Co-optation of feminism: Gender, Militarism and the UNSC Resolution 1325

Article into Armenian language is available here.


United NationsSecurity Council Resolution 1325 (hereafter UNSCR 1325) is often referred as a landmark and a revolutionary resolution (Cohn, 2008;Shepherd, 2015). For the first time such a highly masculinised institution like the UN Security Council directly addressed the subjects of women and armed conflicts, putting them on the same level of hierarchy and recognising women’s agency to participate - as decision makers in all levels - in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes (UNSCR 1325, 2000). In October 2015 on the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the Resolution, the Global Study on 1325 was launched (UN Women,2015). The page 191 of the Study states: ‘Women, peace and security is about preventing war, not about making war safer for women’ (Coomaraswamy, 2015). Despite this important claim, the debates around the Resolution show that the Resolution not only fails to advance anti-war feminist agenda, but also gets utilised for militarist purposes, transforming its radical potential into an instrumentalised, co-opted feminist agenda.

Reflecting on antimilitarist feminist debates, I focus on how gender security discourses within the United Nations (UN) ‘do’ the process of ‘war’. Particularly, I argue in this essay that the UNSCR 1325 was developed through gendered discourses that allowed the use of the Resolution for militarist purposes. Informed by poststructuralist feminist theory, I refer to the Resolution as a discursive practice and claim that the ways in which the UN conceptual apparatus understands and interprets gender and security concepts open up possibilities for states to co-opt the very radical meaning of the Resolution by legitimising and normalising militarist practicing and silencing anti-militarist critique.

In order to support my argument, I first examine the gendered discourses behind the creation of the Resolution. The next two parts are devoted to the analysis of two major ways by which, I argue, the Resolution is being militarised – 1) the association of gender with ‘women in need of protection’ that justifies foreign militarist interventions and ‘ensures’ protection by enhancing military, and 2) the increase of women’s inclusion into security sector and armed forces in the name of women’s ‘participation’ in post-conflict reconstruction. I conclude by arguing that discursive analysis of the Resolution is crucial as it reveals how a Resolution that had a subverting potential to challenge militarised patriarchy reinforces exactly those power structures it was called to dismantle.


Gender, war and militarism in a discursive terrain

I first propose stepping outside of the conventional polarised understanding of war and peace; suggesting instead to focus on militarisation as a broader and more complex process of ‘doing’ war. I then claim thatpaying attention to discourses is important in order to understand how the waythrough which United Nations interprets gender security gives room to militarisation practices.

Christine Sylvester suggests that ‘war is a politics of injury: everything about war aims to injure people and/or their social surroundings’ (Sylvester, 2012: 3-4). War as a ‘politics of injury’ is a deeply gendered activity (Parashar, 2015: 100) and invokes political nurturing of some kind of ‘militarised masculinity’ (Enloe, 2000: 100). War is systemic and exists in a continuum (Cockburn, 2015: 114). This continuum entails a cycle from militarism, the process of militarisation, the episodes of ‘hot war’ and the agreement on a ceasefire followed by an unsteady peace with sustained military investment and continued violence (Cockburn, 2004). Recognising the complex, blurred and diverse expressions and experiences of war, this essay positions itself outside of the traditionally circumscribed bipolar interpretation of war and peace. Informed by the conceptualisation of Cynthia Enloe on militarism(Enloe, 2014; Enloe, 2000), this essay analyses the gender security discourses that sustain militarisation rather than war, viewing militarisation as a set of interwoven processes that make war a legitimatenever-ending phenomenon.

Cynthia Enloe (2000: 3) suggests that militarism is a ‘step-by-step process by which a person or a thing gradually comes to be controlled by the military or comes to depend for its well-being on militaristic ideas’. As Laura Sjoberg and Sandra Via claim, ‘militarism is the extension of war-related, war-preparatory and war-based meanings and activities outside of ‘war proper’’ (Shepherd, 2016: 2).In moulding a culture of war and peace, militarisation entailsvarious different, yet not so obvious forms and manifestations;therefore, this essay argues that the UNSCR 1325, although initially appearing to subvert patriarchal configurations, has become one of those hidden strategies of masculinised militarisation.

