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The importance of Gender in FCACs and the wider Women, Peace and Security Agenda

Article by Helen Kezie-Nwoha

December 6, 2021

The importance of Gender in FCACs and the wider Women, Peace and Security Agenda

The year 2020 marked 20 years of the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325(UNSCR1325) on women, peace and security.[1] Since then nine additional Resolutions have been adopted to reinforce the original agreements contained in UNSCR1325. There have been global commitments to ensure that these Resolutions are implemented at national level, through the development of National Action Plans (NAPS). As of August 2021, 98 countries globally have developed NAPs.[2] The United Kingdom (UK) was one of the first few countries to develop the NAP in 2006 and is currently implementing the fourth generation NAP (2018 – 2022).[3] The UNSCR1325 and its related resolutions constitute the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, which all provide the guidelines for addressing the impact on conflict on women and ensure women and girls participation in decisions around response to war impact and in all peacebuilding processes. The objective of this paper is to evaluate the role of the UK in promoting the WPS agenda, lessons learnt and the overall effectiveness of its interventions. The second is to assess how gender fits into the UKs recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.


UK’s role in the WPS agenda

The UK’s approach in promoting the WPS agenda following its development of the first generation NAP has focused on preventing conflict related sexual violence. It took the lead role in profiling the need to address sexual violence in conflict, provide training to ensure peacekeepers understand sexual gender based violence and its impact on women and girls, as well as ensure perpetrators are held accountable. In 2012, the UK led the global effort to end conflict related sexual violence by launching the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). This was followed by a global conference that brought together about 120 world leaders and civil society activists. The conference ended with a commitment by the Foreign Secretary to move from pledges to actions to end sexual violence in conflict. In the same year, the Protocol for the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict was launched, aimed to ensure enough evidence for accountability. A follow up conference was planned but could not be held due to COVID-19 restrictions.


The other area of focus of the British Government has been the role of women in violent extremism. In 2015, the Government created the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) to tackle instability overseas, the CSSF replaced the Conflict Prevention Pool. In the 2016-17 plan, £500,000 was set aside by the FCO to ensure programme activities and research focus on increased understanding of women as victims, perpetrators and preventers of violent extremism. Building on its global leadership, in 2018 the Government allocated about £3.4 million to address sexual violence in conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Columbia and Iraq, it also responded to the Rohingya crises as one of the largest donors contributing £129 million to humanitarian response. In addition to these contributions, the UK has demonstrated its global leadership on the WPS agenda by promoting women’s participation in peace processes and women and girls’ issues at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. The UK contributed towards addressing sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by UN Peacekeepers through support for the UN outreach project to victims of SEA in the DRC and Central Africa Republic (CAR), including supporting the International Peace Support Training Centre in Kenya and strong support to the UN Secretary General’s agenda for reform. Following on from this, the UK played a significant role in supporting the adoption of the voluntary compact between Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) and the UN with respect to SEA, with the UK Prime Minister the first to join the Secretary General’s informal circle of leadership on SEA and also pushed for UNSCR2272, which allows for the repatriation of peacekeeping contingents where SEA is found to be widespread and systemic. The UK contributed £1.6 million towards amplifying the voices of women peacebuilders; launched a global call to action to drive lasting progress on gender equality by supporting education for women and girls in situations of conflict; endorsed the Safe School Declaration in April 2018; supported women’s mediators network across the Commonwealth; and ensured voices of women at the Security Council were heard (for example a female civil society representative from Iraq addressed the UNSC in 2018).


The UK NAPs progressively increased the countries of focus from initial three to nine in the current NAP (Afghanistan, DRC, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria). At the national level, the UK NAP has focused on training and awareness of the armed forces on the rights of women and girls in conflict settings, enhancing policy coherence, improving the representation of women in armed forces, the inclusion of equality markers to all programmes in the CSSF and declaring gender equality funding for the CSSF.


