This year New Zealand will become the 49th country to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace and security. This is fifteen years after the adoption of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 and eleven years after Kofi Annan’s call for member states to develop NAPs. New Zealand has a rich history of advancing women’s rights as the first country to give women the vote and is ranked thirteenth out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index. But the development of a women, peace and security NAP has waited until the achievement of a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. This timing could be fortuitous. During its two-year term in New York, New Zealand has a crucial opportunity to advance UNSCR 1325 issues at the international level.
New Zealand’s draft NAP was released in May 2015. It focuses on five areas: (1) ensuring women’s involvement in decision-making within conflict and post-conflict situations; (2) promoting New Zealand women as mediators and negotiators in international forums; (3) increasing the number of New Zealand women deployed in police and military roles in UN-mandated peacekeeping missions; (4) ensuring that gender analysis informs NZ’s peace support responses, and development assistance to conflict-affected countries; and (5) promoting efforts to combat sexual violence, intimate partner violence and violence against women in conflict affected countries where New Zealand has a development programme or post.
So how does New Zealand’s proposed NAP measure up?
First, with respect to focus areas 2 and 3 it is important to examine the extent to which New Zealand can strengthen its capacity and capabilities to meet its commitments to UNSCR 1325. New Zealand’s overall contribution to UN peacekeeping is minimal and currently stands at 11 personnel out of more than 100,000 personnel from member states. Increasing the number of deployed female police officers and soldiers to reach the target of 18% on peacekeeping missions requires recruiting and retaining women within the police and defence force and ensuring their progression through to senior rank. Although there has been an increase in the number of female officers deploying with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) in senior roles – including a Lieutenant Colonel to the Chief UN Observer role in Lebanon, a Wing Commander as Senior National Officer in Dubai and a Colonel to Afghanistan – women in the NZDF continue to face the “armoured glass ceiling”, making up only 6% of officers in combat operations. In a 2012 Review, the NZ Police acknowledged the need for more women in senior police management and agreed to targets of 30% women in constabulary recruitment and 10% women total commissioned officers by 2017.
Second, in ensuring gender analysis informs NZ’s peace support activities in conflict-affected countries, New Zealand must examine the efficacy of the gender mainstreaming approach. Rather than deploying specialist gender experts, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has focused on training NZ Police and MFAT programme staff to integrate gender dynamics analysis into intervention design and implementation. According to a 2013 evaluation of NZ policing in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, gender equality has not been built into country-level interventions, nor linked to partner country national gender and human rights processes. New Zealand has very limited capacity to pursue a gender mainstreaming agenda with just one gender equality advisor with no delegated authority or budget and no staff with specific responsibility for gender equality in any of the country missions.
Third, on the issue of how New Zealand can advance women, peace and security issues much more could be done to promote women’s inclusion in peace processes, including putting forward New Zealand women as potential UN mediators. Former NZ Permanent Representative, H.E. Jim McLay, actively contributed to the UNSC Open Debate in January stating: “it’s widely acknowledged that women have an important role to play as leaders and decision-makers in the prevention and resolution of conflict. But, while that’s recognised, it’s not something that’s consistently applied in practice.” Women have comprised only 4% of signatories, 2.4% of chief mediators, 3.7% of witnesses and 9% of negotiators between 1992-2011. With over half of all peace agreements failing within a decade, there is clear evidence that involving women expands the scope of agreements and improves the prospects for durable peace.
As the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective’s submission on New Zealand’s draft NAP recommends, New Zealand should organise an Arria Formula dialogue for Pacific women peacebuilders to have their work in the region highlighted and to generate best practices and lessons learned for other conflict-affected regions. At the UNSC, New Zealand could leverage its historical experience in supporting women peacebuilders and ensuring gender-sensitive policing/peacekeeping in the Pacific Islands. For example, in New Zealand’s peacekeeping experience in Bougainville the inclusion and influence of women at the earliest stages of the peace processes was recognised as essential to sustainable peace. By contrast, where peace negotiations were less inclusive of women in south and central Bougainville, the transition to peace was notably slower. Highlighting these examples of gender-sensitive peace talks would reinforce New Zealand’s commitment to the core principles of the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018.
New Zealand’s draft NAP contains some noteworthy strengths. It addresses the importance of recognising and resourcing women peacebuilders within early warning and conflict prevention. It also acknowledges a range of forms of Violence Against Women (VAW) that is exacerbated following conflict and natural disasters – especially those in fragile countries.
The NAP deserves a national conversation as well as buy-in and ownership across government agencies and in partnership with civil society. The formal adoption of New Zealand’s plan should be marked by a parliamentary debate on UNSCR 1325 and women, peace and security and what it means for New Zealand in the Pacific region.
Jacqui True is a Professor of International Relations and Politics at Monash University and Co-Founder of the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective (WPSAC) and can be emailed at email@example.com
This article was first published on the Incline website. Incline is a New Zealand-based project that publishes original analysis and commentary on issues and trends that impact New Zealand’s international relations.