Many countries are witnessing political turmoil, which has led to situations of conflict that are endangering peace and security both domestically and across regions. The impacts of these conflicts have generated concern, which has been reflected in the discourse of global agencies such as those of the United Nations.

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the first time acknowledged that conflict affects women and men differently.[1] In this regard, it passed a resolution to ensure women’s participation in peace negotiations, peace-building and peace-keeping. Seven subsequent resolutions followed, strengthening the original resolution.[2]

The forward-looking nature of the UNSC resolutions, especially the latest one, from 2015, highlights a new set of threats to global security. These include violent extremism, radicalisation, health pandemics, economic insecurity and forcible displacement. This demonstrates that constant adaptation to the peace and security needs of nations and communities has become an imperative.

Bangladesh played a pioneering role in adopting the landmark United Nations Security Council resolution of 2000, UNSCR 1325, which aimed to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives into the UN’s peace and security efforts. UNSCR 1325 was adopted under the initiative of Bangladesh, when it was a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

Instilling gender in peace and security

The agenda of Bangladesh’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP WPS), launched by the government towards the end of 2019, builds on the experiences of recent decades.

Rohingyas entering Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, November, 2017 | Photo by Mahmud Hossain Opu

It is based on the premise that Bangladesh is not currently characterised by armed conflict or in a post-conflict situation as it was in the aftermath of its bloody War of Independence in 1971. It is somewhere between a post-conflict society and a stable democratic, society and has built on past experience but at the same time has work to do in improving its trends on gender equality and diversity.

Gender discrimination ensues from both state policies and societal beliefs. Interventions on women, peace and security must thus straddle both these spheres. The NAP WPS takes both aspects into consideration. It is to be implemented through an inter-ministerial coordination group led by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The NAP WPS is to be implemented within a domestic context that is particularly affected by climate and humanitarian disasters. At the same time, Bangladesh plays a proactive role in serving the core mandates of women, peace and security beyond its borders (e.g. through UN Peacekeeping Operations), and the NAP WPS reflects this.

The mandate of the NAP WPS

Bangladesh’s National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security (NAP WPS) has four pillars:

    1. Participation of women in peace processes and public decision-making linked to making, building and sustaining peace;
    2. Prevention of conflict through incorporating women’s perspectives into early warning systems, public education, efforts to increase societal cohesion and prosecution of violations of women’s rights;
    3. Protection of women’s rights and well-being by all actors and in all stages of conflict and post-conflict situations;
    4. Relief and recovery that engages women and addresses their needs, redress for injustice and investments in socio-economic security.

Women in the national peace and security context

Bangladesh has experienced major peace and security issues. Within this context, the country has worked hard on rehabilitating war-affected women since its founding days – dating back to 1972, after its War of Independence in 1971. In this same effort, the government passed a law in 1973 to punish those responsible for committing genocide, crimes against humanity and other crimes during the 1971 War.[3]

Bangladesh’s commitment to the agenda of women, peace and security also stems from its role in UN peacekeeping: Bangladesh has pioneered the participation of women female peacekeepers and further pledged to increase female troop participation.

Bangladesh has a good record in disaster management. Along its coastline there are more than 50,000 volunteers, who are trained under its cyclone preparedness programme. One-third these volunteers are women.

Bangladesh has been sheltering over a million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals, ethnically known as the Rohingya. More than half of these people are women, who are known to have faced some of the worst forms of sexual violence in Myanmar. Rohingya women are engaged as humanitarian actors, as well as agents working against security threats, including violent extremism and human trafficking.