Despite the impressive leadership role exhibited by the UK Government, there remain areas that require strengthening to ensure the UK plays its leading role on the WPS agenda as well as to effectively ensure women and girls in conflict benefit from the huge investments. An ICAI review of the PSVI found that the most significant achievement of the initiative is the Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has been used to access justice for survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Columbia, the DRC, Myanmar, Syria, Uganda and Iraq.[4] The review noted that, despite efforts by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to provide leadership at global and national level and convening countries to address sexual violence in conflict, the PSVI from the start lacked a strategic vision or plan that could have driven the initiative. Over time ‘high level ministerial interest waned’ and funding and staffing levels reduced, leaving the PSVI lacking a system of monitoring impact that makes it difficult to track progress or results from programmes implemented. GAPS latest assessment of the implementation of the WPS noted that even though the Government played a key role in the development and adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) it continues to export arms to countries who have used weapons indiscriminately against civilian population.[5] Experience shows that such actions against civilians impact women and girls most. The report also noted the need for the NAPs to look inward and extend its commitment to Northern Ireland, refugees and asylum seeking migrants and trafficked women and girls from fragile and conflict affected countries.


Gender and the Integrated Review

Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy became an important action by the Government to carve a way forward for its foreign policies.[6] The overall aim of the review is to increase commitment to security and resilience to ensure British people are protected against threats, focused on territorial integrity, building critical national infrastructure, strengthening democratic institutions, and reducing the threat from states, terrorism and serious and organised crimes (SOC). The Review proposes four areas of focus of the strategic framework, including sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology; shaping the open international order for the future; strengthening security and defence at home and overseas; and building resilience at home and overseas. As with many Government policies, gender within the review document is an ‘add on and paste’ approach, there is no evidence that a gender analysis informed the review and proposed actions. However, there is a priority action to promote gender equality, which is believed to be enough for gender responsiveness. One of the significant gaps in the Review is the lack of analysis and inclusion of WPS. This takes away the opportunity to streamline the UK’s commitment to promoting the rights of women and girls in conflict. With this in mind, this paper will zoom in on the second area of the strategic framework: ‘A force for good: supporting open societies and defending human rights’, and more specifically on two priority actions that align more closely with gender, women, peace and security: to defend universal human rights and to promote gender equality.


The Integrated Review recognises that open societies are crucial building blocks in a sustainable international order, modelling inclusive, accountable and transparent governance. It also notes that such open societies and individual liberties on which they are built are under pressure in the physical and digital world. As rightly pointed out by the Integrated Review there is general decline in global freedom with autocracies becoming stronger and more influential. The UK plans to work with its global allies, like-minded partners and civil society worldwide to protect democratic values, and to achieve this it is important to start at home. The proposed actions to achieve this require further interrogation, but before then I would like to point out that the democratic values being promoted need to be clearly defined by the UK and agreed with the partners who it plans to support. This is because democratic values are defined and understood differently by different countries and most have defined their values based on their desire to move away from colonial legacies which the UK represents. It must also be noted that many democracies in Africa for example have failed and continue to struggle because colonial powers imposed the Western model of democracy, which was problematic to adapt with existing cultural traditions and leadership styles of the people. In addition, the African states have failed to fulfil the social contract that could have enhanced their legitimacy, with the majority of the countries having weak economies with high corruption and a lack of accountability. Going forward the UK Government needs to recognise the norms and values of democracy and ensure collaborative ways of improving democracy to determine and agree on the nature of support to be provided.


I now turn to the proposed priority actions: to defend universal human rights and to promote gender equality. The UK plans to promote human rights by using an independent sanctions regime to hold accountable those who violate human rights. The sanctions regime was established in 2020 which enables the UK to hold accountable those who violate human rights by imposing targeted asset freezes and travel bans. Asset freezing is an efficient preventive measure and has been effective in fighting terrorism, however the nature of human rights violations experienced by women, including conflict related sexual violence and sexual and gender based violence which is usually committed in the home and in public institutions, will not benefit from asset freezing as perpetrators usually remain in country and may not even have any assets that would warrant such actions. It would be more beneficial for the UK to assess the nature of human rights violations experienced by women in the context of shrinking civic space and during the COVID-19 pandemic to find appropriate strategies, such as supporting transparent and efficient justice systems to ensure justice for victims of human rights violations and in the case of building back better after COVID-19 ensure girls and women’s participation in post COVID-19 plans and actions. There is a need to focus on a victim-centred approach to addressing human rights violations.


