Peace is not the absence of war.  It is the presence of justice and the absence of fear.

Dr. Ursula Franklin,
Companion of the Order of Canada,
distinguished scientist and peace activist

From September 2009 to April 2010, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights conducted a study of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which was adopted unanimously by the Council in October 2000.  The Committee focused its study on the implementation of the resolution by the UN and, in particular, Canada.

Resolution 1325 was the first adopted by the Security Council to explicitly address the impact of armed conflict on women.  It introduced a set of international standards for all UN member states, conflict belligerents, the UN system and its peacekeeping forces, and other stakeholders.  Under the resolution, these actors must take varying steps to ensure that efforts to prevent, resolve and rebuild from armed conflict incorporate the perspectives of women.  They must facilitate women’s full involvement in relevant decision-making.  The resolution also calls for full implementation of international law relevant to armed conflict, condemning any violations of the rights and security of women.

This landmark resolution has since been strengthened by three additional Security Council resolutions.  Resolution 1820 on sexual violence in armed conflict (2008) has as its sole objective the improvement of efforts to protect women and girls in conflict situations and to prosecute cases of human rights abuses against women therein – particularly sexual violence.  Resolution 1888 (2009) institutes more robust implementing commitments.  Resolution 1889 (2009) targets post-conflict peacebuilding.


The Committee’s Findings

Overall, the Committee learned that while progress has been made since 2000, much remains to be done.  The gaps in implementation documented in this report demonstrate that Canada and other UN member states must provide both a push and a helping hand in order to implement the objectives of resolution 1325.

The Committee examined the imperative of women’s involvement as decision-makers in all matters of peace and security.  Women are one half of every country’s population. Women bring unique and valuable contributions to peace negotiations and reconstruction.  Perhaps most importantly, their participation in conflict resolution strongly contributes to the durability of peace.

Despite these clear linkages, in most cases, women have not had access to or influence over the decision-making table.  According to the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), since 1992, only 2.4 percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women.

Witnesses pointed to several key gaps in the implementation of resolution 1325:

  • Economic Insecurity.  Women typically do not have access to the economic resources needed to participate in peace processes;

  • Capacity.  Women have often been denied education and training that would enable them to assume influential roles in negotiations and planning;

  • Limited Data.  Very limited data exists to track the ways in which armed conflicts are impacting women, and the degree to which gender perspectives are being incorporated in all peace and security interventions.

  • Slow Progress at the UN.  Few women occupy senior positions within UN offices and even fewer act as Special Representatives of the Secretary-General.  Moreover, gender mainstreaming continues to be a work in progress at the UN, including with respect to conflict mediation teams, which have generally not been equipped with specialized expertise.

  • Institutional Fragmentation.  Within the UN, various offices have had responsibilities for women’s issues.  As a result, some roles have overlapped, while other necessary actions, particularly at the operational level, have fallen through the cracks.

The aspects of resolution 1325 that focus on women’s empowerment are given less attention than those related to the protection of civilians in conflict situations from human rights abuses and violence.  However, both components must be fully supported.  Women are not just victims of war and beneficiaries of peace.  Violence against women cannot be curtailed unless women are full and active participants in society.

The report addresses the heightened displacement, deprivation and violence inflicted on women as a result of armed conflict.  In particular, witnesses focused on rape as a tool of war.

The situation on the ground for many women in situations of armed conflict remains perilous and bleak.  To cite the most troubling example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN estimated in 2009 that on average at least 36 rapes were committed every day.

Witnesses called for further progress in several key areas:

  • Gender Perspectives in the Peace and Security Architecture.  An effective way to mainstream gender perspectives in security operations is by deploying female military and police personnel. The presence of women in such roles, and in senior diplomatic and development positions, increases the overall effectiveness of missions.  Specialized expertise is also needed to ensure that all security sector processes respond to the needs and perspectives of women.  Finally, gender considerations must be incorporated comprehensively in all training of security sector personnel.

  • Mechanisms for Justice.  A culture of impunity for crimes of sexual violence has persisted in many countries.  Country justice institutions have struggled to be effective and efficient.  They are hindered by limited capacity and resources.  As a result, many abuses go unreported and uninvestigated.  A gap exists between international mechanisms for prosecution and these national systems - the only avenue available to most victims.

  • Support for Victims.  Women’s recovery is hindered by insufficient health and counseling services as well as weak mechanisms for economic and social reintegration.


United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325: Canada’s Role

The Committee examined in detail Canada’s record to date on resolution 1325 and women, peace and security issues more generally.

Canada was a non-permanent member of the Security Council when resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000, and played an instrumental role therein.  The Committee was informed of Canada’s activities since that time, particularly those undertaken through the Canadian Permanent Mission to the UN.  Canada has provided leadership since 2000, particularly by sustaining international momentum on resolution 1325 through its work with the UN member state governments that form the “Friends of Women, Peace and Security” group in New York.

The Committee focused on the concrete steps and niche contributions that would leverage Canadian expertise and strengthen Canada’s collective actions directed at women in situations of armed conflict, as part of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding.

At the time of the Committee’s hearings, testimony received from departmental officials did not indicate clearly whether some form of a national action plan on resolution 1325 was under development, and if so, its content, scope and status.  Most witnesses strongly recommended that Canada develop such a plan.  They argued it would create accountability mechanisms, and build awareness nationally while also contributing to international mobilization and standard-setting.

