United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is currently taking up the issue of women’s inclusion very strongly. Already, he has told the Security Council, ‘’we can no longer exclude half of humanity from international peace and security matters’’, emphasizing the need to fully address the challenges and gaps that continue to prevent women from having an equal say.
In October 2019, it was boldly declared then that The Women Peace and Security agenda must continue to be “one of the top priorities of the UN”, Guterres, told the Security Council in an open debate on how best to accelerate change. He spoke of “the sad fact” that the commitment “reflected around this table is not translating into real change around the world”, lamenting, “it is not coming fast enough or far enough”.
“Change is coming at a pace that is too slow for the women and girls whose lives depend on it, and for the effectiveness of our efforts to maintain international peace and security”, the UN chief said, informing the Council that nearly two decades since Resolution 1325 acknowledged the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls, “women still face exclusion from peace and political processes”.
“A pitifully small 0.2 per cent of bilateral aid to fragile and conflict-affected situations goes to women’s organizations”, bemoaned the UN chief, noting the rise of attacks against women human rights defenders, humanitarians and peacebuilders and the use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war.
A growing number of armed groups use gender inequality as a strategic objective, with “misogyny part of their core ideology”, according to Guterres. “And, of course, we know that women and girls continue to pay the consequences of conflict in general”.
Turning his attention to northeast Syria, he pointed to thousands of women and children fleeing the latest violence, and vowed not to give up, calling it “an absolute priority” for him.
Guterres elaborated on UN actions to include women in processes, such as the UN-established Women’s Technical Advisory Group in Yemen, to ensure their perspectives.
UN departments are implementing a new, stronger policy on women, peace and security, he noted, while special political missions and envoys have been instructed to report regularly on their efforts to promote women’s “direct participation” throughout all stages of peace processes.
Moreover, peacekeeping operations are working to end sexual exploitation and abuse and increase women’s participation.
“Incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse have been reduced by half, and we are finally moving the needle on the percentage of women in the military and the police component of our operations”, flagged the UN chief.
Noting that he was pursuing “emergency measures to achieve gender balance”, Guterres pointed out that he has appointment many women as heads and deputy heads of missions and reminded the Chamber that – endorsed by more than 150 countries – “women, peace and security is one of the eight priority pillars of our Action for Peacekeeping”.
As such, he has requested peacekeeping and special political missions to improve their monitoring and reporting on threats and violence against activists, and for this to be built into early warning signs of escalating conflict or instability.
Guterres closed his statement by recognizing both the progress made and how much more remains to be done. “When we fall short, women and girls and all members of society pay the consequences”, he said, noting the “enormous” cost of not acting on behalf of women’s rights.
UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, presented the Secretary-General’s latest WPS report in the Council, noting the “stark contrast” between offers of support and reality.
“We still live in a world that tolerates and excuses women’s continued exclusion from peace and political process and institutions”, she stated, pointing out that after conflict, men dominate large-scale reconstruction while economic recovery for women is overwhelmingly limited to small-scale activities like micro-enterprises.
“Feminist organization’s repeated calls for disarmament, arms control and shifting military spending to social investment go unanswered”, censured Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
In remarking that several recent peace talks had largely excluded or sidelined women, she stated: “We can do better than this”.
“We need your political will to demand women’s direct and meaningful participation in peace talks”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed, observing that fewer than eight per cent of agreements reached, contained gender-related provisions –down from 39 per cent in 2015.
She cited a recent analysis on Colombia’s 2016 peace accord that showed around half of the 130 gender-related provisions in the agreement have not been initiated.
A new resolution
Before the meeting adjourned, the Council adopted resolution 2493, which, among other things, requested further information on the progress and setbacks in the WPS agenda as well as recommendations to address new and emerging challenges.
It called for the appointment of gender and/or women protection advisers to facilitate women’s “full and effective participation and protection” in election preparation processes, disarmament, judicial reforms and wider post-conflict reconstruction processes.
The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to develop “context-specific approaches” for women’s “full, equal and meaningful participation” in all UN-supported peace talks to ensure their inclusive involvement.
Now, Guterres has told a meeting, covering landmark resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security: “Today, women’s leadership is a cause. Tomorrow, it must be the norm.”
Having just visited the photo exhibition, In their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace – a collection of inspiring stories of women around the world seen through the lenses of women photographers – he told ambassadors that the exhibit brings to “vivid life” their dedication to “the most important and consequential cause of all, peace”.
