistance with grant writing for women civil society organisations, and independent (non-government controlled) radio communication to rural areas.

Third, defence sector investment in the WPS agenda can lead to institutional transformation rather than mere co-optation by militarism. It can be an opportunity to reform military practices, military agendas; and definitions of peace and security within countries and within regions. Chapters on NATO, Chinese peacekeeping force, and the Australian Defence Force in the Handbook highlight the positive change within defence culture and practices as a result of the investment in WPS.

Fourth, the Security Council’s ‘fixation’ on sexual violence in conflict situations has enabled broader engagement on WPS. For instance, resolutions on data gathering concerning the risk and incidence of conflict-related sexual violence, implementation of protocols on the treatment of sexual violence victims and evidence gathering, community programs to address stigma have required participation from women as women protection advisors, as expert on women’s legal testimony, in peace agreements, in peacebuilding, and in Ministries (outside of Defence and Foreign Affairs). Several chapters in the Handbook examine both what has worked to promote both gender-responsive protection of civilians and to what has worked promote gender-inclusive peace and security participation at the same time.

Fifth and last, the Handbook and it six sections, which include institutionalising and implementing the agenda as well as recognising related, cross-cutting agendas, explicitly embraces different entry points in different regions. There is no one size fits all for realising the Women, Peace and Security agenda in any given country or region. That is as it should be. In Asia, for example, establishing normative change and networks is vital; in the Pacific, the development frame is intimately linked to the agenda; in South America, it is a human rights approach. All these approaches will change and adapt in the context of local women’s empowerment, women’s agendas, and local conflicts.

The Handbook has provided an opportunity and a space to discuss together – scholars, advocates and practitioners – the diverse ways to advance a gender-just, feminist peace. And to recognise that it has taken more than a century to generate recognition for women, peace and security, and that it will take more than a village to spread and embed this agenda.


The UK launch of the Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security will take place at LSE on Thursday 29 November 2018 ‘From Pillars to Practice: Pushing the Boundaries of Women, Peace and Security’ is open to all and un-ticketed. Co-editor Jacqui True will be joined by chapter authors Toni Haastrup, Bela Kapur, Henri Myrttinen and Aisling Swaine.

About the authors


Professor Jacqui True (@JacquiTrue) is Professor of Politics & International Relations, Director of the Gender, Peace and Security Centre and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Monash University, Australia.




Dr Sara E. Davis (@DaviesSaraE) is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow and Associate Professor at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy, School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Australia.

A Feminist Approach to the International Law of Peace and Security

With a snapshot from the first working group on a feminist approach to peace, Keina Yoshida introduces the new Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project.

FILPS project working group, 14 September 2018


“Why isn’t the Security Council called the Peace Council?”

Di Otto


On 14 September 2018, a group of international legal scholars met to discuss a new research project being undertaken at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security. This new project, ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security‘, explores and addresses the conceptual ambiguities and normative indeterminacy that characterises the UN’s WPS agenda, with particular regard to the words – women, peace and security. The aim of the project is ‘to develop the theoretical foundations and normative content of an international law that can more effectively deliver on gender equality and sustainable peace’. Twenty years since the publication of the seminal text the Boundaries of International Law, the project is an opportunity to explore how far feminist approaches have come and how far they need to go to make good on international’s promise of peace and security. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Contemporary international law (both its fabric and institutions) is founded on the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security. Yet, despite its progressive claims, there is no accepted legal definition of either peace or security in international law. In fact, both concepts are understood variably within different regimes of international law. This ambiguity also extends to the relationship between the concepts notwithstanding the repetitive references to ‘peace and security’ in the law’s language.

In reflecting on the notion of ‘peace’ we ask whether the lack of an international legal definition of peace functions to undermine the progressive peace project of international law. That said, in the context of the WPS Agenda, ‘peace’ is treated as an expansive concept grounded in law and politics that means more than just an ‘absence of violence’; it is a positive state ‘an inclusive political process, a commitment to human rights … and an attempt to deal with issues of justice’ (UN Global Study, 2015). This raises a fundamental question: from a feminist perspective, should legal ambiguity be embraced or rejected? Further, would a gendered rights-based approach resolve this problem?

