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Women and Conflict Prevention in Latin America

December 28, 2012

by Sabrina Karim

Over a decade after a landmark global effort to increase the participation of women in peace and security efforts much of the Americas is still behind the curve.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSC 1325), passed in 2000, reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in all efforts aimed at promoting peace and security. One pillar of this resolution is to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN-administered peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse. 

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But actually operationalizing the resolution requires individual countries to adopt National Action Plans (NAPs). And here's where the region falls short.  

National Action Plans serve as a guide for governments to articulate priorities and coordinate the implementation of Resolution 1325. This includes integrating different government agencies and working with civil society to accelerate the provisions mandated by UNSC 1325. However, to date, only 38 countries have adopted NAPs; of these, only three—the United States, Canada and Chile—are in the Western Hemisphere.

This seems odd given that countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have NAPs, in addition to most European countries. Why do we not see more Latin American countries adopt NAPs? 

Given that Latin America has improved its gender balance in the political sphere and, to some extent the economic sphere, shouldn’t countries also adopt gender-friendly policies through a NAP? 

One reason for the lack of implementation might be that countries adopt NAPs when it is easy to do so. Under this theory, we should see countries adopt NAPs that already champion gender equality and strong political institutions. While this appears the case, what is interesting is that the NAPs for “developed countries” focus on enhancing gender equality in other countries.

For example, the Swedish Armed Forces has started a more conscious initiative to increase the number of women conscripts and officers able to participate in international operations and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has developed methods and policies for work on development and security.

But European countries aren't the only ones in the mix of countries that have signed NAPs.  Poorer countries and post-conflict countries have also adopted NAPs, but the language in them focuses on development of domestic institutions.  For example, Liberia’s NAP develops steps to ensure the protection and participation of women within Liberia. This is a very different type of NAP than Sweden’s. 

Perhaps the reason that countries in Latin America have not adopted a NAP is because they do not fall in either category.  They would not adopt language aimed at developing other country’s gender policies, because Latin American countries have not traditionally intervened in international politics and humanitarian or development initiatives. In a similar vein, Latin American countries are neither poor nor post-conflict. They have experienced consistent growth over the past decade and have relatively strong political institutions compared to some African countries.  Moreover, they also perform well when it comes to gender quotas in parliament and parties. Thus, governments may not see much of a need for institutionalizing further changes with respect to gender quality.  

But, why did Chile adopt a NAP? One reason might be because it is trying to increase its presence globally through participating more in humanitarian intervention. Moreover, the frame of the Chilean NAP centers on more of the European style of an NAP, focused on assistance to post-conflict countries. The Chilean NAP focuses on increasing the numbers of women in the armed forces and police and gender mainstreaming in humanitarian interventions with a special emphasis on human rights. There is also an emphasis on gender-focused training for government workers.

This explanation suggests that Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are likely to adopt NAPs in the future. It also implies that perhaps the trend for Latin American countries will be to become more involved in humanitarian intervention, whether in the form of peacekeeping or through foreign aid, and simultaneously incorporate gender in these activities. 

Hopefully we will see more NAPs from Latin America and they may likely look more like ones from Europe than from less-developed countries such as in Africa.

*Sabrina Karim was a 2010 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Peru, affiliated with Grupo de Análisis para Desarrollo (GRADE). She specializes in issues related to security, gender, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency.  She is currently a PhD candidate in political science at Emory University. 

Tags: Women's rights, Conflict Prevention

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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