Primer: WPS National Action Plans: Lessons Learned and Best Practices
Since the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) in 2000 (and nine subsequent resolutions), the well-known Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has become a global normative platform dedicated to gendered perspective in international peace and security efforts. National Action Plans (NAPs) are national-level strategy documents for implementing the WPS agenda by UN Member States. Monitored and studied by several experts worldwide, they are considered one of the most important tools in the achievement of global commitments toward WPS, though not the only one (e.g., regional action plans, local action plans).
Following the adoption of the first NAP by Denmark in 2005, today more than half of UN Member States (98) have adopted at least one NAP. In this time, the WPS agenda has remained ever-evolving. Likewise, our understanding of good practices in terms of NAPs development, implementation and evaluation continues to improve, too.
One clear finding of the 2015 Global Study on Resolution 1325 was that the implementation of the WPS Agenda has been slow and inconsistent across the world. Among the systematic challenges to progress, a lack of political will, capacities, and allocated resources (both human and material) are identified as persistent barriers.
This note briefly summarizes the emerging thinking on good practices, lessons and challenges in WPS NAPs.
Goals and objectives of NAPs
NAPs need to be ambitious, holistic, and include both measurable and non-measurable targets. They should contain concrete actions tied to clear objectives, a timeline, and associated costs. They should include achievable short and long-term goals, while also being focused and feasible.
Yet, determining actions to meet these objectives and goals has been a difficult challenge for many states, particularly when the dedicated budget is limited. One good practice is consulting and strengthening ties with partners from diverse backgrounds in state institutions and civil society to establish key priorities and needs within the scope of capacities and resources.
In the process, valuable networks may be established, and so the process itself may be as important as the document. A NAP should not be seen as a final outcome, but rather as a living document that is regularly revisited, revised, and updated. For this to occur, transparency and flexibility are key.
Baseline study and measurable indicators
Creating a plan provides an opportunity to take stock of actions already (or in the process of) being implemented by various institutions. Before developing a NAP, it is helpful to collect information on WPS issues and actions that government bodies and other entities are already taking. This practice avoids duplicating tasks, improves coherence, and creates cross-departmental awareness of information and knowledge. In addition, baseline information should be collected in order to measure the progress of implementation; for example, on the existing number of women in the police, armed forces and other entities. Contemporary research shows that there should be both qualitative and quantitative indicators. This practice does not only apply to “young” NAPs but is also useful for NAPs with several iterations (i.e., the baseline indicator being of the previous version, which facilitates the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the progress made between the different NAP versions).
Some analysts have argued that a ‘theory of change’ can support the design of effective NAPs. This tool can articulate how specific activities will contribute to the desired overall goals. For example, Canada’s CNAP2 included departmental plans and an overall plan, but with little explanation as to how the two sets of documents were linked.
Officials and activists working on WPS issues use various terms: gender mainstreaming, gender perspectives, human security, empowerment, feminist approaches, gender analysis, and so on. A strong NAP will provide clear direction and guidance to those tasked with its development, implementation and evaluation. This goes beyond providing a glossary of terms. Clarity on what these concepts mean concretely, how they fit together, what the analysis looks like in specific contexts, and the formulation of actions that flow from the analysis are all important.
“In its continued efforts to strengthen implementation of the Action Plan, the government will, in particular, seek to achieve a broader recognition of the impact of patriarchy, positive and harmful masculinities and the legacy of colonialism, and how these can be addressed through the Action Plan and a feminist approach.”
Cooperation with civil society partners in developing and implementing NAPs
The UNSCR 1325 has at its origins in decades of sustained transnational feminist activism, and civil society is thus at the heart of this program. Since the WPS agenda is a result of solid state and civil society cooperation, these civil society integration is essential for the development and implementation of NAPs as well. Plans created without a broad national consultation process or adopted solely due to external pressure(s) are unlikely to be effective. Establishing precise mechanisms for how this cooperation should be conducted has the potential to increase satisfaction for all parties involved. However, Peace Women notes that 28% of NAPs worldwide are still elaborated in a top-down manner, with civil society partners being either absent from the NAP design process, implementation, and M&E or without specific roles.
Clear lines of responsibility
The responsibility to execute or oversee a specific element of a NAP will most commonly lie within a government ministry. Information about who performs certain tasks within the ministry should ideally be made available for those who ask for it, to allow for a sustained communication flow between different actors. Research has shown that a “whole-of-government” approach is a good practice.
