The missing ingredient for success – Global Goal 16 and women, peace and security

January 20, 2016

IWDA Partners from Myanmar. Photo: Angela Wylie
IWDA Partners from Myanmar. Photo: Angela Wylie

Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions in the Global Goals for Sustainable Development recognises that we cannot tackle poverty and achieve sustainable development without addressing conflict and insecurity. This goal was not inevitable; there was considerable debate about whether a peace goal should be included. Like many of the global goals, the commitment in Goal 16 is ambitious and visionary. However, it is missing a critical ingredient for success: reference to women, peace and security.

Goal 16 contains twelve targets and none of these targets explicitly consider women. This is particularly worrying given the focus of this goal on significantly reducing all forms of violence, ensuring inclusive and representative decision-making, and effective national institutions. We know that these targets cannot be achieved without gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The UN Security Council, through United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and 7 subsequent resolutions, has already affirmed that the full and effective involvement of women in participation, protection and prevention, and mainstreaming gender perspectives in peace operations, is central to sustainable peace and security. Evidence also continues to demonstrate that considering the interests, needs and priorities of women and enabling their equal contribution makes efforts towards peace and security more inclusive and more effective. For example, peace negotiations influenced by women are much more likely to end in agreement and to last – the chances of the agreement lasting 15 years goes up by as much as 35 per cent.[i] We also know that women’s experiences of conflict and post-conflict situations frequently differ from men. During conflict, women and children typically comprise the largest section of civilians affected while men usually account for the largest number of combatants. Up to 80 percent of internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide are women and children.[ii]

This evidence and existing international commitments should have been reflected in the targets under Goal 16. The fact that they weren’t does not change the existing obligations created by Security Council resolutions, or make the women, peace and security agenda less critical. What it does do is increase the importance for champions of the women, peace and security agenda, such as Australia, to integrate these obligations as they implement the global goals.  This approach simply make sense, given the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment for peace, justice and inclusive governance. It also utilises Australia’s existing thinking and work in this area, including the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012-2018), to help achieve this.

In two months’ time, the Commission on the Status of Women will be meeting in New York to consider the priority theme of women’s empowerment and its link to the global goals. It is critical that Goal 16 forms part of these discussions and that links are clearly made between Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment and Goal 16.  Australia can lead the way on this agenda by ensuring that women, peace and security is firmly at the centre of efforts to implement Goal 16. You can read our policy brief to find out how.

Governments cannot realise their commitments alone. Engaging with and resourcing women’s rights organisations and national and international civil society organisations is key to the success of the women, peace and security agenda. You, too, can play your part by talking about the importance of women’s equal and full involvement to achieve peace, justice and strong institutions. Women need the peace, security and justice promised by Goal 16 but, just as importantly, Goal 16 will not succeed without a focus on the interests, needs and priorities of women and by enabling the equal contribution of women everywhere.

[i] UN Women (2015), Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing Peace: A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, available at: