Panel  to launch the new publication: 
Gender Perspectives on Disarmament 
14 March 2001, United Nations

GENDER PERSPECTIVES ON DISARMAMENT

Statement by
Dr. Petra Schneebauer
Counsellor and Vice-Chairperson of the First Committee (55th UNGA)
Permanent Mission of Austria

 

Mr. Under-Secretary-General, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a very great honour and pleasure for me to address you tDDAy, especially so because though we work in the same building, but in different areas, we rarely meet each other. I think the improvement of this cooperation would be in the interest of us all. I therefore thank the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Ms. Angela King, and the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, for having launched this initiative.

You have just heard the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and Mr. Barber from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), both representatives of the United Nations. Allow me to present my ideas on the issue of “gender perspectives and disarmament” from the point of view of a UN member state´s representative.

I represent my country, Austria, in the First Committee which concentrates its work on Disarmament and International Security. I will basically tackle the issue of International Security whereas my distinguished colleague from Mexico, Angélica Arce de Jeannet, will emphasize on Disarmament.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset of my statement let me mention some bare figures: in the autumn session of the 55th UNGA only about A DOZEN countries were represented by women in the 1st Committee. If you compare this with the wide membership of 190 UN member states I think you will agree that these figures speak for themselves. Therefore, I would urge you as influential representatives of your countries to pressure your governments to send more women to the First Committee. This is my first appeal to you and I will come back to it.

Allow me now to elaborate a little bit further on the issue of International Security:

The question of women in conflict was one of the 12 action areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, and the follow-up special session of the General Assembly held in June 2000.

My first comment is that when we deal with conflict the role of women seems to be basically passive. Women are generally mentioned only as victims (as are children). To the extent that it is civilians who suffer most from conflicts, women represent a high percentage of the victims, women are extremely exposed to and affected by conflict. It is therefore important that peacekeeping forces be sensitized and trained to bear in mind in their missions women’s specific protection needs. In recent years particular attention has been paid to the use of sexual violence as a method of warfare. These acts of aggression basically target women, who are sometimes the victims of systematic rape and gendered-based acts of aggression. Now and in future, these acts must not go unpunished.

Women and children also constitute a high proportion of refugees and displaced persons, which makes them extremely vulnerable. In this context I am basically concerned about the development of trafficking in persons in conflict situations which again affects women and children most.

Ending violence is a twofold challenge: on the one hand, the duty to see justice done, and, on the other, the need for reconciliation. Women have often played a decisive role in this area, particularly in Africa (if we think of Burundi, for example) and Latin America.

This example also shows us - and this brings me to my second comment - that women are not just victims in conflict situations; they can play an essential role in conflict resolution and in rebuilding, in the promotion of peace and international security. While still under-represented in decision-making positions, women have started to participate actively in conflict resolution, in peacekeeping, in defence and in foreign affairs.

In peace-keeping missions a balanced composition of teams should be sought to allow women to use their widely recognized ability to make contact with local communities and share the realities of their daily life. It was again women who over the centuries have been mobilizing for peace and disarmament. I think - and this is a special concern of mine, women should play a much bigger role in post-conflict situations; very often we only tend to look at the socio-economic situation of a conflict but the need for psychological rehabilitation needs also to be stressed - there is an increasing role for women to play, especially in the context of helping other women as victims of war and crime; probably we should seriously think of a “women for women-initiative” in this context.

Within the competent bodies of the United Nations, it is taken for granted that women must be able to be heard and have access to decision-making positions. Women with the necessary experience and competence should be increasingly appointed to the posts of special representatives or envoys. Here we have a reservoir of human resources that the United Nations does not use to the fullest.

But at this stage I would like to make it very clear that it is not the UN who should be solely scapegoated; in their own countries, women must be increasingly encouraged to participate in reconciliation and rebuilding. The member states of the UN themselves should take the responsibility and send - let´s name it again - more women to the First Committee. I have already presented the figures of representation of the 1st Committee which dramatically shows how women are underrepresented there. Many may say 1st Committee issues are too technical to be understood by women - I may only tell you that this is not the case - the issues are to a great extent very political and every single person is able to understand them.

To illustrate this, yet another example comes to my mind: During last year´s NPT Review Conference (NPT= Non-Proliferation Treaty) the Conference Room was full of male representatives, outside, in the corridors, however, the were nearly 100% women representing the different NGOs fighting for a world free of nuclear weapons. This should also tell us something. Women are much more prepared to do volunteer work than men - an aspect that should not be neglected in our considerations.

I would not find any better way to conclude but by quoting from the Security Council resolution entitled “Women and peace and security” that was passed last October - by the way the first one in this context since the foundation of the UN more than fifty years ago - in which “the Member states are urged to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict” and where the “UNSG is urged to appoint more women as special representatives and envoys to pursue good offices on his behalf.”

If we succeed in fulfilling the objectives of this resolution in real life, I think we will progress towards a better international security, which in the end means a better and more peaceful world.

Thank you very much for your attention.