Aha Moment

From Research Question to Literature Interview

In my last blog post, I discussed the process of arriving at my research question: Given the criticism that it has promoted the use of essentializing language in peace agreements, how has UNSCR 1325 impacted women’s political participation in post-conflict states?

This question came to me in mid-Fall last year. At this point, I had read a lot (or at least it seemed like it—it was more than I had ever read for a college assignment!). I mostly focused on literature pertaining to UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security and related topics, such as ambiguities in peace agreements1 and how women impacted by conflict are framed by transnational advocacy groups.2 Luckily, the next assignment was an annotated bibliography, which helped me to organize the articles I had read and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the most useful articles I encountered was “Peace Agreements or Pieces of Paper?” by Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke (2010). This article assesses the language pertaining to gender-based and women’s issues present in peace agreements from both before and after the passage of UNSCR 1325.3 Altogether, this piece was useful because it was so comprehensive: It included both a qualitative and quantitative assessment of these agreements. Based on both types of analysis, the authors conclude that UNSCR 1325 had not substantially impacted the language surrounding gendered issues in peace accords. References to women had only risen by 11% (from 16% to 27%) after the passage of UNSCR 1325, a fact that the authors use to indicate that there is still “a long way to go before peace agreements systematically include references to women.”4

I found myself constantly referring back to this article because of the wealth of knowledge it provided (I think I nearly memorized it by the end of the semester). It was one of the few quantitative analyses I had come across in the body of knowledge on the impact of UNSCR 1325. However, while I found this article to be immensely helpful, I did notice some phrasing and generalizations in it that troubled me. For example, while the authors delineate between the pre- and post-1325 eras in their quantitative analysis, they lump all peace agreements together in their qualitative analysis. This methodology, while giving a detailed picture of the content of peace agreements’ references to women, did not help me better understand the qualitative differences between pre- and post-UNSCR 1325 peace agreements.

Fortunately, I found other scholars that were able to fill in this gap. Ellerby (2013) and Perkovich (2015) use content analysis to evaluate peace agreements’ references to women and gender, to determine that the quality of these references improved since the passage of UNSCR 1325 in 2000. According to Ellerby, peace agreements passed between 2005 and 2009 take a more balanced approach towards gender by supplementing provisions for protection for female victims with calls for gender balance in post-conflict politics.5 Further, Perkovich notes that between 2009 and 2014, a greater proportion of peace agreement provisions related to women’s and gender issues that displayed “precise,”6 actionable language, such as gender quotas and statements of intent to act on relevant provisions. Still, she also concedes that even in the two best examples of gender-inclusive peace agreements from between 2009 and 2014,7 problematic essentializing language remains.

These three articles gave me great insight into the impact of UNSCR 1325 on peace agreements. Even so, I had trouble finding articles that evaluated peace agreements with the same level of systematic rigor. For example, in “Translating UNSCR 1325 from the global to the nation: protection, representation and participation in the National Action Plans of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda,” Annika Bjôrkdahl and Johanna Selimovic (2015) use “discursive analysis” to evaluate the two countries’ National Action Plans (NAPs) on gender parity in their security and political sectors. The two authors conclude that while they appear to encourage greater participation in these spheres, the NAPs of both countries “to a large degree perpetuate the status quo.”8  I certainly found this article helpful to my understanding of the impact of UNSCR 1325, as it brought my attention to the superficiality of some countries’ commitments to gender equality in peace-building. However, when reading the article, I noticed that the authors do not clearly explain their methodology. Without this clarification, I found it difficult to discern if confirmation bias swayed the authors’ findings. Were the authors choosing quotes and examples from the NAPs that supported their preconceived notions about the effects of UNSCR 1325?

This concern continued to play out as I finished my annotated bibliography and eventually, my literature review. UNSCR 1325 has the potential to meaningfully transform peace processes so that affected women and girls can influence their post-conflict environment. Consequently, its language and impact deserves to be systematically analyzed so as to objectively determine its weaknesses and strengths.
Despite its shortcomings, UNSCR 1325 has positively impacted peace-building worldwide. While interning in DC this summer, I got to witness this impact at a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee markup of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2016 (H.R. 5332). This bipartisan bill, authored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-AL), calls for the “meaningful participation in mediation and negotiations processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict” of women, and it mirrors much of the language found in the 18 recommendations of UNSCR 1325.
Given my concerns about the gap in the body of knowledge on UNSCR 1325 and my belief that women and girls affected by conflict can still benefit from its provisions, I think the next step in my research may be an article critique. My research stalled this past semester, but I plan to reanimate it this fall by breaking down my work into reasonable chunks, setting hard deadlines, and communicating more effectively with Professor Holmes. I’m excited to see where it goes!


1Thomas M. Franck, Fairness in International Law and Institutions. (Oxford Scholarship Online: Published in print, 1995, Published online 2012). doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198267850.003.0002; Daniel. Pehar, “Use of ambiguities in peace agreements,” in Language and Diplomacy, ed. J. Kurbalija & H. Slavik (Malta: Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies).

2R. “Charli” Carpenter, R. C. (2005) “Women, children, and other vulnerable groups”: gender, strategic frames and the protection of civilians as a transnational issue. International Studies Quarterly, 49(2), 295-334.

3Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, “Peace agreements or pieces of paper? The impact of UNSC Resolution 1325 on peace processes and their agreements,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 59(4), 941-980. doi:10.1017/S002058931000062X

4Id., 968.

5Kara Ellerby, “(En)gendered security? The complexities of women’s inclusion in peace processes,” International Interactions 30, (2013): 435-460. doi:10.1080/03050629.2013.805130

6Lori Perkovich, “Empowering women or hollow words? Gender references in peace agreements,” Journal of Political Inquiry at New York University Spring 2015 (2015): 111-123.

7UN Peacemaker, The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (from the Philippines), (January 2014),; UN Peacemaker, Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (JEM), (February 2013).; UN Peacemaker, Sudan Ceasefire Agreement.

8Annika Bjôrkdahl and Johanna Selimovic, “Translating UNSCR 1325 from the global to the nation: protection, representation and participation in the National Action Plans of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda,” Conflict, Security & Development, 15, no. 4 (2015): 311-335. doi: 10.1080/14678802.2015.1071973, 312.