United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, enacted in 2001, called for (and was designed to encourage) countries to include women in decision-making regarding war, peace, and security. The demand was based on three principles. The first of these was the principle of equality, according a right enshrined in democracy. Women should be included simply because they are a major part of the citizenry and, therefore, have a right to participate in such important decision-making. The second principle was that women are the main victims of war and, as such, they should have a say in decisions that will actually have a great effect on them. The third principle was that women bring something unique to the table.
The rights argument could hardly be contested in modern society. Indeed, UN decisions and UN-sponsored international women’s conferences, especially the 1995 conference in Beijing, had been advocating women’s rights. They usually referred to women as constituting at least half, if not more, of the world’s population and, therefore, deserving a voice. While there were countries that contested this, often as a result of religious customs or beliefs, the rights principle remained one that was difficult to dismiss. It formed the basis of the work of UNIFEM, later UNWOMEN, throughout the years. The second principle, that of women as victims and the fact that civilians, including women, are directly affected by modern warfare, was also beyond dispute. Since World War I, civilian casualties had increased, in some cases even beyond the numbers of uniformed combatants killed. In fact, civilian deaths and displacement have become one of the characteristics of so the so-called new wars of the second half of the 20th century and later. Moreover, civilians, including women, became the largest single group of victims of war, and the numbers of women killed, wounded, or violated in modern wars have tended to increase over time. Surely, for this reason alone, women should have a say in the decisions so potentially dangerous for them.
Are Women More Peace-Loving?
These first two principles or justifications have not really been challenged, but the third principle is and should be contested. To begin with, the argument that women bring something unique to the table seems to imply that women are more peace-loving than men, whether because of an innate caring nature or biology or some other characteristic. There are indeed studies that have shown that women in some places and circumstances prefer negotiations over violence, peace over war. For example, more American women than men opposed the Vietnam War, and more British women than men opposed capital punishment. But the research is far from totally consistent. In fact, for various reasons, Israeli women polled by Michal Shamir in 2017 exhibited more hawkish attitudes than Israeli men — an apparent anomaly that may be connected to the experience of an ongoing armed conflict.
In addition, the real problem with the third principle — that women would bring something different from men to the table because they are presumed to have more peaceful attitudes — sounds like essentialism. This is a term familiar to feminists, indicating a lumping of all women into one category, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, age, or any other distinction. In my opinion, this is the major flaw in Resolution 1325. There are undoubtedly some women who might bring a more moderate attitude or a greater desire for peace than many men, but not all. Research by Miriam Anderson found that when women have participated in peace talks, issues of women’s rights found their way into the final agreements. While the assumption would be that the women participants are conscious of women’s rights issues and therefore address them in the peace talks and resultant treaty, but this assumption still needs to be proven.
A study by the American Council on Foreign Policy found that peace agreements in which women participated lasted longer than others. No possible explanations were offered, biological or otherwise, but the explanation might be that women more than men tend to prefer civil society activism over formal party politics (given the obstacles women face in politics). As a result, women may have more cross-community contacts and grassroots opportunities to promote support for a peace agreement.
It is noteworthy that in a 1997 study by Barbara F. Walter which examined conflict-ending agreements between 1945 and 1990 without focusing on gender, she found that third-party guarantees were the crucial factor for longer life of an agreement. Even my own study of Israeli members of Knesset found that those MKs who advocated issues of particular importance to women did not necessarily do so based on their gender but rather on ideology. Feminist ideology when advocated by feminist men such as Dov Hanin or, before him Dedi Zucker, or by political parties such as Hadash or Meretz, led to greater interest in women’s rights and issues of particular importance to women. Ideology was the determining factor, rather than gender.
To this we can add the obvious fact that among the few women leaders around the world, and also in Israel itself, one is as likely to find hawks as to find doves: Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Ayelet Shaked, and others — the examples are obvious. Gender does not necessarily determine attitude.
Need to Define the Uniqueness of Women
This is not to say that women are not different from men. Indeed, in every class, ethnic group, or social group, the experience of women is different from that of men. Our daily experience and our viewpoints are different, as feminist philosopher Susan Okin pointed out. It is true, in my opinion, that women might bring something unique to the table, given our different experience of life, but different does not necessarily mean more peace-loving; the nature of that difference remains to be examined. There is educational value in having the public become accustomed to seeing women in important decision-making circles. If, however, we are going to base the Resolution 1325 demand on the third principle, of difference alone, in the hope that the decisions will serve the cause of peace and security more than war, we must ask: Which women? Who are we bringing to the table? I could and often do argue that a feminist woman or, for that matter, a feminist man would serve that purpose better than a non-feminist woman, but that is another topic awaiting proof, similar to my study of Israeli MKs on the issue of women’s rights.
Thus, despite the good intentions behind it and the value of the resolution for bringing the women’s rights issue to the fore, including and especially in connection with decision-making for war and peace, I have a problem with Resolution 1325. It may not help our security or the cause of peace to bring just any women to the table. Aside from the educational value (getting used to seeing women there), one must view Resolution 1325 more critically.
“Soft” vs. “Hard” Security
Another UN effort to bring women into the picture can be found in the UN Human Development Report of 1994, with its innovative comments on the importance of “soft power.” The report recommended expanding the concept of security to include such elements of security as development, economic stability, access to food, health, a roof over one’s head, and so forth. And it further explained that these were areas in which women were typically involved on a daily basis. The conclusion was that the meaning of security, as understood by women around the world (mainly in the developing world), was “soft security” as distinct from weapons systems and the like, which constitute “hard security.”
Like Resolution 1325, the distinction and addition of soft security was meant to benefit women, to include them in the security discussion, and to legitimize and value women’s contributions; however, like Resolution 1325, it may have had a downside: the risk that women would be confined to matters of soft security and thus continue to be excluded from matters of hard security. I have not seen any research on this point, but hard security and men (the natural experts in the area of hard security) continue to dominate the world of international security studies and also the real world of decision-making for war and security. Soft power, the realm in which
women are considered the main actors, has not yet made it into the real world when it comes to decision-making for war and security.
None of this is to say or even imply that the recognition of women’s work, with the addition of the concept of soft security, or the direct demand that women be included in security decisions according to Resolution 1325, are not to be celebrated. But it would be wise to remain aware of the possible pitfalls and the need to further define these positive ideas. We would also be wise to provide tools for their practical implementation in the real world, worldwide. Like many UN resolutions, such tools are missing.