As part of the working methodology, we are organising a number of workshops and working groups to discuss key concepts such as ‘peace’, ‘feminism’ and ‘gender’ as they relate to and are understood in international legal terms. The first group meeting, held in Manchester on 14 September 2018, resulted in a very fruitful discussion of both feminist methodologies and epistemologies. Participants discussed a list of questions including:

  • How useful is it to approach the condition of peace as a world “not without conflict but without violence”? (Reardon, 1993)
  • Would a feminist reading of international law provide a more fruitful avenue through which to secure a ‘sustainable peace’?
  • How might we to understand what constitutes ‘a feminist international law of peace’?
  • What do we mean by conflict? Where is the line between conflict and violence?
  • What do we mean by security?
  • Where does power come into it?
  • Where is power in any concept of peace?

Discussion began with the Declaration on the Right to Peace and its aftermath and how this interacts and intersects with the WPS agenda. Anti-militarism and women’s activism around peace and the environment also played a prominent role in discussions particularly in light of the UN Global Study’s findings. As Christine Chinkin remarked at the European Society of International Law (ESIL) plenary the day before, one of the threads identified by the former Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Radika Coomaswarmy in her report, was the emphasis by women’s groups from across the world on the importance of anti-militarism. Other topics of discussion during the meeting included the relationship of peace to justice, and poverty.

Theoretical approaches to the project also formed an integral part of the conversation. Given the rich development of feminist thought and gender theories within legal scholarship since the publication of Boundaries, the project will explore how feminisms and different theories inform the international law of peace and security. During the discussion one participant remarked that given the gendered nature of international law ‘a feminist peace has to do gender differently’. Another questioned and highlighted the humanist foundations of the international regime, particularly in light of material humanist feminist scholarship.

Finally, the participants considered the challenges of carrying out feminist research including methodological considerations when carrying out field work (bottom up approaches, researches in conflict/post-conflict territories) and alternative legal methodologies.

Participants in the FILPS project working group on a feminist approach to peace, 14 September 2018

Undoubtedly, there are many scholars, activists, artists, poets and others working on this very issue from different positions, locations, disciplines and perspectives. We welcome collaborations and conversations and hope this post is a starting point to an on-going dialogue on this topic. For further information on the project, forthcoming workshops and events, see the FILPS page in the Research section of the LSE WPS website. The first public event under this project is on the 13 December 2018 on ‘Women and Weapons’.


About the author

Dr Keina Yoshida (@intlawninja) is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. As part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project Keina is researching the links between the environment, the Earth, the gendered causes and impacts of violence against women, and structural inequalities in the context of international legal conceptions of peace and security.

Economic empowerment of women displaced by conflict requires transformative change

People displaced by conflict want and need to earn money and to provide for their families. In her recent research Zeynep Kaya uncovered the varied experiences of refugee and internally displaced women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and calls for an holistic approach to improving their chances of economic empowerment.

When Women for Women International and Gender Action for Peace and Security approached the Centre for Women, Peace and Security regarding a research project on the impact of conflict-related displacement on women’s economic empowerment and livelihood needs and opportunities, it was the beginning of a great partnership. This partnership has culminated in a research report and series of policy recommendations drawing on the voices and experiences of displaced women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

This research is the outcome of in-depth and extensive fieldwork in the KRI. We talked to more than 130 displaced women through interviews and focus groups, as well as to a small number of host community members and more than 20 practitioners, experts and officials. We interviewed internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, located both in camps and outside the camps in all three governorates of the Kurdistan region: Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk. We tried to ensure that participants were as diverse a group as possible including women from rural and urban areas in Iraq and Syria, from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, different ages groups and with different experiences of livelihood engagement, or no engagement at all.

The research led to a range of findings, all documented in detail in the report. Here I will summarise only the most important findings, which does not do full justice to the rich insights women shared with us.

Woman in KRI interviewed as part of the project and featured on the report cover (Emily Kinskey / Women for Women International 2018)

The research showed that displacement increased women’s engagement in livelihood activities. Families depleted their resources for survival, got huge loans, and it became harder to earn a living due to a lack of jobs (or low income jobs), an inability to work due to health or other reasons, or absences (or death) of men in families. In these circumstances, several women were forced to work.

