Women in Mediation
Remarks to the Institute for Inclusive Security, Policy Forum 2011
B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
18 January 2011, Washington D.C.
First, let me thank Ambassador Swanee Hunt and Carla Koppell of the Institute for Inclusive Security for the invitation to speak about the work of the United Nations in conflict mediation. Also, please allow me to extend a warm greeting to the nearly two dozen women peacemakers who have come from many corners of the globe to take part in this program. We are delighted that many of you are coming to New York later this week.
In an address to the UN General Assembly last Friday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined his top priorities for 2011, placing women’s empowerment at the forefront. “Take any issue – climate change, development, peace and security,” he said. “When women are part of the vision, the world sees better results.”
We at the United Nations, and especially the Secretary-General, attach great importance to increasing women’s participation in the resolution of conflict. The Department of Political Affairs is actively working to bring this approach into the mainstream of our efforts. Before turning to the specific ways we are doing this, I would like to look at the broader context shaping the environment and our involvement in conflict mediation.
If I asked you to conjure an image in your mind of what successful UN mediation looks like, I suspect most might produce some version of the classic peacemaking photo-op: an envoy flanked by former adversaries as they sign a peace agreement or shake hands before the cameras.
Over the years, the United Nations has had the good fortune to be a part of a considerable number of moments like these, from southern Africa to Southeast Asia to Central America. During the 1990s, peacemaking flourished as the end of Cold War led to openings for negotiated settlements to longstanding regional conflicts and to an unparalleled consensus in the Security Council for a UN role to broker those deals. In the process, the organization accumulated substantial expertise in this area and high expectations were placed on negotiating formal agreements.
But the truth is that the day-to-day work we do is usually not the stuff of those headlines, but a much wider array of conflict prevention and mediation efforts without the formal trappings. For one thing – and this is certainly not a complaint -- the successful resolution of many long-running conflicts over the past two decades has reduced the number of formal peacemaking negotiations, leaving such classic perennials as Cyprus or the Western Sahara.
This does not mean there is no work for preventive diplomacy or the classic mediation skills. Indeed, we seem to be busier than ever, responding to different kinds of conflicts and flashpoints. Political crises in recent years in places as diverse as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Guinea, Honduras, Cote D’Ivoire, and Sudan have challenged the United Nations and the international community to develop effective political and diplomatic responses to actual or potential post-electoral crises, coups and other unconstitutional changes in government. Our political and peacekeeping missions abroad are engaged every day in managing conflict, mediating disputes, and searching for long-term political solutions.
In almost all of the places I just mentioned, the United Nations has been working closely with regional organizations and concerned states in seeking to resolve the conflicts. Let me mention two recent successes: Guinea and Sudan. In Guinea, a steady two-year effort led by the Secretary General’s Special Representative Said Djinnet working closely with the West African organization ECOWAS, the African Union and several concerned countries has resulted in a dramatic transition in that country from a long-time dictatorship to junta rule to a freely-elected President.
In Sudan, most observers expected the southern referendum to lead to war or perhaps never happen, but my former deputy Haile Menkerios, who heads our peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) has led a determined and successful effort (again with the African Union and several concerned countries, including most prominently the United States) to bring off a smooth and fair vote. We are not out of the woods in either country, but the UN’s diplomatic efforts at conflict prevention have helped produce dramatic outcomes to date.
In much of our work today, mediation is not so much about stopping conflicts, but about making sure new ones do not break out. The ultimate goal, of course, is to encourage policies that promote long-term stability, reconciliation and functioning states.
Our focus has to be on preventive action, with the aim of stopping potential crises early before they escalate to the point where massive and costly international interventions become necessary. There is wide consensus on this point, which after all is only common sense, but it is a major challenge for us to turn the theory into effective preventive action on the ground. Failure becomes all too visible in hindsight, whereas successes can and do occur with little fanfare.
Let me add that conflicts and patterns of state breakdown are themselves becoming increasingly complex to manage. Phenomena such as drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism have become intertwined in some cases with traditional political conflicts, complicating prospects to address them through political-negotiated means.
We are working on a number of fronts to rise to the challenge:
First, we have made a major effort to strengthen and sharpen the focus of the Department of Political Affairs, which along with Jordan Ryan’s shop in UNDP, is responsible for much of the UN’s work in the conflict prevention area. Some increases in resources and personnel have improved our ability to try to stay up with developments, build critical networks to use when crises occur, and deploy quickly when our services are needed.
Second, we are building more partnerships with regional organizations, which are at the frontlines of the conflicts and may need our help. By sharpening our ties with these groups, such as the African Union, and helping to strengthen their capabilities, we will be better able to detect potential crises early and to mobilize coordinated responses. I should also mention in this context the close relationship we have with the OSCE, the EU, and sub-regional African groups such as ECOWAS in West Africa, SADC in Southern Africa, and IGAD in East Africa.
Third, we are putting increased attention on our field offices to increase our effectiveness in peacemaking or mediation support. DPA currently oversees eleven field-based political missions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East which are important platforms for mediation and preventive diplomacy. We have opened regional offices conducting preventive diplomacy in West Africa and Central Asia, and will inaugurate a third one soon in Central Africa.
