The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda and the 1325 Resolution assert the necessity of women's presence at all levels of decision-making and peace processes (Chinkin and Charlesworth 2006). Moreover, at the highest level, they formally recognised that excluding women from conflict resolution poses a major hazard to peace. The peacebuilding and conflict transformation processes are crucial sites of society building. Therefore, addressing women's issues and including women's voices in these processes holds significance beyond the immediate context of peacebuilding: they have the potential to challenge the fundamental elements of gender inequalities within society and eradicate the conditions that foster the various forms of violence against women (Wibben et al. 2019).
The present research was conducted using a qualitative approach and primary sources. Specifically, the data collected are the result of semi-structured interviews with representatives of women's organisations involved in peacebuilding activities at the grassroots and local level in Georgia held in March-May 2023. In addition, other sources of information for the research are policy papers, official documents, and reports.
The Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and the UNSC Resolution 1325
The Women, Peace and Security Agenda was elaborated within the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR) as a strategy for advancing significant involvement of women at the negotiating and political levels and for including the gender perspective in peace processes. The objectives are multiple: firstly, to build a platform for articulating shared goals and strategies and secondly, to prioritise a fundamental transformation of the mediation and peace-making system, aiming to develop a more inclusive, equitable and plural one (Women Mediators across the Commonwealth, 2021).
The adoption of Resolution 1325 represented a significant triumph for transnational women's mobilisation efforts to promote women's equality within the UN. Indeed, this resolution represents the first instance in which the Security Council has fully manifested its attention to gender issues, particularly the problems of women in wars and their role as agents in peacebuilding and peacekeeping. Specifically, it supports two distinct policies regarding post-conflict reconstruction: gender balancing and gender mainstreaming. The former ensures gender balance in participation across all phases, including decision-making, policymaking, and implementing measures for post-conflict peacebuilding (Chinkin and Charlesworth 2006). The latter recognises the importance of integrating gender perspectives into various aspects related to conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration activities. In other words, it emphasises the need to consider gender issues in all of these areas in order to achieve sustainable peace and security (Bell and O'Rourke 2010). Accordingly, the United Nations has widely adopted the definition of gender mainstreaming formulated by the Economic and Social Council in 1997: it is the process of evaluating the impact of any planned activity on women and men. Moreover, it also aims at the inclusion of women's and men's issues, interests, and experiences in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programs in all spheres of politics, economics, and society. The objective is that both men and women alike derive equal benefits from these activities and that no one, on the contrary, is penalised or excluded from them. Ultimately, the goal is gender equality (Willett 2010).
Nevertheless, measures adopted concerning the WPS agenda have been fragmented and subject to the initiative of single institutions rather than part of a unified strategy. It is the case of the National Action Plans (NAPs), which only 54% of the UN member states adopted. These strategic documents outline a government's approach and action plan for implementing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda at the local level (Willett 2010). Indeed, a NAP represents the government's integrated and coordinated strategy towards protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups, ensuring their access to essential services and economic opportunities, and promoting gender equality in security and decision-making processes. It also aims to facilitate women's meaningful participation in building sustainable peace.
The National Action Plans on Women, Peace, and Security in Georgia
The elaboration and adoption of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (2012-2015) in Georgia marked a significant milestone as it became the first post-Soviet country to accomplish so. This achievement was a direct result of the efforts of local civil society groups which constantly advocated for positive changes in the post-conflict context. Besides, the process was supported by UN Women (formerly known as UNIFEM), who provided technical assistance and demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the cause (UN Women, 2022).
Women's organizations have been using UNSCR 1325 to promote and safeguard women's participation and protection. However, the government has shown a lack of understanding regarding the significance and applicability of this Resolution. This governmental trend was reversed with the advent of war in August 2008. In the aftermath of the war, immediate responses and assistance were needed for the newly displaced individuals. The UN Women's Office in Georgia and local women's organizations played a crucial role in providing aid and conducting rapid assessments to ensure that the humanitarian assistance and government rehabilitation efforts were sensitive to the diverse needs of women, men, boys, and girls (Kharashvili 2017). The collaborative efforts of local and international women activists, combined with the support of state actors, resulted in the development and approval of the Law on Gender Equality in 2010. This momentum paved the way for joint efforts to draft the National Action Plan for implementing UNSC Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, and 1960 on "Women, Peace, and Security" for 2012-2015 (Kharashvili 2017). As a result, the first NAP of Georgia was approved almost unanimously on December 27, 2011.
