Southeast Asia

ASEAN & UNSCR 1325: Taking the WPS Agenda Forward (Part-III)

21 Jun, 2019    ·   5593

Akanksha Khullar explores whether a Regional Action Plan might help overcome the challenges to achieving the goals of UNSCR 1325 in the ASEAN region.

Part 2 of this series on ASEAN and UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 argued why the organisation’s engagement with UNSCR 1325 remains rudimentary. In fact, any effort towards advancing the engagement is hampered by the absence of a regular and sustained institutional framework designed exclusively for the implementation of the Resolution.

This begs the question as to whether ASEAN should work towards developing a Regional Action Plan (RAP) to strengthen its commitment towards implementing UNSCR 1325 and to deepen collaboration among its members for promoting women’s political agency or whether it can successfully do so without a RAP.

Why a RAP?
Since 2004, states have been encouraged by the UN Secretary-General to develop both RAPs as well as National Action Plans (NAPs) for effective implementation of UNSCR 1325. But the Southeast Asian region is notably under-represented in this context. So far, Indonesia and the Philippines are the only ASEAN members who have adopted NAPs to expressly endorse their commitment towards UNSCR 1325.

While neither the adoption of a RAP or NAP is mandatory, such frameworks do assist in translating the specificities of UNSCR 1325 into the regional and local contexts. Action plans provide a mandate to outline priorities, project time-frames and budget allocations for the implementation. For instance, in 2010, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a RAP and today it comprises the largest concentration of UNSCR 1325 action plans in the region–with 13 out of 15 members having developed NAPs. Through these action plans, ECOWAS members have managed to implement a number of wide ranging initiatives across the pillars of UNSCR 1325 and enhanced women’s political participation in the region.

In ASEAN’s case, similarly, a RAP could make a positive contribution towards galvanising collective action and directing resources to translate the WPS agenda into tangible, measurable and effective actions. A majority of the ASEAN members are developing economies experiencing shortage of financial support to implement individual action plans or to strengthen institutional capacity for incorporating the principles of UNSCR 1325 into their national policies. For instance, the costs of managing the ongoing conflict in Myanmar has squeezed government funding for other activities, including NAP implementation, thereby obstructing its engagement with UNSCR 1325. The adoption of a RAP could serve as an effective strategy to overcome budgetary constraints by creating a common pool of resources and optimising financial assistance directed towards pursuing a collaborative regional compliance to UNSCR 1325.

Additionally, ASEAN’s existing institutional architecture, components of which even slightly cater to UNSCR 1325 is deficient of formal monitoring and evaluation procedures. A RAP could bridge this gap by serving as a mechanism to monitor as well as evaluate the achievement of WPS outcomes and facilitate greater accountability. In doing so, it could also standardise the dispersed data on women’s representation in political processes and in other decision-making positions within the region.

However, a RAP might not be an easy target to achieve for ASEAN, given its inherent structural constraints.

Feasibility of a RAP in ASEAN
In March 2016, ASEAN initiated a RAP on the elimination of violence against women and children, which demonstrates that it has the potential and a potentially translatable model for developing a RAP on UNSCR 1325. It has also enacted several organisational policies to address issues such as prevention of sexual violence, promotion of women’s economic empowerment and advancement of women’s rights. Evidently, ASEAN is already postured well to develop a RAP on UNSCR 1325.

Yet, RAPs can be quasi-legal instruments, which outline detailed policies and courses of action without being passed by the individual states as enforceable laws. This essentially means that RAPs can be non-binding in nature, thus providing room for political manoeuvring by individual member states in shaping their WPS agendas. A RAP, thus, could potentially reduce options for joint cooperative action on UNSCR 1325 rather than fostering it.

Moreover, the voluntary character of such quasi-legal instruments could lead to the circumvention and non-compliance of certain norms of UNSCR 1325 by member states, thus weakening the core essence of the Resolution. For instance, Brunei has demonstrated hesitance to structurally and systematically include women in political dimensions, contrary to the core components of UNSCR 1325.

The reluctance to initiate such a plan could be further fuelled by the fact that member states follow different systems of governance, have asymmetrical political cultures and are dealing with distinctive security and/or social concerns. As a result, sponsoring a RAP might not feature on their immediate agendas or fit into their list of priorities.

A hard law, such as a binding treaty on WPS, could compensate for the potentially soft law nature of RAPs. But, ASEAN may not be in a position to adopt a legally binding mechanism to pursue its engagement with UNSCR 1325 primarily due to the norms of consensus and unanimity that underpin its way of functioning. Individual member states would certainly prefer a voluntary, rather than mandatory, framework. Furthermore, ASEAN’s current regional engagements with UNSCR 1325 are not yet supported by targeted institutional efforts for bringing about progressive behavioural changes among its members as far as women’s political participation is concerned. For instance, even if political leaders are willing to encourage women’s political agency, they often might not be in a position to translate such inclinations into affirmative action due to concerns over losing their political bases in the societies where patriarchal impulses remain predominant.

Looking Ahead
In such a scenario, the adoption of a RAP as a soft law instrument might be one of the ways to strengthen ASEAN’s commitment towards UNSCR 1325 and certainly comes with a number of incentives as it could increase interaction with international and regional human rights mechanisms towards ensuring full consideration of women’s political participation for monitoring the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. A RAP may not be a silver bullet but could contribute towards fostering a conducive environment towards addressing the core issues.

Akanksha Khullar is a Researcher at the Centre for Internal and Regional Security at IPCS.