Firstly, most of the participants find the livelihood support they receive beneficial, such as training in sewing and hairdressing, provision of start-up kits or loans to start a business, working at NGOs, and so on. But they do not see this support and the kind of activities it promotes as evolving into sustainable income generating activities. This is mainly because most livelihood programmes focus on non-productive and low-income activities; there is a lack of continuing support; the one-size fits all approach adopted in programming does not cater to a relevant market or does not take into account women’s needs and their circumstances.

The wider economic context in the KRI and the economic crisis since 2014 also hinders these livelihood activities from turning into viable and sustainable income generation. Displaced women who opened shops or hairdressing businesses initially were doing better but now their income has significantly reduced or they had to close their businesses. Moreover, women face several restrictions to their mobility and they have concerns about their safety when they leave their home, tent or camp. They also have heavy responsibilities at home, which are exacerbated by poor infrastructure (water, electricity, distance to drinking water spots) in their living conditions. Having to work increases their burden.

Second, there is huge variation in women’s experiences of displacement, their livelihood needs and access to economic opportunities, and this variation needs to be reflected in programming. For instance, livelihood engagement as well as educational attainment is more common among Syrian women than Iraqi IDPs. Rules for work permits for IDPs and refugees are different; it is easier for refugees to work in the KRI. Syrian refugee women find the societal norms in the KRI with regards to women’s roles in family and public and women’s mobility more restraining than in Syria. Almost all Syrian women said they experience harassment in public.

Displaced women also have different experiences of livelihood engagement depending on whether they come from urban or rural areas. Most IDPs and refugees who used to live in rural areas have limited or no education and many of them are illiterate, whereas those with urban backgrounds are more likely to work in displacement. Rural IDPs and refugees are more likely to settle in camps because of relative poverty and fewer connections in cities to help them navigate their settlement. Place of settlement affects women’s livelihood experiences. It is easier for women living in towns to find a job and work, whereas camps are outside towns and cities and transport is not always available or cheap. This is a particularly important obstacle for camp-resident women’s ability to work outside the camp. Family circumstances also have defining roles. Women in female-led households have the most challenging livelihood deprivation situation, as it is particularly hard for them to earn a living and look after their family at the same time. They face societal stigma for being a widow therefore are judged harshly for leaving their home.

Ethnic and linguistic background is another factor that differentiates displaced women’s experiences of livelihood engagement. Syrian Kurdish refugees feel more welcome in the KRI and it is easier for them to find a job than Arabic speaking IDPs. There are also differences between Arab and Yazidi female IDPs, despite having similar rural backgrounds. Yazidi women are more likely to be open to attending awareness-raising and training sessions and are more interested in pursuing livelihood activities.

These differences need to be taken into account in programming and this should be done without gender stereotyping and strictly categorising women based on communal, cultural or age identifiers. Moreover, not all women we spoke to fit into these generalisations, and there were notable exceptions.

Third, there is no question that there is a window of opportunity right now in the KRI to further support displaced women’s engagement in livelihood activities and to support their economic empowerment. Displacement and conflict changed the economic and social circumstances of families and communities and created both opportunities and obstacles for women’s engagement in livelihood activities. The economic burden, husbands’ or other male family members’ inability to work or earn enough income, depletion of savings or resources created a space for women to engage in livelihood generation. However, this has been mostly out of necessity. There are small positive signs of changing mindsets and attitudes among men when it comes to women’s role; for instance, study participants among the Yazidi community mentioned the decreasing restrictions on their mobility and girls’ school attendance. However, almost all study participants expressed their reservations about the extent to which current changes in their situation will lead to real change.

For change to be sustainable and lead to women’s economic empowerment, a holistic approach should be adopted to create transformative change. Transformative change is essential and requires long-term and sustained improvements not only in the economic context but also in non-economic aspects of women’s lives, such as increasing the literacy rate, including their legal and political literacy among many other factors. There are structural obstacles that limit women’s ability to be more mobile and have access to opportunities. Women’s livelihood needs intersect with their other needs, such as representation, legal support, protection from violence, safe spaces, and health support (both physical and psychological). Adopting a holistic approach to supporting women’s economic empowerment and responding to their livelihood needs is essential to generate meaningful and transformative change. 

