Conflict prevention and early warning mechanisms can help reduce the risk of clashes escalating into costly and destructive wars that can spill across borders, and lower other critical costs in terms of human lives, infrastructure and economic development. Moreover, the United Nations has increasingly focused on prevention as a key pillar of peacebuilding, recognizing the need not only to end violence, but also to prevent conflict from recurring by addressing its root causes and empowering local actors to strengthen conflict resolution practices.
The UN Security Council reiterated its commitment to prevention through the adoption of resolutions 1366 (2001) and 1625 (2005). These resolutions call on Member States, regional organizations and the international community to develop strategies aimed at preventing the outbreak of conflict. Prevention is also at the core of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, first endorsed by the General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit.
Despite some progress, however, there remains a critical gap between rhetoric and reality. The bulk of resources continues to focus on reacting to conflicts rather than on preventing them from erupting in the first place. Moreover, prevention strategies often focus disproportionately on the role of external actors and inadequately address the development of self-sustaining local structures and national capacities for dispute resolution.
Even where prevention strategies do exist, civil society groups — and women’s organizations in particular — are often excluded, including from the development of early warning indicators, although they may be most effectively positioned and motivated to sound the alarm when early signs of conflict arise. These indicators can include sharp increases in gender-based violence, abductions, trafficking, abuse perpetrated by security forces, elections-related violence, and systemic failures of accountability mechanisms. Such violations often go unreported, or their significance is misunderstood, yet they can signal that conflict is escalating.
A UNIFEM (now UN Women) review of 832 early warning indicators compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2008 revealed that only 11 made any reference to gender, and that only one indicator monitored women’s human rights violations.
Women play pivotal roles in many conflict settings, including reaching out across conflict divides, encouraging parties to abandon entrenched positions, influencing male family members to disarm, and helping to reintegrate ex-combatants into communities. Security Council resolution 1325 recognizes these and many other contributions that women have made to conflict prevention, and specifically calls on the United Nations and other actors to support their inclusion in preventative mechanisms, as well as their participation at all levels of decision-making.
UN Women has contributed to the integration of gender perspectives in community-based conflict prevention mechanisms through: