War has always impacted men and women in different ways, but possibly never more so than in contemporary conflicts. While women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war, they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.
In contemporary conflicts, as much as 90 percent of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children. Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives. Women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, as they struggle to keep families together and care for the wounded. And women may also be forced to turn to sexual exploitation in order to survive and support their families.
Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, including unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatization. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict, as a consequence of insecurity and impunity. Coupled with discrimination and inequitable laws, sexual violence can prevent women from accessing education, becoming financially independent and from participating in governance and peacebuilding.
Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes, although they contribute in many informal ways to conflict resolution. In recent peace negotiations, for which such information is available, women have represented fewer than 8 percent of participants and fewer than 3 percent of signatories, and no woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks. Such exclusion invariably leads to a failure to adequately address women’s concerns, such as sexual and gender-based violence, women’s rights and post-conflict accountability.
However, the UN Security Council now recognizes that women’s exclusion from peace processes contravenes their rights, and that including women and gender perspectives in decision-making can strengthen prospects for sustainable peace. This recognition was formalized in October 2000 with the unanimous adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The landmark resolution specifically addresses the situation of women in armed conflict and calls for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Since the agenda was set with the core principles of resolution 1325, four supporting resolutions have been adopted by the Security Council — 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960. The five resolutions focus on three key goals:
Together, these resolutions provide a powerful framework and mandate for implementing and measuring change in the lives of women in conflict-affected countries. A number of other thematic resolutions, policies and legal instruments also overlap and complement this agenda.
Since the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1325, UN Women’s work on peace and security issues has been driven by its goals. UN Women supports projects that focus on increasing women’s participation in decision-making, promoting the use of gender perspectives in policy development, strengthening the protection of women affected by conflict, countering conflict-related sexual violence, amplifying calls for accountability and advancing the status of women in post-conflict settings.
UN Women programming focuses on four key thematic areas: