On August 9-10, 2023, over 65 government and civil society representatives gathered in Bangkok, Thailand for the first regional conference of its kind: “Promoting Peaceful and Inclusive Societies in Asia and the Pacific: Experiences in Advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.” Attendees included several regional and global WPS-HA Compact signatories, including Compact board co-chairs Norway and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). The conference was co-organized by the WPS-HA Compact and the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific with the generous support of the Governments of Australia and Norway.
While 12 countries in the region have developed WPS National Action Plans (NAPs), challenges continue to exist including uneven implementation, a lack of efforts around the prevention of conflict, and the rise of violence against women’s civil society. When it comes to political participation, women in Asia continue to be excluded from decision-making and only occupy 22% of parliamentary seats.
In light of these challenges, the conference aimed to inspire action at the national and sub-national levels to develop and implement NAPs on WPS by sharing lessons learned and best practices, and to showcase the Compact and its principles of transformation as a tool for governments, civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector to advance the WPS agenda.
Discussions explored the gender dimensions of emerging risks to the WPS agenda including climate change, cybersecurity, and violent extremism. Conference participants also called for more meaningful participation of CSOs and marginalized communities to ensure NAPs and policies are intersectional and intergenerational.
In her opening remarks, Norway’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, Signe Guro Gilen emphasized the Compact’s ambition to address WPS both regionally and locally through impact-driven NAPs. “Gender equality is the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do if you want to have sustainable peace.”
Stephanie Copus Campbell, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality, called for more meaningful participation of women in peace processes and Sarah Hendriks, Director for the Programme, Policy and Intergovernmental Division at UN Women shared a video message stressing that “it’s so important to recognize the significance of the Women, Peace and the Security agenda to this region. It cannot be overstated, particularly in terms of prevention.”
Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference.
- Advancing localization and participation through NAPs
It’s important to make sure that NAPs allow for the ownership and self-determination of people by including the lived experiences of women and girls. “When it comes from the people, they are more invested in the implementation of the solutions,” said Paramisuli Aming, Gender and Women, Peace and Security Coordinator at Bangsamoro Women Commission in the Philippines.
Most NAPs are developed without the participation of those directly affected by violent conflict and humanitarian emergencies, making it even more urgent to localize the WPS agenda and ensure gender-responsive humanitarian action, highlighted CEO and Founder of GNWP Mavic Cabrera Balleza.
“In the Philippines, fighting doesn’t happen in Manila. It’s in the mountain province, in rural areas. Humanitarian emergencies are felt the most in those places, yet policies are adopted without their participation,” she said, adding that “there’s no shortage of policy, the shortage is on implementation. The reason: there is no local ownership.”
It’s also important for CSOs to be part of the monitoring and evaluation of NAPs, highlighted Luis Ximenes, the director of the NGO Belun from Timor-Leste. In addition, more dedicated funding needs to be set aside for monitoring and evaluation to advance the WPS agenda. “What gets measured gets done,” said Catherine Gaku Njeru, Gender Monitoring Specialist in the Office of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security at the African Union. “We are members and board members of the Compact… because it’s a very important, timebound, inclusive framework to advance the work on WPS. That is what our office stands for. It stands for action,” she said.
The conference also drew on lessons learned from various members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their commitments to implementing the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on WPS.
- Intersectionality and meaningful participation are key
When it comes to WPS solutions, no size fits all and joint collaboration and action that is as inclusive as possible are key to achieving the agenda. “Sustainable peace can only build on accountability, but it can’t just be a token or symbolic accountability,” said Benny Agus Prima, Human Rights Defenders Programme Manager at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development during the panel “Intersectionality, inclusivity, and NAP WPS”.
One of the examples raised during the panel is the continued lack of international attention around LGBTQ women in the WPS agenda. UN agencies and CSOs should collaborate to build research on the nature and scope of violence they face, for example, around the experiences of transgender women in Afghanistan, explained Zohra Mousavi, Special Project Coordinator for the Afghanistan Program at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Asia.
- Engage youth and intergenerational perspectives
Speakers also highlighted the need to give young people platforms, engage them as advisors, and not underestimate what they can contribute to the WPS agenda. It’s important to apply both a youth and a gender lens to WPS, and to recognize that “Youth, Peace and Security and Women, Peace and Security are complimentary,” said Amani Aruri, a YPS/WPS ambassador of Karama, and a Compact signatory and board member. NAPs must reflect youth perspectives, reference young people, and acknowledge the important role they can play in WPS, stressed Aruri.
- Include climate security in the WPS agenda
NAPs should be leveraged as platforms for addressing climate security and any region facing issues on WPS should consider climate change because it is a threat multiplier, according to Ameera Adil, Founder and Executive Director of climate communication organization Clim-8. “Climate change has multiple levels of impact, and multiple impacts require multiple perspectives that are diverse and inclusive,” she said.
Climate solutions are highly gendered and the individuals most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are largely excluded from political dialogue and discussions around adaptation and response. In Pakistan, for example, malaria and dengue were one of the biggest issues facing communities following last year’s floods. While mosquito nets were provided, reports said they were mostly used by men and elders, she explained. “So even if you provide protection to women, is it really women using them?”
- Ensure cybersecurity for women and girls
Women and girls are disproportionally affected by technological changes, including the emerging risks posed by generative artificial intelligence. The panel “Women, Peace and Cybersecurity, peacebuilding in the digital age” called for more human-centered cybersecurity focused on the harms of technology and its impact on human rights.
The conversation also highlighted that women’s CSOs and human rights defenders face more risks in the online space, yet they often lack the resources to ensure enough protection. Some defenders are even forced into self-censorship and stop posting online due to gender trolling and a fear of speaking up.
Another issue is the underrepresentation of women in cybersecurity decision-making processes, according to Diana Oroma, Project Officer for Women, Peace and Security at Women’s International Peace Centre and a signatory to the WPS-HA Compact. “Women’s perspectives are missing in those decisions and policy discussions, and as a result, our issues end up not being addressed and our needs are not considered a priority,” she said.
- The WPS-HA Compact in Asia and the Pacific
Several conference attendees – including governments and CSOs – expressed interest in joining the WPS-HA Compact as signatories and numerous speakers highlighted the importance of the Compact in driving accountability and action on WPS across the region and beyond.