|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
High-level Meeting (AM)
Peacebuilding Commission Adopts Declaration Urging Greater Role for Women
in All Stages of Conflict-resolution, Related Processes
Chair Encourages Enhanced Commitment to Their
Economic Empowerment as Meeting Hears from New Head of UN Gender Entity
Recognizing that women’s economic empowerment contributed greatly to the effectiveness of post-conflict prosperity, the Peacebuilding Commission today urged Governments, as well as international and regional organizations, to improve female participation in all stages of peace processes, from conflict resolution to post-conflict planning.
In a meeting convened as part of the Commission’s thematic focus on “economic revitalization and job creation”, high-level Government officials adopted a declaration entitled “Women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding” (document PBC/7/OC/L.1), reaffirming the primary responsibility of national authorities to identify priorities and strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding.
By the text, they emphasized the importance of sustaining political momentum for ongoing peacebuilding processes, promoting gender equality and protecting women’s human rights, and underlining women’s critical role in preventing conflicts and carrying out reconstruction efforts. Discrimination against women and girls in access to social and economic opportunities could obstruct effective peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery, they emphasized.
Also by the text, the Commission recognized the particular needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations, including physical security, sexual and reproductive health, land and property rights, nutrition and education. Noting with concern that sexual violence in armed conflict and in post-conflict situations disproportionately affected women and girls, it emphasized that sexual violence in such situations severely impeded their critical contributions to society.
In her opening address, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN-Women, painted a portrait of a typical woman emerging from conflict: a former combatant or peacemaker, she had lost a partner or child, and no one was willing or ready to articulate her hopes and aspirations. Because of inheritance laws that granted assets to male survivors, she was pushed deeper into poverty and powerlessness — all that on top of the physical and psychological scars of conflict.
She called for a deeper probe into the weak legal foundation for women’s ownership of property or access to financing, a difficult issue that all members of society must address. Women were not only waiting for someone who listened to their views, they were also ready to implement their ideas. Calling for more vigorous efforts to ensure that women had a voice on matters that most closely pertained to them, she urged greater visibility for them in international negotiations and donor conferences. Studies showed the direct positive benefits of their direct participation in the form of less corruption and more inclusiveness, among other things, she said.
Commission Chair Vesna Pusić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, said the meeting had been convened as part of the Commission’s thematic focus on economic revitalization and job creation. The issue of women’s economic empowerment in conflict-affected situations was of particular importance not only because of its significant contribution to peacebuilding, but also because it was a key component of realizing women’s equal rights.
“The evidence is strong that women’s access to land and productive assets, to jobs and markets, results in improvements in family well-being, community stability and poverty reduction,” she said. Women were often excluded from market opportunities because of gender-biased laws, heavy care burdens and insecurity, which kept their engagement in economic recovery too low.
Further, women’s needs were not prioritized when decisions about post-conflict resource allocations were made, she continued. Increasing their contribution to economic recovery required investing in justice, security and public services. She called for reinforcing the commitment to women’s economic empowerment, encouraging Member States, as well as the Commission, to take effective actions to boost their economic rights.
Speaking in her national capacity, she declared: “No society has ever won a war. Societies always lose.” The trauma of war took at least three times as long as the conflict’s duration to heal. In order to rebuild, the fighting must stop. The second step involved peacekeeping, while the third focused on creating conditions for sustainable peace, she said, emphasizing that surviving the first year of peace was often more difficult than surviving war. It involved addressing the question of women’s invisibility and supporting their transformation from victims to entrepreneurs.
Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, said that Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), on women, peace and security, focused on women as victims of war. However, something was missing if they were not seen as agents of change. “Let’s face it, women play peacebuilding roles daily, negotiating between belligerent parties, typically at the local level,” she said. Yet, when negotiations grew serious and “money shows up”, women were pushed into the background, presumably because talks were a man’s job. “We must harness women’s innate interest in peace and use their talents in peacebuilding,” she stressed.
Focusing on empowerment, she said the Secretary-General’s 2010 report on women’s roles in building peace recommended implementing temporary special measures — quotas — to ensure a minimum “critical mass” of female legislators. For example, it recommended that women should hold 30 per cent of parliamentary seats to ensure the passage of women-friendly legislation. Such an approach was working in Rwanda’s Parliament, where women held 64 per cent of the seats and related changes had increased the numbers of women owning land. African women owned 1 per cent of the land, but performed the bulk of agricultural work, she noted, adding that, with land ownership in their hands, productivity could only increase.
Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, Executive Director of Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange, underlined the need for a three-pronged approach focusing on health of body, mind and spirit; economic rights; and leadership roles in management and decision-making. Citing her own experiences in the field, she said women tended to shun projects and programmes that deprived them of meaningful participation, but produced remarkable outcomes in those that encouraged it.
Apart from weak property rights, she continued, women in many countries were condemned to a cycle of poverty and destitution by land-grabbers who preyed on their vulnerabilities. She called for urgent efforts to end sexual and gender-based violence, and urged the international community to develop a security and development architecture that encouraged a defining role for women.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, participants welcomed the adoption of the Declaration, overwhelmingly stressing that women’s economic empowerment was “smart economics”. It also was crucial for achieving durable peace in post-conflict countries. Unless women were at the negotiating table, the foundations for long-term peace and stability were not being laid, several speakers said. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister said women were more rational economic stakeholders than men, noting that they invested more in school enrolment, health and food for the family. They also saved more, thereby strengthening household resilience.
Yet despite their significant political, social and economic potential, little was being done to support them in recovery efforts, speakers noted. Women must be able to own and inherit land and other resources that formed the basis of their livelihoods. It was necessary to rework discriminatory laws, policies and institutions, and to repair relations between women and men because sexual violence — especially rape used as a weapon of war — had caused tremendous damage. Indeed, women rarely initiated violent conflict yet they bore a disproportionate burden of suffering, Gambia’s Foreign Minister said, describing the situation as a “scar” on the global community’s conscience.
“Africa is waking up,” said Guinea’s Foreign Minister, underscoring the centrality of women and youth empowerment on the agenda of the 2012 African Union Summit. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Union’s technical body, was also working to reduce women’s poverty by increasing credit for them. In Nigeria, women held 33 per cent of seats in the Federal Executive Council, that country’s Foreign Minister said. They also held 50 per cent of seats in the judiciary, which was headed by a female Chief Justice. Women also headed the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Petroleum Resources, Aviation and Water Resources.
Other speakers hailed the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) as a “watershed” moment, as well as the seven-point plan outlined in the Secretary-General’s report. Many also urged the signing and ratification of the relevant international conventions.
Also speaking today were the Foreign Ministers of Ireland, Norway, Japan, Italy and Canada, as well as senior ministers from the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Denmark.
Egypt’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Peacebuilding Commission will reconvene on a date to be announced.
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