Read more: 
Summarised findings and video stories of three women I Full report (PDF) I Executive summary (PDF) I More about the research I

About the author

Zeynep N. KayaDr Zeynep N. Kaya @zeynepn_kaya is Research Fellow at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and Middle East Centre. Zeynep’s current research interests focus on displacement, gender, conflict and the implementation of the WPS agenda in Iraq. Her broader interests are in the international politics of the Middle East with a focus on Kurdish politics in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, as well as Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy in the Middle East.


UK in ‘grave and systematic’ violation of rights due to restrictive abortion laws in Northern Ireland

Following a critical UN report on access to abortion in Northern Ireland, Catherine O’Rourke explores the potential for synergies between the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Women, Peace and Security architecture in advancing women’s rights in conflict.

On February 23, 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (the CEDAW Committee) made public its inquiry report into access to abortion in Northern Ireland. The Committee concluded definitively that the  limitations on access to abortion in Northern Ireland constitute both ‘grave and systematic’ violations of the rights guaranteed under the CEDAW Convention. The UK government has to date failed to include post-conflict Northern Ireland within its Women, Peace and Security (WPS) activities. Consequently, this locally important determination by the CEDAW Committee to Northern Ireland also illustrates the globally important potential of improved synergies between the WPS framework and CEDAW. In their recent LSE WPS working paper,  Pierson and Thompson identify a failure to advance abortion and reproductive rights in the WPS resolutions and implementing National Action Plans. CEDAW and the Committee’s General Recommendation number 30 on the rights of women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations (GR30), by contrast, offer a comprehensive framework for the reproductive rights of women in conflict-affected and post-conflict settings.


Protest in London calling for reform of abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.   London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign

The pursuit of synergies between CEDAW and WPS has gathered pace in recent years, most notably since the Committee’s adoption of GR30. In particular, the added value of CEDAW in bringing a clear mechanism of state accountability to women’s rights in conflict, combined with the women’s rights focus of the Convention and monitoring Committee, offers clear promise. This blog post will focus on the recent determination by the CEDAW Committee that restrictive access to abortion in Northern Ireland constitutes ‘grave and systematic’ violation of rights guaranteed under CEDAW. The post will use the Northern Ireland experience with the inquiry procedure to illustrate some of the potential benefits of improved synergies between WPS and CEDAW in order to advance women’s rights. (For those who are interested, I have addressed the detail of the Committee’s findings and recommendations more fully here).

The potential utility of the inquiry procedure to advocates of women’s rights in conflict lies in the opportunity it provides to local civil society to articulate and evidence the nature and extent of the CEDAW violations and to make recommendations for appropriate ways to redress the violation. The inquiry report on Northern Ireland is only the 4th time that the Committee has found a state party to be in ‘grave or systematic’ violation of the Convention under the inquiry procedure. Importantly, the Committee cannot activate the inquiry procedure on its own initiative; it can do so only in response to a request to conduct an inquiry. The Northern Ireland experience was that the collaborative civil society working and process of compiling the request for an inquiry, as well as the submission document itself, proved to be critically important with several unanticipated benefits. Moreover, in the submission, there was an opportunity to provide contextual information about how the CEDAW violations resulting from restrictive access to abortion are closely to linked to the conflict legacy, such as high levels of poverty (paragraph 3.23), widespread poor mental health (3.26), limited progress on women’s rights under the institutions established by the Belfast/Good Friday peace agreement (paragraph 3.22), and the enduring broad discretion of schools in determining relationship and sexual education (paragraph 4.41). Thus, the inquiry procedure provided a unique opportunity for local articulation of the women’s human rights situation, its relationship to conflict and post-conflict dynamics, in addition to locally-crafted recommendations to redress the situation. This local articulation was ultimately vindicated and endorsed by the CEDAW Committee. This is an opportunity with little apparent equivalent within the WPS framework.

