Opening Statement


Angela E.V. King

Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

at the

Expert Group Meeting

“Enhancing women’s participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries”

Glen Cove, New York, 19 January 2004




Distinguished Experts and Observers,

Colleagues and Friends,


It is my great pleasure and privilege to welcome you on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, and to open this Expert Group Meeting on Enhancing the role of women in electoral processes in post-conflict countries. I am deeply honoured to address this distinguished group of elections experts who have come here to share their wealth of knowledge and experience on gender and the electoral processes in post-conflict countries. Your outstanding credentials are the best guarantee that this meeting will make a comprehensive set of recommendations contributing to an enhanced role of women in electoral processes in varied arena, multilateral or bilateral.


I would like to express my special gratitude to our partners who worked with us on this event. They are the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, and particularly, Ms. Carina Perelli and her team, UNDP, UNIFEM and others.  My special thanks go to the Member States who form the Group of Friends of 1325 for their political support and unfailing cooperation, and particularly to their representatives from Canada, Norway, Republic of Korea, Tanzania, United Kingdom and the United States attending this meeting. I would also like to especially thank for conceptual and technical guidance, the team from the International IDEA – the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance – and representatives from the OSCE, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Carter Center, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Women Without Borders, and welcome their contribution.


Since its early days, the United Nations has been playing a pivotal role in assisting Member States in democracy-building and holding elections. In the late 1980s, with a renewed focus on securing stable and legitimate democratic government in divided or post-conflict societies, the Organization has been increasingly called upon to provide assistance in holding inclusive, credible and legitimate democratic elections in accordance with internationally recognized criteria established in universal and regional human rights instruments.


Today, it is a given that the nature of modern conflict has changed fundamentally. Whereas most violent conflicts over the course of the twentieth century have been between states, the 1990s have witnessed the emergence of a new type of conflict – intrastate conflicts. Between 1989 and 1996, for example, 95 out of the 101 armed conflicts were such internal disputes. The new types of conflicts no longer aim at defeating the opponent’s armies but at inflicting pain and humiliation on civilians by destroying their identity, dignity and sense of community. For the first time in human history approximately 80 to 90 per cent of all war casualties, most of them women and girls, have become primary targets. The new conflicts erode institutions that provide a basis for the sustainability of societies and undermine societal values replacing them with institutionalized violence. Rape, forced pregnancies, sexual slavery and assault, which directly target women, have become deliberate instruments of war that destroy the bonds which hold communities together.


Thus, durable solutions to these conflicts must flow from post-conflict societies themselves and must have a strong focus on reviewing and strengthening institutions necessary to ensure peace, security, human rights and justice for all, women as well as men, while the international community and the United Nations play a supportive role which is adapted to the specific political circumstances of each country.


Lasting peace will only be possible with the establishment of fair, all-inclusive democratic rules for handling the issues that divide a society and the creation or strengthening of working relationships between the groups involved. Only when Governments are democratic and inclusive of all groups, including women, and social groups no longer need to resort to violence to advance their interests, can violent conflicts be prevented.


It is, therefore, vital that any attempt at building peace in the wake of a violent conflict must focus strongly on rebuilding democracy and bringing women into all stages of conflict prevention, management and post-conflict reconstruction, including through electoral processes, as contributors and active participants.


Elections in Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kosovo, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste and other former conflict areas were crucial to post-conflict management processes by legitimizing power-sharing arrangements reached earlier, thus creating foundations for sustainable peace and gender equality.


I was fortunate indeed to observe this direct link between peace, democracy and gender equality when I served as Chief of the United Nations Observation Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA) from 1992-1994. The mission ended 46 years of conflict and division in South African society (1948-1994) over a hard-line policy of formal racial separatism: apartheid, through a long negotiation process culminating in the first free, non-racial, democratic elections in 1994. This approach which embraced all ethnic and religious groups, women and youth was a resounding success resulting in active participation of women in the 1994 elections as voters and candidates and in building multi-ethnic coalitions.  Ultimately, the elections led to the creation of a solid foundation for peace, democracy, effective governance and an active women’s role in South African society. 


In fact, it was one of the first recorded occasions where, well before the elections, women of various political parties and groups – there were 25 – banded together to demand one-third of the seats in the constitutional negotiations and later, on party slates.  While only the ANC fully adhered to this agreement, approximately 30 per cent of the members of the first elected Parliament were women.


Recognizing the critical role of elections for peace and the advancement of women, both, the General Assembly and the Security Council have emphasized the importance and potential impact of women’s participation in elections and rebuilding societies following war.  In the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, Member States were called to take measures to encourage political parties to include women in elective and non-elective public positions in the same proportion and at the same levels as men and to review the differential impact of electoral systems on the political representation of women in elected bodies and consider, where appropriate, the adjustment or reform of those systems.


Similarly, in resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the Security Council, in October 2000, called on Member States 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 ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary. 


In light of these mandates, the purpose of this Expert Group Meeting is to review what has been done to support women in all aspects of the electoral process in post-conflict countries and to develop an agenda for action on how to strengthen support to the full participation of women in electoral processes in post-conflict countries. I wish you also to focus on the challenges and obstacles facing women, identify gaps, lessons learned and good practices in supporting women in electoral processes. Our discussion, based on excellent papers, should lead to practical comprehensive recommendations for a future action and provide concrete and effective tools for an enhanced women’s participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries. 


Your valuable insights and recommendations, together with a report of an Expert Group Meeting on "Peace agreements as a means for promoting gender equality and ensuring participation of women – A framework of model provisions," hosted by Canada in November 2003, will be inputs to the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-eighth session to be held from 1 to 12 March 2004, when it discusses its theme on women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peace-building.  The Commission’s deliberations and its comprehensive guidance will provide a further input to the 2005 review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of Beijing+5 on women and peace and the forthcoming review of the implementation of resolution 1325 by the Security Council in October 2004.


There is no short cut or simple solution to enhancing women’s role in peace processes through elections. But experience from electoral processes in Guatemala, Kosovo, Mozambique, Rwanda and Timor-Leste in post-conflict contexts and a mix of post-conflict and non-conflict countries in the Middle East, suggest that without involving women in elections and peace-building, there cannot be a lasting peace.  While fully aware of the complexities of your task, I am confident that this Expert Group, drawing on expertise and experience from around the world, will be able to come up with practical and effective ideas and solutions to enable the governments, the UN, international organizations, and civil society to design electoral processes appropriate to a country-specific set of circumstances and support women’s full participation in the elections.


            What we recommend in the next few days has immediate application.  The Security Council, UN policy-makers in post-conflict elections, Special Representatives of the Secretary-General heading missions, representatives of Governments, civil society, women’s groups and other international actors working in Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq are some of the target groups of users of the lessons learned and recommendations made. This vast and influential group of clients awaits your proposals.


I thank you and wish you a productive discussion.  We, in the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Department of Political Affairs secretariats stand ready to support your work.