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Women and LGBT+ Persons in International Peace and Security Policy

Women and girls have held a special position in international peace and security policy ever since resolution 1325 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000. This position is now challenged in both theory and practice. What does this backlash against the gains made for women’s rights, gender perspectives and inclusion in conflict resolution mean for the possibilities of LGBT+ persons inclusion in international peace and security policy, and how are the two connected?

By Johanne Rokke Elvebakken,
Coordinator of the PRIO Gender, Peace and Security Centre,
The Peace Research Institute in Oslo.
This text was first published in 2020.

The United Nations Security Council is the only UN organ with responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, that also has the mandate to make legally binding decisions and authorize the use of force on behalf of the UN member states. Despite real political limitations, the Council is the closest we get to an international governing body to date.

The International Women’s Movement is Facing a Backlash

Image may contain: People, Crowd, Event, Public event, Festival.
From Pride in Sarajevo 2019. Photo taken by Stein Runar Østigaard (she who rejoices).

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council's Resolution 1325, the first of a total of 10 resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). This resolution recognises that conflict targets women and girls in a way that requires protection, particularly from sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, and therefore requires increased participation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international conflict prevention. In addition, the resolution encourages local actors, member states, and the UN system itself to include gender perspectives in peace operations, negotiations and agreements. 2020 is also the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, often referred to as the blueprint for women’s equality. The platform was the first UN-convened conference to recognise women’s experiences in armed conflict as a security issue, and to identify the effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation, as one of twelve critical areas of concern.

The international women’s movement has been preparing for a milestone year to mark these two anniversaries, while simultaneously dreading the consequences that such a year may have. Gender mainstreaming and the inclusion of women in international peace and security policies have always been challenging, yet these goals have become even more difficult to effect in the last few years. One may question whether the Beijing Platform for Action and Resolution 1325 could have been adopted at all in the current political climate.

In May 2019, the United States threatened to use its veto if the language on ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘health services’ was not removed from a Security Council resolution draft. Furthermore, Russia and China abstained from the vote over Resolution 2467. This is the first time that the 15 members of the Security Council have not voted in favour of a new WPS resolution. Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has on several occasions argued that this is not the time to call for a new world conference on women, as the risk of renegotiating the victories of the past is too great, and we may well end up with weaker international frameworks than we have today. “The Beijing platform is the foundation we must ensure that the world continues to build upon in the years to come,” three Norwegian ministers have concluded.

What do the Women, Peace and Security agenda have to do with the inclusion of LGBT+ issues in international peace and security policy?

Although there have been some breakthroughs in rights and inclusion of LGBT+ persons, so far these are not issues that are regularly on the agenda of international peace and security entities such as the UN Security Council. The Council held its first and only informal and nonmandatory meeting on LGBT+ rights in August 2015, following Islamic State’s (IS) systematic attacks on sexual minorities in Iraq and Syria. Prior to this meeting, IS had released videos of men being stoned to death and pushed off buildings. The Security Council also released a statement condemning the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, stating that the attack was ‘targeting persons as a result of their sexual orientation’. This statement was the first and so far the last to acknowledge violence targeted towards the LGBT+ community. Both Security Council events were met by resistance from UN member states in which LGBT+ persons are still criminalised.

So what do the Women, Peace and Security agenda have to do with the inclusion of LGBT+ persons in international peace and security policy? First, women’s sexual orientation and gender identities are diverse. The same goes for women in conflict zones.

Second, a wide range of actors now refer to their work as ‘Gender, Peace and Security’ rather than ‘Women, Peace and Security’ to emphasise gender dimensions rather than biological sex, and to keep the policy and research scope of the agenda flexible. However, within the WPS framework, the terms ‘gender’ and ‘women’ are frequently used interchangeably. This can effectively mean that non-binary persons, sexual minorities, and men and boys are largely left out of the conversations in the international security policy architecture. Despite the increased use of the term ‘gender’ within the WPS community, there is still a long way to go before LGBT+ persons are included in these conversations and frameworks.

Image may contain: Pedestrian, Town, Street, Public space, Crowd.
From Pride in Sarajevo 2019. The picture shows how much police is required to organise Pride in some places. The picture was taken by Johanne Rokke Elvebakken.

Third, discrimination and insecurity for women and LGBT+ persons often go hand in hand. Following lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a global surge in domestic violence against women and girls, as well as for LGBT+ persons. Furthermore, COVID-19 responses have also impacted women, girls, and LGBTQ+ persons affected by conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV).

Fourth, LGBT+ activists play important roles in local conflict resolution, while these roles are being marginalised and underestimated. For instance, LGBT+ activists in the Balkan region cooperate across ethnicities and borders. LGBT+ activists from across the region came in by bus and airplane to attend the first Pride Parade in Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2019.

The anti-gender movements and the backlash against women and LGBT+ persons weakens the further enhancement of the WPS agenda, and possibilities of LGBT+ persons inclusion into international security policy. While the topic areas discussed as part of the WPS agenda have distinct identifying factors and unique challenges, the gendered dimensions of the WPS agenda could be a way in for LGBT+ issues on the security side of the UN. For instance, there are LGBT+ organisations, such as ILGA, represented at the annual CSW sessions at UN headquarters in New York, to raise visibility and awareness of issues affecting LGBT+ persons. Furthermore, Norway is one of the member states in the United Nations LGBTI Core Group. Norway was an official facilitator of the peace processes between the Colombian government and the Farc-EP, a peace process known for having a sub-commission on gender as well as gender sensitive language, including women and LGBT+ persons, in the peace agreement. It will be interesting to see how Norway will go about tackling potential discrimination and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity in its role as a recently elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Published June 17, 2020 3:35 PM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2022 9:47 AM