The other priority area is to promote gender equality. To achieve this, the UK plans to work with women’s rights organisations (WROs) to address the root causes of gender equality including discrimination, violence and insecurity. The strategy to achieve this priority is to ‘use aid spending and diplomacy to pursue the goal of getting 40 million more girls into school in low and middle income countries by 2025, starting with the Global Partnership for Education Summit in 2021’.[7] As well as promote women’s economic empowerment at the WTO, G7, OECD, the UN and World Bank and in the UK’s free trade agreement (FTA). The review rightly identified some of the root causes of gender inequality as discrimination, violence and insecurity but missed out other factors that have facilitated gender inequality including social norms and practices and unequal power relationship between women and men.


While education is an important strategy to achieve gender equality, it would require other strategies running in tandem to ensure that the structural barriers to girls’ education is eliminated, this is applicable to so called peace times and in fragile and post conflict settings. In South Sudan, barriers to girls’ education include unfavourable sociocultural attitudes and practices that prevent girls from enrolling, being retained and completing school. The context in South Sudan where most people live below the poverty line instigates families to marry off their girls to acquire resources. In addition, early marriage and pregnancy result in higher levels of maternal and infant mortality. Other factors that prevent girls’ education include preference for educating boys instead of girls who will be married off, insecurity and cost of education. Some of these factors are sociocultural and require actions towards behavioural change and changes in cultural practices. If this is not done, despite the investment and good efforts to ensure girls are in school, it may not yield any significant change. In the COVID-19 context, when many countries have used locked down measures to curtail the spread of the disease, many girls have been married off or impregnated by strangers and relatives in some cases. In Uganda, UNICEF reported that between March and June 2020 there was a 22.5 per cent increase in pregnancy among girls aged ten to 24 years.[8] To promote gender equality, the Government must apply an intersectional approach to address the underlying factors that prevent girls’ education.


The ongoing discussion indicates that the UK Government speaks more than it can actually do, the strategies proposed at all fronts, whether at the implementation of the NAPs, the review process and the general commitment to taking the lead in promoting gender equality globally, do not match the commitments. A recent aid cut to research on issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment indicates the lack of political will to achieve the stated commitments. Feminist academics and women peace builders have raised concerns that women and girls worldwide are under threat of violence as a result of the aid cut by two-thirds. This action has been qualified as ‘backsliding’ on the Government’s commitment to promote gender equality. The UK Government claims that the cut is due to the need to respond to the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the reasons articulated, the aid cuts undermine its commitment to be a ‘force for good’ and take the lead in achieving gender equality globally, which further impacts on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. At a time when the world is grappling with the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, there has been significant impact on women and girls in fragile and conflict affected countries, the UK must take a leadership role building on existing partnership to ensure that ‘building back better’ means girls and women’s needs and their participation in all rebuilding processes are prioritised.


The UK has shown evidence of its commitment to promoting gender equality and the WPS agenda through progressive frameworks and investments towards achieving set objectives. However, there is a disconnect between what is planned and how the plans are implemented. I would recommend the following:

  • The UK Government should strengthen its capacity to ensure it is able to address the gender gaps in its planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and plans. This will enable proper documentation of progress achieved and enable effective response to existing gaps;
  • Ensure all plans and policies are reviewed to mainstream gender, women, peace and security for coherence, synergy and sustainability of this agenda in all government’s programmes and policy commitments; and
  • The UK should use its experience and position as ‘a force for good’ to influence the global agenda on gender, women, peace and security.


Helen Kezie-Nwoha is the Executive Director of Women’s International Peace Centre an international feminist organisation that works on promoting the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Africa. Helen has over 20 years- experience working on women’s rights, gender, peace building, conflict resolution and governance in Nigeria, Liberia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Nepal. She has managed international and regional programmes; led advocacy efforts at international, regional and national levels specifically in Africa and Asia. Helen has researched women’s war experiences in several conflict affected countries in Africa.


Image by Amanda Voisard/UN Women under (CC).


[1] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), October 2000,; OSAGI, Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security, UN,

[2] 1325 National Action Plans (NAPs), see:

[3] FCDO, Ministry of Defence and CSSF, UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2018 to 2022: report to Parliament 2020,, April 2021,

[4] Tamsyn Barton, The UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, ICAI, January 2020,

[5] GAPS UK, Assessing UK Government Action on Women, Peace and Security in 2020, April 2021,

[6] Cabinet Office, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,, March 2021,

[7] FCDO, Every girl goes to school, stays safe, and learns: Five years of global action 2021-2026,

[8] Daily Monitor, Back to School: Addressing Key Issues Post COVID, September 2021,

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