In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women and the UN Security Council

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Readers
  • Women in the UNSC
  • Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
  • Emergence of the WPS Agenda
  • Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict
  • Critical Reflections on the WPS Agenda at the UNSC
  • Postcolonial Critique, Human Rights, and Counter-Terror

International Law Women and the UN Security Council
Catherine O'Rourke
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0234


The UN Security Council has presented a complex and challenging site for women and feminists. It is the organ of the UN with the narrowest and most militaristic function. Further, it is the organ of the UN that is most exclusionary in its composition and decision-making, composed of only five permanent member states and ten non-permanent member states. There are three key axes along which we might consider the topic and scholarship on women and the UN Security Council: the first is women within the UN Security Council, including the involvement of women in negotiating its mandate and its ongoing decision-making and activities; the second is the impact of the Security Council on women, for example through its peacekeeping and sanctions activities; and the third is the Security Council’s thematic agenda on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), adopted in 2000 as part of the Council’s broader post–Cold War turn to “human security.” As this entry will make clear, there is a significant disparity between the volume of scholarship dedicated to each of these three axes. Scholarship addressed to women within the Security Council is scant. Scholarship on the impact of Security Council activities on women is more developed and has a longer trajectory since the early-mid 1990s. Scholarship addressed to the WPS agenda is voluminous and emerges from across multiple disciplines and draws on diverse theoretical and methodological approaches. WPS scholarship emerged soon after the adoption of the initial resolution and has continued to gather pace ever since. It is therefore appealing to collapse any discussion of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and women into the UNSC’s thematic agenda on Women, Peace and Security, but to do so would overlook both essential historical context that preceded the Council’s adoption of WPS in 2000, as well as the many ways in which women intersect and cross-cut with other attributes, powers, and activities of the UNSC. Consequently, while this entry does dedicate much discussion to scholarship of the WPS agenda, this scholarship is contextualized within broader international legal scholarship on women, feminism, and gender at the UN Security Council.

General Overviews and Readers

It is instructive of the broader scholarly landscape that, while there is no reader or dedicated volume on women and the UN Security Council, there are now a number of edited volumes and journal special issues addressed to the UN Security Council’s thematic agenda on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The publication of such volumes has accelerated considerably with the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in October 2000, for example, Basu, et al. 2020. Nevertheless, the first such volumes appeared considerably earlier, including Heathcote and Otto 2014, Ní Aoláin, et al. 2018, and Davies and True 2019. They are organized here chronologically:

  • Basu, Soumita, Paul Kirby, and Laura Shepherd, eds. New Directions in Women, Peace and Security. Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press, 2020.

    Timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, this volume is considerably shorter and more focused in its scope than the handbooks discussed in this section. This volume is an effective drawing together of exclusively critical and largely non-legal perspectives on WPS, which draws much of its evidence-base from the WPS agenda operations and activities in country-specific contexts. The volume is less interested in the specific dynamics and operations of the Security Council itself.

  • Davies, Sarah E., and Jacqui True, eds. Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    Demonstrating the prominence of WPS as a focus of study, in 2019 Oxford University Press published a dedicated Handbook of Women, Peace and Security, written by a cross-section of scholars and practitioners from the Global North and Global South. The Handbook provides an invaluable introduction, overview, and critical engagement with the WPS agenda. The Handbook is organized into Concepts of WPS, Pillars, Institutionalising WPS, Implementing WPS, and WPS Cross-cutting Other International Agendas.

  • Heathcote, Gina, and Dianne Otto, eds. Rethinking Peacekeeping, Gender Equality and Collective Security. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2014.

    Draws together critical feminist reflections on the militarism inherent to the Security Council and the tradeoffs inherent to any feminist engagement with the institution. Invaluable for more advanced readers and unique in addressing the theme from a primarily legal perspective.

  • Ní Aoláin, Fionnuala, Naomi Cahn, Dina Francesca Haynes, and Nahla Valji, eds. Oxford University Press Handbook on Gender and Conflict. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    The volume is addressed to broader issues of gender and conflict, though with a specific section dedicated to the WPS agenda. The section on the WPS agenda evidences an interesting evolution and broadening of legal and feminist concerns with the agenda, most notably in addressing also the Security Council’s counter-terror activities, as well as the potential for greater synergies with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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