This essay is interested to explore how the meanings of gender and gender security have been produced in relation to development and implementation processes of the UNSCR 1325. The essay approaches the concept of gender as performative and as an inherently unstable notion (McLeod, 2016: 17).It is inspired by Judith Butler’s (2006) theorisingof gender as a ‘doing’ rather than a ‘being’. As Butler puts it, gender is ‘always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed’ (Butler, 2004). Gender performativity entails that gender is a result of discourses rather than deriving from the materiality of the body. Human beings produce certain practices and knowledge through gendered discourses that have a productive force of power, which means that these very discourses produce and shape the subjects themselves. Therefore, the way gender is interpreted within the UN’s conceptual apparatuses is crucial to understand how discursive policiesare being developed and implemented in practice. In other words which actions do those discourses naturalise and which ones do they leave untackled?

Discourses in the UN matter as much as ‘language matters in politics’(Shepherd, 2010b: 144). Laura Shepherd finds that in order to understand how best to implement a policy we need to understand not only how a policy means but also ‘how’ it comes to mean(Shepherd, 2010b: 144). She finds that discourses are ‘systems of meaning production rather than simply statements or language’ (Shepherd, 2010b: 156). Following that logic, I suggest that the conceptual organisation of the Resolution prescribes and proscribes certain normative understandings of ‘security’ and ‘doings’ of gender. The value-laden meanings attached to the UNSCR 1325 have profound implications for its implementation. Consequently, we should first critically engage with how the UN’s understanding of gender and security has shaped the development and implementation of the Resolution,viewing the Resolution as a discursive practice that implies and proscribes certain kinds of understanding of gender, war and peace.

As Laura McLeod suggests, the specific performance of gender security relies upon a particular logic of ‘gender’ and ‘security’ (McLeod, 2011: 595). It is ‘inherently political’ which means that certain actors can use the conceptualisation of gender and opportunities deriving from a specific discourse for their particular goals, achieving specific political translations of UN policies and documents. In this essay I argue that the ways in which gender and gender security are represented in UN peacebuilding architecture discourse permit and legitimise certain types of actions by the states (support ongoing process of militarisation) and preclude the others (silence anti-war and anti-militarist critique). In order to support my argument,in the following sections I analyse the particular gender politics that shaped the gender security discourses during the process of the Resolution’s development and then proceed to examine two major ways by which, I claim, the Resolution is being co-opted and militarised by the states.


Making war safer for women: Resolution 1325 and herstory

Since 2000, there have been six further resolutions adopted by the Security Council after the UNSCR 1325 that together shaped the ‘women, peace and security’ (WPS) agenda in the United Nations (Shepherd, 2015: 273). The WPS agenda contains three main ‘pillars’: protection, prevention,and participation. In the next sectionof this essay I focus on two pillars and argue, that both ‘protection’ and ‘participation’ goalsare being used by states to increase their industrial military complexes and include more people in militarised security institutions.

It has been argued that the UNSCR 1325 reproduced the conventional understanding of the UN on human security – that the state provides security, that security is the absence of conflict and that security is something that can be achieved (Shepherd, 2008b: 127; McLeod, 2016: 37;Zajović, 2010).As highlighted in the Resolution, the Security Council's primary responsibilityunder the UN Charter is the 'the maintenance of international peace and security' (UNSCR 1325).Within this logic, gender security in the Resolution is understoodas an extension of human security, configured in a way that does not challenge conventional security ideas according to which militaristic institutions are guarantees of ensuring (state) security.Moreover, for many feminist-pacifists the UNSCR 1325 is problematic because it does not explicitly challenge the existing power structures and assumptions of the war system (Cohn, 2008; Cockburn, 2007). While the Resolution explicitly calls for women’s protection from violence, their inclusion into peace operations and conflict resolution, there is no single paragraph in the Resolution’s text that would tackle the prevention of wars or the militarismper se. With this, the Resolution accepts the a priori existence of war,naturalises the need of militarisation and leaves these phenomenaunquestioned, instead deploying efforts to make inevitable wars at least safer for women.That ‘gender security’ is conceptualised in ways that do not challenge militarism and war becomes clear when we look into the herstory of the Resolution.