Based on the testimony, the Committee was of the opinion that Canada needed a comprehensive national implementation strategy.

On October 5th 2010, the government released its Action Plan on the UNSC resolutions on women, peace and security: Building Peace and Security for all.  The Committee is encouraged by this development, and welcomes the plan and its many positive elements.  A number of the Committee’s concerns are addressed in the government’s plan.  To clarify our position, the Committee is recommending a series of concrete actions to address some of the inherent problems facing women in situations of armed conflict.


The Committee’s Observations on the Government of Canada’s Action Plan

The Committee’s report complements the government’s Action Plan.  We provide analysis and recommendations from a parliamentary perspective.  While, the development of the strategy is an important component in governmental efforts to contribute to the international realization of resolution 1325, implementation in real terms is the key.

With this perspective in mind, the Committee believes the Action Plan must go further:

  • Indicators are important, but not enough.  Specific target benchmarks for each indicator and timelines for achieving them are required.

  • A detailed analysis is needed of the more complex and qualitative aspects of women in situations of armed conflict in the government’s forthcoming annual reports.

  • Clear, dedicated and multi-year resources must be attached to the plan.

Efforts must be organized around a targeted framework of activities where Canada can make an effective difference, while also addressing the aforementioned implementation gaps.  The Committee believes that Canada should focus its efforts on:

  • Enabling women to be decision-makers in matters of peace and security

Women peace delegates, negotiators, mediators, and civil society organizations need dedicated funding and other forms of support to enable their participation in conflict resolution processes. Women need assistance to maximize their training and capacity to do so.  Gender considerations must be prioritized each time Canada involves itself in peace negotiations, mediation, and post-conflict efforts to hold elections, establish priorities and build institutions.

Some of the more specific areas where Canada needs to take action, which became apparent during witness testimony, were identified in the government’s Action Plan.  This includes the need to: support research on women’s experiences in conflict and its aftermath; develop a roster of government personnel who have specific gender expertise with respect to peace negotiations and post-conflict institution-building; increase the number of women put forward by Canada as nominees for senior UN positions; and, the need to ensure that gender perspectives are built into all support targeting security sector reforms and programming.

  • Building gender-sensitive peace and security architecture

The Committee looked in particular at the training provided to Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces (DND/CF) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) personnel.  The Committee determined that the UN resolutions were not being specifically dealt with and elaborated on in any level of detail during training or in the professional development of DND/CF and RCMP personnel. 

The Committee believes that general training on ethics and codes of conduct is not enough.  Women, peace and security issues must be comprehensively integrated throughout all the pre-deployment and in-theatre training received by DND/CF and RCMP personnel.  This same model should be applied to all training delivered to foreign militaries and police forces.  Moreover, training must encapsulate the broader issues of women’s participation in conflict resolution and post-conflict reintegration, considerations which go beyond civilian protection. 

The Committee calls for the significant increase by 2015 of the number of Canadian female military and civilian police personnel deployed in field missions, particularly in positions of leadership.  More specifically, it urges the RCMP to consider seriously the deployment of an all-female or majority-female police unit to a UN peacekeeping mission.  Canada should also provide financial assistance to enable other countries with such police capacity to do so.

  • Strengthening justice institutions and access to remedies

The Committee focused on the ways in which Canada can strengthen its existing support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), while also closing the gap between the ICC and national justice systems in conflict and post-conflict countries.  Particular support should be provided for the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence.  All of Canada’s efforts targeting justice system enhancements and reforms should be infused with gender perspectives. 

Finally, in relation to its framework, the Committee examined specific actions Canada should take at the UN.  The Committee welcomes the recent creation of a consolidated gender entity – UN Women – which will become operational in January 2011.  It was also encouraged by the appointment of the first Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict earlier this year.  However, the Committee remains concerned about the need to ensure that a mandate for pursuing full implementation of all components of resolution 1325, both across the UN system and in UN member states, is clearly given to one UN entity.  The Committee is recommending that this responsibility be given to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  The expanded mandate must encompass the holistic issues relevant to women, peace and security.

In general, the Committee is seeking to amplify Canada’s impact by focusing on a select group of initiatives where it has capacity and demonstrated expertise.  The Committee’s vision is for Canada to be an international champion of the implementation of the UN resolutions on women, peace and security through its foreign affairs, defence, justice, public safety, and development ministries.



One of the key concerns raised by witnesses was the need for the government to designate a clear centre of responsibility tasked with implementation of the UNSC resolutions.  Under the Action Plan, the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) of the Department of Foreign Affairs is given this responsibility. The Committee considers this designation useful.  Nevertheless, the degree to which this institutional structure will work remains to be seen.  The Committee will be watching to ensure that this is not a ‘whole of government’ strategy on paper alone.

Indeed, the efficacy of all the policies and programs described in the Action Plan must be evaluated once they have been put into practice and given time to work.  In performing its parliamentary oversight function, the Committee is therefore committed to monitoring implementation closely to ensure that the promises undertaken by the government are operationalized to the greatest degree possible.

This report concludes by underscoring that the circumstances facing women and girls in conflict and post-conflict zones has a direct bearing not only on their own lives, but on the foreign policy interests of Canada and like-minded states, and on the success of the UN.  The Committee acknowledges that the challenges facing women in situations of armed conflict are both complex and challenging.  But, the Committee strongly believes that Canada is well-suited and well-equipped to be a leader at the UN and in UN member states around the world, pushing for the full and timely realization of resolution 1325.

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