BYU Law study says landmark U.N. Security Council resolution on women, peace and security is unenforceable as it currently stands
In the war between Russia and Ukraine, as in many worldwide conflicts, women are overlooked victims of violence and hardship, even as women are chronically underrepresented among military and political leaders who might address their concerns.
The United Nations Security Council has attempted to prevent those wrongs before. Twenty-three years ago, in a watershed moment, the council passed Resolution 1325, charging members to protect women from wartime sexual violence and demanding women’s greater participation in peacemaking negotiations, among many other things.
The stakes weren’t only for women, but for global peace. Research has shown that the best predictor of a nation’s level of peace is how well its women are treated. Women also play an important role in directly brokering peace: when women are at the table, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.
Unfortunately, Resolution 1325 turned out to be somewhat toothless, according to a recent analysis led by BYU law professor Eric Talbot Jensen and published in the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law.
“We’ve known for a long time that women have a significant role to play in peace and that that role was not getting as much attention as it should,” Jensen said. “Resolution 1325 was the Security Council trying to tell the world, ‘We can’t get to international peace while leaving half our population behind.’ It was laudable in its time, but the resolution hasn’t gone as far as it needs to go. Now it’s time to step it up.”
Drawing on research by political scientist Valerie Hudson, an expert on gender and international security, as well as on work by other social scientists, Jensen and his co-authors compiled studies underscoring what women bring to international peace. In peace negotiations, for instance, women tend to look beyond the immediate demands of ceasefire — troop movement, weapons disposal — to emphasize factors required for longer-term peace, such as food security, education and housing.
Despite the critical role women play in peacemaking, by 2020 fewer than half of U.N. members had developed a plan to act on Resolution 1325, and most lacked a solid understanding of what the resolution entails, the paper noted. As recently as 2011, only 9% of negotiators in the peace process were women.
As the authors see it, the resolution’s main weakness is that it’s unenforceable. Written under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter, the resolution allows the Security Council to recommend steps for member nations to take to improve gender equality, but Chapter VI does not grant the council authority to require follow through.
Instead, the authors argue, the resolution should be housed in Chapter VII of the charter, which would give the council the whole spectrum of enforcement methods available, including economic sanctions and severing diplomatic relations.
“The power to truly enact change lies under Chapter VII authority,” said co-author Sara Jarman, a BYU law grad. “The Security Council operating under Chapter VII of the charter, for example, can determine that rape utilized as a weapon of Russia’s war in Ukraine is a breach of peace, and measures should be enacted to stop it.”
Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, is a case study of Resolution 1325’s shortcomings. Jarman first became interested in women’s role in peace and security after living in Russia as a teenager and young adult, and she used her experience and research for the paper.
“I witnessed how Russia was incapable of further economic or political progress in part because of how Putin’s government viewed women as mere accessories to men,” she said. “The Russian state not only ignores women peace and security issues but aggressively opposes any advancement in gender equality.”
The paper details several ways Russia has regressed since the resolution passed. As one example, in 2017 Russia decriminalized domestic violence if the spouse doesn’t require hospitalization.
“Since gender norms are so heavily built into societies around the world, the desire to change those cultural norms will quickly fizzle out if not addressed assertively, the same way that sand will fall back to its natural state without the pressure of a mold to structure it,” said Elizabeth Griffiths, who co-authored the paper as a BYU undergraduate.
The researchers consulted with individuals at the U.N. and the EU to assemble suggestions for actions the Security Council could mandate under Chapter VII authority, which include strengthening grassroots organizations that promote equality and creating a template National Action Plan as a model for member nations.
“It’s a pretty significant ask for the Security Council,” Jensen said. “It would take some political will to get there. But we are hopeful that the Security Council can take this on again and that if they did, our paper would be a resource to them.”