The involvement of civil society in the drafting process of the National Action Plan made it possible to incorporate crucial priorities for conflict-affected women to enhance their human security. For instance, during the military attacks in 2008, no information was provided to the population, and no evacuation measures were organized for civilians (Kharashvili 2017). On the contrary, the current National Action Plan includes various measures to improve the safety and security of conflict-affected communities. These measures include establishing an early warning system, including civil defence training in school curriculums, and the Government's commitment to providing information to populations living in adjacent areas regarding potential risks and threats. Additionally, the Action Plan contains provisions for enhancing protection against sexual and gender-based violence, providing assistance to victims, and ensuring the inclusion of internally displaced and conflict-affected women in post-conflict rehabilitation efforts (Kharashvili 2017). The current NAP (2022- 2024) places a significant emphasis on "increasing the participation of women at decision-making levels, in the security sector, and peace negotiations" (UN Women 2022). This goal has been a priority in all three NAPs approved by the Georgian Government (2012-2015, 2016-2017, 2028-2020). Notably, the NAP outlines commitments to enhance women's representation in formal peace negotiations, such as the GID and IPRM (aiming at reaching 40 per cent women for GID and 33 per cent women for IPRM). To support these efforts, the NAP provides direct support to women's civil society organizations in implementing people-to-people diplomacy initiatives and leadership training (UN Women 2020).
Challenges of the Georgian NAP
The approval and implementation of Georgian NAPs were not without problems. As reported in the paper "Benchmarks, barriers and bridging the gaps: enhancing women's meaningful participation and contribution" by UN Women Georgia in one of their interviews with conflict-affected women engaged in these processes: "theoretically women's contribution is recognised, but not in practice" (UN Women 2020). In particular, two sets of problems can be mentioned: those related to funds and those concerning so-called meaningful participation.
Although the Georgian governments have shown a firm engagement in Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) issues through multiple National Action Plans (NAPs), there need to be more financial resources allocated to implement these plans. The issue with funding for women's organisations is not just the quantity but also the nature of it. Indeed, the funding is often geared towards short-term projects with limited implementation windows. This trend towards short-term funding negatively impacts peacebuilding initiatives, as peacebuilding inherently requires a long-term approach to achieve transformational change (UN Women 2020, 30). In one of the interviews conducted for this research, one representative of women’s organisations promoting peacebuilding activities said: “To see the results it’s a long process. We would love to have more time, but we do not have enough resources. […] Peace is a long-term process. We are trying to educate why we need not only resources for 1 year but for 2 years or more”.
Regarding meaningful participation, UN Women Georgia highlighted three main problems. The first issue regards the fact that women's role in peacebuilding is often limited to informal peace processes and not recognised in official ones. As expressed by a peace activist interviewed, there is a prevailing notion that women are only involved in peacebuilding at the grassroots level, while men handle negotiations. “There is a stereotype that I find a little bit harmful that in case of reconciliation, for reconciliation and for peacebuilding, you need women at the community and local levels but as soon as it comes to negotiations at official levels, then there will be men because are more experienced. […]. For me it’s a very bad message”.
This is also reflected in the fact that the goals of including women in official peace channels, as stated in the NAP, have yet to be achieved. As a matter of fact, between 2018 and 2020, women's participation in the Geneva International Discussions (GID) and the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) was only approximately 20 per cent (UN Women 2020).
Secondly, the work of women engaging in peace activities needs to be more extensively recognised in Georgia. In one of the interviews, one participant pointed out that men often lack the motivation to participate in peacebuilding work as there is no tangible outcome or recognition for their efforts:“Especially in areas of reconciliation (at the grassroots level), why are there much more women? Because it is a “dirty work”, like when you have to wash the dishes. You wash them and tomorrow you will have to start to wash them again from the beginning. Women are more patient to do this regular routine work. And this is the case of mediation: you need to do it again and again, at least to stay on the same level and not to go back because if you stop for even two months with reconciliation dialogues, you need to start again five times harder than the beginning.”
