Fact Sheet :     Gender and the UN Security Council

UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.

Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states. The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946.

As with the  UN as a whole, the Security Council was created following World War II to address the failings of another international organization, the League of Nations, in maintaining world peace. In its early decades, the body was largely paralysed by the Cold War division between the US and USSR and their allies, though it authorized interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in the Suez CrisisCyprus, and West New Guinea. With the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989), UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, and the Security Council authorized major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since the end of the Cold War (1989) much has changed for the United Nations Security Council.  Malone (2004)[1] argues that the Security Council’s decisions have, for good and ill, profoundly affected international relations and have eroded conceptions of state sovereignty, firmly held during the Cold War years, altering the way in which many of us see the relationship between state and citizen the world over.  This ‘new world order’ provides extreme views of what the UN Security Council is good at and bad at.  Following the crises in Iraq (1990-1991and 2002-2003) these views polarised many countries and challenged the drivers of decision making in the Post Cold War era.

Structure of the UN Security Council

Permanent and Non-Permanent Members

The Council is composed of 15 Members:

  • Five permanent membersChinaFranceRussian Federationthe United Kingdom,and the United States,  Permanent Members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly between its members.   Australia  has previously held the Presidency of the UN Security Council.  The Presidency comes to an end at the time the country finishes its rotational term on the Council.


Non-Permanent Members (2018)


Non- Permanent Members (alphabetical)


Non-Council Member States

A State which is a Member of the United Nations but not of the Security Council may participate, without a vote, in its discussions when the Council considers that that country’s interests are affected. Both Members and non-members of the United Nations, if they are parties to a dispute being considered by the Council, may be invited to take part, without a vote, in the Council’s discussions; the Council sets the conditions for participation by a non-member State.

More than 60 United Nations Member States have never been Members of the Security Council.

The following bodies report directly to the Security Council.

Subsidiary Bodies

  • 1540 Committee
  • Counter-Terrorism Committee
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
  • Military Staff Committee
  • Peacekeeping Operations and Missions
  • Sanctions Committees
  • Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees
  • UN Compensation Commission
  • Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
  • Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions

Advisory Subsidiary Body

  • United Nations Peacebuilding Commission

UN Security Council and Human Rights

While Human Rights were not entirely absent from the Council’s work, it was the end of the Cold War (1989) that created the first opportunity for a more systematic inclusion of human rights into the Security Council’s outlook.  A key moment for the Security Council’s acceptance of human rights as a legitimate factor in its work came with the passage in April, 1991 of Resolution 688 on Iraq.  It condemned “the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq… the consequences of which threaten international peace and security in the region” .  Resolution 688 is deemed to be groundbreaking for it represents the first instance in which the Council explicitly states that such repression leads to threats against international peace and security.   In January 1992 at the first even Security Council summit, human rights was discussed as an integral part of peace and security.  The statement adopted by the summit noted that human rights verification had become one of the tasks of UN Peacekeeping.[2]

In 1992 the Security Council for the first time decided to invite a special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Max van der Stoel, to address the body.  This was deemed to be extremely controversial and reservations are noted from India, China, Ecuador and Zimbabwe who argued that this was a deviation from the Charter and was not the place of the Security Council to  “discuss human rights situations per se or make recommendations on matters outside its competence”[3]  These words reflect a prevalent attitude in many governments towards the involvement of human rights in Security Council business today.

It was the conflict in the Balkans in 1992 where SC resolutions make frequent references to the humanitarian aspects of the conflict.  UNSCR 771 (August 13 1992) asks states and international humanitarian organisations to provide information on violations of humanitarian law and the Secretary General to make recommendations regarding specific measures to be taken.  In a special session of the UN Commission of Human Rights (CHR) it was decided to appoint a special rapporteur on human rights in the former Yugoslavia, and in an unusual move for CHR asked the Secretary General to make the rapporteurs reports available to the Security Council.

The Security Council and Human Rights Information

The reluctance on behalf of the Security Council to receive information on human rights abuses There was considerable unease about having UN special rapporteurs in formal debates and in March 1992 that month’s president of the Council, Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria, was contacted by a Croat priest who had just arrived from the Balkan conflict zone.  Ambassador Arria wanted the priest to convey his eyewitness account to other members of the Council and being without a formal mechanism, Arria simply invited his fellow ambassadors to meet with the priest in the delegates lounge to hear first hand information.  The 10 ambassadors present were able to appreciate the critical importance of first hand information.  This meeting was the first of what later came known as “Arria Formula” briefings.  This has since become an important mechanism for the Council.

Gender and the UN Security Council

In 2000, eight years after the first Arria Forumula meeting, Ambassador Chowdhury of Bangladesh after being approached by a non-governmental working group on Women and International Peace and Security approached the Council and encouraged them to hold an Arria Forumla thematic debate on the role of women in international peace and security.  This debate highlighted the different impacts of conflict on women to men and led to the establishment of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).  UNSCR 1325 is the first of a suite of UNSC Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security that not only recognise the different impacts of conflict on women and men, but also recognise women’s role in building and maintaining peace and security internationally.