A further benefit of the inquiry procedure to advocates for women’s rights in conflict derives from the Committee’s attention to potential adverse implications of devolved and decentralised governance arrangements on overall compliance with the Convention. A feature common to the four state parties scrutinized to date through the inquiry procedure is the operation of devolved or decentralised administrations. The Committee has emphasised throughout its inquiry reports that state parties cannot hide behind decentralised systems in order to negate state responsibility for grave or systematic violations. In the case of Northern Ireland, the Committee determined:

Availability of abortion in other parts of the State party does not absolve it of its responsibility under the Convention to ensure accessibility in NI. (para 82)

This feature of the inquiry reports carries particular significance for distribution of political power after a peace agreement. As the PA-X Gender Peace Agreement Database evidences, innovative arrangements for power-sharing and decentralisation of power are a popular conflict resolution measure and are thus common in peace agreements. Such provision is typically made without much consideration of the potential adverse implications for women’s rights. The CEDAW Committee’s determined rejection of state party efforts to abdicate responsibility for non-compliance is consistent with its articulations elsewhere of state responsibilities under the Convention, most notably General Recommendation 28. Moreover, the Committee’s approach provides a practical and unambiguous response to one of the most common state party justifications for violations of women’s human rights.

There is emergent evidence that the Committee is utilizing the inquiry procedure to redress areas of repeated non-compliance with CEDAW by state parties, which offers a further clear benefit of the inquiry procedure for women’s rights in conflict. State parties to CEDAW report periodically to the Committee on their performance under each of the articles of the Convention. Out of this process, the Committee makes a large number of recommendations in order to improve state compliance with the Convention and identifies two recommendations for priority ‘follow-up’ by the state party. In Northern Ireland, (as in Canada), the inquiry is procedurally important because its activation was directly connected to the state’s failure to implement the Committee’s recommendations in earlier Concluding Observations. In Northern Ireland, after repeated recommendations to the UK since 1999 calling for action on access to abortion, the Committee’s Concluding Observations in 2013 prioritised recommendations on abortion in Northern Ireland for priority ‘follow-up’. In November 2014, after determining that the UK had failed to implement its priority ‘follow-up’ recommendations, the Committee opted to proceed with the inquiry.

A relationship between the implementation of ‘follow-up’ recommendations and the Committee’s determination to proceed with an inquiry offers particular relevance to women’s rights in conflict-affected and post-conflict settings. As my previous research (with Aisling Swaine) has found, the CEDAW Committee routinely prioritises recommendations to remedy conflict-related CEDAW violations for ‘follow-up’. Further, evidence of a relationship between non-compliance with the Committee’s previous recommendations to the state party and the determination to proceed with an inquiry speaks in potentially important ways to the need to provide practical responses to CEDAW’s under-enforcement. If non-implementation of the Committee’s recommendations that are identified for priority ‘follow-up’ carries the credible risk of the Committee activating the inquiry procedure, this development introduces consequences for the state party engaging in persistent non-compliance with the Committee’s recommendations. It also stands to create a useful and constructive relationship between state periodic examinations, shadow reporting, and requests for an inquiry.

About the author

Dr Catherine O'RourkeDr Catherine O’Rourke @DrCORourke is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law at Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute and School of Law. She also directs the Gender Theme of the DFID-funded Political Settlements Research Programme. Catherine co-authored the submission requesting the CEDAW Committee to conduct an inquiry into access to abortion in Northern Ireland with Jude Cross (Alliance for Choice), Ann Marie Gray (NIWEP) and the Audrey Simpson (FPANI).

Telling Feminist Space at the Security Council

In ‘Encountering Metis in the Security Council’, the latest in the LSE WPS Working Paper Series, Sam Cook explores the practices of feminist advocacy on women, peace and security at the UN, and introduces us to the lesser-known Greek goddess, Metis.

