On Tuesday 2nd March 2021, the the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women Peace and Security hosted a closed roundtable event on ‘New World post COVID-19, and funding the Women, Peace and Security agenda’
Chair: Baroness Fiona Hodgson, Chair of the UK APPG on WPS
UK: GAPS/APPG Secretariat, FCDO and MOD.
Diplomatic missions: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United States of America
Keynote speaker: HE Mari Skåre, Ambassador of Norway to Ireland
On 2 March 2021, the APPG for Women, Peace and Security hosted a Roundtable discussion with UK government officials and members of diplomatic missions in London to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the WPS agenda. This was the second such event that the APPG has hosted, following up a previous event in November 2020. This time, participants were joined by a keynote speaker, Mari Skåre, Ambassador of Norway to Ireland, and former NATO Special Representative on WPS.
Ambassador Skåre drew on her extensive diplomatic experience, not least of which as the first NATO Special Representative on WPS, to highlight the worrying trends for gender equality over the past year, and lay out priorities for governments going forward to ensure a better and more sustainable recovery. These include seeking unity of purpose in the global response to the pandemic, including women in gender response plans, pooling resources through multilateral mechanisms, continuing to strengthen the UN system, better tracking funding, keeping governments and intergovernmental bodies accountable, adequately funding civil society organisations, and showing flexibility in development funding in order to reach the most vulnerable. She also noted that key this year will be preventing Gender-Based Violence, and invited participants to join the Call to Action against GBV.
What makes this crisis different?
Participants discussed what made the pandemic fundamentally different from other crises, highlighting the sheer scale of the impacts, but also its character. When the whole economy is set to shrink, it is more imperative than ever to think in a structured way about how to respond. It is a global joint challenge. We need to pool our efforts, and strengthen the UN system, for despite its inefficiencies, it is still a formidable normative actor. We need to look at how we use the resources that we mobilise, recognising they will be more scarce in the future. We must deal with systemic challenges that we know are there, to make it more just in the future. Participants noted that if the international community had fully implemented the WPS agenda already, the impact of the pandemic would not have been so gendered. Unfortunately, there has not been a single case where a response plan was properly gendered.
Need for flexible funding
Ambassador Skare noted that the pandemic acted as a kind of wake up call, and highlighted in particular the necessity to re-examine funding mechanisms—both in terms of process, but also given the likely reduced overall availability of funding.
Participants agreed, and further argued that we need to change funding models for development partner organisations, who in the midst of a pandemic that severely affects their operations, are still being required to shoulder administrative burdens such as scanning receipts, despite not having access to their offices, all while continuing to deliver the same programmes. These issues are exacerbated in fragile and conflict-affected states. GAPS has a guide on such funding mechanisms.
How to prioritise?
Participants questioned how to prioritise funding, given the many angles around the WPS agenda and gender inequality that need to be addressed. Various solutions were put forth, including reaching out to grassroots and civil society organisations to determine what is really needed. However, missions identified women’s participation as a fundamental starting point.
Participation… and protection
In addition to participation, attendees highlighted the importance of protecting women from the “shadow pandemic” of GBV, which is increasing due to people being locked down in their homes. Society needs to ensure the safety and rights of women from all backgrounds, and that the shift in resources doesn’t come at the expense of women’s empowerment measures. Participants argued that it is also important to recruit and retain women in law enforcement and legal professions, and that WPS issues are inextricable from broader economic issues.
Generation Equality Forum
Participants noted a dense diplomatic agenda on gender equality this year, leading up to the Generation Equality Forum (Mexico 28 to 30 March ; Paris 30 June – 2 July). This event includes six Action Coalitions (the UK is leading on the GBV Action Coalition), and a WPS and Humanitarian Action Compact led by the UN, which will focus on monitoring and accountability, coordination, and financing to implement WPS and humanitarian action commitments. Participants agreed on the lasting importance of the multilateral system.
Some countries highlighted how gender had become more mainstreamed in their organisations, but that COVID-19 had nevertheless affected development budgets and how money was being spent. Attendees noted that new iterations of National Action Plans could better take COVID-19 into account. In drafting future NAPs, it is important to learn lessons from others about what works best, and what needs to change.
Long way to go
There was some frustration amongst participants that there is still a need to convince various actors to increase women’s participation in every aspect of governance. It is well-known, for example, that gender equality measures and participation in labour markets have positive economic effects, and that more inclusive peace processes lead to more lasting peace agreements. Applying a WPS lens can even help collect better intelligence in the military arena.
Closing remarks from Ambassador Skåre:
Ambassador Skåre concluded by asserting that excluding women in any setting makes no sense. While it has been an uphill battle, there has been significant progress. In the future, she argued, WPS and gender equality need to become more institutionalised. We need to move from rhetoric around gender equality to actually internalising it. Going forward, we need to keep leaders accountable, to ensure we don’t lose what we have gained.