This year is the 20th Anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which reflects the global commitment to the importance of women in building peace and security, and strong, inclusive societies. UNSCR 1325, and the nine UN resolutions that follow, recognize women’s central role in peace, security and stability; women’s right to be included in negotiations around war, peace and conflict resolution; and the importance of addressing the different needs of women and men in relief, recovery and post-conflict efforts.

Over the last several weeks, I met with several groups of international leaders visiting the U.S., all working in post-conflict countries to build peace and strengthen their countries’ institutions. Some of the participants were from urban areas; some from rural areas. Some are in government; some in civil society. These women and men — and many more like them — are key to efforts across the globe to make peace and security real in communities. Every day, they translate the rhetoric of the U.N. and governments to the lives of women, men, girls and boys. Their work defines and reflects the on-the-ground reality of this work.  

Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Every issue is relevant to women’s lives: Despite the global commitment of UNSCR 1325, we often hear that “women’s issues” will be dealt with once there is a peace agreement. That approach doesn’t work.When women are included in discussions and peace talks, women bring a broad set of issues and solutions to the table, and agreements last longer. The women I met over brought both policy expertise and knowledge of their communities. They were experts in criminal justice reform, environment and sustainability, and election systems. Their expertise, and the perspectives they bring, matters in terms of strong policy solutions and ensuring that everyone’s views are being considered. 
  2. Bringing women together who work on these issues is critically important. There are many lessons that women can learn from each other, from how to be an effective negotiator, how to represent community interests without being seen as partisan in peace negotiations, and how to engage men as part of these processes. It’s important that from various parts of the women, peace and security “ecosystem” understand how they complement each other’s roles: women in civil society raising issues and women in government drafting policies that bring those concerns and proposals to life.
  3. Women doing this work to build peace don’t always see the connections to work elsewhere. The UNSCR resolutions around women, peace and security provide a global and local framework for thinking about these complex issues and for analyzing progress. But women on the ground don’t always see their work as connected to that framework, or see what they do as part of a global movement. Ensuring that their work is chronicled and captured helps them see these connections and helps international actors understand the connections as well. 
  4. Supporting peace builders is essential and we must listen to what these peace builders need from us. Local context and local leadership matters. It’s critical to listen to, and support, local leaders. Women and men engaged in peacebuilding and conflict resolution take many risks. They live in conflict zones and communities that have often been torn apart. They put their lives on the line, and they also push boundaries around about what is possible to resolve a conflict. Members of the international community need to support what they do, in whatever ways peacebuilders identify. In some cases, it may be highlighting their work publicly; in some cases not.
  5. We ignore engaging men at our peril. Just as women are central to peace building and building strong post-conflict institutions, so are men. Many of the women I met with talked about what contributions they were making, but also how they work with men in their communities and countries to support women’s inclusion. Men need to be engaged so that they understand how communities can be rebuilt in a more equitable way following conflict. 

As we mark these last 20 years, and recommit to engaging women in peace and security, we need to keep learning from those who make this work real every day. They bring international commitments and resolutions to life.