In July 2014 the United Nations (UN) released its progress report toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The report emphasizes that while there has been progress across the MDGs, with some specific targets being met ahead of the 2015 deadline, there are still areas where progress has been either slow or nonexistent. The report also notes that “women’s political participation continues to increase, but glass ceilings remain”. As of January 2014, women accounted for only 21.8 percent of all parliamentary seats. Since the year 2000, the proportion of seats held by women in single or lower houses of national parliament has increased by only 9 percent (this change has occurred proportionally in both developed and developing regions). Worldwide, women hold 17.2 percent of Government ministerial posts, with Nicaragua leading the way with 57 percent of ministerial positionsfollowed by Sweden, Finland, France, Cabo Verde and Norway. The 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report rightly underscores that “political commitment and policy are key components to women’s progress in this area”.
Political commitment toward promoting gender equality and empowering women in areas of disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control does not seem to be lacking if we consider the number of UN resolutions (issued by the Security Council or the General Assembly) on these matters, as discussed in a recent article. In 2000, the UN Security Council, through Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), urged Member States “to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict”. The recent UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 68/33 on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, adopted on 5 December 2013 also recalls the various UNSC and UNGA resolutions since 2000. It callsupon all States to empower women, including through capacity building efforts, to participate in the design and implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts; and requests that relevant UN organs, agencies, funds and programs assist States, upon request, in promoting the role of women in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.
Just as the UN led development of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the operational framework on combating terrorism, the time has come for the UN to integrate its efforts and similarly lead development of a Global Strategy for Women in Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control. The Strategy will provide the foundation for a concrete plan of action for promoting the role of women in these areas, including in preventing and combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and terrorism and as a common basis for reporting by relevant UN entities, other international and regional organizations, and Member States, on the implementation of relevant UNSC and UNGA resolutions. The set of indicators for use at the global level to track implementation of these common goals may track inter alia women’s involvement in UN processes, organizations and committees; women’s participation as delegates at meetings of WMD non-proliferation treaties and UN Conventions on Terrorism; the representation of women in relevant national ministries with a role in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control; and relevant programs and resources that provide women with opportunities for professional growth and increased participation through advocacy, international networking, education and awareness-raising, and research.
Civil society can also be a critical driver for strengthening the role of women worldwide and promoting their participation in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control processes in particular by identifying effective national practices; developing regionally-customized educational and training resources; and working to integrate training on relevant UN resolutions on women and security into the educational and training curricula of international or regional organizations, governmental or academic institutions. Civil society also informs UN Women, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women with regard to advocacy initiatives, policies and programs. The guidance principles for the Civil Society Advisory Groups emphasize that “the aim of setting up civil society advisory groups is to build on existing close relationships and increase strategic dialogue with civil society partners at global, regional and national levels and to formally recognize civil society as one of our most important constituencies – providing a dynamic source for innovative initiatives, ideas and policy perspectives to assist UN Women in achieving its strategic goals. Closely linked is the vital political role played by civil society in advancing shared objectives in promoting women’s rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women”.
It is about time that the “empowerment of women” by UN, governments, civil society and other partners include active measures to increase women’s participation in multilateral diplomacy efforts, and provide women with the resources, tools, training, and support they need to become strong leaders in strengthening the international norms and effective measures against WMD proliferation and terrorism. Such initiatives will also contribute to strengthening the implementation of UNSCR 1540 on WMD Non-Proliferation and the Global Health Security Agenda.