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The UNSC & Women: On the Effectiveness of Resolution 1325

Published 24 Mar 2014

By Talitha O’Connor

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR-1325) was considered a landmark resolution, the first to be made on women, peace, and security.[1] Contained within the resolution are provisions pertaining to the protection of women and girls in war zones, specifically around the issues of sexual violence and internal displacement. UNSCR-1325 has been largely ineffective in the protection of women in war zones, through addressing occurrences of sexual violence and internal displacement, and through considering the required creation of subsequent resolutions on the topic. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan are two contemporary examples of war zones post UNSCR-1325 that provide useful insight into the resolution’s effectiveness on the ground. In order to understand why UNSCR-1325 is so ineffective,  exploration of both procedural, practical and theoretical reasons is required.

Conventionally women have not tended to enjoy equal status with men. Cultures that perpetrate gendered behaviours of violence and discrimination against women are prevalent, and these behaviours are exacerbated in times of conflict.[2] Since 1949, the Geneva Conventions have explicitly prohibited sexual violence (specifically rape and forced prostitution) under article 27. This was later reinforced by additional protocols to the conventions issued in 1977.[3] Yet, in contemporary armed conflicts women continue to constitute the majority of victims of both violence and internal displacement. Women in war zones remain at high risk of experiencing sexual violence and exploitation in the forms of rape, forced pregnancy, prostitution, trafficking, and sexual slavery.[4]

In an attempt to ameliorate these impacts on women in armed conflict, UNSCR-1325 was adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at its 4213th meeting on 31 October 2000. The resolution affirms the need for increased participation of women in all areas of governance, and includes a focus on the role of women in five key areas: resettlement, reintegration, rehabilitation and post-conflict resolution, and protection of women in war zones. With regard to the protection of women in war zones, there are two key areas outlined in UNSCR-1325: women’s experiences as internally displaced persons (IDPs), and experiences with sexual violence.

UNSCR-1325 paragraph 12 calls for the protection of women as IDPs by asking parties in conflict to respect the civilian nature of IDP camps, and by seeking women’s participation in the development of IDP camps to ensure their security and health. UNSCR-1325 does not however address displacement as a threat to women’s security in and of itself, an issue discussed in this paper.  UNSCR-1325 paragraphs 10 and 11 call for the cessation of and protection from sexual violence for women in war zones. It strongly condemns impunity and amnesty provisions for perpetrators of sexual violence.

How has UNSCR-1325 been ineffective?

Sexual violence

UNSCR-1325 has not been very effective in protecting women in war zones from sexual violence, evidenced by the continued high levels of sexual violence reported by UN operations in war zones, and by the formation of subsequent resolutions. In addition to its inherent substance, sexual violence is also often used as a strategy to demoralise and intimidate groups, especially in cultures where the sexual nature of the violence violates strict cultural norms and standards.[5] It has become increasingly systemic in recent years.[6] Despite UNSCR-1325, sexual violence in contemporary conflicts continues to be an ordered act, qualitatively different from the opportunistic and retaliatory rapes recorded in many past conflicts.[7]

In the DRC there have been several anti-sexual violence campaigns facilitated by the United Nations’ Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) as a result of UNSCR-1325. In 2006 there were anti-sexual violence laws enacted in DRC, calling for harsher penalties for perpetrators. Additionally, in 2009 a national strategy on gender-based violence was formulated and passed, which led to the establishment of a sexual violence trust fund in 2010, managed by MONUSCO’s Sexual Violence Unit. MONUSCO has also deployed Joint Protection Teams (JPTs) in war zones to assess and prevent occurrences of sexual violence. MONUSCO reports that these JPTS have been successful in reducing the number of attacks on women in their daily lives.[8] Overall, however, UNSCR-1325 inspired initiatives in the DRC  have failed to reduce sexual violence in any significant way.

Conflict-related sexual violence has continued to occur with impunity.  Sexual violence against women in the DRC remains pervasive, and has risen in recent years.  In 2008, the UN noted 15,996 reported cases of sexual violence DRC-wide;[9] in 2012 the reported cases of sexual violence in the province of North Kivu alone totalled almost half this number- 7,075.[10] A study published in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that over 400,000 women in the DRC are raped each year as the conflict continues,[11] revealing the number of unreported cases of sexual violence as far above UN reported statistics. This also indicates that the frequency of sexual violence in the DRC post-UNSCR-1325 is higher than the pre-UNSCR-1325 rate in the Rwandan conflict, in which between 250-500,000 women suffered sexual violence.[12] These figures demonstrate that sexual violence continues to proliferate in war zones despite UNSCR-1325, and that a more robust response from international actors is required to successfully combat the issue.[13]

Internally displaced persons

UNSCR-1325 has not successfully protected women in war zones from displacement, nor has it protected them during their displacement. In fact, UNSCR-1325 does not address forced displacement as an issue of protection, instead only focusing on the protection of women after they have been displaced.[14] However, in consideration of the effectiveness of UNSCR-1325, displacement can be interpreted an inherent violation of women’s peace and security in itself.

