Serving women in Iraq and Syria: has UNSCR 1325 made a difference?

Rosie Ireland is a student on this year’s LLM in Human Rights at The University of Edinburgh. This is Rosie’s second report as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador – from the 2015 Montague Burton Lecture, which was delivered by Frances Guy on 2 November. Frances Guy is the Head of the Middle East region at Christian Aid. Rosie’s report outlines the key points made during the lecture, which was entitled ‘Serving women in Iraq and Syria: has UNSCR 1325 made a difference?’.

It is nearly the fifteenth anniversary of the UNSCR 1325; the first ever resolution aimed to enhance the role of women in peace building. Frances Guy analysed the effectiveness of the resolution in the context of Iraq and Syria in relation to four key areas: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery.


Since the resolution, women have become more involved in politics. In Iraq, currently there are two women with full cabinet status. This involvement has allowed women to block some of the most sexist proposals put forward. Women’s status and involvement, however, has fluctuated over the years, and it cannot be said that women have a prominent political role equal to men. Whilst gender-based quotas ensure formal representation, they are subject to corruption and do not necessarily lead to female politicians’ substantive contribution. In peace negotiations, both in Iraq and Syria, women’s involvement remains very limited. In Syria, this is particularly acute. This leads to failures under the second area – prevention.


Gender-based sexual violence in conflict has gained widespread international attention and concern. The reality on the ground in places like Iraq, however, suggests that in fact there has been little progress.  Sexual enslavement and violence remains an integral part of conflicts.  One hopeful route to future prevention is deterrence through incorporating these crimes in international criminal justice. The ICTY’s classification of rape as a form of torture and sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity is one example of a step in this direction.

Protection, relief and recovery

The final two areas can both be considered in the context of refugee camps. In both Syria and Iraq, women’s needs are often ignored in the management of refugee camps. For example, it is common to build showers at the edge of camps, which puts women at risk of sexual harassment or violence. UN Women examined the hygiene kits distributed to women in refugee camps and found they did not include any sanitary pads; a basic necessity for women. The relief given to refugees is generally not gender-sensitive. An obvious solution would be to ensure women are involved in camp management committees, for example, through the imposition of quotas.

Despite fifteen years having passed since UNSCR 1325, and the multiple resolutions that have followed it, it is clear that there is still a long way to go to reach gender parity in peace building. Guy suggests that changes could potentially be made at a faster pace through setting firmer, clearer targets and the regular involvement of civil society in peace building. In addition, women need to be provided with the mentoring and support required to give them the skills that they need to be more confident spokeswomen. Finally, the UN needs to set an example and increase the involvement of women in peace keepings roles; currently just 4% of UN peace keepers are women. Ultimately, this requires challenging fundamental cultural conceptions of women; in both Iraq and Syria, women are stereotyped on the basis of their gender and viewed only as ‘caregivers.’ This is no easy task, but it must be remembered that some gains have been made since UNSCR 1325. Although progress is slow, steps are being made toward a future of gender equality in peace building.


Click here to find out more about the GJA Student Ambassador programme.

Click here to read Rosie’s first report, co-authored with Siobhan Cuming on International Law and Peace Negotiations.