The inclusion of an external and internal focus
It is important to include both domestic (inward-facing) and international (outward-facing) elements that reinforce one another in NAPs. For most countries, this often involves capacity-building. Without a pool of experts at home, it is not possible to contribute competently abroad. Maintaining national capacity and competence on WPS domestically (e.g., gender advisers) will ensure that the goals of an NAP can be met.
Introducing both domestic and international elements to a NAP is also crucial for policy coherence (i.e., between different gender policy initiatives) and for legitimacy (i.e., applying at home what is promoted abroad). Policy coherence and legitimacy are essential, especially for Global North countries that are inclined to exclusively use their NAP as foreign policy tools. Including a domestic component breaks this tendency that perpetuates the notion that WPS NAPs are only relevant for conflict-affected countries in the Global South. In short, every country can benefit from a WPS NAP at home.
Developing, maintaining, and implementing a NAP requires numerous logistical activities: meetings must be coordinated; reports must be written; training of staff undertaken; survey of women’s special needs in vulnerable situations conducted, and so on. Steady financial resources are essential for the completion of these tasks. Therefore, well-defined costs and a sustainable budget must be allocated to every action and target laid down in a NAP. Peace Women’s M&E of NAPs shows that insufficient (or nonexistent) funding is a persisting impediment to WPS implementation worldwide, as only 36% of NAPs include an allocated budget. A lack of resources means that the implementation of the NAP is viewed as an “additional” task within pre-existing human and financial resources, thus seriously constraining implementation. To avoid the NAP being underfunded and sidelined, the different NAP actors must take into account financial consideration at every stage of the process.
Coordinating mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation
The goal of the M&E and reporting system is to strengthen institutional capacities to monitor the progress and efficiency of implementation. Reporting on the NAPs should be done periodically and made public. A challenge for the next generation of NAPs is the question of continuing to work on the initial unresolved priorities of earlier iterations, while at the same time bringing new issues and perspectives into NAPs. This is particularly challenging given the overall shortage of resources. This is why a whole-of-government approach and strong collaboration with diverse civil society partners and stakeholders are essential.
Another vital aspect for monitoring, reviewing and evaluating NAPs is the role and function of a coordination mechanism, such as a coordination body within the government, regular meetings, and robust M&E. The role of the overall coordinator is crucial to driving the work forward. As the WPS agenda is broad and continuously evolving, there is a need to disseminate and anchor knowledge about the agenda within different sections of state institutions and ensure cooperation across different bodies.
Most NAPs are organized around the traditional four WPS pillars: participation, prevention, protection, and relief & recovery. However, the latest OSCE report shows an increase in incorporating emergent topics in NAPs; like climate change, men and boys, migration, and preventing/countering violent extremism (P/CVE). Moreover, an emerging trend is the localization of NAPs through Local Action Plans. This practice can be achieved in multiple ways, but it generally allows the NAP’s objectives to be anchored in local realities (e.g., at the municipal or provincial levels).
The latest WPSN-C report shows that a notable trend across time is also the desire for policy coherence between the WPS agenda and other social justice and/or initiatives, such as feminist foreign policies or the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda. Queer, intersectional and decolonial perspectives are increasingly raised by WPS actors as vital to the overall goal(s) of the WPS agenda. Finally, the importance of considering the changing nature of security itself is emphasized, including the consideration of new security landscapes (e.g., digital security).
Originally developed in 2016, but still relevant today, Inclusive Security has developed criteria for what they call a ‘high impact NAP’:
Inclusive Design: Both government and civil society should be represented in the bodies responsible for designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the NAP. Not all design processes must look the same, though best practices support a clear division of roles and responsibilities and transparent decision-making.
Results-Based Design and M&E Plan: The plan should be designed with results in mind, and with a ‘log frame’ and timeframe linking outcomes to outputs and outputs to activities with indicators. The plan should also define roles, responsibilities, and specific timelines for collecting, analyzing, reporting and using the data.
Political Will: The NAP should be considered a national issue of peace and security – not just a ‘gender’ or ‘women’ issue. Commitment should be evident and mainstreamed at the highest levels of the government, but mid-level management should also be invested in the success of the plan. Where relevant, local and provincial leaders should be engaged as well.
Resources: The NAP should be budgeted AND resources allocated, disbursed and tracked. Transparency is critical throughout these elements.
From Best Practice to Standard Practice: A toolkit on the Localization of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security. Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, 2018
What makes for an effective WPS national action plan? Miki Jacevic, 2019.
20 Years of NAPs, Caitlin Hamilton, Nyibeny Naam, and Laura J. Shepherd, 2020.
Prepared by Bénédicte Santoire for WPS-Dialogue-FPS (April 2022). This note is based on a previous version written by Diana Sarosi for the CNAP2 Consultations in 2017.