Women Representatives

Using Local Action Plans as Pathways to Inclusive Peace and Security

Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) gather outside a middle school in Bihar, India to discuss community issues. (Paula Bronstein/ The Verbatim Agency/Getty Images)

United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 is typically used to examine and respond to conflict and peacemaking at the international and national levels. Scholars and practitioners rarely apply the agenda to address peace and security at local, municipal levels. Nonetheless, some scholars have investigated the agenda’s implementation at the more local level—including the agenda’s implementation via local governments’ action plans on women, peace, and security (WPS) and the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs). But these studies focus primarily on the ways that municipal governments and civil society leverage National Action Plans (NAPs) to advance WPS aims at the local level, rather than considering or imagining the potential of completely locally-rooted action plans.

I argue that WPS scholars and practitioners need to more robustly imagine and consider Local Action Plans (LAPs) as avenues to realizing peace and security for all. LAPs are plans to implement WPS that municipal, city or town, governments create to guide their policies. There are approximately 100 LAPs currently in existence, but they are designed as conduits to achieve NAP goals, rather than as solely locally-focused plans intended to achieve peace and security at the local level.

While this distinction may seem trivial, it is not. The majority of NAPs are either outward-facing, insofar as they center on foreign policy, or problematically sequestered to the realm of “women’s problems.” How can a national plan focused on foreign affairs guide LAPs and address municipal concerns? How can a NAP that sidelines the WPS agenda’s pillars guide meaningful change at the local, let alone the national level? And, more broadly, how can a LAP designed with a focus on national aims establish goals, policies, and procedures that are suited to the unique needs of the municipality?

LAPs could, and need to be, intentionally designed with municipal needs, rather than NAP goals, in mind. This is not to say that national plans should be abandoned, because they have the potential to effect tremendous change. But it is to suggest that LAPs can create a critical pathway to inclusive peace and security, and a pathway that could result in more impactful changes than national plans alone. LAPs could even be used to provide a new foundation for NAPs, to ensure that national-level policy goals are rooted in community needs. Ultimately, LAP implementation promises more inclusive, community-based efforts in line with the WPS agenda’s original spirit.

In examining LAPs, first I consider their benefits, imagining how they could be a new tool to realize the goals of resolution 1325, progressing peace and security for all. Second, I explore what a LAP’s creation process might look like without a national plan as a primary point of reference. Finally, I consider potential challenges to LAP creation and implementation, briefly outlining potential solutions to each.

Benefits of Local Action Plans 

LAPs have the potential to improve the WPS agenda’s implementation, which continues to face significant challenges. These challenges include hurdles to ensuring women have seats at the table and that their voices are heard, making sure women have enduring engagement in political processes, and increasing awareness of resolution 1325. LAPs can help to address all of these problems.

First, LAPs allow women to more directly inform the WPS agenda’s implementation. Because LAPs are organized at the local level and are motivated by local needs and concerns, it is easier to ensure women are meaningfully included in the process than it is at the national or international level. It is also easier to ensure that a multiplicity of women—transwomen, ciswomen, LGBTQIA+ women, etc.—are included in these processes. LAPs provide a critical avenue by which to ensure that all women’s voices help shape the WPS agenda’s implementation.

Second, LAPs offer women opportunities to build policymaking skills. Participating in LAP creation and implementation gives women valuable experiences in policymaking and institution formation insofar as monitoring, evaluation, and administration all fall under the purview of LAPs. These experiences can encourage women to be active in policymaking more broadly, giving them the skillset necessary to effectively engage in governance beyond the local plan.

Third, LAPs provide an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the WPS agenda. Effective creation and implementation of a local plan requires education about resolution 1325 at local levels. LAPs provide a novel way to spread the word about the WPS agenda, raising awareness of the positive effects of implementing WPS goals via grassroots means. Moreover, localizing the agenda could empower local governments and organizations to use it in hitherto unimagined ways and contexts.