In 2000, during the UN Commission on the Status of Women the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security was formed to advocate for the adoption of the Resolution (Cohn, 2008: 4). The drafting process implied a huge amount of work by many actors, notably by NGOs. Nevertheless, despite its exceptional drafting procedure that united different constituencies, the examination of the root values, original objectives behind the adoption of the Resolution unpacks a number of crucial facts.

It is interesting to notice that the majority of the Working Group members positioned themselves neither as ‘anti-war’ per se nor as feminist (Cohn, 2008: 12).  Out of the six members only the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) explicitly identified itself as feminist, anti-war and anti-militarist and did not avoid talking about ‘political’ issues (Cohn, 2008: 12). The suggestion by WILPF to talk about the international arms trade, militarism and its relation to masculinities was deemed to be ‘too political’. Hence, the causes of armed conflicts were assumed to be tooradical to be integrated in the Resolution.

The absence of these logics from the Resolution talks about discursive practices of the WPS agenda which can be assumed to duplicate the conventional practices of international peace and security institutions where state security is exercised through military means. As a result, the Resolution protects women in war, highlighting that they now have an equal right to participate in ending particular wars, leavingwar itself intact. The existence of war as a system and the operation of the military-industrial complex are not challenged in the UNSCR 1325 and thus are legitimised. At the same time, it would be too naive to think that Resolution could be able to challenge the existence of war per se.  When more than 80% of the profits from the global arms trade go to the five permanent members of the Security Council (Cohn, 2008: 18) the question how the Security Council can practically be against wars becomes inane.

Not only war, but also militarised masculinities are not a subject for the Resolution. Nothing is said in the Resolution about men and masculine culture of violence (Cockburn, 2013: 444). The Resolution is developed by normalising the understanding that violence against women and girls will always happen, so there is a great need to ‘protect the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts’, to ‘protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other sexual abuse’. With this, the Resolution does not challenge the patriarchy; the patriarchal system of male dominance is left out from the agenda of the Resolution. The nexttwo sectionsof this essay show two major ways through which militarisation of the Resolution takes place - 1) through the association of gender with ‘women in need of protection’ (the ‘protection’ pillar of UN WPS agenda) and 2) through ensuring women’s ‘participation’ in post-conflict reconstruction via their inclusion into military and security sector (the ‘participation’ pillar).


“They will save you with their weapons”: gender as ‘women in protection’

As Nadine Puechguirbal points out, in the UN language women are mainly portrayed as victims in need of protection (Puechguirbal, 2015: 254). Despite its groundbreaking approach, the Resolution 1325 still uses the language of victimisation.'Expressing concern that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict' and recognising the impact of 'effective institutional arrangements to guarantee [women's] protection', the Resolutioncalls on measures to'ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls', to 'protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict'as well ascalls upon to 'take into accountthe particular needs of women and girls' (UNSCR 1325).Women in the Resolution are also associated with children, defining them as helpless vulnerable individuals. Indeed, as Cynthia Enloe puts it, ‘militaries rely both on women and on presumptions about femininity’ (Enloe, 2000: x;Enloe, 2010: 3). So the Resolution reinforces the idea that (militarised) men are perceived as the norms of reference and the ‘protectors’ while women constitute the ‘others’ –the helpless, the ‘protected’, ‘thewomenandchildren’.

One of the ways the UNSCR 1325 is implemented is through the development of National Action Plans (NAPs). Laura Shepherd has analysed the NAPs developed in six countries - Australia, Georgia, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA. Her findings show that the NAPs predominantly focus on ‘protecting women’ and ‘making war safe’ for them. A number of NAPs such as those adopted by the USA, UK and Australia also represent war and insecurity ‘overseas’ rather than in their respective countries (Shepherd, 2016: 1), upholding the idea of extra-territorial engagement (Kronsell and Kronsell, 2012: 5) that opens up possibilities for foreign (military) interventions.

Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, Audrey Reeves highlights that within governmentalised UN peacekeeping discourses certain rationales for military intervention in the post-colonial world are justified (Reeves, 2012: 350). Hence, the discourse of women in need of protection may maintain global hierarchies and uphold ‘colonial feminism’(Al-Ali and Pratt, 2009). For instance, the UNSCR 1325 was used in the preamble of the Security Council Resolution 1483 on Iraq when, it can be argued, women’s inclusion into reconstruction was used in the name of justifying military occupation and rhetoric on ‘liberating’ oppressed women (Cohn et al., 2004: 138).For Moghadam, too, the Resolution was side-lined in the name of the ‘global war on terror’ (Moghadam, 2015: 339). The colonial intelligibilities and practices thus still continue to workIn the name of protection(Agathangelou and Turcotte, 2015: 43). Ignoring the intersections of class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity or other important aspects, the UNSCR 1325 continues to reproduce ‘white western heterosexual feminism’ (Santos et al., 2012;Pratt, 2013) failing to interrogate capitalism, neo-colonialism or imperialism and integrate intersectional and postcolonial feminist approaches.

In the name of women’s protection, the UNSCR 1325 and the ‘protection’ pillar of the WPS agendaarebeing deliberately used for states’ militarist, imperialist or neo-colonial objectives.Gender is interpreted by the UN as ‘women in need of protection’ while gender security is seen within the prisms of conventional state-cantered militarised understanding of security. The way in which gender and gender security logics work throughout the Resolution and how the UN interprets them is thus crucial because it is exactly due to these manipulations of discursive representations that the co-optation of the Resolution becomes possible. Protection, however, is not the only strategy deployed for militarisation of the Resolution. Focusing on the example of Armenia, the last section of the essay discusses how women’s participation secures the militarist agenda of the states and leaves the masculine power paradigms unchallenged.


“We can do it!”: women’s inclusion into security sector and armed forces

Recognising 'the need to increase [women's] role in decision-making withregard to conflict prevention and resolution', the Resolution 1325'urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict'. It also'encourages the Secretary-General to implement his strategic plan of action (A/49/587) calling for an increase in the participation of women at decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes'. It is interesting to observe the disproportionate ways in which the ‘participation’ of women in conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation takes place in Armenia. Particularly, the inclusion of women in decision-making and peace negotiation processes can be comparedto the proliferating increase of women’s presence in the military institutions. The examination of extremely scarce data on the subject of 1325 in the country shows that women’s participation in the security sector is the major ‘implementation area’ of the UNSCR 1325 and is highly disproportionate to the level of women’s participation shiftin other sectors.

Hence, as of 2016 there are only12 women out of 131 members in Armenia’s National Parliament. Only two ministers are female and the percentage of women ministers never underwent any significant changes in recent years (Shahnazaryan, 2015).Women are excluded from any formal peace negotiation efforts and their peace efforts remain on a marginal non-formal level(Kvinna till Kvinna,2012; The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, 2013).The same tendency, however, is not observed when it comes to women’s participation in the security sector. Armenia is undergoing security sector reforms, one of the components of which is to encourage the engagement of more women into the security sector(Armenpress,2015b).Hence, in June 2013 Armenia’s Defence Ministry announced that women became eligible for admission at two major military institutes of the country (Abrahamyan, 2013) which was later on reported as a big step towards the implementation of the Resolution. In Armenia the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 thus is equated to women’s participation in Armenian defence and military structures which suggests that women can be secured through equalising opportunities. It also suggests that gender security is viewed within the militarised vision of security.

The most vivid example of how Armenia complies with its commitments against the Resolution is the strengthening of partnership between Armenia and NATO aimed at successful implementation of the Resolution 1325 (NATO,2016). In fact, a close look into the set outcomes and the actions by the NATO/EAPC Action Plan 2014-2016 is enough to understand the massive scope of militarisation in the name of the Resolution (NATO, 2014). As stated in the policy, ‘NATO’s fundamental and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means (NATO, 2014), emphasis is added).  Meanwhile, the co-optation of the Resolution by NATO in different countries is not a new phenomenon and was observed by a number of anti-militarist feminists (Cockburn, 2009).

