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A nation must think before it acts.
Most discussions on Baltic Sea regional security focus on NATO, Russia, or pipelines, while forgetting social factors within the countries that make them less secure. In fact, research suggests that gender equality is actually a better indicator of a peaceful society than democracy, religion, or GDP, which means including women in all aspects of peace and security efforts is essential. While many countries in the region have worked on this issue for years, in July 2020 Latvia’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) for 2020-2025 was approved. This made Latvia the last country in the region (with the exception of Russia) and the 85th country in the world to implement United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 and the WPS agenda on the national level, bringing the percentage of UN members with NAPs to 45%. The press release for the event noted, “there has never been a more relevant time to discuss the WPS agenda than during global pandemic,” but many advocates wondered why Latvia’s NAP took so long to develop. This article looks at the timing of this policy, the innovations in the Latvian NAP, and ways to improve the existing plan.
Adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, Resolution 1325 is binding. It calls on all UN member states to include gender perspectives and women’s participation in peace and security efforts. The first step in implementing Resolution 1325 is the country-level adoption of NAPs. Denmark unveiled the first NAP in 2005, Estonia adopted its first NAP in 2010 and is working on its third program, and Lithuania adopted its NAP in 2011. Though Latvia committed to developing its own plan in 2016, it took 20 years from the initial UN resolution to implement this policy on the national level.
On the 15th anniversary of the UN adoption of Resolution 1325, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia to the UN Jānis Mažeiks noted, “Latvia has incorporated the principles of the resolution 1325 (2000) in the regulatory provisions of its national armed forces, as well as in its pre-deployment training programmes … Latvia will continue to develop a national policy framework in order to address emerging challenges to achieving gender equality, and to strengthen the legal framework in order to eliminate violence against women and girls.” But despite this statement, the adoption of the NAP was on the government’s agenda for five years before it was implemented in 2020, suggesting it was not a high priority. Informal talks on the NAP with civil society organizations began only in 2018. By mid-2019, the work was formalized and non-governmental organizations were officially involved in the formulation of this policy.
The Latvian NAP was adopted with an open call for feedback from the public and civil society in mid-2020. According to the NAP itself, “The implementation of the National Action Plan was an essential precondition for Latvia’s candidacy in the UN Security Council elections in 2025.” This also suggests why it was adopted after a long period of inaction. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the implementation; they also established a working group for the development of the NAP with bureaucrats from the ministries of defense, interior, education and science, welfare, and health, with consultations from non-governmental organizations, civil society, and academia. The plan creates a gender adviser position in the Latvian defense and internal affairs ministries to develop guidelines and proposals with regard to gender mainstreaming in military operations and missions, crisis and conflict situations, and education on gender equality and gender-based violence.
The NAP’s main objective is “to raise public awareness and knowledge of gender equality and the elimination of gender-based violence, especially among the younger generation,” where it is important to promote early understanding of these issues. Latvia’s plan has been evaluated by one outside monitoring agency the WPS National Action Plans: Content Analysis and Data Visualization Project at the University of Sydney. Their evaluation noted a significant emphasis on sexual violence and prevention in Latvia’s NAP, while work could be done to improve cooperation with civil society and level of budget specification.
A new inter-ministerial working group headed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be established to evaluate the National Action Plan and convened when necessary. But this working group approach, without specified membership and no structured meetings (annually or semi-annually), means that the evaluation mechanisms for the NAP are opaque from the outset. An inter-ministerial working group suggests that civil society organizations might not be included in these meetings, which could also be problematic. The Latvian plan has reporting benchmarks and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, however, some of the events and actions are vague. For example, the action item on the reflection of gender issues and elimination of gender-based violence in schools lists the result as raising public awareness of the importance of the WPS topic, gender equality, and the elimination of gender-based violence — but it is unclear how awareness will be raised or how schools will reflect on gender issues. The word “gender” has already been controversial in Latvian society, and there is no clear plan on how the National Center for Education will teach this topic.
Latvia designated 10 ambassadors for the NAP from different backgrounds in government, civil society, foreign service, and the military to raise awareness on Women, Peace, Security and gender equality topics. This is an innovative idea, but with no real outreach plan laid out for these ambassadors, their expertise and potential to raise awareness could be underutilized.
The NAP is designed to be implemented within the state budget with resources allocated to responsible institutions. However, there are no financial allocations specified in the policy because the state budget is decided on a yearly basis. This is normal for Latvian legislation, but in the past, gender-based programs have been the first to be cut when there are budget shortfalls. The vague language could cause a problem with budget resources, a common issue with Latvian policy implementation. Though many policy documents in general are ambiguous, for this piece of legislation to work, it must have more concrete implementation mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, given the lack of gender awareness in Latvian society.
Within the plan, there are discussions of humanitarian assistance, climate change, and gender-based violence, but there is no mention of disarmament, men and boys, LGBTQI individuals, or refugees. However, the plan’s focus on youth and education has been lauded by outside experts.
The WPS agenda is slowly making inroads in Latvia’s international policy discussions — but hurdles remain. For example, the WPS agenda was included in the Rīga Conference on international security in 2020, but it was a side event outside of the main conference program, and the discussion at the event focused more on NATO itself than it did on Latvia’s efforts with the WPS agenda. This again suggests a lack of priority for gender issues in security discussions in Latvia.
UN Resolution 1325 posits that if women are to play an equal part in security and maintaining peace, they must be represented politically at all levels of decision-making. Thus, parity in government — not just the military, diplomatic corps, and security apparatuses — is an integral step toward achieving security and peace. Women’s advancement is a vital step towards building peace and reducing political violence: “Countries where women are empowered are vastly more secure, whether the issue is food security, countering violent extremism or resolving disputes with other nations peacefully.”
Women are the majority of the population in Latvia and any discussion on peace and security must include women. With this NAP, Latvia has stated its support for addressing emerging challenges to achieving gender equality and strengthening the legal framework in order to eliminate violence against women and girls. A next step forward in this work would be to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which has languished on government agendas since 2016. Latvia’s approach to women, peace, and security should combat the underlying institutions that cause insecurity for women including gender-based violence and provide opportunities for women to have a say when major security and defence policy decisions are made.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.