UN reaffirms importance of women's empowerment for global peace, security

The Security Council held an open debate on women, peace and security, with a focus on the theme, “Displaced women and girls: leaders and survivors.” UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

28 October 2014 – As the world is swept by unparalleled levels of displacement, festering conflicts, and a convergence of crises, the international community must fully endorse the role of women's empowerment and gender equality in ensuring global peace, security and development, the Security Council and top United Nations officials declared today.

In a unanimously adopted Presidential Statement this morning ahead of a day-long debate on “women, peace and security,” the Security Council reaffirmed the need to dismantle the “persistent barriers” facing gender equality, calling on Member States to embrace a “dedicated commitment to women's empowerment, participation, and human rights” and ensure their full and equal participation in peace and security issues.

Held annually, the Council's open debate provides an opportunity for the wider UN membership to reflect on the progress made, and accelerate action on implementation of the Security Council resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction.

In a message to the 15-member body delivered by Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked the Council for its “consistent focus” on women and peace and security issues, noting that such debate has enabled the international community “to move beyond viewing women as only victims of conflict to seeing them as agents of peace and progress.”

However, he expressed concern that “unprecedented levels of displacement” and the “immense human and financial cost of conflict” is testing global commitments to addressing the needs of women and girls around the world while also hindering their participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding initiatives.

“The confluence of crises we face, rather than distracting from the imperative of gender equality, should drive us to do even more to live up to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and global norms,” said Mr. Ban in his message.

“Squandering the potential dividends of gender equality for peace and development has never been more costly,” he added.

The Secretary-General urged Member States to “stand against abuses”, and voiced outrage at targeted attacks and human rights violations committed against women and girls, urging immediate action to end impunity in such cases and calling for “greater investments in measures to address this problem.”

Among these actions, he continued, was Security Council resolution 1325 which set out “a bold agenda for achieving gender equality as a prerequisite for peaceful and inclusive societies.”

“Led by UN Women, the United Nations is striving to realize this vision,” his message stated.

Following her delivery of the Secretary-General's message, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, who also presented the UN chief's report on women and peace and security, addressed the Council on her own behalf and warned that the shifting trend in conflict – from Iraq, Nigeria and Syria to Somalia and Mali – is seeing a heightening of targeted violence against women, girls and their communities as extremists took control of territory.

“During and after conflict, more women die during childbirth, and more girls are forcibly married. Fewer women work and participate in the economy and [fewer] girls go to school. Of primary school age children that are out of school, half live in conflict areas. Only 35 per cent of girls are enrolled in secondary education in these settings,” she explained, adding that “this puts us all in danger.”

In highlighting the improvements made in the area of gender empowerment, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka cited the Secretary-General's findings, noting that over 80 countries had committed to the women, peace and security agenda; pointing out that the percentage of peace agreements committing to advancing the security and status of women and girls had more than doubled since 2011; and indicating the “unprecedented” six women ambassadors sitting on the Security Council as evidence of “remarkable” gains.

But, she cautioned, much still remained to be done – not least because 󈭑 per cent of military peacekeepers are still men.”

“There is now a broad understanding of the importance of women's economic empowerment in post-conflict settings. But peacebuilding and recovery funding still largely ignores women's economic role, and under-invests in their livelihoods,” Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka continued.

“And empowered women and girls are the best hope for sustainable development following conflict. They are the best drivers of growth, the best hope for reconciliation, and the best buffer against radicalization of youth and the repetition of cycles of violence.”

Turning to the dire conditions afflicting internally displaced women and refugees, the Executive Director urged UN Member States to “dramatically improve” their situation in the coming months through a review of policies and strategies and reminded the delegates that the international community would not overcome the world's “extraordinary challenges” without putting gender equality “at the front and centre of our efforts to maintain peace and security.”

For his part, Edmund Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations, told the Council in his briefing that the “most effective and appropriate” ways of preventing violence against internally displaced women was “to intensify protection mechanisms, while at the same time increasing support for women's participation in political processes and in governance.”

On that note, he detailed the efforts made by UN peacekeeping missions in expanding the role of women in peace and security placements, such as the efforts made by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in emphasizing consultation with women on issues related to political participation in the Central African Republic.

At the same time, he noted, advocacy by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had resulted in an increase in representation and election of women to leadership and governance roles while the UN Stabilisation Mission In Haiti (MINUSTAH) had increased its strong uniformed presence in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps and high crime areas where women and girls are most at risk to sexual violence.

Mr. Mulet emphasized that “the best way to protect and support women IDPs is to help women help themselves by giving them a voice in decision-making and socio-economic resources to empower them.”

“It is critical for the international community to sustain all efforts to address and remove critical obstacles that impede women's full participation in peace and security,” he said. “By doing so we will make sure that women are leading actors and champions of peace.”

This sentiment was shared by Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, who also told Council members that ensuring access to justice and accountability mechanisms was “key when addressing internal displacement with a gender lens.”

He warned that internally displaced women often face “double discrimination” based on being both an IDP and a woman, and that most times internally displaced women find themselves caught in situations where institutional capacities have been overwhelmed and extant patterns of discrimination towards women are exacerbated. As a result, he suggested, women and girls must be brought into the fold when it comes to decision-making and development.

“Meaningful participation of IDP women and girls in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies, programmes and activities that affect their lives at all stages of displacement is key in the response to internal displacement,” he concluded.

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