Want to Implement the Women, Peace and Security Agenda? Engage With Civil Society!

13 July 2020   ·   Nina Bernarding, Kristina Lunz

Civil society plays an indispensable role for the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, yet the degree of its cooperation with governments strongly varies among countries. In its upcoming third National Action Plan, the German government should strengthen and better institutionalise the involvement of civil society, in particular from conflict-affected regions.

The ‘Women, Peace, and Security’ (WPS) agenda started “as a personal, human, participatory, and radical […] process, with just a handful of people imagining a change and deciding to act”. This handful of people quickly grew into a civil society campaign, which together with UNIFEM (predecessor of UN Women) and some governments, in particular Namibia, secured UN Security Council Resolution 1325. At the heart of the campaign was the message: “Women in civil society build peace. They can make a difference. Work with them.” In addition to driving the agenda, civil society has often been vital in adopting, developing, implementing as well as monitoring and evaluating National Action Plans (NAPs), which have become one of the most systemic ways for governments to turn the agenda into practice. While civil society’s informal engagement (through e.g. grassroots mobilisation or shadow reports) plays a huge role, inviting them to play a designated role in NAP processes (through e.g. official membership in intergovernmental committees or technical monitoring task forces) is now widely regarded as a crucial aspect of successfully implementing the agenda.

Acknowledging that both governments and civil society play important roles in implementing the WPS agenda should not cover the fact that governments remain the ultimate duty-bearer to end and prevent violent conflict and to advance rights and social justice for politically marginalised groups. This responsibility should not be outsourced to civil society.

The current (second) NAP establishes two formats that invite German civil society to play a designated role in Germany’s work on the WPS agenda: Twice a year, German civil society and the Inter-Ministerial Working Group (IMAG, comprising representatives of the Foreign Office; the Ministries for Defence, Economic Cooperation and Development, and Justice; and the Ministry of the Interior) meet to discuss strategic and thematic issues. In addition to these consultative meetings, government representatives and German civil society meet bi-annually for technical and operational exchanges.

Developing the NAP: Institutionalising Civil Society’s Role in Drafting The German NAP

The German government is currently developing its third National Action Plan. Ahead of the first draft, German and (to a lesser extent) international civil society were consulted. Additionally, the Foreign Ministry commissioned an independent study on the perception of international civil society of Germany’s work on the WPS agenda. While civil society welcomed these opportunities, it is important to note that encouraging civil society’s input (in particular from conflict-affected civil society) ahead of the next NAP’s drafting process is not institutionalised but depends on few individuals within the government.

German civil society will also be given the opportunity to comment on the first draft of the third NAP. However, as the first draft is written by the government alone, the influence of the civil society on its political orientation and priorities is limited. Other countries have encouraged civil society to play a bigger role in the development of NAPs. The NAPs of Sweden, The Netherlands, Nigeria, and Finland, for example, were drafted by committees comprising both governmental and civil society representatives.

Implementing the NAP: Ensuring the Participation of Civil Society From Conflict-Affected Regions

The technical and operational exchanges allow for important discussions, which enables German civil society to influence the implementation of the NAP to a certain extent. Although international civil society is welcome to participate in these exchanges, their involvement is not formalised and again depends on individuals within the government. Additionally, very few government representatives beyond Foreign Office staff members tend to participate in these exchanges. Regular participation of conflict-affected civil society would ensure a better connection to the realities on the ground while wider involvement of the government could contribute to a more comprehensive German approach as well as increased internal capacities.

Beyond the participation in the technical and operational exchange, civil society has no designated role in implementing the German NAP – as it is, for example, the case in Nigeria or Ireland, where civil society is responsible for the implementation of specific activities outlined in the NAPs. While such a joint responsibility in implementing a NAP can impact civil society’s independence (and thus its ability to critically evaluate the government’s work) and raises important questions about the government’s accountability to fulfil its commitments, these examples show that civil society can support the NAP implementation in various ways – some of which might be interesting for the German context.

Assessing the NAP: Establishing Indicators, Timeframes, and Regular Reporting

The consultative meetings offer German civil society the opportunity to monitor the progress of the implementation of the NAP, as the various ministries report on their past and planned activities. However, as the current NAP includes neither indicators nor a concrete timeframe, monitoring the progress has been a challenge for civil society. Moreover, while other governments, such as in the UK, report annually to parliament in writing, the German government only presents an implementation report at the end of each NAP period.

Clear indicators and timelines, more regular reporting as well as a specific body comprising civil society and the government responsible for monitoring the implementation, such as the Monitoring Group in Ireland (which also includes women affected by conflict) or the Technical Monitoring and Evaluation Task Force in Nigeria, could also greatly improve civil society’s ability to monitor progress.

Neither the first nor the second NAP was or will be evaluated or reviewed independently. In contrast, other governments see independent reviews as an opportunity to strengthen future NAPs. The Swiss government, for instance, recommended in its in-house progress report on its third NAP an independent report on the NAP’s implementation by civil society. This resulted in the report “Women, Peace, and Security – Reloaded”, a systemic review of the Swiss governments work on WPS financed by the government. Another example is the current Irish NAP, which will be evaluated after two years and at the end of the four-year-term by an independent consultant.

Moving Forward: Strengthen Cooperation With Civil Society Through Independent Reviews, Joint Committees, and Institutionalised Outreach to Conflict-Affected Regions

German civil society has welcomed the opportunities to shape the development and implementation of the NAP and to monitor the German government’s work in this regard. However, examples from other countries show that engagement with civil society could be strengthened. Going forward, the following (incomplete) list of recommendations could allow for stronger synergies between government and civil society to turn the WPS agenda into practice.

  • Establish a committee comprising civil society, including from conflict-affected areas, and government representatives responsible for drafting the next NAP.
  • Jointly discuss with civil society how to better structure the consultative formats to allow for more substantial discussions on progress, challenges, and possibilities of the NAP and its implementation.
  • Report annually in writing to the parliament on the progress of implementing the NAP. Encourage and support shadow reports by civil society, including from conflict-affected areas.
  • After each implementation phase, commission an independent evaluation of the NAP and its implementation.  
  • Institutionalise consultations with women and feminist civil society affected by conflict in all phases of National Action Plans.
  • Institutionalise consultation with civil society in all policy processes on peace and security, not only those related to the WPS agenda, and encourage the participation of all relevant ministries in the technical-operational exchanges.
  • Ensure that civil society is adequately compensated for their expertise and work in support of NAPs.


For more information on what the German civil society would like the upcoming NAP to look like, see “The Women, Peace, and Security” Agenda. Implementation Matters”, which has been authored by 17 German NGOs, including the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. The authors would like to thank Nicola Popovic for her input.

Politikkohärenz Zivilgesellschaft Frauen

Nina Bernarding

Nina Bernarding is Co-Director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy in Germany. @NinaBernarding

Kristina Lunz

Kristina Lunz ist Mitbegründerin und Deutschlanddirektorin der Organisation Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. Sie arbeitete zuvor beim Entwicklungsprogramm der Vereinten Nationen (UNDP) in New York sowie in Myanmar.