top of page
  • Writer's pictureMonica S. Herrera

What is Women, Peace and Security?

UN Peacekeepers discuss operations in Juba, South Sudan, February 2021 (Photo via UNMISS)


Who is being included in the decision-making that affects peace and security worldwide matters. It matters because it is necessary that all relevant perspectives and interests are incorporated into conflict resolution and peace processes to ensure lasting, positive outcomes. It matters because solutions related to peace and security demand diversity of thought and agility in approaches.

Yet, despite over 20 years of formalized implementation, the international Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, which specifically seeks to promote inclusivity in these sectors, remains mostly unknown to many who work in international affairs, foreign policy, and other fields related to peace and security. As a result, there have been countless opportunities missed for leveraging the benefits of this UN-sponsored agenda. The first step to rectifying this shortfall is understanding what WPS is and what those benefits are.

At its simplest, WPS is about increasing the meaningful participation of women in all conversations and at all levels of decision-making within peace and security sectors as a prerequisite to building a more stable and peaceful world. Though the naming convention may suggest that WPS is a list of things (women and peace and security), the nomenclature would be better understood by considering it as a framework to promote women in peace and security sectors. Reviewing the origins of WPS helps explain.

Where did WPS come from?

The unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000 is considered the foundation of the modern WPS agenda. Here are some key points related to that resolution:

  • UNSCR 1325 was the first Security Council Resolution to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of conflict and crisis on women and girls.

  • It urges member states to increase women’s meaningful participation in decision-making at all levels within peace and security sectors.

  • It calls for special protection of women and girls during conflict and crisis, especially from sexual and gender-based violence.

  • It calls for all peace and security sector actors to adopt a gender perspective.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopts Resolution 1325 on 31 October 2000 (photo via the United Nations/Milton Grant)

Since its passage over 20 years ago, the international WPS framework has evolved considerably. Nine related resolutions have been adopted which have expanded the agenda even further. These resolutions include acknowledgment of rape as a war crime; special attention to conflict-related sexual violence, including recognizing men and boys as victims; emphasis on post-conflict peacebuilding; ending impunity for crimes; developing avenues to justice; integrated approaches to disarmament; gender perspectives in countering terrorism and violent extremism; and creating inclusive environments to promote women’s meaningful participation, among other topics.

What is a gender perspective?

From the outset, UNSCR 1325 referenced the importance of adopting a gender perspective. In order to understand what that means, it is important to provide a general explanation of gender. At its simplest, gender involves the socially constructed understanding of what it means to be a man, woman, boy, or girl in society. This includes their typical roles, rights, responsibilities, norms, and expectations as well as the dynamics and relationships between men, women, boys, and girls. It is important to recognize that a number of cultures also have conceptions of a distinct third gender or other ways to consider gender along a spectrum, so it is an oversimplification to discuss gender through the lens of a sexual (male/female) binary.

Ultimately, different cultures, societies, and even communities and households define gender in different ways, and these conceptions often change over time. Gender roles are also frequently in flux, especially during and after conflict. For example, in the United States during World War II, around five million civilian women served in the defense industry and in defense-related jobs within the commercial sector, and around 350,000 American women served in uniform. This represented a significant shift in norms around women’s work as a direct result of the nation’s war efforts and illustrates that conceptions about gender are not static.

A gender perspective recognizes that social norms and expectations shape the everyday experiences of men, women, boys, girls, and gender diverse persons in different ways and in direct relation to one another. When applied to the security sector, a gender lens helps practitioners better understand why, how, and to what extent someone’s immediate security needs and long-term interests might be shaped by their gender, especially during and after conflict and crisis.

Using natural disasters as an example, it is often said that disasters themselves are gender neutral, but their effects are not. This is because natural disasters do not distinguish their victims by gender, but gender plays a significant role in a person’s chances of survival, in their safety during the aftermath, and in their access to relief and recovery resources. Understanding gender in this context can help disaster risk and resilience practitioners better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters in ways that are inclusive of the needs of the entire affected population.

But there are gendered dimensions to every peace and security issue, so this lens is critical to adopt across the board, not just in the context of natural disasters. All practitioners working to prevent conflict, promote stability, and/or negotiate peace in any context should have a foundational understanding of the ways in which gender affects their work. As a general rule, if the issue involves humans, it involves gender.

Importantly, applying a gender lens seeks first and foremost to understand a local context, not to pass judgment on it. A gender perspective provides a more complete picture of the security landscape, enables a more holistic understanding of peoples’ lived experiences and needs, and is critical in developing, executing, and measuring the effects of any security sector intervention.

The most common analytical tool used to help identify and understand gender considerations in context is called a gender analysis. But for those not trained on how to conduct this type of analysis, it is mostly about asking the right kind of questions:

  • Not just what do people need, but who needs what?

  • Not just who is present, but who participates? And especially, who is listened to?

  • Not just what interventions are needed, but how will those interventions affect people differently?

  • Not just what has changed, but for whom and how?

Ukrainian and Russian delegates meet for the second round of ceasefire negotiations in Belarus, 3 March 2022; there were no women present for either delegation (photo via Mykhailo Podolyak)

Why do we (still) need WPS?

Applying a gender lens to peace and security sectors reveals the multi-faceted roles women play in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, peace negotiations, and as active agents before, during, and after conflict and crisis. A well-established and continually growing body of empirical evidence also demonstrates the critical link between the security of women and the security of states, and how women’s meaningful participation contributes to more effective outcomes across peace and security sectors worldwide.

Unfortunately, applying a gender lens to these sectors also reveals that women remain significantly underrepresented and sometimes explicitly excluded from meaningful participation in matters of peace and security. This is typically reflected in gendered cultural norms and beliefs; inequality in laws, policies, regulations, and institutions; unequal access to resources and assets; and patterns of power and decision-making that favor men.

Perhaps some of the most well-documented evidence of gender disparity examines women’s participation specifically in peace processes. The most recent research published by The Council on Foreign Relations associated with this issue examines major peace processes between 1992-2019.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The authors found that “while there has been some progress in women’s participation, about seven out of every ten peace processes still did not include women mediators or women signatories—the latter indicating that few women participated in leadership roles as negotiators, guarantors, or witnesses.” In other words, little progress has been made over the last nearly 30 years when it comes to gender parity in peace processes despite evidence that resulting agreements are more lasting and more effectively implemented when women are included.

The absence of women in peace processes introduces missed opportunities and increased risk that could otherwise be mitigated. Peace negotiations are inherently difficult and require different perspectives and a complete understanding of a group’s interests, constraints, and restraints. When the shooting stops, women are integral role players in each of the major tasks that are fundamental to peace building. Thus, inclusion of women in the peace process is not just desirable, it is indispensable to achieving lasting security and a durable peace.

Promoting gender equality is at the heart of advancing UNSCR 1325, but inequities run deep and cut across sectors. This is why the WPS framework remains so important and why effective implementation requires ongoing whole-of-government, whole-of-society, and localized approaches that complement gender equality efforts in other areas.

It has been over 20 years since the passage of UNSCR 1325, but there is still much work left to be done.


Monica S. Herrera has over 16 years of defense sector experience, including 12 years of active duty military service. She has spent the last eight years supporting Department of Defense security cooperation initiatives and Women, Peace & Security implementation, including as a Foreign Area Officer, and currently works in the Office of Women, Peace & Security at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Monica is a certified Gender Advisor and subject matter expert on gender in military operations. She is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves where she serves as an Information Operations Officer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Government or Department of Defense.

Cable No 31_What is Women Peace and Security
Download PDF • 635KB


bottom of page