Gender-based policy-making

Bangladesh has over the years developed relevant legislation, policies and frameworks to address issues related to gender inequality and justice, unlike countries that have only recently emerged from conflict. Looking at its record, the country is well positioned to develop an agenda on women, peace and security. Some of this work has been transformed into national policies, such as the National Action Plan for the National Women Development Policy 2013 and the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Children 2018–2030. Given this existing policy infrastructure, it was decided to maintain the focus of the current National Action Plan on Women Peace Security (NAP WPS) on women in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The policy orientation of the NAP WPS, under its four pillars, aligned with Bangladesh’s international treaty commitments,[4] could be as follows:

Prevention: engaging communities and institutions would mean:

    • Key government institutions have increased awareness and knowledge about the root causes of conflict and violent extremism. This would include an understanding of the role women play in preventing conflict and violent extremism;
    • Key government institutions have evidence on gender-sensitive policies and model initiatives that are effective in promoting social cohesion, tolerance and diversity. These policies would be designed to be scaled up;
    • Dialogue platforms and network of women leaders are established to strengthen social cohesion, social harmony and the prevention of conflict and violent extremism.

Participation: increasing women’s participation in peace and security means:

    • Both women and men would have awareness about the importance of women’s participation in decision-making on issues of peace and security;
    • Laws, policies and guidelines are in place to enable women’s participation in decision-making positions related to peace and security;
    • The capacity of women is enhanced to play leadership roles on peace and security issues at both grassroots and national levels.

Protection: ensuring women’s safety, well-being and rights means:

    • The capacity of security sector and law enforcement agencies (police, military, first responders, health workers) is enhanced to be more gender-responsive;
    • UN peacekeeping troops have strengthened capacity to protect people from sexual exploitation and abuse during deployment;
    • Knowledge of government and civil society stakeholders is enhanced to protect women’s safety and well-being in peace and security settings.

Relief and recovery: addressing humanitarian and disaster relief policies means:

    • Government agencies, particularly at the local level, have the capacity to comply with the Standing Order on Disasters (SOD), the guideline that outlines the duties of all stakeholders during a disaster. The SOD design entails responsiveness to women’s needs during natural disasters and humanitarian crises;
    • First responders, including non-governmental organisations, have strengthened capacity to provide gender-sensitive services during emergencies and humanitarian crises;
    • Capacity of service providers is enhanced to address justice and accountability for sexual violence in emergency and humanitarian contexts.

Principles into practice

In 50 years, Bangladesh has had a great deal of experience dealing with issues related to women, peace and security. It has taken its experience beyond its border through policy advocacy at international platforms, most notably at the UN. As sincere and ambitious as the national policies, though, their effectiveness lies with the implementing agencies. Each policy is implemented through respective programmes and activities, and each implementing agency must have a clear view and political will to translate the principles into practice.

Bangladesh’s National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security (NAP WPS) 2019, as a very new plan in the policy basket, needs to see a push for dissemination. Information on this policy agenda must be distributed along with mass-scale training of both government and non-government agencies. Meanwhile, of course, all through 2020, covid-19 has put a spanner in the works of the plan’s rolling-out phase. The NAP WPS thus needs to be revived before it dies a premature death for want of attention. This is especially so not just because this year represents the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s birth, but also because 2021 commemorates 20 years of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Animating the NAP WPS would be the perfect way to demonstrate to and share with the world the rich experience and vantage point that Bangladesh possesses in this field.

[1] UNSCR 1325 (2000)
[2] UNSCR 1820 (2009); 1888 (2009); 1889 (2010); 1960 (2011); 2106 (2013); 2122 (2013) and 2242 (2015)
[3] Bangladesh’s enactment of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 (Act No. XIX of 1973)
[4] Set out in UNSCR 1325

 

Photo ©️ Mahmud Hossain Opu
Meghna Guhathakurta
Meghna Guhathakurta is Executive Director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB). She is a social scientist and an academician. She specialises in international development, gender relations, minority issues and South Asian politics. She is advisor to the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission. She taught international relations at the University of Dhaka. She was a member of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, and coordinator of a UNHCR project to mitigate tension between the Rohingya and host communities. She was Co-Editor of The Bangladesh Reader and Associate Editor of Action Research Journal and the Journal of Social Studies at the Centre for Social Studies in Dhaka. She pursued her doctoral studies in politics at the University of York.