Thirdly, there is a tendency to marginalise and restrict women's expertise and potential contributions to peace and security, categorising them solely as specialists in so-called "women's issues". These issues are often perceived as "softer" topics such as family reunification, healthcare, and education (UN Women 2020). As pointed out by one of the participants interviewed: “I don’t like the statement that women are dealing with social issues, that we need to concentrate on pensions, disable people etc. It is not true. […] Women are not seen as experts, they are always asked to care about social issues, but we can talk about other issues, too. And the same is with men, because men cannot talk about social issue, they are not aware. For example, I was asking to male experts in a meeting in 2020 how was the situation of IDPs from Karabakh, since there were 9000. The war was also related to Covid pandemic, and so I was asking how the pandemic is influencing it, what was the situation; I was asking if there were cases of sexual violence and no one answered. They were talking about the influence of Turkey, of Iran, of Russia, the influence of oil, all very important but they knew nothing about people, and when you talk about war first of all, in my opinion, you have to talk about people, how to save people and give them the right to go back, if they are displaced. The main aim of politics is people.”
In addition to the limitations mentioned above regarding peacebuilding, women, in particular, face specific problems in the post-conflict context. Albeit the end of active hostilities, women and girls are affected in particular ways by the ongoing insecurity. For instance, the detention and limitations on movement are a cause for concern for all civilians, but they have specific implications for women and girls' security, human rights, education, healthcare, and livelihoods. Since the 2008 war and the ABL's securitisation, the movement of civilians has been severely limited. Moreover, the installation of barbed wire fences along the ABL and the Russian border guards' patrol since early 2013, known as "borderisation", have exacerbated the situation, especially for women and girls.
The limitations on freedom of movement also directly impact opportunities for peacebuilding. They hinder contact and confidence-building between populations affected by the conflict and impede grassroots people-to-people diplomacy. As a result, the ties between people and communities are disrupted and sometimes severed: this can lead to hardened attitudes and reduced prospects for peace (UN Women 2020).
During the 2020-2024 period, supporting the localisation of the fourth National Action Plan for implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security is one of UN Women Georgia's primary objectives. This process involves promoting the active participation of women, grassroots organisations, internally displaced individuals, and conflict-affected women in local policy planning and budgeting procedures. Furthermore, UN Women aims to enhance the capacity of local governments to advance the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda (georgia.unwomen.org).
As a representative of UN Women Georgia interviewed explained, UN Women Georgia tries to set up networks that bring together both CSOs and representatives of ministries and government officials, who then participate in the GID and IPRW negotiation fora. In particular, the associations raise the problems that people have, mainly IDPs and people living in the villages near the ABL. According to her, hearing these problems from the individuals who experienced them rather than reading them from n a document makes it more effective and more likely that these problems will actually be discussed in the negotiations. In this way, the representatives of the institutions who sit at the negotiating table bring the concrete concerns of the people, particularly of women, who are often the most vocal in advocating the needs of their communities. Therefore, UN Women in Georgia works on the implementation of Women, Peace, and Security Agenda by bridging the grassroots and formal levels of peacebuilding, creating a network among them.
In conclusion, these efforts by various actors such as institutional and governmental bodies, international organisations such as UN Women and local women's organisations all contribute significantly to implementing and localising the principles and practices of the WPS Agenda. Indeed, systemic changes in security and peace with full integration of gender perspective can only be possible through the accomplishment of two essential elements: meaningful participation of women at all levels of decision-making and peacebuilding and gender equality. Providing a platforms for women to voice their perspectives is essential to ensure their inclusion in peacebuilding efforts and tackle social inequalities. As explained by an interviewee: “It is very important to identify with the women their needs and advocate to put them in policies and negotiations.” Because “peace is about community, it’s about how people interact to each other, how they understand each other, it’s about communication”.
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