Girls, Peace and Security – The Key for Sustainable Change

15 July 2020   ·   Regev Ben Jacob, Michiko Fukase, Susanne Hassel, Daniel Ziegler

The next German National Action Plan on the Women, Peace and Security agenda should put a strong emphasis on the needs and rights of girls and young women. The German government could invest more in their education, scale up investments in their meaningful inclusion in peacebuilding, and promote a systematic integration of a gender and child rights perspective into programming.

Children are bearing the brunt of conflicts and crises. They have to deal with age- and gender-specific impacts such as the high risk for adolescent girls to many forms of gender-based violence (GBV) or the broad consequences of COVID-19 that hit vulnerable children particularly hard. At the same time, children – and in the context of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, especially girls – play an incredibly important role in shaping peaceful societies.

This is acknowledged by global human rights commitments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as the Core Commitments for Children (CCC), all of which, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are specifically aiming at protecting and empowering girls. 

Germany has been a keen promoter of the WPS agenda for several years and during its current UN Security Council membership. But the German perspective tends to neglect one key actor in this agenda: girls. Admittedly, previous German National Action Plans on WPS included girls, but specific child rights concerns, the role of child rights organizations, and the participation of girls and young women as agents of change are not sufficiently considered. Yet this is the perspective that should be the least neglected.

The focus of Germany’s action plans on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325 is on three principles: prevention, participation, protection. Along these lines, this article will highlight the explicit role of girls and young women as central actors for peacebuilding and crisis prevention that the German government should specifically address in the new National Action Plan (NAP) for the WPS Agenda.

Prevention: Invest More in Education for Adolescent Girls and Young Women

Women, men, boys, and girls experience violence and conflict differently. Lasting peace cannot be achieved without clear gender-transformative strategies that combat inequalities, exclusion, and discrimination, and without addressing harmful gender norms and GBV to prevent abuse and exploitation. This requires greater investments in the realization of the rights of girls and young women before, during, and after conflict to create an enabling and inclusive environment for them to thrive and to take up leadership roles.

In this respect, it is of the essence that the German government invests more in adolescent girls’ education. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequalities, contributing to more stable, resilient societies for everyone. Yet, around the world, 132 million girls do not attend school. In countries affected by conflict, these girls are twice as likely not to be able to attend school as boys.

But education for girls and young women is about more than access to schools. It is also about girls feeling safe in and around classrooms, opportunities for participation, pathways for economic inclusion, and acquiring social and emotional values, attitudes, competencies, knowledge, and skills that are essential for learning, being successful, and having a sense of wellbeing. Taking prevention seriously in the new National Action Plan means taking into account these strategies for young women and girls.  

Participation: Scale-up Investments in Girls’ Meaningful Inclusion in Peacebuilding

Girls and young women make unique contributions as active agents of peace. Not only is it their right to participate in decisions that affect them as laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but they can and do take the lead role as peacebuilders. Investing in the inclusion and participation of adolescent girls is key – not least because barriers and enablers to participation in social processes solidify at an early age. This is true for acquiring the habits and skills that foster participation, and also for the setting of social norms of when and how girls and women ought to participate. 

A transformative WPS agenda requires prioritizing and scaling up investments to support the meaningful participation of young women and girls – whether in their schools or in societies at large. The government of Germany should focus on supporting programs and projects that foster both skills and spaces for participation that can help young women and girls build their confidence, negotiate decisions, and influence critical issues within their communities.

Strengthening the capacity of adolescent girls supports their role in decision-making processes. In conflict-prone regions, like during cross-border intercommunal tensions in Tajikistan, measures rolled out by UNICEF improved the peacebuilding competencies of adolescent girls and boys. They could actively contribute to building social cohesion thanks to joint community projects and mediation with local authorities. Furthermore, community-based structures should be strengthened in comprehensive ways that prominently consider the role of girls. In South Sudan, emphasis was put on building capacities of existing community-based structures such as women centres and women associations to advance gender equality, GBV prevention and response, and women’s participation in local justice and peace processes. These activities focused on empowering women and girls, while engaging community leaders, men, and boys as key allies in the process. Technological innovation, such as U-Report, can also engage young people to promote the culture of peace and tolerance within their communities, building a broad network of collaboration to engage with and speak out on issues that matter to them. As the recent present has shown, digital approaches can be part of the solution and the new German National Action Plan for the WPS agenda needs to address these aspects to secure at scale interventions.

