Gendered deception of UNSCR 1325: A look from the context of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Author: Sevinj Samadzade


Past three years, discourse surrounding the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has often propagated the notion that the conflict is on the brink of resolution, particularly given the significant shifts favouring Azerbaijan following the 2020 war and the recent dissolution of Nagorno-Karabakh as a political entity. While prospects for a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia seem theoretically possible, the unresolved disagreements raise concerns about the potential resurgence of hostilities if a comprehensive agreement is not achieved (Khachatryan, 2024). Pertinent questions about the signing of a peace agreement, the issues it will address, and its capacity to establish a lasting peace are currently at the forefront.

Despite the dramatic changes since the 2020 war and onwards with introduction of new negotiation formats, including direct dialogue, a persistent issue remains—the negotiation processes continue to be deeply androcentric (Samadzade, 2022). This intentional sidelining of women's voices and broader public engagement characterises the negotiations. The exclusion of women from political discourse is just one facet of a larger problem—the negotiation format and intention revolve around the economic and political interests of the ruling elite and political powers, perpetuating patriarchal and capitalist power structures that exploit the conflict for their gain. This dynamic engenders never-ending rivalries and confrontation, relegating the public to mere observers in high-stakes political talks.

Moreover, to reproduce their enduring political power through conflicts and wars, militarising masculinities comes in hand for the states. Militarised masculinities refer to the construction and reinforcement of traits associated with traditional masculinity within military contexts, wherein notions of strength, aggression, and dominance are valorised and perpetuated (Eichler, 2014). This construct is utilised by state and military leaders to justify the use of force and recruit individuals into military service by appealing to their masculine identity. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia, as heavily militarised states, continue to wield the power of militarised masculinity not only as a source of hostility and war but also as a means of assertiveness in the negotiation processes. Therefore, public discourse of what constitutes peace repeats nothing more than the militarised state narratives, where war equals peace.

To alter this discourse and address the challenges to signing a peace agreement and building sustainable peace underscores the imperative of feminist intervention in transforming the ongoing conflict. The feminist perspectives, with their emphasis on dismantling androcentric systems and recognizing the interconnectedness of personal and international spheres, provide a critical lens to address the root causes of the conflict and work towards genuine and sustainable peace. But one question remains: What would change if women would be actively involved in the current peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

To answer this question, the widely celebrated UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace, and security comes under scrutiny. This resolution, often touted as groundbreaking, has been the centre of conversations when the topic of women in armed conflict appeared since its adoption in 2000 (Security Council, 2000). The resolution has 4 main pillars: Participation, Protection, Prevention, and Relief and Recovery. For the start of millennium this resolution became a big step towards addressing women’s agency in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Considering how strongly masculinized the UN as an institution has been, this liberal idea of incorporating women into the decision-making table gave an illusionary outlook to it. 

Nevertheless, today both idea of liberal peace and the liberal feminist idea of security seems at failure considering how it has been co-opted by the states and capitalist forces to advance their war systems under the façade of identity politics, such as in cases of Armenia, Afghanistan, Myanmar or Palestine (Reina, 2022; Olivius, Hedström, & Phyo, 2024; Nikoghosyan, 2017; Bannister , 2023) . To critically look at the failure of the liberal feminist peace, which highlights inclusion of women in the peacebuilding and conflict resolution, this paper goes back to the framework of UNSCR 1325 to analyse why and how this once “revolutionary” agenda is far from bringing any substantial change to women’s empowerment or security now. 

How to make wars safe or how to make safe wars?

By delving into the intricate framework of the resolution and examining at least two of its pillars, a coherent understanding of its discursive logic emerges. The initial pillar, Participation, serves as a pivotal starting point, aligning directly with the central inquiry posed in this essay, which seeks to unravel the transformative effects of women's involvement in both conflict and peace dynamics. Within the tenets of liberal feminism, the concept of participation is strategically positioned as a means for women to assert agency over matters directly concerning them. While the initial appeal of the "let us in" paradigm suggests promise, a deeper exploration unveils a myriad of questions: How does participation manifest? Who are the participants? And what are the underlying means and ends of such engagement?

Subsequently, the second pillar, Protection, seamlessly follows Participation, albeit with less ambiguity regarding its overarching intention. This pillar delineates the subject requiring protection, identifies victims, and outlines the methods of ensuring their protection. However, amidst these considerations, the resolution conspicuously sidesteps addressing the big elephant in the room—the pervasive influence of war and militarised masculinities (Cockburn, 2013). The reluctance to confront these critical elements within the discourse raises significant concerns about the resolution's efficiency and its potential to address the root causes of conflict and gender-based violence.

