The Holistic and Strategic Approach to Peace and Security: The Nexus between UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Gender Equality, and Culture

One of the key challenges when working in the field of women’s engagement in peace and security issues is the common misconception that United Nations (U.N.) Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security does not apply to the internal policies and processes of national security institutions. These policies may include gender, diversity, and cultural reform programs, or human resource activities designed to increase and enhance women’s meaningful participation in security institutions and ensure equality for women. This misconception often rises because practitioners have applied an operational, rather than a strategic, approach to Resolution 1325’s applicability and implementation.

However, the delinking of Resolution 1325 from a holistic and strategic approach to peace and security efforts denies the nexus between its role in increasing women’s meaningful participation in the defence and security sector generally, and in peacekeeping and other coalition operations specifically. How can women meaningfully participate in peace building, peace processes, and peacekeeping, if their national institutions do not value their contribution? How can U.N. member states provide meaningful contributions to peacekeeping and operations, if they do not support the U.N.’s efforts to enhance equality as a key component of sustainable development? Central to all of this must be reform if the culture does not already exist.

NATO Parliamentary Assembly Marks the Anniversary U.N. Resolution 1325 (NATO PA)

In October 2000, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. This adoption marked a turning point in the inclusion of women and gender perspectives in peacebuilding efforts and initiated the international women, peace, and security agenda. Historically, women’s groups have been advocating for their role in peace and international security, but it was not until the 1990s this issue began to acquire more importance and become more visible on the international agenda.[1] Resolution 1325 recognised the experiences and needs of women and girls differ from those of men and boys in conflict and post conflict situations, and this difference underlines the essential role of women in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction and recovery efforts. It highlighted four pillars:

  • The inclusion of women's participation at all levels of decision making in peace building;
  • The prevention of conflict and all forms of violence against women;
  • The protection of women and girls and their rights, and;
  • Gender-responsive relief and recovery.

Resolution 1325 also tasked U.N. member states with integrating a gender perspective into peacekeeping efforts. A further seven women, peace and security resolutions have since been adopted, all stressing the need for greater participation by women in a wide range of functions and responsibilities in conflict prevention, management and resolution.[2]

Importantly, Resolution 1325 was seen by the international community as a ground-breaking mechanism to enhance women’s equality and empowerment. Prior to its adoption, several major global conferences and policy frameworks sought to advance the rights of women and girls. Beginning in 1975, the U.N. convened world conferences to elevate gender equality on the global stage. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women yielded the Beijing Declaration and Platform with key objectives promoting of the role of women in peacemaking.[3] Since then, the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, set by the U.N. in 2000 and 2015, respectively, have held equality and empowerment as central to its achievement.[4]  Evidence that gender equality is essential to building peace and security has also grown substantially. Research shows, for example, that countries with high levels of gender-based discrimination are more likely to experience intra- and interstate conflict, while countries in which men and women have more fair and equal access to opportunities tend to be stable and peaceful.[5]

With this backdrop of sustained effort by the U.N. and the international community to address women’s equality and empowerment, the implementation of Resolution 1325 has been embodied by U.N. member states through the development of national action plans on women, peace, and security. As of January 2018, seventy-four national action plans have been adopted, and some are second- or third-generation. The priorities and actions identified in these frameworks include context or nation-specific provisions addressing a number of areas, including gender-sensitive security sector reform.

For many member states, this reform means addressing women’s low participation rates, identifying gaps and deficiencies in conditions of service between men and women, empowering women to progress into leadership roles, and creating a culture that values the contributions of both men and women equally. This in turn, enables a more inclusive approach, or gender perspective, to peace and security—ensuring the availability of women and men to positively impact operational objectives such as intelligence gathering, community engagement, stabilisation activities, physical security, and communication.[6] This approach most often requires a shift in the paradigms, perceptions, and attitudes towards women’s participation. In achieving these goals, member states are meeting their obligations to gender equality and creating more sustainable peace and security in conflict environments, thus meeting the gender perspective requirements of Resolution 1325.

A recent article by the author highlighted the efforts by Australia and other U.N. member and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) partner states to address the participation of women in the defence and security sectors, linking gender equality and empowerment with peace and security principles.[7] Behind these examples of gender equality becoming a reality, though, is the requisite cultural reform necessary to embed and sustain these gains. The common perception that the women, peace, and security agenda is separate to, or more important than, cultural reform, is invalid and demonstrates that some practitioners do not grasp the strategic view of Resolution 1325 and its role in achieving equality and empowerment for women.