Protection: Promote the Systematic Integration of a Gender and Child Rights Perspective Into Programming

Protection can only be successful if measures are addressing specific needs of girls and young women. The new German action plan needs to maintain and comprehensively address programs aiming to transform gender norms, reduce child marriage, prevent early pregnancies, and improve adolescents’ sexual health. It also means investing in supporting response services for GBV survivors, including mental health and psychosocial support services, particularly in conflict-affected and fragile settings.

Programming needs to systematically integrate a gender and child rights perspective and the German government can be a key promoter to support this as best practice. One way to implement it are participatory safety audits which help proactively identify risks for gender-based violence in various environments – such as displacement settlements, water and sanitation facilities, nutrition facilities and schools, and adapt programming accordingly. In Lebanon, where UNICEF used safety audits as part of a broader package of GBV interventions, 83 per cent of women and girls reported feeling safer six months after the interventions started. In places where political instability is hampering outreach, door-to-door household visits by village child protection committees can be a successful way to reach marginalized girls. In Burkina Faso, visits in communities and internally displaced camps led to more than 310,000 at-risk adolescent girls being enrolled in adolescent clubs and empowered with life-skills and health information – which are also important strategies to reduce child marriage.

Beyond enabling and supporting tailored programmes, the new German National Action Plan also needs to include comprehensive commitments promoting approaches that address GBV in emergencies. This includes the provision of multisectoral services for survivors (i.e. medical, psychosocial, and safety options), mitigating GBV risk across all sectors, and preventing GBV by addressing root causes, such as gender inequality. The IASC Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action play an important role in this regard and need to be rolled out by humanitarian actors in an age-sensitive way that helps improve safety for women and girls across the humanitarian response.

Germany Should Emphasize That the WPS Agenda Is Implemented With Girls and Women, Not Just For Them

In preparing for the next decade of action for the SDGs, the German government has an opportunity to continue its leadership on the WPS Agenda and emphasize the urgently needed collective attention to the needs and voices of girls and young women.

For UNICEF, this effort is grounded in:

  1. Ensuring adequate access to quality education for women and girls to turn underlying causes of conflict into peace competencies.
  2. Emphasizing the mental health and psychosocial well-being and empowerment of young women and girls and continue to promote their agency as leaders and change makers.
  3. Reducing vulnerability of women and girls and promoting solidarity, social cohesion, and building peace through community leadership and engagement.
  4. Strengthening inclusive partnerships to ensure young women’s civil society organizations have access and support for their work and for moving the WPS Agenda forward.

It is therefore imperative for the third German National Action Plan to be more age-sensitive, address clearly the needs and rights of girls and young women across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, and ensure meaningful participation for girls and young women in support of the SDGs. The German government and its humanitarian and development partners need to engage young women and girls in the development, implementation, and monitoring of support programs. Operationalizing and implementing the WPS agenda with them, not just for them, will be a key success factor and a meaningful contribution to sustainable change to peaceful societies.

English Frieden & Sicherheit Conflict Prevention Gender

Regev Ben Jacob

Regev Ben Jacob, Programme Specialist in the Peacebuilding and Fragility Team, Programme Division, UNICEF, New York @UNICEF

Michiko Fukase

Michiko Fukase is Programme Officer in the Peacebuilding and Fragility Team, Programme Division, UNICEF, New York @UNICEF

Susanne Hassel

Susanne Hassel, Senior Advisor for development cooperation and humanitarian aid, Advocacy and Programme Division, UNICEF Germany, Berlin @UNICEFgermany

Daniel Ziegler

Daniel Ziegler, Public Partnerships Manager, Europe Team, Public Partnerships Division, UNICEF, New York/ Berlin @UNICEFgermany