The number of women displaced by conflict post-UNSCR-1325 also remains incredibly high. By January 2009, Darfur had 2.7 million IDPs, 1.9 million of whom were women and children.[15] By July 2010, North and South Kivu had seen over 1.3 million IDPs, the majority of whom were women.[16] Many displaced women also suffer sexual violence perpetrated against them in IDP camps. Working in one camp in North Kivu, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported treating 95 women who were victims of sexual violence in December 2012 alone; this equates to more than three women each day suffering damage extensive enough to require medical treatment.[17]

IDP camps in both the DRC and Sudan have increased patrols in conjunction with UNAMID (African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur) and MONUSCO forces, including escorts for women who leave the camps to farm or collect supplies.[18] However, the impact of increased security is a double edged sword, as it has, according to senior MSF officials, created a “chronic state of insecurity in which rape is an everyday occurrence.”[19]

There have been attempts to increase women’s participation in the establishment and governance of camps, but there has been no real improvement in this regard. Women remain massively underrepresented in these governing bodies. Where they are represented, their voices are often dismissed as incompetent or untrustworthy, due to prevailing cultural norms regarding gender. UN operations have had a measure of impact on the protection of female IDPs, but there is much need for improvement in this area.[20]

Subsequent resolutions

The ineffectiveness of UNSCR-1325 in protecting women in war zones is further demonstrated through the need for subsequent resolutions and treaties on the topic. That is, if UNSCR-1325 were effective, there would be no need for further exploration of the topic in international law; therefore the existence of subsequent laws speaks to its ineffectiveness. There have been six main UN treaties and resolutions since UNSCR-1325 that speak to the protection of women in war zones.

As of 2002, Article 7 of the Rome Statute considers “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity”, when carried out as part of a widespread, systematic and directed attack to be crimes against humanity.[21] In 2008, UNSCR-1820 focused on the violation of the human body as a central issue, explicitly linking strategic sexual violence with the peace and security of women, a link UNSCR-1325 failed to construct.[22] Following this, 2009 saw resolutions 1888 and 1889. UNSCR-1888 mandated that UN peacekeeping forces protect women and children from sexual violence, and UNSCR-1889 called for the further consolidation of women’s participation in peacekeeping efforts.[23] Resolutions 1960 (2010) and 2106 (2013) reaffirmed previous resolutions and called for further action on the protection of women in war zones, along the lines outlined in previous resolutions.[24]

Why has UNSCR-1325 been ineffective?

There are six key reasons as to why UNSCR-1325 has been ineffective in protection of women in war zones.

The resolution fails to address the structural causes of inequality that render women the most victimised in war zones. In attempts to mainstream gender within the UN, the focus is always superficial, a trait reflected by UNSCR-1325.[25] It does not consider the institutional inequality and power relations that structure approaches to gender in international organisations. Instead, gender mainstreaming is simply attached to the existing power structures.[26] Structural causes that inhibit women acting as agents, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and cultural conceptions (young age of marriage, etc.) are not included within the framework of UNSCR-1325.[27] Under UNSCR-1325, women are invited to participate only after the decision-making processes and limitations have been established. The inclusion of women is largely nominal, inviting them into existing institutional structures and then rendering their involvement ineffectual and their voices absent. Women are brought into the dominant structures of hegemonic militarism and war.[28] This ‘add women and stir’ approach renders UNSCR-1325 ineffectual, as it doesn’t allow women to determine the terms of the dialogue, which keeps them as the ‘other’ and prevents them from contributing meaningfully to women’s peace and security. This also prevents women from contributing to strategies aiming to protect women in war zones, leaving such things to the masculine majority, maintaining the status quo.

The ineffectiveness of UNSCR-1325 is additionally caused by the inclusion of women in peace and security measures as a separate issue to that of gender inequality.  It de-links gender mainstreaming from pursuit of gender equality. Essentially, while UNSCR-1325 endorses women’s participation in peace building and conflict resolution, it silences feminist critiques of structural militarism and fails to acknowledge the complex links between peace and gender equality touted by many feminist security theorists.[29] In its singular reference to prevention of conflict, it focuses on simply adding women, as though increased representation of women in decision making structures is the only way to protect women in war zones. UNSCR-1325 frames the path to peace as “no longer a reduction in military spending but the integration of women and a gender perspective,” ignoring all other approaches.[30]

Implicit in UNSCR-1325 is the supposition that increased inclusion of women will lead to transformation in how women are treated in war zones. Yet, it heavily focuses on the role of women as victims. That is, insight from women may be beneficial to global decision makers, as it provides insight from the perspective of the victim.[31]  UNSCR-1325 focuses on women as peace-builders, which reaffirms gender stereotypes that situate women as natural peacemakers, and as being conflict-averse.[32] ‘Gender’ continues to be used as a synonym for women’s issues, as though “a reference to gender is a reference to females, as if males, males and masculinities were all unproblematic in that regard – and perhaps simply nothing to do with gender at all.”[33] This considerably limits the progression and protection of women under UNSCR-1325 as it essentialises their gender.[34] This continued portrayal of women as victims is synonymous with the construction of men as the protectors of women.[35] This is inherently problematic, as men are the predominant perpetrators of violence against women in war zones. It is also problematic in that it perpetuates conventional approaches to women’s agency; that is, they have little, or none at all. This essentialism removes women from making any meaningful contribution to issues of security, and in this way UNSCR-1325 is ineffective, as it merely propagates the standard paradigms of women’s agency and essentialist constructs of gender.[36]

On a practical level, UNSCR-1325 lacks enforcement mechanisms that would contribute to its effectiveness. A limitation on resolutions in general is that without the express creation of enforcement mechanisms, they operate only as a set of guidelines. Unlike treaties, they do not become universally enforceable upon ratification by a majority of UN member states.[37]  UNSCR-1325 does not condemn conflict itself, only certain aspects of conflict, and makes not reference to repercussions for perpetrators of violence against women in war zones.[38] It leaves the structures and systems of war untouched, and fails to call for adequate enforcement of its requests within this context.[39]

UNSCR-1325 does not make any references to accountability or implementation mechanisms for its progression, nor to any benchmarks or targets to measure its progress.[40] Its implementation has been selective at best – especially when compared to the implementation of similar resolutions. The original draft of UNSCR-1325 sought an expert implementation panel and recommended that the UNSC formalise a commitment to further development around the protection of women in war zones, but both these were excluded from the final text of the resolution.[41] By 2006, only 55 of 211 country-specific resolutions made by the UNSC since the creation of UNSCR-1325 referenced issues pertaining to women; a little over 25 percent.[42] Between 2004 and 2008, of approximately 300 Secretary-General reports to the UNSC, only 16 percent referenced gender-related issues more than once.[43] Compare this with the implementation of resolutions on child soldiers: they are equally non-binding, but have sound mechanisms to ensure their application, leading to almost universal adoption.[44] Demonstrated here is that a lack of implementation mechanisms, combined with a lack of real effort to integrate women into decision-making processes, has rendered   UNSCR-1325 ineffective.

UNSCR-1325 calls for an end to amnesty for sexually based crimes, yet it does not account for violence against women perpetrated by UN forces. In 2005, 155 MONUSCO staff faced allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against Congolese women, 40 per cent of which were substantiated.[45] These were not exceptional circumstances; allegations of SEA by MONUSCO forces have continued to increase. 2008 saw 40 allegations; 2009 saw 59; and the first six months of 2013 saw 108 accusations reported – just over 1 every 2 days.[46] The role of peacekeepers in supporting the protection of women is not adequately provided for in UNSCR-1325robust enforcement of a zero tolerance policy is not clarified in the resolution.[47]

Concluding Remarks

UNSCR-1325 has been ineffective at protecting women in war zones. As demonstrated through an exploration of war zones and IDP camps in both the DRC and Sudan, occurrences of sexual violence against, and displacement of, women have persisted since the inception of the resolution. When considering why UNSCR-1325 has been so unsuccessful, there are several key considerations that would require redressing in order to see meaningful progress on the protection of women in war zones. The resolution does not address the structural aspects of violence against women, which decreases its efficiency and effectiveness. Additionally, it separates gender mainstreaming from gendered inequality for the sake of simplicity and mass appeal, and at the cost of productivity.  For those same reasons, it adopts an essentialist approach toward women in war zones, affecting both understandings of women’s agency, and creating misapprehensions about how women should be protected. On a more procedural note, UNSCR-1325 lacks the sufficient enforcement and implementation mechanisms to render it effective. Given the traditional marginalisation of gendered issues, sufficient practical mechanisms were necessary for the resolution’s effectiveness, and their absence speaks volumes. Lastly, UNSCR-1325 fails to address where its own initiatives – UN peacekeeping forces like MONUSCO – are the perpetrators of violence against women.

Talitha O’Connor is a graduate student in International Relations at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include gendered issues in the contexts of international law, governance and security.

[1]  United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325, 31 October 2000, UN Doc S/RES/1325

[2]  UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace, and security, 16 October 2002, S/2002/1154

[3] Askin KD (2007) War Crimes Against Women: Prosecution in International War Crimes Tribunals, Leiden, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers

[4]  UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace, and security.