Right from the start, as UNSCR 1325 evolved from an idea to a tangible reality, it's essential to understand that not just its language, but its overall politics intentionally dilute the political essence of gender, peace, and security. Remarkably, even a significant portion of the working group responsible for championing the resolution's adoption did not align themselves as either "anti-war" or explicitly feminist (Cohn, 2008). By simplifying the complex notions into a basic, conventional understanding where women equate to gender, peace equates to war, and security is synonymous with military might, neither “participation” nor “protection” can be liberating. In this streamlined framework, the inclusion of women becomes a mere cog in the existing system, not a force challenging it. Here, women are relegated to the role of "protected" subjects, and wars are deemed a necessity. The resolution's apparent goal is to render war safe.

Yet, amid the prevailing arms trade and power struggles within the UN, it becomes almost inevitable that this resolution becomes a fertile ground for exploiting feminist ideals of peace. It ends up not challenging but rather endorsing and normalising militaristic practices, all the while muffling any anti-militarist dissent. Thus, Resolution not only fails to address the issue of war but also overlooks the aspect of militarised masculinities. The emphasis is solely on the need to "protect the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts" and to safeguard them from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse (Security Council, 2000).

The terms gender and women used interchangeably in the Women, Peace, and Security architecture result in a failure to account for individuals outside a heteronormative construction of who qualifies as women (Hagen, 2016). This oversight means that sexual and gender-based violence tracking and monitoring largely neglect individuals vulnerable due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The emerging fields of radical feminist security studies and queer theory in international relations provide frameworks that move beyond a narrow, binary understanding of gender. Feminist deconstruction of gender-biassed knowledge therefore helps us to understand social relations and in/securities by incorporating activities and experiences of women and LGBTQI+ population, challenging androcentric systems that dominate them.

The UN as a massive androcentric political structure coordinating much of the international relations and politics, has used the experiences and activities of women and LGBTQI+ population to legitimise dominating our understanding of security centralising around state-centric beliefs for a relatively long time. It is an institution where globally the decisions on war and peace-making is decided, by largely defining what is “threat” and who needs to be attacked or protected.

For a long period, feminist scholars have looked at the core of what constitutes "threat," "protection," and what creates this “structural dependency” and “subordination” (Tickner, 2011; Enloe, 2014; Peterson, 1992). These scholarly positions have helped to critique existing traditional, predominantly realist but also liberal International Relations scholarship, which sees the men’s, especially elite men's experience, as the reality. Despite facing many layers of insecurities, including humanitarian crisis, environmental degradation, gender injustices, essentialist conceptualizations dictate the political identity construction and understanding of the political community.

The modern nation-states centralise their ideas based on "national security," which is profoundly contradictory to the women’s reality and, in fact, complements women's insecurities. On the contrary, a feminist perspective not only questions the meaning of security but also who deserves it, mainly because security needs to be defined at the broader, multidimensional level and include all forms of structural violence, including the ones systematically organised by the gendered state.

Feminist Militarization

By now many scholars argue how ineffectual and co-opted (by NATO and states alike) the UN Security Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security has been over the past two decades (Wright, 2016; Nikoghosyan, 2017; Bannister , 2023). The co-optation particularly presents itself in a militarist form, where the idea of security of women is equalised to the state security and involvement of women in the security sector.

A critical examination by a scholar Anna Nikoghosyan, drawing from poststructuralist international relations feminist theory, sheds light on the co-optation of Resolution 1325. Using the example of Armenia, Nikoghosyan highlights two major ways in which the Resolution is militarised: the association of gender with "women in need of protection" justifies foreign militarist interventions, and the increase of women's inclusion in the security sector and armed forces in the name of women's "participation" in post-conflict reconstruction (Nikoghosyan, 2017). The specific target of increasing the number of women in military and police forces are main highlights of the National Action Plan of Armenia (NAP Armenia, 2019). Anna emphasises the importance of understanding war and militarism as discursive practices and challenges the conventional understanding of war and peace. She utilises Cynthia Enloe's concept of militarism as a step-by-step process through which individuals or things become controlled by the military and argues that the UNSCR 1325, initially appearing to challenge patriarchal configurations, becomes a hidden strategy for masculinized militarization (Nikoghosyan, 2017).

Unlike Armenia who adopted the National Action Plan based on Resolution 1325 in 2019, that serves to masculinise militarisation, Azerbaijan still has not adopted its National Action Plan. This reluctance stems from the political regime's refusal to acknowledge the role of women in armed conflict and politics. However, larger questions loom over the resolution's effectiveness and true impact, casting doubt on whether Azerbaijan's approach would differ significantly from Armenia's.

