National Action Plans: Rhetoric or Progress?



This paper briefly assesses the state of the development and implementation of National Action Plans (NAPs), with regard to the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace and security, which was passed in 2000. This Resolution predominantly seeks to address the impact of armed conflict on women in all its various forms. This paper thus discusses the efforts made by member states towards ensuring equal participation of women in politics, institutions, and organisations responsible for peacebuilding, security, and gender equality in Africa. The challenges facing women in their struggle to gain access to participating in political decision-making and peace processes are also examined herein.

The devastating impact of war and conflict has been witnessed and experienced across the world, particularly in our post-cold war era. The impact of these wars and conflicts were felt mainly by women, who are usually presented as victims. The UNSCR 1325 therefore grew out of the concerns about the peace and security priorities and concerns of women in conflict and post-conflict zones. Of key importance is the UNSCR’s recognition of the agency and self-determination of women in conflict situations and their ability to take up leadership roles in conflict resolution, post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding processes.

The UNSCR therefore calls on Member States to develop processes and lead in the implementation of strategies to confront this interplay between women, peace, and security. To that end, most countries have successfully mainstreamed the key provisions of UNSCR 1325 in their national planning frameworks, in an attempt to address the plight of women in conflict and post-conflict situations. Furthermore, African governments have been successful in pushing for the agenda of the UNSCR 1325. This is shown by high levels of participation and representation of women in national assemblies, local government and in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes.


The performance of each member state in the development of their National Action Plans on the 1325 Resolution and the translation of such into practice understandably varies from one State to another. So let us first map the regional and continental responses to the UNSCR 1325.

Pivotally, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proven to be the best performer in the continent, with 13 member states having mainstreamed the 1325 principles into their national legal frameworks. Countries in the Great Lakes Region; Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda have also developed and adopted 1325 National Action Plans for 1325. Of note, in the Northern areas of Africa, low coverage was observed. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has managed to develop its own Regional Gender Policy Implementation Plan which caters for peacebuilding and conflict resolution. The member states of SADC have used this Regional Policy Implementation Plan to develop their NAPs.

Meanwhile, the majority of the African Union (AU) member states have passed numerous legislative policies and action plans which seek to prevent Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), one of the pillars of the UNSCR 1325. In addition, guidelines for survivors of SGBV service providers have been put in place. To date, 85 percent of the AU member states have developed national constitutions which promote gender equality.


The Constitution of Uganda provides for a 34.93 percent quota in parliament for the representation of women. In Rwanda, within policy making processes and institutions, 30 percent of roles must be allocated to women. Rwanda has also seen an increase in the number of women taking part in peace operations and comprehensive services for survivors of SGBV have been put in place, for example the one stop centres.

Senegal has also seen an increase in the numbers of women participating in the national assembly and local government. Between, 2009 and 2015, the number of women participating in local government increased from 15.9 percent to 47.2 percent. Furthermore, women in Senegal have mobilised in response to the UNSCR 1325 and are increasingly engaged within peacebuilding exercises. Senegal has also finalised the NAP for SGBV prevention. In 2013, the government of Senegal issued a Directive calling forth all ministries to mainstream gender components into their programmes and policies.

In addition, Burundi provides for 36.4 percent women participation in National Assembly and Women’s Parliamentary Representation and leadership. The country has seen an increase in the number of women in peacekeeping deployments. Policies and laws aimed at addressing violence against women have been adopted.

Moving southwards, the region has witnessed many member states setting up legislative provisions to promote the participation of women in political processes- with Namibia in particular producing remarkable results. For example, it has established a gender unit within the Ministry of Defense to lead the implementation of 1325 in the Security sector and peacekeeping forces. Also, reports indicate that Namibia has the highest figure in the region of women in peacekeeping deployments in the military and police forces in the African Union and United Nations peace support operations.


Nevertheless, not all national laws have achieved the expected 30 percent global threshold. For example, Kenya currently stands at 26.5 percent, South Sudan 25 percent and Ethiopia 28 percent. Notably, 18 years after the Resolution came into effect, Botswana still has 4 women in cabinet compared with 53 men, Zambia has a 6.2 percent representation of women in political processes and Swaziland 6 percent.

Ballington, J (2004) attributes this low performance to the region’s voluntary quota system. South Africa stands out as the exception, having obtained representation levels as high as 41 percent of women in parliament. South Africa has also ensured positive levels of participation of women in peacekeeping missions, despite not having developed its NAP on 1325. Nevertheless, issues which marginalise women are for the most part addressed in the South African Constitution and other pieces of legislation.


Although progress has been made by African states in ensuring gender equality and developing gender-sensitive policies in accordance with the UNSCR 1325 requirements, a continuous outcry for action and delivery on commitments remains ongoing. What is available on paper often stands in contradiction to what is happening on the ground – a clear indication of the need for greater efforts to promote the equal participation of men and women in politics.

This slow progress has been blamed on a lack of political willingness and commitment by the African governments to empower and advance the rights of women. Also, in countries that have developed NAPs, violence against women has continued in both conflict and post-conflict situations. Notably, in South Sudan, women still cannot access the Commission of Inquiry. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women and girls continue to be forced into sexual slavery, where they are engaged as ‘war wives’. In Nigeria, young girls continue to be abused as instruments of civil war by the Boko Haram rebel group.

Furthermore, continuing discriminatory attitudes towards women more generally across the continent has hindered any significant transformation. Across many states in Africa, the role of women in society is often confined to the sphere of care-giving. In my mind, African women are often perceived to be ‘outsiders’, with little power or influence over decision-making and no capacity to contribute or lead peacebuilding processes.

This has deprived Africa of an opportunity to allow women, who themselves have faced and continue to face, various forms of discrimination, to identify and address their concerns and priorities. Aside from an often lacking political willingness to commit fully to the 1325 agenda, failure to implement or monitor the NAPs implementation on 1325 could also be attributed to inadequate funding and resources to carry out the necessary tasks.


To reiterate, whilst there has been commendable progress in some regions regarding the development of the National Action Plans on 1325, the glaringly uneven performance amongst and within the Regional Economic Communities in Africa (RECs) cannot be ignored. As indicated earlier, even in countries which have developed NAPs on 1325, the implementation often remains mere rhetoric.

Lastly, it is evident that the development and implementation of 1325 NAPs rests on several factors. For example, in both conflict and post-conflict countries we have witnessed better performances than in countries with more stable situations. Perhaps those countries, especially in the SADC region, where conflict is not a great concern are instead pursuing other priorities rather than translating the UNSCR 1325 provisions into domestic progress. This low prioritisation in some states clearly evidences that the status of women’s rights across Africa is far from uniform, and is heavily influenced by divergent national interests. Therefore, the development and implementation of policy measures cannot be expected to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Moving forward, it certainly seems as though the African Union needs to continue to support the development of NAPs on 1325, and advocate for a greater focus on the implementation and monitoring of progress. This would require funding the implementation and monitoring processes in order to translate the NAPs into practice. Even though this may require the engagement of external donors and philanthropic partnerships, ensuring there is sufficient funding to follow-up on the progress of NAPs is a necessary step to ensure that rhetoric transforms into progress evenly across the continent.

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Photo: “Open Day on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women” by “UNSOM Somalia” Licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0. Accessed 8 July 2017.

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