We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. This groundbreaking resolution was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, the highest decision-making body on international peace and security, in 2000. It recognizes the specific needs of women and girls in crisis situations and the key role women can play for peace in their countries.

The resolution is based on the simple conclusion that peace is not possible without the involvement of both women and men, girls and boys. We all know that civilians are facing devastating consequences of conflicts, and that women and girls often constitute targets for systematic violence with the aim to destroy communities and create chaos. Despite this fact, women and girls continue to be left out of processes aimed at building peace and stability after conflict. In Mali, women are completely absent in the political decision-making committee overseeing the peace agreement, and are represented by less than three percent in the mechanisms established by the agreement.

The crisis in Mali has many roots. Discrimination, widespread poverty, climate change and lack of state presence are a few. Insecurity, initially concentrated in the northern regions, has spread to the center of the country, where the main threats come from the fusion of several extremist groups responsible for attacks against the population and recurrent intercommunity clashes. Faced with multiple vulnerabilities, young Malians are increasingly resorting to violent extremism.

Across religions and regions, extremist groups share the common goal to limit women’s rights – rights to education, to public life and to decision-making over their own bodies.  Tactics may vary but the subordination of women is inarguably at the forefront of the extremists’ agendas. That is why girls’ education, and consequently women’s possibility to gain influence, is so provocative. As the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai puts it: “Extremists have shown that what frightens them most is a girl with a book”.

The rights to education, participation in public life and decision-making over your own body are fundamental human rights. Respecting these rights not only for men, but also for women, has proven to be a powerful force for economic growth, social and political stability and sustainable peace. Evidence shows that societies where women and men have equal opportunities in life are more peaceful, and less likely to be affected by violent extremism.

In Mali, the rates of gender inequality are among the highest in the world. Inequalities between women and men can be found in all sectors, whether in education, health, political life, access to resources (financial and natural) or in economic empowerment. As pointed out in this recent study by PRIO, this is also reflected in local peace building mechanisms.

UN member states have the primary responsibility to ensure that global commitments on women, peace and security are translated into action. The recently adopted third national action plan on women, peace and security is part of the Malian government’s efforts to meet its obligations. The plan takes into account current national priorities, as well as lessons learned from the former plans and best practices from other countries. It includes issues such as the impact of radicalization and violent extremism on women and girls, the situation of displaced women and girls, the role of men in advancing gender equality and women’s resilience to climate change. The plan gives hope to women and girls in Mali that they will be recognized in peace and reconciliation processes at all levels. That global commitments will become local action.

The national action plan was developed through an inclusive process with clear outcomes, results-based indicators and actions. The implementation of the plan is overseen by an inter-ministerial committee, coordinated by a technical team and complemented by a flexible operational plan and budget. The Malian government, civil society, international partners and the UN system all have important roles to play for its realization.

Empowered women and girls increase the likelihood for reconciliation and growth. They have the potential to prevent radicalization of youth and cycles of violence. In the words of UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the author of the Global Study on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 Radhika Coomaraswamy: “The international community must recognize, as the extremists do, that empowered women are the foundation of resilient and stable communities — communities that can stand firm against radicalization.” 

So, what is our response to the crisis in Mali? Are we supporting governance, human rights and development – including women’s empowerment and gender equality? Are women’s and girls’ rights, often the first ones to be attacked, prioritized in our response?