Op-Ed: Why ‘Women, Peace & Security’ for COVID-19 recovery?

Date: Monday, March 22, 2021

Authors: K.M.S.D. Jayasekara, and Mohammad NACIRI*

The year 2020 marked 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ – a groundbreaking resolution that enshrined the essential role of women in securing and maintaining peace. 2020 was also the year that COVID-19 reversed the limited gains on gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world. This holds particularly relevant for countries like Sri Lanka where women’s role in society had altered significantly as more women became heads of households during the three-decade long conflict. Their role and inclusion in peace building efforts have become more vital than ever as they worked against tremendous odds to maintain peace in their communities. The ongoing pandemic, however, has hindered these efforts and intensified inequalities.

The gendered impact of COVID-19

In Sri Lanka, women have been hit hardest by the pandemic, particularly women that make up over 66% of informal sector workers. As women in the informal sector often earn less, they were the first to lose their income when lockdowns were imposed; meanwhile, Sri Lankan domestic workers abroad were stranded with no way to return home whilst many of them lost their jobs. A study done by the International Finance Corporation further reported that women-run small and medium enterprises saw a decrease in sales with little or no access to digital technology which hindered their ability to digitize their businesses during the crisis. Moreover, with over a quarter (1.4million) of Sri Lankan homes being headed by women, female heads of households were facing a triple burden with an increase in unpaid care work to support children and elderly dependents along with domestic work whilst providing for their families.

Prior to the pandemic, the Women’s Wellbeing Survey (2019) reported that 1 in 5 ever-partnered women in Sri Lanka have experienced physical and / or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging reports from those on the frontlines show that violence against women, particularly domestic violence has intensified, with many women being unable to access support services.

The changing context of peace and security

The gendered impact of COVID-19 has brought to light the changing nature of peace and security. Existing inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic have hindered women’s meaningful participation in leadership roles, their economic empowerment, and their safety, particularly in their own homes. Peace and security in the context of COVID-19 means equal access to opportunities without gender-based discrimination, equal access to social protection and the ability to live a life free from violence. The very essence of the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda identifies women’s meaningful inclusion and participation in all these spheres, as a ‘rights’ issue. When women lead, participate, and benefit equally in all aspects of life, societies and economies thrive, thereby contributing to sustainable development and peace.

National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for COVID-19 recovery

To address the gendered impact of COVID-19, applying a ‘Women, Peace and Security’ lens is essential. It provides valuable guidance on the fundamental need for women’s rights and women’s leadership to be at the centre of recovery efforts. The proposed National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security drafted by the State Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pre-school and Primary Education, School Infrastructure and Education Services, with technical support from UN Women in Sri Lanka aims to promote women’s leadership in peace building and recovery, both in the public and private spheres.

Up to date, the Government of Sri Lanka has made significant progress by implementing and drafting key policies essential for accelerating progress towards gender equality in the country, which includes the National Policy for Women (2016), Policy Framework and National Plan of Action to Address Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Sri Lanka (2016 – 2020).

Implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in Sri Lanka will strengthen these existing policies and ensure women’s rights are taken into consideration in crisis situations such as the ongoing pandemic.

Women, Peace and Security to advance women’s economic empowerment

The National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security proposes key recommendations to advance women’s empowerment in the country and highlights the need to:

  1. Amend personal and territorial laws that are discriminatory towards women. For instance, discriminatory laws on divorce and inheritance, and limitations on property rights continue to hinder women’s access to land and property, which is directly linked to their economic empowerment and agency.
  2. Introduce regulations on micro-finance and micro-credit companies that have led to an increase in issues of indebtedness, suicide and an inability to establish sustainable livelihoods.
  3. Develop standard operating procedures to expedite court processes in a gender responsive manner using a survivor centered approach and introduce laws against online harassment.
  4. Introduce social protection schemes for vulnerable women including women with disabilities elderly women and women affected by crises.
  5. Promote women’s political participation and leadership with recommendations to provide 25% of nominations for women at each party level.

The ‘Women, Peace and Security’ Agenda provides a comprehensive framework for gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women, particularly in conflict and crisis situations. With only a decade left to achieve the 2030 Agenda, it is our collective responsibility to ensure women’s rights in our recovery efforts. Implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security will not only contribute to advancing gender equality, and building a safer society as articulated in the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor, it is also an opportunity for Sri Lanka to recover better and build an equal and inclusive future for all.

*This Opinion Editorial is co-authored by Ms.K.M.S.D. Jayasekara, Secretary, State Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pre-school and Primary Education, School Infrastructure and Education Services; and Mr. Mohammad NACIRI, Regional Director, UN Women for Asia and the Pacific.

Originally published by The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) in the section: Comment on 21 March 2021. Also available online for subscription members only.