LAPs also provide critical avenues by which to engage women in policymaking and address community-specific needs. They have the potential to ignite lasting, creative, and meaningful change at the community-level. Arguably, the ability of a local plan to respond directly to a community’s unique needs and engage women more broadly makes them more necessary and consequential than existing national plans. LAPs present pathways to novel policies and positive change.

Creating and Using LAPs

What would LAP creation look like and how can they be used? Just as the WPS agenda’s creation via resolution 1325’s passage was a concerted effort of NGOs, CSOs, and governments working together, LAPs could emerge from a similar process at a local level. Municipal government leaders—mayors, clerks, senior administrators, etc.—could convene local civil society groups to create a working group around WPS to assess the status of women within the municipality and design the local action plan.

The primary guides for thinking about the local plans would be UN documentation, as well as national plans (both from the municipality’s country, as well as other countries). Some individuals within the working group may serve as WPS leads, helping guide interpretation and application of these documents. The evaluation of the current status of women in the municipality, and applying the pillars in a way the local working group deems most appropriate for the local context, would directly inform the goals they establish and in turn the programs and policies designed to achieve them. Together, the evaluation, goals, and programmatic outputs would constitute the LAP.

Once the LAP is in place, the WPS working group would regularly meet to assess progress regarding the goals, recommendations, and programmatic changes. Ideally, the local government would fund regular monitoring and evaluation of these programs carried out by a separate group approved by the working group. The monitoring and evaluation findings would be regularly reported to the working group for consideration. The LAP would be revised at regular intervals, as agreed upon by the working group.

LAPs could be used as focal points for national plans as well. Countries could convene representatives from local working groups to identify overlapping problems and goals and determine how NAPs could best support local efforts. When convened, these would be important sites for local working groups to collaborate, network, and work together to address challenges to women’s peace and security.

Challenges to LAP Creation and Implementation

Perhaps the biggest challenge to LAP creation and implementation is resource allocation. Just as the implementation of the WPS agenda at the international and national levels has faced resource challenges, including funding and personnel shortages, even cash rich municipal governments will likely be reluctant to dedicate funds to support the initiative without compelling evidence for the benefits of LAPs, and/or social and political will to support LAP creation and implementation. Many municipal governments simply won’t have the funds to dedicate to significant LAP development—which may be especially true in municipalities located further away from centers of commerce. Given the general failure of the UN and member states to allocate adequate funds to support WPS implementation nationally and internationally, LAP organizers would need to explore philanthropic and community-based funders to support their efforts locally.

Yet another challenge is building the awareness necessary to motivate the creation of a local plan in the first place. Although the end-result of increased awareness from LAPs would benefit the WPS agenda, the initial process of awareness building would likely be difficult and costly. As noted in the introduction, most of the WPS agenda’s implementation has occurred nationally and internationally. Extant knowledge of WPS at local levels would most likely be found in conflict and post-conflict settings where the UN has been present. Consequently, the odds of municipal government leaders self-initiating the creation of LAPs outside of conventional conflict and post-conflict settings is slim. Further, most local leaders will require extensive background information to comprehend what the WPS agenda entails. To overcome this challenge, there would need to be broad educational efforts about WPS goals and the ways the agenda is relevant in local environments.

A third, albeit interconnected, challenge is the need to translate the WPS agenda to local contexts. Because the WPS agenda is currently written with extensive reference to armed conflict settings, the language of peace and security does not easily translate to settings that wouldn’t be conventionally considered conflict and post-conflict environments. The WPS agenda’s relevance to addressing sexual and gender-based violence broadly, as well as interconnected systems of violence, needs to be outlined and written to resonate with municipal governance leaders. This challenge would best be addressed through policy briefs about LAPs and increased research on local governments’ WPS efforts within and without conventional conflict settings.

Despite these challenges, Local Action Plans present an underutilized avenue to not only achieving the WPS agenda’s aims, but also overcoming significant challenges that have hindered resolution 1325’s implementation. The broad implementation of Local Action Plans could help the WPS agenda amplify women’s voices and return to its radical, grassroots origins.

Katelyn Jones is the Women, Peace, and Security Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Public Fellow for the American Council of Learned Societies.