A 2014-2017 NATO study examining barriers to the participation of women in the NATO armed forces identified six recommendations that provide a template for reform and are distinctly related to women’s equality and culture:

  • The use of strong leadership to drive gender-inclusive reform and create a stronger and more capable military;
  • Creating diversity of leadership through enhanced opportunities for women which enrich and strengthen decision-making;
  • Increasing numbers through targeted recruiting for combat roles that contribute to more effective performance;
  • Preventing early and unnecessary separations to strengthen militaries;
  • Preventing gender-based harassment and violence that ruin lives, divide teams, and damage operational effectiveness; and
  • Ensuring a strong and confident military through transparency and accountability.[8] 

The key elements of strong leadership, diversity of leadership, effective performance, operational effectiveness, and strong and confident military all point to ensuring, or creating, the culture necessary to achieve the study’s goals. A review of the national action plans of the Five-Eyes partners—Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand—highlights a focus on the systemic reform required to fully embrace the gender equality intent behind Resolution 1325. [9]

In Australia, the defence sector has undergone significant reform over the past ten years to enhance military capability and force structure; create a more positive and constructive operational effect; improve the sector’s response to current and emerging security challenges; and to ensure a more productive, respectful, and professional workforce premised on valuing contributions, diversity, and innovation. Australia’s New Generation Navy, Adaptive Army, and the Air Force’s New Horizons programs have developed and completed various strategies related to leadership, behaviour, people‐focused work practices, and the training pipeline, all designed to meet the cultural intent. These efforts been overlaid by the Department of Defence’s Pathway to Change, a broader, more strategic reform agenda to produce a more capable, integrated and inclusive organisation.[10]

Australia has moved ton include more women in its military (Rob Griffith/AP)

While this reform process was not part of a strategic response to Resolution 1325, it nonetheless created the positive environment that subsequently supported the implementation of recommendations from the 2012 review of the treatment of women in the Australian armed forces.[11] This review had at its core, the equal access of both women and men to all employment categories, to senior leadership roles, to operational opportunities, and to effective decision-making. In addition, the Australian national action plan included, as a key thematic area, enhancing the meaningful participation of women domestically and internationally through more equal representation in national security institutions.[12] For Australia, it has been a case of cultural reform leading to measures to ensure full equality for women in peace and security, a clear demonstration of the nexus between women’s equality, culture and Resolution 1325.

Similarly, the New Zealand national action plan highlights its long history of international leadership in promoting the rights of women to participate equally in all aspects of society as the basis of its policy framework and approach to implementing Resolution 1325. It is evident from this history the New Zealand defence and security sector has a culture of equality. Two key actions in the national action plan include researching, identifying, and addressing roadblocks to women deploying, including organizational culture, and strengthening recruitment, promotion, deployment, and other human resource support programs to increase the presence of women at senior levels and deployed. [13]

The goal of the United States national action plan is as simple as it is profound: to empower half the world’s population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.[14] The plan builds on other government goals for gender integration, including its national security strategy, which involves identifying and addressing gender differences and inequalities, as well as the roles of women and men. The plan is guided by the meaningful inclusion of a variety of stakeholders, including women, and complements and enhances existing initiatives to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.[15]

Canada’s vision for women, peace, and security is part of the Government of Canada’s feminist agenda, which prioritises gender equality and the rights of women and girls at its core.[16] This is reflected in the second national action plan released in 2017. Titled “Gender Equality: A Foundation for Peace,” this plan provides a framework for a whole-of-government approach to implement this important agenda and ensures its activities in fragile and conflict-affected states align with its broader commitments to gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, respect for the human rights of women and girls, inclusion, and respect for diversity.[17] The plan also highlights the use of Gender-based Analysis Plus, an analytical tool used throughout the Government of Canada to assess—using the feminist lens—how diverse groups of women, men, and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs, and initiatives.[18]

Canada’s feminist approach also recognises the need for transformative change (including the participation of men and boys as partners), and its feminist foreign policy is reflected in a new Canadian Armed Forces policy—"Strong, Secure and Engaged"—with a focus on gender equality and diversity.[19] As outlined in this policy, women will be supported by the promotion of a culture of leadership, respect and honour, and the Canadian Armed Forces will strive to eliminate harmful behaviour and ensure a work environment free from harassment and discrimination.[20]  

Canadians value gender equality at home and abroad. We know there is a direct connection between gender equality and inclusive, prosperous societies. In Canada, we are applying an intersectional, gender lens to all government decisions to ensure that we continue to support the empowerment of women and girls here at home. And, with Canada’s second Action Plan, we will continue to support women and girls around the world in reaching their full potential by ensuring that international communities can move toward inclusivity and prosperity.[21]

Major Julia Atherley-Blight, Deputy Commanding Officer of the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team, salutes during a Remembrance Day ceremony in Pakistan (Sgt Frank Hudec/Canadian Forces)

