Over Two Decades Later, What Have These Women’s Rights Milestones Really Achieved?

Building the Movement
Women are our greatest strength. We are more than half of the world’s population, we are an enormous global constituency. WILPF maintains and builds this network as a safe and inclusive organisation, using it to advance ideas and create momentum for change.
Leverage Feminist
Perspectives on Peace
In a patriarchal world, the feminist perspective has been missing from discussions on conflict, sustainability, and more. WILPF develops and amplifies feminist perspectives on root causes and promotes them on the international and national policy agenda. In doing so, we advance the cause of peace.

2020 was a year of milestone anniversaries.

In September, we marked the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a landmark platform for the rights of women and girls. Through a concrete action plan, 189 world leaders came together in 1995 at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women to commit to pursuing gender equality across the world.

Stock photo from 1995. Women behind a WILPF banner on a train station. One with a guitar.
In 1995, WILPF sponsored a “Peace Train” that brought 230 women and 10 men from 42 countries to the Fourth UN Conference on Women. During the three-week trek from Helsinki, Finland, to Beijing the activists meet with women groups and political leaders. Credits: WILPF archive.

And in October, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). In 2000, WILPF, alongside other women’s rights and peace advocates, was at the forefront of advocating for the resolution, which recognises that the equal participation of women is critical to the success of international peace and security efforts.

Did you know that UNSCR 1325 is the most translated Security Council resolution ever?

Both events were unprecedented and considered huge victories for advancing the rights of women. But 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and 20 years since the adoption of UNSCR 1325, has any progress actually been made?

A reality check on the state of women’s rights today

While it’s important to acknowledge these milestones, we must also examine whether they’ve actually helped progress women’s rights. We can start by looking at the realities of today’s world.

In 2021, inequality – in all its forms – persists around the world and continues to grow. Militarism dominates security discourse and works together with patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist systems to devalue the lives of human beings, particularly the most marginalised populations.

Militarisation erodes our societies, stifles civil liberties, and wrecks the environment. Yet money and resources continue to be poured into global violence inappropriately labelled as “security”. Meanwhile, women and girls throughout the world live in poverty and face the effects of violent conflict, gender-based violence, and various other forms of structural violence.

It’s clear that meaningful progress is still yet to be made.

How different would the world look if we invested the money used on global militarism into public resources? Or if the promises made in Beijing in 1995 and by the Security Council in 2000 were more than just that – promises?

These were the messages and questions WILPF delivered in March 2020 in our statement to the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), where the Beijing+25 anniversary was due to be celebrated. As the UN marked the anniversaries of 2020, we demanded accountability from governments and suggested bold new paths forward. And we issued a sharp criticism of the work that hasn’t taken place, holding back the advancement of women’s rights and progress toward a future of sustainable peace:

“If the Beijing Platform had been translated into law, we would have a reason to celebrate. If the Women, Peace and Security Agenda had delivered on its promise there would be change for all of us. If society understood the importance and meaning of gender, we would be living in a different world.”

WILPF’s statement to CSW64

Watered down commitments and a civil society response

The discourse around women’s rights and human rights more broadly has become increasingly politicised due to the rise of authoritarianism, fascism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, white supremacist ideologies and fundamentalism worldwide, and policies have suffered as a result.

We saw this especially in discussions around sexual and reproductiove health and rights as well as LGBTQ+ rights.

Such political sidestepping was evident in the political declaration published by governments ahead of the CSW64 in March for the Beijing anniversary. Rather than offering a promising step forward, the declaration merely reaffirmed the commitments made 25 years ago – which have since proven ineffective.

In response, a global coalition of more than 200 feminist organisations, networks, and collectives that advocate for gender equality at the United Nations – known as the Women’s Rights Caucus – published an alternative feminist declaration. WILPF, as part of the coalition, helped draft the declaration with concrete demands for action and change.

And in May 2020, we raised our voices even louder with the publication of Where are the Words?, a report published by WILPF and the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security detailing systemic disregard for the advancement of UNSCR 1325 by the UN Secretary-General and the UN Security Council.

The report also highlights the disappearance of language on the Women, Peace and Security agenda from a significant number of country-specific resolutions – a lack of representation that threatens to reverse progress for women’s meaningful participation in peace-building processes.

Re-imagining the path forward

Our work is far from over.

In October 2020, WILPF was selected as a Catalytic Member of the new Generation Equality Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action. Part of the Generation Equality Forum, a global space for civil society individuals and organisations to engage in dialogue and action on gender equality and women’s rights, the Compact has a goal to address key structural issues preventing the realisation of the WPS agenda, such as militarisation.

In November, WILPF published UNSCR 1325 at 20 Years: Perspectives from Feminist Peace Activists and Civil Society, a major analysis of how – and whether – UNSCR 1325 has been implemented over the past 20 years.

Based on global consultations with hundreds of WILPF members and other feminist peace activists and WPS practitioners, the report reveals three key areas requiring urgent attention if the Women, Peace and Security agenda is to continue moving forward: militarism and militarisation, the patriarchal and political underpinnings of the agenda itself, and a lack of accountability for its implementation.

“The next decade’s approach must be centred on working towards structural changes to promote systems and economies that prioritise gender equality, human well-being, dignity, and livelihood,” the report states in its conclusion. “In order to achieve sustainable and feminist peace, the UN, UNSC, and all states must address the gendered root causes and consequences of conflict; protect and promote the rights of all women and girls; and take much-needed action towards conflict prevention, disarmament, and demilitarisation.”

In December, we published a policy brief examining the application of UNSCR 1325 in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The report found that despite the inadequate implementation of the resolution by governments in the region over the past 20 years, the grassroots feminist movement has never been stronger: “A diverse set of homegrown feminist movements is flourishing and realising great achievements despite the enormous challenges they face,” the report concludes. “Women and girls in MENA have made great strides in pursuit of progress and are moving forward towards even more.”

A future of feminist peace is within our reach. But to get there, we must continue calling out the failings of the system and driving action in pursuit of equity for all.

Every step of the way, WILPF will be there: talking, publishing, advocating, acting. Creating change.

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Creative Director – Nina Maria Mørk Hansen

Authors – Adalmiina Erkkola (stories), Emily Dontsos (stories), Molly Jerlström (Section snippets), Elena Cason (Section snippets), Tove Ivergård (Section snippets)

Copyeditor – Emily Dontsos

Video transcripts – Adélaïde Barat-Magan

Design – Nadia Joubert

Development – Pierre Joubert

Thank you to Laila Alodaat & Rasha Jarhum (The Women Leading Yemen’s Peace Movement), Elena Cason, Madeleine Rees, Ray Acheson & Nela (WILPF’s COVID-19 Response: Action for Change), Zarin Hamid & Genevieve Riccoboni (Over Two Decades Later, What Have These Women’s Rights Milestones Really Achieved?), Katrin Geyer and Ray Acheson (Feminists for Nuclear Disarmament) and Maria Butler, Jenny Aulin & Elena Cason (Walking the Green Feminist Road) for their help in writing the stories of change and giving feedback on them.

Photo contributions by: Irina Popa, Nela Porobić Isaković, Ari Beser, Korea Peace Now, Charlotte Hooij, dinosmichail, Unsplash, Adobe Stock, WILPF Sections and Groups in Aotearoa, Australia, Argentina, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Togo. Photos from WILPF Archives, WILPF International Secretariat

Videos contributions by: The Story, Tay Blyth-Kubota, Joanna Maxwell-Scott, Antoine Guide,