Fourth, we are improving our own professional expertise in mediation. A Mediation Support Unit within the Department is maintaining rosters of experts, establishing policy guidance, and training and de-briefing envoys and their staff. We now have small team of senior mediation experts who can be deployed on 72-hour notice to assist in peace talks around the world.
We believe that the inclusion of women and increased attention to gender issues in these efforts are vital. Our Security Council mandates from Resolutions 1325 to 1960 (passed just last month) are clear and direct. Equally important is the conviction we share with the members of this audience that this is essential to our ultimate success.
One of our critical problems is to expand the domestic constituencies engaged in peacemaking, and therefore build credibility and national buy-in. Issues from basic livelihoods to gender violence must be addressed. And, if women’s participation results in solutions that meet the needs of society in general, those solutions will be more sustainable.
Last year we made great strides at the UN with the establishment of UN Women and the office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. I earlier noted the Secretary-General’s statement to the General Assembly last week. He also underlined the importance of UN Women as “a dynamic force for change and women’s empowerment everywhere” and pledged to do more to combat violence against women and continue to increase the number of women in the UN’s senior leadership.
He has backed up those words with action. Since coming into office, the Secretary-General has increased the number of women in the UN’s highest ranks by more than 40%. Four years ago, when the Secretary-General took office, the UN had one woman heading a field mission. Today there are five -- in Burundi, Timor-Leste, Cyprus, Liberia and the Central African Republic (and until its closure last week, in Nepal). Things are certainly moving in the right direction.
The Secretary-General has also taken important steps to improve the United Nations’ sensitivity to and ability to respond to sexual violence in conflict. Margot Wallstrom, the first Special Representative on this issue, is off to a fast start. The recent establishment of UN Women, under the leadership of former President Michele Bachelet is a watershed for the UN. Michele brings a wealth of experience to the job, and I can assure you that we are working closely with her to increase women’s participation in conflict prevention and peacemaking.
These efforts received a welcome boost from the recent tenth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325. I was impressed with the effective platform it provided for taking stock of progress (and work still to be done) and focusing renewed attention on the issues. I was pleased to see a large number of UN field missions and senior envoys take part in the “open days” organized to stimulate dialogue with leading women and women’s organizations.
While continuing to raise the numbers of senior appointments, we are also trying to increase the numbers of qualified women on our rosters. Currently, 38% of the 200 people on the Mediation Unit’s roster are women and 39% are from the global South. As I noted earlier, the issue today is less how many women are on formal negotiating teams, but how many are in the system and actively involved in preventive activities in the field and in headquarters. The participation of women is rising, but still has some way to go, and gender issues need to be better inculcated in the process.
While we are making good progress inside the UN, the harder issue is to encourage greater participation of women on the ground in the peacemaking or preventive efforts. I look forward to my discussion later this afternoon with the international group of women mediators here today on this subject. We must redouble our efforts in this area.
When Middle East envoy Robert Serry published op-eds in both the Israeli and Palestinian media exhorting each side to bring more women to the peace table, he commented that he may just have come across the one issue for which most people on each side could agree.
DPA has worked in number of recent cases to ensure that gender experts are deployed to peace talks in order to shape their content and ensure strong channels of communication with women’s organizations. We worked closely with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNIFEM on the successful Commission of Inquiry into the September 28, 2009, violence in Guinea. Our Standby Team’s Expert on Gender and Mediation has helped the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in West Africa to develop a broader strategy to involve more women in resolving the various conflicts in the region.
The Department has also been working with partners to develop measurable indicators in the implementation of 1325, including on increasing the representation of women in peace processes. Instructions have been sent to envoys in the field on how to comply with a new Security Council resolution mandating them to engage in dialogue with parties to armed conflict on ceasing conflict-related sexual violence.
In this connection, let me say how pleased I am that DPA and UNIFEM, which is now part of UN Women, recently agreed on a Joint Strategy on Gender and Mediation which pulls these diverse strands into a common three-year action plan for increasing women’s representation in peace processes, developing guidance and training on gender-related issues, and improving partnerships within and outside the UN. We are not interested in talk or long UN-style reports, but in results.
We are working on it, but we are not as good as we need to be. We need women’s talent in a mediation role and we need strong involvement of women from all the conflicting parties. Only then, can we be sure that we are paying appropriate attention to the gender dimensions of conflict and assembling our best talent to resolve the conflict and keep it from re-emerging.
In closing, I should make one obvious point: greater inclusion of women is extremely important, but it is not a guarantee of success in mediation. Frankly, there are very seldom any guarantees in this business. Political will to make peace – or to include women in that process -- cannot be simply generated where its lacking, but I can assure you that we will make every effort to press forward regardless of the obstacles.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that your persistent efforts to bring women, their perspectives and interests to the peace table are gaining traction and momentum. Slowly but surely, your work can indeed change the face and more importantly the practice of peacemaking. We will continue to partner with you to achieve that goal.