UNSCR 1325 recognises the roles that women can take in building peace and security and recognises that women are under-represented in formal conflict prevention processes, reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts.  UNSCR 1325 calls for states to develop National Action Plans to:

  • integrate a gender perspective into policies and practices around peace and security;
  • embed the principles of UNSCR 1325 into state mechanisms of peace, justice and security;
  • support civil society organisations to promote equality and increase wwomen’s participation in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, conflict resolution and relief and recovery efforts;
  • address impunity for sexual and gender based violence and crimes

Women’s groups from around the world have used UNSCR 1325 to strengthen the roles and position of women across all areas of the security agenda.  In the Asia Pacific Region despite UNSCR 1325 being in existence since 2000, there are only 3 National Action Plans on Women Peace and Security;   The Philippines was first, followed by Nepal and Australia (2012).

Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012 – 2018)

The Australian Government recognises that women and girls have vastly different experiences to men and boys when it comes to peace and security.  UNSCR 1325, alongside other resolutions under the UN Women Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda address the impact of conflict on women and girls, and highlights the critical role women can play in preventing, managing and resolving conflict.

‘           The Australian NAP on WPS recognises that the benefits of advancing gender equality are far reaching and operate on a number of levels.  Gender equality is essential for ensuring that women and girls’ needs are met and human rights are protected, in times of both peace and conflict.  It enables men to break away from often limiting and rigid gender roles and expectations of masculinity, which can be amplified in conflict-affected settings.  It helps communities to raise healthier, better educated children and enhances countries’ economic prosperity.  Notably, equality between women and men in also a pre-requisite for sustainable peace, security and development’[4]

The Australian NAP is a broad policy addressing Women Peace and Security, not only under the actions of UNSCR 1325, but all other Security Council Resolutions.

Other WPS Security Council Resolutions

The eight resolutions make up the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. They guide work to promote gender equality and strengthen women’s participation, protection and rights across the conflict cycle, from conflict prevention through post-conflict reconstruction


UNSCR 1820 UNSCR 1820  (2008) was the first Security Council Resolution to recognise the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence to dominate, disperse and humiliate a population as a weapon of war.
UNSCR 1888 UNSCR 1888 (2009) strengthens tools for the implementation of UNSCR 1820, including through high-level leadership, judicial response and expertise, improved reporting mechanisms and better service provision.
UNSCR 1889 UNSCR 1889 (2009) calls for an expansion of women’s leadership in post-conflict peace processes including national policy development and negotiation of formal peace agreements.
UNSCR 1960 UNSCR 1960 (2010) calls for an end to sexual violence in armed conflict, particularly against women and girls, and provides measures aimed at ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, including through sanctions and reporting measures.
UNSCR 2106 UNSCR 2106 (2013) calls for a need to address the issues of sexual violence in armed conflict and post conflict settings.
UNSCR 2122 UNSCR 2122 (2013) is a high water mark in Women, Peace and Security commitments, and provides the most extensive elaboration of methods to combat obstacles to women’s participation to date. Its passing has swung the pendulum back from the recent narrower focus on sexual violence in conflict (e.g., SCR 1820, 1888, 1960, and 2106) to a more holistic approach to peace and security (e.g., SCR 1325 and 1889) reinforces women’s role in peacebuilding.
UNSCR 2242 UNSCR 2242 (2015) Encourages assessment of strategies and resources in regard to the implementation of the Women Peace and Security Agenda.  It highlights the importance of collaboration with civil society, calls for increased funding for gender-responsive training, analysis and programmes, urges gender as a cross-cutting issue within the CVE/CT Agendas and recognises the importance of integrating WPS across all country situations.


As of September 2018, WILPF analysis shows that 76 UN Member States (39% of all UN Member States) have UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans (NAPs). Mozambique is the last country to launch its 2018-2022 NAP on 11 June 2018.

Key NGO Participation at UN Security Council

The area of Women Peace and Security is one of the most active and well-coordinated of all civil society thematic areas.  Local groups link with national and regional groups to bring their voice through to the international level.  The scope of the WPS agenda from grassroots strengthening and representation to ICC procedures gathers a multitude of actors from across civil society across the world.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and it’s international offices in New York and Geneva are extremely active through their Peacewomen resources, training and high level advocacy.

The Women Peace and Security Network in New York follows debates in the Security Council and coordinates information flow globally to inform advocacy and lobby security council members and states.

The Global Network for Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) monitors and publishes states actions through 1325 NAPs and works with the WPS network in New York to build a body of knowledge and advocate for and with women peacebuilders.

There are many, many more NGO’s and civil society members who participate in this area.

Useful links:

[1] Malone, D (2004) ‘The UN Security Council – from the Cold War to the 21st Century’  Lynne Reinner Publishers, Inc pp 1 p1 ISBN 1-58826-240-5

[2] S/PV.3046 and S/23500, both January 31, 1992

[3] S/PV.3105, August 11 1992

[4] Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018 p7 pp4