In order to strengthen NATO-Armenia alliances,in November 2014 a 'NATO week’was organised in Armenia one of the themes of which was the UNSCR 1325’s implementation in Armenia(Leach, 2014;UNFPA, 2015). Not surprisingly, the official event held in the frames of the Resolution was organised by the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNFPA Armenia which once again emphasised Armenia’s militarist and liberal approach to the implementation of the Resolution.Similar events were organised in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Hence, on April 3th, 2015, RA Ministry of Defence hosted NATO Secretary General's Special Representative of Women, Peace and Security, Ambassador MarriëtSchuurman. During the meeting the Resolution 1325 was discussed. As stated by the Ministry of Defence, the strategy deployed by the Republic of Armenia towards the implementation of the Resolution is successful the indicators of which are women's inclusion into the security sector and security politics as well as the increasing number of females in military institutions (, 2015).

In November of the same year, UNFPA Armenia, RA Ministry of Defence and RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a workshop on the implementation of the Resolution 1325 where representatives from the NATO, different international organisations and diplomatic agencies, civil society and academia were present.Mr. Vahan Asatryan, Senior Expert at the International Center for Human Development spoke about the study supported by UNFPA on theinclusion of women in the sphere of defence in Armenia.Mr. ArturAtanesyan, Head of Chair of Applied Sociology at Yerevan State University presented the upcoming book 'Woman and the Army'that coversthe involvement of women in the armed forces (UNFPA, 2015).

Not surprisingly, during the 'NATO week' 2016 in Yerevan the NATO Liaison Officer inthe South Caucasus William Lahue has noticed at an event entitled 'Women in the military forces' that 'Women's role and significance in the military forces has been neglected for many years, however the United Nations and the NATO do acknowledge and recognise them' (, 2016).These examples show how women’s inclusion in security is interpreted as the Resolution’s ultimate goal. Women's growing participation in the military and the misuse of the Resolution 1325 is not, however, an external intervention from the global militaries but rather a reciprocal, mutually beneficial process of ongoing militarisation. Under the 'Nation-Army' paradigm adopted by the Armenian ruling elite(, 2017) according to which the nation is equalised to the army and Armenian society is tranformed into an army-society,women's agenda becomes just another area of co-optation for nationalist militarist purposes.

It can be stated that the inclusion of women in militaries suggests that WPS agenda should be implemented because it enables states to make war better(Shepherd, 2016). In fact, adding more women into an institution whoseraison d'être is to use violence against the ‘other’ in order to uphold the security of ‘another’ (Al-Ali, 2009) is not a radical action. It is problematic to think that ‘add women and stir’ strategy can help to change the militarised masculinity. As Hannah Wright (Wright, 2015: 505) puts it, “are calls to recruit more women really feminizing the military, or just militarizing feminism”? This rhetoric question leads to the idea that the power structures that feminists want to dismantle are the very structures that condition the women’s entry (Cohn et al., 2004: 138). Therefore, within the UNSCR 1325 women are included into security sector andthe armed forces in ways that do not subvert the fundamentally masculinised culture of the military, leaving the unequal power structures and war system unquestioned.



The UNSCR 1325 has a potential to subvert hegemonic gender norms and support the critical reconceptualization of gender security. However, in this essay I argued that despite its revolutionary potential, the UNSCR 1325 continues to perpetuate the war system which it is supposed to dismantle, transformingwomen’s agenda into another instrument to achieve political goals defined by and for men.The lack of interrogations on how ‘gender’ and ‘gender security’ are understood and applied by the UN does not merely leave the war system intact but also normalises war for militarised actors in power. It harnesses women’s agency in the reproduction of power structures within the neo-liberal imperium in the name of women’s ‘protection’ and ‘participation’ and thus not only failsto challenge the militarisation but also militarises feminism itself.

Questioning the operation of the UN security apparatus and dismantling its conventional interpretation of gender and gender security is a daring strategy. However, it is important to critically reflect on the language the UN uses because the discourses that it produces shape the implementation of its Resolutions. Jacques Derrida (1989) claims that there is nothing ‘beyond the text’; our actions come to a meaning through words. Discursive practices construct, produce and legitimise certain meanings and actions, and it is these practices that we need to interrogate. The UNSCR 1325 should not normalise war and increase militarisation processes; it should be used to encourage demilitarisation, development of anti-militarist policies of peace and ensure discursive shift from the conventional understanding of militarised and state-cantered security into a feminist conceptualisation of peace.



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