In 2019, the draft plan was developed by the civil society members who were active on implanting projects on the topic of women’s participation in peacebuilding. Although the draft NAP of Azerbaijan has more focus on educational and humanitarian issues, the topic of inclusion of women in the military and security sector including police forces is similarly stated under the pillar of “participation”: “Specific Activity Develop a recruitment strategy for relevant authorities to increase the number of women in the military and police system, especially in leadership positions; prepare a database of women candidates with relevant skills” (Draft NAP, Azerbaijan, 2019).

It is also worth mentioning that neither the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan, which is coordinating the NAP adaptation process, nor the “feminist” or “gender experts” involved are refraining from their nationalist or pro-war positions. This position became evident during the 2020 war, when the majority of this gender and conflict expert community not only avoided calling for peace, but largely supported the war efforts (Samadzade, 2022).

This raises the question of the purpose behind such "feminist" policies. UNSCR 1325, initially appearing to challenge patriarchy, becomes a camouflage strategy. The increased participation of women in the security and military sectors, while framed as empowering, in reality, not only exploit women's labour within existing militarist systems but also makes them to celebrate it under the name of “equal opportunities”. This approach not only fails to liberate women but also reinforces their dependence and powerlessness within a militarised framework.

While more women are involved in state militaries today, their oppression and exploitation are doubled rather than liberating them. In Israel, for example, women have equal rights to fight, leading to their engagement in compulsory military service. However, this engagement pushes women to replicate the image of male soldiers and fit into masculinist power structures. The state defines what is legitimate, refusing women's freedom not to want to be engaged in their war systems. In Israel, women who refuse to serve in the military due to ideological reasons can face imprisonment (BBC , 2021). Religious reactionaries reject women's participation in the military, while the secular state and society exert pressure on women to be part of the military system. This dual pressure from both reactionaries and the state fails to address women's liberation, instead alternating their exploitation between public and private spheres (Jacoby, 2010).

Therefore, militarisation of feminism through a legitimate global legal and humanitarian infrastructure such as UNSCR 1325 must be challenged by a radical feminist stance. Embracing this stance means rejecting the notion of conforming to oppressive structures, be they military or state security frameworks, and demanding a profound systemic transformation. This approach steadfastly refuses both the essentialist narrative that perpetuates victimisation, primarily portraying women and children, and the policies that applaud "equal opportunity domination"[1] in the face of ongoing militarization.

In the contemporary global landscape, both feminist pacifism and feminist militarism find themselves at odds amidst heightened conflicts. The recent militarisation of Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion has prompted re-evaluation amongst pacifists and feminists alike. However, as highlighted by Enloe, feminists have ample cause for scepticism even towards this justified and necessary militarisation (Enloe, 2023). Central to this scepticism is the recognition that militarisation fundamentally reinforces male power dynamics, particularly benefiting those men occupying the upper echelons of the masculinity hierarchy.

Radical feminism beckons us to discern the nuanced distinction between self-defence and militarisation. Rejecting militarisation as a tool that perpetuates patriarchal state dominance, radical feminism advocates for militant strategies of self-defence (Gago & Mason-Deese, 2020). It consistently interrogates the systemic militarisation that diverts resources away from vital aspects of women's lives, such as education, environmental preservation, and social welfare. 


If we go back to the question initially raised about what to expect from the inclusion of women in the current peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, we conclude that “participation” on its own is not enough. Through presenting “equal opportunity domination” as empowerment of women and feminist ideals is a strategic concealment from the actual benefits capitalist and state elite gain. On top of that justifying militarization under the banner of “protection of women” serves to strengthen militarised masculinities and systematically victimise women. Thus, UNSCR 1325 strengthening both of this discourse and policies is not only inefficient, but also inadequate. The failure of liberal feminist approaches and the limitations of resolutions like 1325 highlight the necessity of a radical, multidimensional understanding of security. The persistent gendered power imbalances in negotiation processes and the militarization of feminist agendas emphasise the need to reject this marionette show and recognize the interconnectedness of personal and international spheres, provide a critical and transformative lens to address the root causes of conflict and join forces for a sustainable peace. 


[1] Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser defines "equal opportunity domination" in their book "Feminism for 99%: A Manifesto” as a liberal idea that under the guise of feminism pushes people to appreciate that it is a woman, rather than a man, who enforces their exploitation, orchestrates military actions, or perpetuates the oppressive policies.


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