“From the safety of this chamber, we discuss and debate pathways of peace for countries around the world”, said the UN chief. “But the women portrayed in the exhibition are on the front lines of the fight for peace”.
He called them peacebuilders, changemakers and human rights leaders, and described their work mediating and negotiating with armed groups; implementing peace agreements; pushing for peaceful transitions; and fighting for women’s rights and social cohesion throughout their communities.
Yet, he pointed out, “women remain on the periphery of formal peace processes, and they’re largely excluded from rooms where decisions are made”.
Citing rising rates of violence and misogyny; the extreme under-representation of women in decision-making positions; and a myriad of challenges faced by those in conflict, the top UN official observed that the power imbalance between men and women remains “the most stubborn and persistent of all inequalities”.
“In every humanitarian emergency, the clock on women’s rights has not stopped. It’s moving backwards”, he said regretfully.
In Ethiopia, women have been victims of sexual violence; in Yemen, excluded from political processes by the warring parties; in Afghanistan, undergoing a rapid reversal of the rights they had achieved in recent decades; and in Mali, after two coups in nine months, “the space for women’s rights is not just shrinking, but closing”, Guterres said.
The UN chief stressed: “We need to fight back, and turn the clock forward for every woman and girl” – the commitment outlined in Our Common Agenda and Call to Action on Human Rights.
“Increasing women’s representation and leadership across every aspect of the UN’s peace activities is critical to improving the delivery of our mandate and better representing the communities we serve”, he said.
But Council’s support is needed for partnerships, protection and participation.
Women leaders and their networks must be supported to meaningfully engage in peace and political processes, he explained. Secondly, women human rights defenders and activists must be protected as they carry out their essential work.
And finally, women’s “full, equal and meaningful participation” must be supported in peace talks, peacebuilding, and political systems as countries transition to peace, he said.
“We need full gender parity”, underscored the UN chief. “We know it can be done”.
Advancing women’s rights
Women should not have to accept reversals of their rights in countries in conflict, or anywhere else. Guterres said that the UN will double down on “truly inclusive peacemaking” and put women’s participation and rights “at the centre of everything we do – everywhere we do it”.
The best way to build peace is through inclusion, and to honour the commitment and bravery of women peacemakers we must “open doors to their meaningful participation”.
“Let’s turn the clock forward on women’s rights and give half of humanity the opportunity to build the peace we all seek”, the Secretary-General said.
To create a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls, UN Women Executive Director, Sima Bahous, highlighted the need for governments and the Security Council “to step up” to address the way we confront peace and security issues.
For too long violence has targeted females and their rights, and women continue to be marginalized and excluded “in those very places where they can drive change”, she told the Council.
“Surely the time has come to say enough”, she said.
While acknowledging a “glimmer of light” resulting from the passage of the original resolution, Ms. Bahous said that while not enough, it must be used in the fight for women’s equality.
Noting that vast military spending has been “in bitter contrast” to limited investments in other areas, she advocated for curbing military spending and expressed hope that delegates “share my sense of urgency” on the issue, which impacts other priorities, including women’s rights.
The UN Women chief noted that increased participation, combined with curbing the sale of arms in post-conflict settings, significantly reduces the risk of backsliding.
She reminded ambassadors that while “equal nations are more peaceful nations”, equality requires higher levels of support for healthcare and related services.
Moreover, Ms. Bahous regretted that women’s organizations are poorly funded, noting that without the necessary financial resources, they cannot effectively carry out their work.
Turning to Afghanistan, she shone a light on the women who had collaborated with the UN and whose lives are now in danger, advocating for doors to be opened wider, to women asylum seekers.
Subsequently, former Afghan women politicians took to the Security Council stakeout to ask the international community to pressure the Taliban “to put their words in action” and fulfil their promises made in 2019 in Qatar including supporting girls’ education and women’s rights.
“The reason we are here today is to meet with different Member States and ask them to regard women and human rights in Afghanistan as a matter of national security of their own countries because it’s not just a political or social issue but it’s a matter of security”, said Fawzia Koofi, former Peace Negotiator and first woman Deputy Speaker of Afghan Parliament.
Former Afghan Parliamentarian and Chairperson of the House Standing Committee for Human Rights, Civil Society and Women Affairs, Naheed Fareed, questioned whether the world wanted to “register in history” their recognition of “a de facto structure that is in place in Afghanistan”, to represent Afghan women, their dignity and desires. “From my point of view, they don’t”, she told reporters.