More Women, More Peace: Opportunities at the EU Level

22. April 2020   ·   Hannah Neumann

The upcoming German EU Council presidency provides the opportunity to advance the women, peace, and security agenda at the EU level. The German government should seize this chance by advocating for formal Council conclusions, setting up a dedicated Council Working Group, and organizing a High Level Ministerial Conference on women, peace, and security.

When women have a place at the table, peace talks are less likely to fail, and the resulting agreement lasts longer. But women are not only instrumental for the success of peace negotiations – they also play a crucial role in the prevention of conflicts, peacekeeping, and reconstruction. 

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which stresses the importance of women's equal and full participation in peace and security. Taking over the EU’s Council presidency in July, Germany will be in a prime position to honor this anniversary. Bringing the topic to the table at the European and international level and, most importantly, supporting concrete initiatives, Germany has the unique chance to go beyond rhetorical commitments and push for more representation, rights, and resources.

Current EU Initiatives Show that the EU has Made Some Progress

Where does the EU stand today when it comes to advancing the “Women, Peace and Security” (WPS) agenda? A number of plans and initiatives help to improve the EU’s track record in this area – here is a quick overview including current developments:

1)   The “Gender Action Plan” (GAP) provides the framework for the European Commission, the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the EU member states in their approach to gender equality through external action. The adoption of its third version is scheduled for fall. This forthcoming GAP III should become an official Commission Communication. Compared to a mere staff working document, an official Commission Communication would lend credibility to the Commission’s and the EEAS’ efforts.

2)   Currently, the GAP in place is “complemented” by the Action Plan on “Women, Peace and Security”, which lays out a set of indicators, e.g. for the EU’s support for women’s leadership and participation worldwide or for the EU’s success in promoting “the protection and safeguarding of women's and girls’ rights” internationally. While the GAP II was launched earlier than the WPS Action Plan, which explains the existence of two different documents, the GAP III could surely integrate the WPS Action Plan as a separate chapter.

3)   Another EU initiative is the informal task force on WPS, a forum established in 2009 for the exchange between EU institutions, member states, and civil society. The task force facilitated networking between different players, though it has yet to be granted official status. Formalizing the task force would help it to become more influential and show that the EU is serious about including civil society in its WPS actions.

4)   Gender also features in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, which declares “[p]romoting gender equality, women’s rights, empowerment and participation of women and girls” as one of its key areas. But the plan fails to refer to gender mainstreaming as a tool, and targeted actions for gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights are missing. In the plan’s 2020-24 edition, a lot is left to be desired in this regard. The earlier prominent mentioning of women’s rights and gender equality as a self-standing objective disappeared. References to gender mainstreaming and targeted actions remain missing.

5)   With its internal Gender Equal Opportunities Strategy 2018-2023, the EEAS tries to lead by example. Unfortunately, the 13-page document lacks any concrete goals for increased equality within the EEAS. Even though SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) targets are mentioned as key to a balanced gender composition of the EEAS, the plan presents no such targets, e.g. having 50% women head of delegations by 2024. On top of this, the EEAS’ concrete actions speak a language of different priorities: In February, Josep Borrell appointed three Deputy Secretary-Generals – all of them men.  

6)   Finally, the position of “EEAS Principal Advisor on Gender and on UNSCR 1325” was created in 2015 to “mark the EU's engagement with international, regional and national actors on gender and WPS-related policies and actions.” But experienced diplomat Mara Marinaki, who was given this important task, lacks the budget and staff to make a big impact.

Good Ideas, but a Lack of Political Will

The examples mentioned above show one thing very clearly: The EU has adopted many good strategies and commitments for more gender equality in peace and security. The ideas are there; it is the political will that is lacking. This comes to the fore most clearly when considering the facts:

  • Senior leadership at the EEAS: Men hold 75% of middle management positions and 87% of senior management posts;
  • Women in military and civilian missions: Out of 12 civilian CSDP missions, not a single one is headed by a woman; and out of 70 Heads of Mission, so far only 6 have been women;
  • Funding of gender projects: There is limited funding available to implement the EU objectives on gender equality, and understaffing is a serious problem;
  • Gender focal points in missions: Such points, with sufficient resources and clear job descriptions, are currently missing;
  • Trainings: Training on gender equality is not mandatory for middle and upper managers of the EEAS and Heads/Commanders of CSDP missions and operations; and there is a lack of training on gender mainstreaming of all staff in general.

Set up a Dedicated Council Working Group, Organize a High Level Ministerial Conference, Lead by Example

Besides pointing out the points raised above, what should Germany do to bring WPS on the agenda?

Firstly, the country should advocate for the GAP III to be endorsed by formal Council Conclusions (and hence by every member state). This would strengthen the document and provide a stepping stone on which Germany could build, ensuring that Council decisions on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as well as the mandates of common missions, refer to Resolution 1325 and ensuing resolutions.   

Another way of pushing the topic of women, peace, and security at the EU level is to set up a dedicated Council Working Group. Alongside other member states, Germany has previously rejected such a move, citing a lack of staff and resources, and the need to mainstream WPS amongst the other policy areas instead. But mainstreaming an issue and focussing on it in a specific group are two approaches that are not mutually exclusive. Rather than seeing the lack of resources and staff as ground for rejection, Germany should work towards resolving these issues.

A High Level Ministerial Conference organized by Germany would be another great possibility to put the spotlight on WPS, ideally before the adoption of the GAP III. Malta used its presidency in 2017 to successfully put together such a conference on LGBTIQ equality. With Germany currently being a member of the UN Security Council – which has WPS as one of its focus areas – the country could use its weight in both international bodies to bring together experts and policymakers and set the course for the future.

Lastly, Germany can set a good example with its internal actions by proposing women candidates for appointments at the EEAS or the CSDP.

The European Parliament and Ursula von der Leyen are Natural Allies

The European Parliament pushes in the same direction – at present, it is working on a report on Feminist Foreign Policy (officially entitled “Gender Equality in EU’s Foreign and Security Policy”), which is scheduled to be voted on in October. Together with Spanish Member of the European Parliament Ernest Urtasun, I am responsible for this report, which will lay out how the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy can help support women and diversity; in the EU’s own services as well as its actions abroad. Another natural ally that can be counted on in the realm of women, peace, and security is European Commission president and former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has pushed for more female representation within the Commission leadership.

With the rotating Council presidencies, 13 years will pass before Germany will have another opportunity to use its power to put WPS firmly on the EU’s foreign policy agenda. Wars and conflicts may break out during these 13 years, peace negotiations will take place, and peace processes will succeed – or fail. How our world will look like in 13 years will greatly depend upon the extent in which women will be able to shape it.

By bringing all institutions – the Parliament, the Commission, and the Council – together, the German government has a unique opportunity to make a difference this year. It should not let it go to waste.

Frauen Frieden & Sicherheit Europa

Hannah Neumann

Dr Hannah Neumann is a Green/EFA Member of the European Parliament. She serves on the Subcommittee on Human Rights and on the Subcommittee on Security and Defence. Before her career as a politician, she was a peace and conflict researcher.