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IPRI # 43, 19 April 2020

WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
In India, the glass is half full for the women

  Jenice Jean Goveas

There is a need for India to redouble her efforts for more profound engagement with the UNSCR 1325, build a more structured foreign and domestic policy strategy and work towards its implementation


It is useful to analyse the contribution of Indian women to peace and security, using four basic pillars of UNSC 1325.

First, Women's participation in areas of conflict prevention, negotiations, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction is possible only by politically empowered women. India's historic initiative of reserving one-third of the seats for women in 300,000 local self-government bodies enables India to boast of 1.2 million democratically elected women representatives. When politics, especially in security issues, were male-dominated, India had her first full-time female defence minister in Mrs Nirmala Sitaram in 2017.

India, the largest troop contributor in UN history, became the first country to deploy an all-female peacekeeping unit of 100 personnel to Liberia in 2007. This became a role model for the local women to participate in policing and rule of law frameworks. However, amidst this glamorous picture of increased women participation in peacekeeping, the fact remains that women officers focus mostly on support and care-giving roles, in missions where combat with local hostile forces is minimal. Restricting their participation in the mission's military core does not align with the mainstay of UNSCR 1325, which demands recognition of women as equal partners at all stages of peace and security governance. With the recent Supreme Court judgment on opening Permanent Commission for women in all ten sectors, the Indian armed forces are hopeful of a paradigm shift that can bridge the gender gap. The real feminisation of security doctrines calls for major changes in the culture, norms, and values of the Army and the society at large encompassing feminist perspectives in economics, justice, disarmament, respect for human rights and rule of law.

Second, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence have invited a few proactive legal frameworks. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 are some examples. In addition, a criminal law declaring Death penalty for raping a minor was also passed by the legislature in 2018. Despite these well laid out policies and laws to prevent gender-based Violence, India was ranked as the world's most dangerous country for women by Thomson Reuters Foundation's poll 2018. 

The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 revealed that 30 per cent Indian women in the age group of 15-49 experienced physical violence. About 99 per cent of cases of sexual violence go unreported. Domestic violence is most prevalent due to pervasive gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched patriarchal social and cultural norms that justify such acts. It is proved that violence against women increases during episodes of high unemployment. The "shadow pandemic" accompanying the national lockdown has made women more vulnerable to abusive husbands who practice "intimate terrorism". However, the Indian joint family system could shield a few Indian women against domestic violence. The widespread socio-economic dependency of women, fear of social exclusion and banishment and the lack of effective response to violence causes the Indian woman to accept this social evil as a norm.   

The third yardstick assesses the strategies for the prevention of violence against women. The present policy frameworks address the situation only after the act of violence has taken place and there are few proactive provisions for preventing crimes at an early phase. The Delhi Police Pink Force and Telangana Police SHE Teams particularly focus on the safety of women. True implementation of the goals of UNSC 1325 would be possible only with a holistic approach that addresses the deep-seated patriarchy in society especially among the police and judiciary which is majorly responsible for the low reporting and conviction rates. A multisectoral approach that includes Health, Social Welfare, economic and legal sectors is required. Education of women on their sexual and reproductive rights is a necessity. There should be an increase in the visibility of women in political and economic spheres. Technology can aid in creating safe and gender-friendly infrastructures.

The fourth yardstick is based on the relief and recovery measures. The importance of this can be understood from a classic case study of the 2002 Gujarat riots intervention where unique efforts to initiate trustworthy relationships between Muslim and Hindu women bore great fruit. The women continued to use these contacts established during the days in the relief camps to restore peace in their society. However, the inability and lack of political will to develop the National Action Plan (NAP) highlights India's lukewarm approach. Even after twenty years, India has only made a verbal affirmation of its commitment to the UNSC 1325 resolution and there has been limited concrete progress towards realising the goals domestically.

So, is it true commitment or just a talking point? 

India's disappointing 112th rank out of 153 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2020 reveals a serious lacuna in the measures taken. The fact that India's economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap is a point to ponder. Although India is committed to the Zero Tolerance Policy on sexual violence and abuse, so far, no explicit national policy on conflict prevention has been declared vis-a-vis the WPS agenda. This showcases India's engagement with WPS as largely a foreign policy talking point than a domestic policy concern.

India's reluctance to implement NAP stems from her apprehension of UN policies that permit foreign interference in domestic matters as a threat to her sovereignty. The WPS agenda of UNSCR 1325 orchestrates women's security with national and international security which could invite militarised interventions with imperialist intentions. It could become the rationale for international players to bind India into added investments in armed forces. Due to such insecurities, India has tried to evade the obligation of WPS under UNSCR 1325. 

To conclude, there is a need for India to redouble her efforts for more profound engagement with the UNSCR 1325, build a more structured foreign and domestic policy strategy and work towards its implementation. It is high time for the leaders to get their act together and frame NAP which must hold them accountable to the civil society especially NGOs through clear targets and benchmarks for effective implementation. 


The above commentary is a part of a series on ‘WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325’. This an attempt by NIAS to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the historical United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on ‘women, peace and security’ which was the first to recognize the importance of women in the peacebuilding process and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts. 

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