Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:47 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 16:47 | SYDNEY

The gender agenda in world politics

7 March 2012 14:15

Grace Williams, Danielle Rajendram and Stephanie Erian are Lowy Institute interns.

Tomorrow, on International Women's Day, Australia will release its first National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace and security. Australia follows the US and UK late last year in releasing such a plan in accordance with the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that having women occupy leadership positions alone is not the key to female empowerment. The appointment of female leaders has in many instances failed to translate into the serious pursuit of women's rights in either domestic or foreign policy. The rise of female 'presidentas' in Latin America has seen 40% of the region governed by women, though this has resulted in the increasing prominence of what might be considered 'traditional' values. Costa Rica's first female President, Laura Chinchilla, for example, is well known for her social conservatism, manifest in her strong opposition to the legalisation of abortion and emergency contraception.

Global politics is, however, witnessing a changing of ideas from the hard power method commonly associated with male-dominated foreign policy, as female leaders around the world advance women's participation in government and civil society.

Hillary Clinton is a prominent example of a key figure placing women's rights and the transformation of female engagement in politics high on her agenda for US foreign policy. And Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted unanimously by member states in 2000, calls for all actors to increase the participation of women in regional, national and international decision-making and to incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts. Signatories are obliged to establish a National Action Plan to develop policy on women, peace and security.

So far, 34 countries, including Cote D'Ivoire, Liberia, the Philippines and Rwanda have approved such NAPs. It has taken Australia almost 12 years to create one, but after years of discussion and lobbying, a consultation draft was completed in August 2011 and the final version of the Australian NAP is to be released this International Women's Day. Although it is a positive sign for women's participation in international policy, it is still questionable whether the NAP will contain clear targets toward adopting a gender perspective in our peace and security agenda and if they will be effectively implemented.
Progress in gender equality must involve not only concrete policies supporting women's education, health and reproductive rights, but also increasing female involvement in traditionally male-dominated fields of security and conflict resolution.

A significant role for women in policy-making allows diversity in the foreign policy landscape by recognising and integrating softer developmental concerns as well as their participation in peacemaking and security agendas. Advocacy of these policies must not be the exclusive purview of female leaders — it must be the responsibility of all policy-makers, irrespective of gender.

Photo by Flickr user US Army.