[5]  Tiranti,A (1998) ‘Rape Warfare is a Crime Against Humanity’, Populi Maagazine, vol. 25, no. 3

[6]  Diken, B & Lausten, C (2005) ‘Becoming Abject:  Rape as a Weapon of War’ Body & Society, vol. 11, no. 1

[7]  Mullins, C (2009) ‘”We are going to rape you and taste Tutsi women”: Rape During the 1994 Rwandan Genocide’ British Journal of Criminology, vol. 49, no.6

[8]  United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPO), Ten-Year Impact Study on Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace, and Security in Peacekeeping, 2010, accessed 20 October 2013, <

[9]  United Nations Population Fund (2008) Figures on Sexual Violence Reported in the DRC, New York

[10]  United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), Sexual Violence on the rise in DRC’s North Kivu, 30 July 2013, accessed 20 October 2013, < 51f79a649.html>

[11]  Peterman, A, et al (2011) ‘Estimates and Determinants on Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo,’ American Journal of Public Health, vol. 101, no.6

[12]  United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESC), E/CN.4/1996/68,  UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights: Report on the situation of human rights in Rwanda, 29 January 1996, accessed 21 October 2013, < /humanrts/commission/country52/68-rwa.htm>

[13]  UNDPO, Ten-Year Impact Study

[14]  UNSCR, Res. 1325

[15]  Republic of Sudan (2010) Population of Darfur, Bureau of Statistics.

[16]  UNHCR, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Fact Sheet for the Democratic Republic of Congo, 13 October 2010, accessed 21 October 2013 <>

[17]  Medecins Sans Frontieres, DRC: High Levels of Sexual Violence in Goma Camps, 16 Januray 2013, accessed 21 October 2013 < press/release.cfm?id=6566>

[18]  UNDPO, Ten-Year Impact Study

[19]  Medecins Sans Frontieres, Goma

[20]  UNDPO, Ten-Year Impact Study

[21]  Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, opened for signature 17 July 1998, 2187 UNTS 90, (entered into force 1 July 2002): article 7

[22]  UNSC, Resolution 1820, 19 June 2008, UN Doc S/RES/1820

[23]  UNSC, Resolution 1888, 30 September 2009, UN Doc S/RES/1888; UNSC, Resolution 1889, 5 October 2009, UN Doc S/RES/1889

[24]  UNSC, Resolution 1960, 16 December 2010, UN Doc S/RES/1960; UNSC, Resolution 2106, 24 June 2013, UN Doc S/RES/2106

[25]  Otto, D (2006) ‘A Sign of “Weakness? Disrupting Gender Certainties in the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325,’ Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, vol. 13

[26]  Vayrynen, T (2004) ‘Gender and UN Peace Operations: The Confines of Modernity,’ International Peacekeeping, vol.11, no.1

[27]  Pratt, N & Richter-Devroe, S (2011) ‘Critically Examining UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security,’ International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol.13, no.4

[28]  Willett, S (2010) ‘Introduction: Security Council Resolution 1325: Assessing the Impact on Women, Peace and Security,’ International Peacekeeping, vol.17, no.2

[29]  Otto, D (2009) ‘The Exile of Inclusion: Reflections on Gender Issues in International Law Over the Last Decade,’ Melbourne Journal of International Law, vol.10, no.1

[30]  Gibbings, S (2004), Governing Women, Governing Security: Governmentality, Gender-Mainstreaming and Women’s Activism at the UN, MA Thesis, Toronto, York University

[31]  Pratt, UNSCR 1325

[32]  Otto, Exile of Inclusion

[33]  Carver, T (1996) Gender is not a Synonym for Women, Lynne Reiner, Boulder

[34]  Otto, Exile of Inclusion

[35]  Willett, Introduction

[36]  Charlesworth, H (2008) ‘Are women peaceful? Reflections on the role of women in peace-building,’ Feminist Legal Studies, vol.16, no.3

[37]  Radoi, C (2013)‘The Ineffective Response of International Organisations Concerning the Militarization of Women´s Lives,’ SUR International Journal of Human Rights, vol.17, < =17,artigo_09.htm>

[38]  Pratt, UNSCR 1325

[39]  Willet, Introduction

[40]  Otto, Exile of Inclusion

[41]  Gibbings, Governing Women

[42]  UN Secretary-General, Report of the Secretary-General on Women, Peace and Security, 25 September 2008, UN Doc S/2008/622

[43]  UN Secretary-General, Report of the Secretary-General on Women, Peace and Security, 25 September 2008, UN Doc S/2008/622

[44]  UNSC, Resolution 1612, 26 July 2005, UN Doc S/RES/1612

[45]  Willet, Introduction

[46]  UN General Assembly, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse : report of the Secretary-General, 18 February 2010, A/64/669; UNHCR, North Kivu

[47]  UNDPO, Ten-Year Impact Study