In partnership with the Institute for Inclusive Security, Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security co-hosted the inaugural National Action Plan Academy December 3-5 at Georgetown University to share best practices on developing, implementing and reviewing National Action Plans.

A National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security represents a country’s express commitment to realizing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), which seeks to increase women’s participation in peacebuilding and protect women from sexual violence. While the UN Security Council called upon member states to create NAPs in a 2004 presidential statement, only 48 Countries currently have NAPs, with Afghanistan being the most recent. There is still a long way to go—this number represents less than 25 percent of all UN member states, and the existence of a plan does not guarantee its implementation.

During the Academy, we had the privilege of speaking with Rui Matsukawa, Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to learn more about Japan’s forthcoming NAP.

Japan began developing its NAP in September 2013, and is hoping to publish the plan in early 2015. When asked about the inspiration for embarking on this journey, Ms. Matsukawa said it was greatly facilitated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s enthusiasm: “Prime Minister Abe’s government is really interested in women’s empowerment and gender equality—domestically and internationally. The Prime Minister’s leadership is the ‘why now’ piece.” She also noted the Prime Minister’s work on increasing women’s participation in the Japanese business world through womenomics, as well as Japan’s recent $3 billion contribution in Official Development Assistance for women’s empowerment initiatives.

In its NAP, Japan has focused on five themes contained within UN Security Council Resolution 1325: participation, protection, prevention, relief and recovery, and monitoring and evaluation. In summarizing the NAP’s focus, Ms. Matsukawa stated, “First, it’s about gender mainstreaming in peace and security; second, its about promotion of women’s rights issues more broadly.” The NAP’s provisions encompass prevention of and training on sexual and gender-based violence, assistance after natural disasters, peace education, victim assistance, participation of women in the community both politically and economically, and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees, and more. Furthermore, the action items in the NAP apply not only to improving women’s status internationally, but within Japan’s own population as well. “If we promote externally, we promote internally,” Ms. Matsukawa affirmed.

The effort to develop Japan’s NAP has been a truly collaborative affair. Several government agencies and civil society organizations have come together to create a holistic, multi-layered approach. The government departments involved include the Ministry of Foreign affairs, Ministry of Defense, National Police Department, Ministry of Justice, Department of the Interior’s Peace Keeping Operations Secretariat, and Natural Disaster Department, among others. Each ministry has a representative in the office that coordinates internally within their department, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs serves as the coordinator.

“Our NAP is very specific and special in terms of its process,” Ms. Matsukawa shared, “It is not only about working on these issues, but how we work on them. We are working with civil society, and creating accountability towards civil society, which is very important.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held ten consultations within the central government, and five regional consultations with more than 30 civil society organizations (CSOs) in various regions of the country. The CSOs first met together to form a consensus, and then negotiated with the government agencies to shape the NAP’s focus and the indicators against which progress would be measured. Ms. Matsukawa noted that the interaction between CSOs and the government will extend beyond the NAP’s publication: “We will face difficulties with the CSOs, together—we will review our NAP over time, and may change focus or indicators to respond to feedback—but in that phase too there [will be] partnership between civil societies and [government] agencies.”

The NAP Academy has helped Japan assess potential areas for improvement before it renders the final version of its NAP. One Japanese CSO representative shared her concern that Japanese Parliament has not yet been involved in the NAP process, which might mean lessened political will for the implementation of the plan. Another uncovered issue concerned the number of proposed indicators in Japan’s NAP. Maki Mitsuoka of Japan’s Gender Mainstreaming Division reflected on what she had heard from peer country delegations who already had NAPs in place: “We have too many indicators…we will have too much data to collect.” Ms. Matsukawa also expressed her concern, noting, “We want improvement, and we want to be practical. Time and resources spent on information gathering can take away from implementation efforts.” The Japanese delegation indicated that it planned to bring this newly gained knowledge back home and reassess.

Implementation is crucial—without tangible actions, a NAP is a collection of words on paper. “We want to make sure it’s not just a [NAP] launch, but an implementation,” said Jacqueline O’Neill of the Institute for Inclusive Security as she addressed the NAP Academy delegates. The same idea holds true for the overarching implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325—without countries identifying and executing clear action plans, the resolution will have nominal impact. When asked how to best support other countries in joining in this process, Ms. Matsukawa stated,

“The reason why womenomics is taken seriously in Japan is that it makes sense—it increases GDP. Similarly, including women in security efforts makes sense. If countries are educated on the benefits of adopting a NAP and inclusion of women in decision-making and peace and disaster management—that’s the motivation that will encourage them to act.”

Special thank you to Rui Matsukawa, Maki Mitsuoka, and Junichi Sumi for making this interview possible.