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The Future of the UK’s Women, Peace and Security Policy

Paul Kirby, Hannah Wright and Aisling Swaine | Published on August 23, 2022

Image credit: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Project: Feminist Security Politics

Introduction

Since October 2000, the international community has pursued gender equality in war- and peace making through the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ – or WPS – framework. Beginning with a landmark resolution drafted by feminist activists within and beyond the United Nations, the agenda has grown to include nine further UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), 94 national plans, dozens of regional institution strategies, a formal set of dedicated offices and envoys, and a complex supporting universe of civil society and research networks.

As the UK government prepares its fifth National Action Plan (NAP), this policy brief presents an analysis of fifteen years of policy, mapping previous priorities, spending, and shortcomings, and identifying opportunities for the next stage of strategy and implementation. Though WPS is a significant and in many respects growing area of UK policy focus, and though many UK projects are potentially transformative, there remain significant gaps in ensuring effective delivery, applying a gender perspective internally, and addressing the full breadth of the agenda.

Key findings

The UK government should expand and refine its WPS work, taking credit for existing strengths and recognising persistent limitations. The UK is in an unparalleled position as an original champion of the agenda and given its special placement at the intersection of several WPS fields. It also has a responsibility to the agenda not only as one of its preeminent advocates but also as in evaluating its own institutional practices and conflict histories.

At present, UK WPS policy is unduly limited in three respects. First, despite significant investment, monitoring, evaluation and learning procedures could be significantly strengthened. Improvements in fund labelling and tracking would improve reporting, enable independent scrutiny, and allow for a clearer identification of policy success. The welcome inclusion of civil society and academic expertise should be given a stronger formal basis throughout NAP development and delivery.

Second, the many opportunities for domestication of the agenda continue to be neglected. Though these pose understandable bureaucratic and political challenges, the success of the agenda depends on coherence and creative thinking across policy domains and government departments, even where this is politically sensitive. It is especially important that the UK government engage with domestication to avoid the impression that it believes WPS applies only beyond its borders and in its aid and humanitarian relationships with distant others.

Finally, the fifth NAP offers an opportunity to commit to the full breadth of the agenda and make a step change in policy ambition. The UK continues to lead on issues of CRSV, and the Foreign Secretary’s recommitment is welcome. However, the national action plan framework should not be taken to mean that governments should only engage with parts of the agenda (or what has been called ‘a la carte WPS’). In crucial contemporary threats like climate change and the arms trade, the government should do more to comprehensively apply the gender perspective and ensure maximal adherence with its commitments to international regimes such as CEDAW and the Refugee Convention.

Together, these measures can help to advance the UK’s contribution to WPS as a universal, rights-based framework with conflict prevention at its heart.

Recommendations

1. Infrastructure and Monitoring: To improve monitoring and accountability and the UK’s infrastructure for implementing WPS, the government should:

  • Introduce a labelling system for tracking targeted WPS spending across different funding mechanisms, including WPS components of larger projects, and report on spending annually
  • Create new mechanisms for disbursing flexible multi-year core funding to national and local women’s rights organisations in fragile and conflict affected contexts, building on good practices from other donors
  • Put civil society and research engagement on a stronger formal footing, improving the integration of evidence and voice into the NAP process, including by reinstating the WPS Steering Group announced in the fourth NAP
  • Across WPS policy, meaningfully engaging with women of differing racial, class, sexual, religious, bodily experiences and identities while consistently recognising the varying roles of men and boys, and people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics

2. Domestication: To bring domestic policies in line with WPS principles, the government should:

A. Initiate UK-relevant promotion of and approach to the WPS agenda

  • Include in the NAP actions to initiate UK/domestic-focused engagement with the WPS agenda, such as creating opportunities for policy dialogue and promotion of WPS relevant to centrally mandated areas of policy, as well as in the devolved administrations
  • Create a mechanism for promoting and sharing of learning on WPS implementation across the devolved institutions (see also 3.c below)
  • Make available funding to support and enable developed leadership on implementation of the WPS agenda and specifically for women’s civil society to implement WPS domestically

B. Northern Ireland

  • Recognise the significant history of peacebuilding work led by women and women’s organisations in the context of any inclusion of Northern Ireland in the NAP
  • Recognise the role of the Northern Ireland Office in advancing the UK’s commitments under the WPS agenda and the implementation of the NAP under its remit
  • Ensure that any inclusion of Northern Ireland in the NAP is done in response to consultation with local women’s civil society, locally-led priority setting and in the context of broader devolved governance

C. Gender-Based Violence

  • Ratify article 59 of the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible
  • Ensure the maintenance of legal rights to hold the state accountable for ensuring justice for victims and survivors of gender-based violence
  • Legislate a statutory guarantee of local funding for services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including gender-specific and trans-inclusive services for women and men, and specialist services for migrant women, women of colour and LGBTQI+ survivors

D. Migration and asylum

  • Develop trauma-informed procedures for assessing asylum claims and invest in non-carceral alternatives to immigration detention that allow asylum seekers and migrants to reside in the community
  • Abolish the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule and create a ‘firewall’ to prevent police and other public bodies from sharing abuse victims’ and other vulnerable individuals’ details with immigration enforcement
  • Open up safe routes for arrival in the UK for asylum seekers, abandon the Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda for the coercive deportation of migrants and asylum seekers, and end the deportation of individuals before their options for legal appeal have been exhausted

3. Policy Ambition: To respond to global trends and create a more ambitious WPS policy, the UK government should:

  • Urgently integrate a gender perspective into climate change policy, building on steps already made to address natural resource management through the CSSF Gender, Peace and Security Portfolio
  • Revisit its arms transfer control regime to ensure the maximum possible adherence to the Arms Trade Treaty, including by strengthening the government WPS infrastructure and cross-departmental gender awareness in assessing the risks of transfers, and to contribute meaningfully to conflict prevention
  • Work to strengthen synergies between WPS and human rights frameworks, including by supporting and resourcing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’s monitoring of General Recommendation 30 and ensuring formal and informal engagement between the Committee and the UN Security Council to enhance coherent approaches to gender and conflict
  • More closely coordinate with other WPS champions to pre-empt duplication and better respond to contemporary challenges within the agenda, such as the assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights

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