Stories of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and of 1325 – the Resolution in the Security Council by which it was inaugurated – are often told as stories of successful feminist engagement with international law and policy.  Any attempt to write these feminist histories can really be no more than a cursory sketch invoking years of advocacy and more processes, people and events than I know. I am so very conscious of how such stories oversimplify and misrepresent relationships and their subjects. And yet, it was simple narratives, potted histories, repeated, remembered in outline and reconfigured as their connections with other fragments were learned, that were perhaps most significant in my learning to do my job as a feminist policy advocate. It was through such stories that, more than a decade ago, I figured out what it was to be one of the two paid staff (at that time Project Associates) of WILPF’s PeaceWomen Project in its UN office in New York. Much of what I now know of the structure and workings of the UN, and of how which of its various parts might be relevant to which issues, comes from such stories and participating in their citation. These stories we tell of our efforts as feminists weave the space into which our future interventions emerge and how we tell them matters.

Representative of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security reads statement to the UN Security Council (UN Women/ Ryan Brown)

In one sense the stories of feminist policy successes are fairly easy to recite — they trace familiar narrative lines of NGO advocacy and persuasion and of state acquiescence and the production of a text. Becoming equally familiar, however, are narratives that point to the subsequent failures in/of these policies and attribute responsibility for this to feminist ideas or actors having been in some way co-opted. But, and as I explore in more detail in my larger project, I was looking for a more nuanced story — one that went beyond a proclamation of feminists engaged in policy advocacy having been co-opted, moved to the dark side or otherwise contaminated by working within the particular field of power that is the Security Council. I am not disputing evaluations of the Council’s WPS policy but rather the attachment of these critiques to the intent and identity of an imagined insider – the straw feminist who can carry a blame perhaps better put to other actors.  Rather I ask what we might learn if we look more closely at the logics of action in this policy space and think through how we engage its microscopic and often unspoken institutional practices.

This is not an account of Council policymaking writ large but rather an exploration of how feminists encounter and work within its practices – its rules, procedures and ways of operating – even as they have no formal place from which to do so. It is in this paradoxical position of having to use or rearticulate the strictures of its forms in order to undo it that those subordinated by the system must create a space of politics. In my contribution to the LSE WPS Working Paper Series  I write against those that, in their telling of feminist interventions, foreclose the possibilities for future efforts and for feminist community across institutional boundaries. I explore a set of interviews with feminists who either are working or have worked to see feminist approaches and interests included within WPS policy. I read these not for a definitive account of Security Council practices, but as texts that provide narratives of feminist interventions in, and through, those practices. It was in my struggle for a way to trace and tell the logics of these ways of operating that I encountered metis. As my paper explores, metis functions as an active concept, power, or form of knowledge that helps to understand feminist logics but it was the myth of her appearance in goddess form that piqued my curiosity and captured my imagination.

Goddess (presumed to be Metis) Musée du Louvre

Perhaps fittingly, Metis as a goddess figure is notable by her absence from classical writings — she does not appear as a major figure in Greek religion or theogony and there is no cult or ritual deifying her name. In the ancient Greek order she was a Titan elder, daughter of Oceanus and of an earlier age than Zeus. It is in relation to Zeus that she is given mention, as his first spouse. Early in their marriage, and when she is pregnant with their first child (a daughter), Zeus is forewarned by an oracle that his wife would bear him children that would overcome him. Attempting to avoid (or at least forestall) fate, Zeus returns home and turns against her the very weapons that made Metis invincible — her ability to shape-shift. In the most straightforward account, Zeus tricks Metis into shifting herself into the form of a fly. In later accounts it becomes clear that this shape-shift is motivated by her desire to avoid being raped by Zeus. She turns herself into a fly and he swallows her. But this is not the end for Metis. As it turns out, Metis works from within Zeus’ belly and crafts a helmet and robe for her fetal daughter. The hammering as she makes the helmet causes Zeus incredible pain and, depending on the account, his head is cleaved or smashed open and Athena is born – fully formed, armed and armoured. While Metis is written out of most histories of Athena’s birth, Metis’s son goes on to overthrow Zeus. But perhaps the greatest promise that the story holds is that metis as a form of knowledge remains: the cunning intelligence needed to act in a world of chance. As I suggest in my paper the Security Council presents just such a world and the figure of metis, while not offering an escape, does present a way to imagine the creative potential of feminists working with and within its bounds.

Read more:Encountering Metis at the Security Council’ LSE WPS Working Paper Series, 15/2018 (PDF)

About the author

Sam CookSam Cook is currently lecturing part time at the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of San Francisco and is planning an online creative pedagogical project titled encounteringwar.

