The 2023-2027 UK NAP was developed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and for the first time, includes input from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Northern Ireland Office. The NAP was developed in collaboration with civil society organizations, academics and parliamentarians. It outlines five strategic objectives that aim to cut across the four pillars of the WPS agenda (prevention, protection, participation and relief and recovery) (p.10). These include: decision-making; gender-based violence; humanitarian and crisis response; security and justice; and transnational threats. It also includes twelve focus countries, three more than the previous NAP (p.35). The NAP outlines a monitoring and evaluation framework that consists of strategic outcomes and draft indicators (p. 11). It does not include an allocated budget, but indicates that government departments fund work on WPS from their core budgets. Within this, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) aims to work towards 15% of CSSF fundings being spent on WPS programming (p.36), and £12.5million in new funding being allocated to Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI) Programming (p.19).
The UK’s fifth NAP is preceded by four others, adopted in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018, respectively. Compared to the former iterations, the most recent NAP has adopted a broader approach to transnational threats. In the 2018 NAP, a large focus was preventing and countering violent extremism, however the most recent one expands on this to include climate change, cyber threats, and the proliferation of weapons, specifically Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) (p.29). Despite the commitment to considering gender perspectives across SALW policy, mentions of wider disarmament are missing in this NAP, particularly in reference to the consistent transfer and sale of arms from the UK to the Middle East, and more recently, Ukraine.
Additionally, the NAP attempts to respond to a critique from civil society about the externalization of the WPS agenda, and discusses domestic strategies in more depth compared to former NAPs (p.8). However, it does not develop the operationalisation of a domestic WPS agenda, and the roles of the devolved governments and civil service of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, are not clear. While Northern Ireland is explicitly mentioned in the NAP – likely due to its recent history with violent conflict – Scotland and Wales are not cited. The four nations of the United Kingdom also have uneven capacities. England, Scotland and Wales, for example, have Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategies, whereas Northern Ireland does not. Saying that, the WPS agenda in Wales and Scotland is not particularly institutionalised, and in Northern Ireland, the Assembly is not currently sitting, meaning that nothing can be adopted into law, nor can any political progress be made regarding WPS. These differences, combined with the fact that those responsible for implementing WPS (the MoD and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) are London-based, give the impression that the NAP is England-centric, which raises concerns about the prospect of domestic coherence around the plan.
With regards to Northern Ireland, the NAP outlines how the UK seeks to champion and highlight expertise from women peacebuilders in Northern Ireland and continue to support the Women Mediators Across the Commonwealth (WMC) network (p.8, p.15). For context, the most recent history of armed conflict in the UK is the conflict in Northern Ireland, known as “The Troubles”, which occurred between the 1960s and 1990s. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought an end to it, with women playing a key role throughout the peace process, especially with the participation of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition in Track I negotiations. The agreement included a provision of securing women’s rights to full and equal political participation, with a focus on social inclusion, community development and the advancement of women in public life. The contribution of women and women’s organizations to peacebuilding has always been and remains significant, so the endorsement of women peacebuilders in the country is a welcome inclusion in the NAP. Nonetheless, the focus on Northern Ireland without similar attention to issues in Scotland and Wales risks falsely asserting the boundaries of WPS as a “conflict-centered” agenda rather than one that realizes gender equality in everyday life.
The UK is a contributor to overseas military operations, including in Iraq and Sudan. As of 2022, the UK was among the top ten countries in the world for military spending as a share of GDP, as well as being among the top 10 arms exporters. The UK is also a major contributor to humanitarian aid, including being a contributing donor to the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, a global partnership that works to empower women in conflict zones and humanitarian crises. The UK is also a partner of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies, a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to mitigate and provide accountability for gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies. In 2021, the UK was UN Women’s twelfth largest other resources and regular resources contributor, totalling USD $15.1million.
At the multilateral level, the UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.