Finally, the women, peace, and security agenda and promoting global gender equality is a key priority for the Government of the United Kingdom (U.K.). As part of this commitment to gender equality, its second-generation national action plan, released in January 2018, is focused on ensuring women and girls are at the heart of its work to prevent and resolve conflict. A reference to the Ministry of Defence’s Gender Champion, the Vice Chief of Defence Force, and his responsibilities to integrate gender perspectives into the armed forces and promote the role of women in peacekeeping—as well as the appointment of Military Women, Peace, and Security Champions—is evidence of the requisite senior leadership and shift in culture for the UK defence sector that will more positively enable the successful implementation of the national action plan.[22] While the U.K. plan is focused primarily on commitments in specific countries, it complements domestic strategies impacting women and girls and sits alongside similar UK government efforts promoting gender equality and women’s advancement within government.[23]

The global women, peace, and security agenda exists to promote and fulfil the human rights of women and achieve gender equality, as part of efforts to build more peaceful and stable societies. The link between equality and improvements for women in the defence and security sector is clear and well researched. For many U.N. member states, national action plans provide the strategic framework to address gaps and deficiencies in the meaningful representation of women in national institutions and in peacekeeping. Given that conflict most often arises in countries with high levels of gender-based discrimination, a culture of valuing the contribution of women is an essential element of suitable peace and security efforts. More often than not, any government strategies to implement Resolution 1325 in this sector must include an element of cultural reform if none exists, if only to shift paradigms, perceptions, and attitudes relating to women’s equality, empowerment, and participation.

Jennifer Wittwer is a Royal Australian Navy officer and the Australian Defence Force's first Gender Adviser to NATO operations in Afghanistan in 2013. Jennifer also led the implementation of the Australian National Action Plan on women, peace, and security from 2013-16, and she was seconded to the Peace and Security section of UN Women in New York in 2016-18. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of Defence, or the Australian government.

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Header Image: Women, Peace and Security (King's College London/YouTube)


[1] These groups included the Women and Armed Conflict Caucus, and NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, which was initially made up of Amnesty International, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), International Alert, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children and Hague Appeal for Peace. It currently consists of Amnesty International; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Femmes Africa Solidarité; Global Justice Center; Human Rights Watch; International Rescue Committee; Madre; Open Society Foundations; Refugees International; Women’s Action for New Directions; WILPF; and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

[2] UNSCRs 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, and 2242

[3] Fifty-two strategic objectives aligned with twelve key themes: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and media, women and the environment, and the girl-child.,_1995. Progress on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration was conducted in 2000 in the 23rd session of the General Assembly, in 2005 during the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), in 2010 during the 54th session of CSW, and in 2015 during a special CSW meeting on Beijing +20.,_1995

[4] The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the eight international development goals for the year 2015 that had been established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, addressing poverty, education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and development. The Sustainable Development Goals replaced the MDG in 2016, addressing social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanisation, environment, and social justice.

[5] Hudson, V. et al (2012), Sex and World Peace, New York: Columbia University Press.

[6] NATO has gathered significant evidence demonstrating the positive effect of a gender perspective on security operations. See NATO, ‘How Can Gender Make a Difference to Security Operations - Indicators’, 2011 -

[7] Jennifer Wittwer, CSM, “Linking Gender, Women and Equality to NATO’s Peace and Security Efforts,” The Strategy Bridge, 11 April 2018,

[8] ‘UNSCR 1325 Reload, conducted by NATO along with the ADF, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and Rey Juan Carlos University, Spain, 2014 – 2017,

[9] Five Eyes, is an intelligence alliance comprising AustraliaCanadaNew Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. These countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence.

[10] Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture, Department of Defence, Commonwealth of Australia, 2012

[11] Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Phase 2 Report, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2012

[12] Australian National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security 2012-2013, Commonwealth of Australia, 2012, page 14

[13] New Zealand National Action Plan for the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, Including 1325, on Women, Peace and Security 2015-2019,

[14] Second generation released in 2016 -,%20Peace,%20and%20Security.pdf. Implementation of the NAP has been strengthened by the Women, Peace, and Security Act 2017. This act will strengthen efforts to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflict by increasing women’s participation in negotiation and mediation processes.

[15] USAID Website, 2016,

[16] Gender Equality: A Foundation for Peace, Canada’s National Action Plan 2017-2022 – For the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, Global Affairs, Canada, 2017, page 8

[17] Government of Canada website, ‘Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security’, 1 November 2017,

[18] Gender Equality: A Foundation for Peace, Canada’s National Action Plan 2017-2022 – For the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, Global Affairs, Canada, 2017, page 13

[19] Ibid, pages 8-9

[20] Ibid, page 14

[21] Quote by Hon. Maryam Monsef, P.C., M.P., Minister of Status of Women, News release, ‘Canada launches second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security’, 1 November 2017

[22] UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2018-2022, page 1

[23] Ibid, page 2