Where are reproductive rights in the WPS Agenda?

Claire Pierson and Jennifer Thomson introduce their LSE WPS Working Paper ‘Abortion and Reproductive Rights in the Women, Peace and Security Agenda’.

Since 2000 the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has dominated discussions of women’s rights and political inclusion in conflict and post-conflict situations. Yet, despite the global profile that the agenda has gained, there has been little consideration of the fundamental issue of reproductive rights. Women in conflict and post-conflict situations have specific reproductive needs, including access to safe abortion. In our working paper for the LSE Women, Peace and Security series we analyse both the successive WPS resolutions and the National Actions Plans (NAPs) put in place by various states to ask – where are reproductive rights in the WPS agenda?

Despite the focus on sexual violence against women which has been prominent in WPS resolutions since resolution 1820 in 2008, there are few explicit references to reproductive rights. The initial resolution 1325 contains no explicit language on the subject. It is not until 2013 where we see such language, with resolution 2106 acknowledging the importance of reproductive health. It does so, however, in the context of a much wider remit:

“Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities.”

Later that year, resolution 2122 echoes this language. Beyond this, however, there is little sense from the resolutions that reproductive rights are important to the WPS agenda.

Similarly, National Action Plans created by individual states contain few references to reproductive rights. Acknowledgements of reproductive rights are sporadic, with little consistency in professed policy or language, and generally peripheral to most NAPs’ focus. This is particularly striking given that this is the case also in NAPs from countries that have experiences high levels of sexual violence in wartime.

sign for a maternity hospital in Sierra Leone
Sign for a maternity hospital in Sierra Leone, where abortion is illegal (UK Department for International Development)

This lack of a focus on reproductive rights, and abortion in particular, is disappointing for several reasons. Firstly, there is a clear need for access to reproductive health services as part of conflict and post-conflict settings. NGOs reporting from such settings have noted a steady increase in both births and abortions in refugee camps, and the particular effects of sexual violence on women’s reproductive health. Secondly, the WPS agenda has long been critiqued by feminist scholars for being overly focused on the victimhood of women and girls. Particularly in the attention paid to sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings, the agenda conjures up an understanding that women and girls are robbed of all agency in conflict, and can only figure as either helpless victims or benevolent peace-bringers. Understanding women as holders of certain rights (the right to control their fertility and bodies) helps to re-inject a focus on rights and takes away the emphasis on victimhood that has hitherto existed in the resolutions. This can help to reorient the WPS agenda around women as rights-holding individuals.

In order to cement a greater appreciation of reproductive rights into the WPS agenda and its work, we suggest that the following be addressed by actors working in the sector:

  • Greater integration of policy on reproductive rights and UNSCR 1325 within existing UN institutions

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) uses the resolutions and language of WPS and has done much to integrate the agenda into its practices and policies. Yet, much of this has adopted the focus that the WPS agenda has had on sexual violence and has said less on reproductive rights. The UNFPA could use its unique position to push for further integration of reproductive rights into the agenda.

  • Greater support for civil society actors working on reproductive rights within the WPS agenda

Abortion and reproductive rights remain a controversial area, and one which many governments wish to avoid. Harnessing the power of civil society organisations which work in this area is one way to amplify discussion. Charities, NGOs and activists can play a key role in promoting a discussion of reproductive rights in a way that states might not be able to, and should be facilitated and encouraged to lead in this way.

  • States with liberal abortion laws should lead on promoting abortion rights within the WPS agenda

Within the global picture, there are clearly some states which are more liberal than others with regards to abortion rights. The United Kingdom and Sweden are such countries, and, in their development policies, both are pointedly liberal on abortion provision. The onus thus lies with states like the UK to use their liberal abortion policy in line with the similar level of support that they have shown for WPS, and to push to further embed reproductive rights into the WPS agenda in its future developments.

Read more: ‘Abortion and Reproductive Rights on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda’ LSE WPS Working Paper Series, 14/2018 (PDF)

About the authors

Claire PiersonClaire Pierson is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Liverpool. @piersonclaire




Jennifer ThomsonJennifer Thomson is a Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Bath. @jencthomson