Security Roundtable: Women, Peace and Security expert, Cynthia Enloe

In this second part of our Security Roundtable interview series, Our Secure Future speaks with expert Cynthia Enloe to examine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, learn about challenges in the field, and find out what keeps her up at night. Our first roundtable with male leaders can be found here

Cynthia Enloe is a Research Professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Professor Enloe's fourteen books include Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives (2000), Seriously! Investigating Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered (2013), and a totally new, updated and revised 2nd edition of Bananas, Beaches and Bases (2014).


What should people know about UNSCR 1325 and the Women, Peace and Security agenda?

First, people need to know what the UN Security Council is because it was the Security Council that in October 2000—after months of persuasive lobbying by women activists—passed 1325.  It is odd, really, that the Security Council was the UN body to pass a feminist-inspired resolution that calls for both attention to women’s conditions in war zones and, just as important, a commitment by all members states of the UN to ensure that women become genuine participants in all stages of ending armed conflict and rebuilding societies torn apart by war.  What makes this odd is that the UN Security Council is one of the most masculinized of the UN’s agencies; precisely because it’s been the Security Council member states who have seen themselves dealing most directly with questions of war and armed conflict.  This has made the Security Council also the UN’s most militarized decision-making institution.

Women activists inside and outside the UN, however, believed that it had to be the Security Council to speak with authority on women’s participation in ending wars and creating sustainable peace because it wields so much influence on these issues.  That was a strategic choice by these activists, but it has come with risks because it’s not at all clear that Security Council members really “get it” about women’s stakes in, and women’s ideas about war and peace!

As American citizens, I think, we need to insist that our media and commentators and teachers all keep us a lot more informed on the UN because we depend on the UN to do so much in the world today—from poverty alleviation, to climate change tracking, to preventing outbreaks of infectious disease, and resolving deep, often violent tensions between and within societies.  We pile responsibilities on the backs of hardworking UN staff people, but we ourselves refuse to learn about the pressures under which these international civil servants operate.   The complexities of the UN are astounding.  Imagine you are an organization with 192 supervisors (the UN’s member states), who are also your funders! How do you operate under those political conditions and in the face of the world’s grandiose expectations?

What our failure to pay attention to the UN in all its complexity also means now is that we don’t grasp all the things that have to happen to have the crucial commitments in 1325 actually implemented—in Syria, in Congo, in Ukraine, in Gaza.  One of the main things that has to happen, for instance, is that we need to persuade US government officials to carry out US foreign policy through the UN to change their ideas about masculinity.  They have to stop imagining that war is “men’s business” and that women’s security is a mere sideshow to that “men’s business.”

What has surprised you about this work?

One thing that has repeatedly surprised me is how many of the seemingly intelligent people, people who you would think are smart enough to see the pragmatic value of women’s security for creating long-term sustainable peace and security actually are refusing to take women’s security seriously.  Nowadays, these sorts of people—media commentators, candidates, officials—know how to say the right things about why “women’s rights matter.”  But then, behind closed doors, they go ahead and make decisions that reveal they don’t really think seriously at all about women’s security or about women as genuine participants in decisions about how to end wars and how to rebuild societies.  That is, these people have learned since 2000 how to fake it, how to say the right things, and then just to go about their conventional masculinist ways.

I admit, it’s hard to face the fact that how many people working for good causes, working for human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, still resist this taking seriously in their own day-to-day work the gritty tasks involved in implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Once you remind them that they have an obligation to take women’s participation seriously in economic and legal rebuilding of a country, they don’t want to do it, and even may feel personally threatened when you press them to live up to their 1325 obligations. 

This is shocking. It just means that a lot more people have a stake in perpetuating inequality than I thought.  And that means all the rest of us really have to have the stamina to do this work.  Being cynical is not the answer.

What keeps you up at night about this issue?

What keeps me up at night is realizing—having been shown by so many women working in so many countries—that so many women and girls today are living in such excruciating insecurity: in war zones, in refugee camps, in immigrant detention centers, under brutal regimes.

Building women’s authentic security is both an urgent and a long-term commitment.  Feminists know that we all have to think about now—later may be too late.  But we also have to be thinking about and planning today for about 10 years from now.  That is, as feminists, we have learned that we have to act now and plan for tomorrow—simultaneously.

What would it look like if UNSCR 1325 was fully implemented?

Take a look at Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom.  In the spring of 2015, she dramatically set forth what a feminist foreign policy would look like.  It caught many of the mainstream international political commentators off guard.  They have never even considered that a foreign minister of a modern affluent state would act on these feminist principles, the principles that are at the heart of 1325: a foreign policy that prioritizes genuine human security, genuine long-term peace, and genuinely equitable treatment of girls and boys and women and men.  Walstrom, and the Swedish feminists that support her, give us all hope.

Watch Margot Wallstrom speak on 1325 below: