8 March 2000


8 March 2000

Press Release



Through education and tradition, from generation to generation, women had passed on the culture of peace, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a special event at Headquarters this morning entitled “Women Uniting for Peace”, which was held on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Women, who knew the price of war so well, were often better equipped to resolve or prevent it, he said. When society collapsed, women played a critical role in ensuring that life went on. When ethnic tensions caused conflict, women tended to build bridges rather than walls. When considering the implications of war and peace, women thought first of their children and their children’s future before themselves.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said that women’s participation in all levels of government must become an “unremarkable” feature of public life. It was especially important to recognize women’s central role in conflict resolution. Indeed, such negotiations must involve women, and take into account their needs at the beginning of post-conflict reconstruction, not years after the event. In that respect, she said “we have to do much better”.

The Security Council was becoming more aware of the need to take a more proactive role to protect women and harness their potential as peace builders, this month’s Council President, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh) said. For the first time, the Council was considering issuing a press statement on the occasion of Women’s Day, in order to send a strong, united message on the subject of women and peace. Women and girls were particularly affected by conflicts and constituted the majority of the world’s refugees and displaced persons. At the same time, they were often the first to build peace. The Council should encourage women’s participation in drafting peace agreements and consider convening a special meeting on women in armed conflict.

Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kensaku Hogen presided over the event, which was prompted by a call from women worldwide for a stronger voice and role in peace negotiations and peace-building strategies. He said the meeting should underscore the need to include, at the negotiating table, women and their initiatives and visions for peace.

Following those statements, representatives of non-governmental organizations from around the world engaged in a discussion, which took the form of a town hall

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meeting and was moderated by two prominent television journalists: Daljit Dhaliwal (London); and Carol Jenkins (New York). Comments focused on the appointment of women as heads of peacekeeping missions and special representatives and envoys of the Secretary-General in conflict areas. Conversely, the commission of violence against women, by peacekeepers worldwide, was also highlighted.

The following representative of non-governmental organizations also spoke: Women in Black (Yugoslavia); The Women’s Media Collective (Sri Lanka); Children’s Peace Movement (Colombia); International Alert (United Kingdom); and Sierra Leone Youth Empowerment Programme.

Statements were also made by: Swanee Hunt, of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (United States); and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa). Zohreh Tabatabi, Focal Point for Women in the Secretariat, made a statement on behalf of Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.

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Women’s Day Observance

A special event entitled “Women Uniting for Peace” will be held this morning at Headquarters on the occasion of International Women’s Day. A call from women around the world for a stronger voice and role in peace negotiations and peace- building strategies will be the focus of the special event, which will take the form of a town hall meeting moderated by Daljit Dhaliwal, television anchor at ITN in London, and Carol Jenkins, New York news anchor and talk show host.

Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to open the event. Statements will also be made by Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh), in his capacity as current President of the Security Council, and Kensaku Hogen, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.


KENSAKU HOGEN, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that today’s meeting would showcase the innovative strategies that women had initiated to help bring peace to the world. There were representatives here from many groups, as well as individuals who were actively involved in the international women’s movement. All were welcome. The purpose of the town hall meeting had been to bring to the attention of the international community the need to include, at the negotiating table, women and their initiatives and visions for peace.

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the first International Women's Day of the twenty-first century was devoted to the theme of “Women Uniting for Peace”. That theme brought together the two vital parts of the United Nations mission -- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to protect the equal rights of men and women. "We must live up to both challenges", he said "or we shall fail at both".

The century that had just closed had seen the age of large, inter-State wars reach its apex and wane, only to be replaced by an age of ethnic conflict, he continued. All too often, conflict happened in the societies that could least afford it, took a toll on those who least deserved it and hit hardest those least equipped to defend themselves. Civilians had become the main targets of warfare and women bore more than their fair share of the burden.

He went on to say that women, who knew the price of war so well, might often be better equipped to resolve or prevent it than men. "When society collapses". he said, "women play a critical role in ensuring that life goes on". When ethnic tensions caused conflict, women tended to build bridges rather than walls. Women put the welfare of their children and their children’s futures before even themselves when considering the impact and implications of war and peace.

He said that in an age where change was the only constant, the strength of women was as old as humanity itself. Through education and tradition, from generation to generation, women had passed on the culture of peace. In the Caucasus region, according to an ancient tradition, when a woman threw her headscarf between two warring parties, the fighting must stop. He said that in Africa, his own country, it was usually the mother, aunt and grandmother who instilled in the very young the basic human skills and values that were essential for peaceful coexistence.

In some societies wracked by conflict, women had acted as intermediaries between warring parties, exploring ways to find common ground. They had often gone into refugee camps to support displaced women and children. Women had also braved the contempt and conquered the distrust of male combatants until finally their demand for peace had won through.

"We at the United Nations know at first hand the invaluable support women provide to our peacekeepers", he said, "organizing committees, women's associations, NGOs and church groups to ease tensions and persuading their menfolk to accept peace". Partly for that reason, the United Nations had made special efforts to recruit women for peacekeeping missions and to make all the Organization's operations more aware of gender issues. Several missions, including those in Afghanistan, Kosovo and East Timor now included civilian gender affairs units. The United Nations was also doubling its efforts to recruit more qualified women in peace operations, both in the field and at Headquarters. He appealed to Member States to include qualified women in the contingents they sent to the United Nations, and to nominate qualified women candidates for United Nations posts at all levels.

United Nations agencies worked every day to assist the most vulnerable women, care for refugees and set legal norms for women's rights in armed conflict, he continued. The Organization also sent special missions to countries affected by war to provide health care and post-trauma assistance. "They work with women in war-torn countries after the guns fall silent", he said, "helping them and their menfolk to rebuild their State and society". It was true that there could be no enduring peace without development, and it was also true that there could be no development unless women played their full part. That meant removing the barriers to women's involvement in decision-making, as well as protecting their security and that of their families. It also meant ensuring that they enjoyed full human and political rights. The United Nations was working with its partners in the government and in civil society to achieve those objectives.

He said that five years ago, many of those goals had been adopted by governments at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and that this June the General Assembly would hold a special session to review the progress in implementing them. The Beijing Platform called for women's rights to be protected in conflict situations. It also called for women to play a larger role in making decisions which would resolve conflict, and for more conflicts to be resolved in non-violent ways. "In short," he said, "it is a summons to us all to pave the way for a culture of peace".

He said he believed that the time had come for the culture of peace to take hold, because in today’s world what affected one nation affected all nations. “What defines us as human beings is not race, creed or geography”, he said. “What gives our lives purpose and content is the hope that our children and grandchildren will be able to live a decent life, free from fear and free from want.”

"Let us unite all our efforts to bring these pledges to life", he said. "Let us build on the work of women everywhere to achieve peace for succeeding generations. Let us harness the power of women uniting for peace."

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), President of the Security Council, said that too often it was overlooked that the decisions of the Council affected women all over the world. Women and girls were particularly affected by conflicts, were the worst victims and constituted the majority of the world’s refugees and displaced persons. Their human rights were often trampled on. That was further aggravated by the changing nature of conflicts today. Efforts must be intensified to protect the innocent victims. The challenge facing the Council was to shake off its traditional inhibitions and engage more effectively and do its part.

He said that in the past, the Council had condemned atrocities against women and stressed their plight in armed conflict, as well as urged all parties to take special measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender- based violence. However, the issue had yet to take prominence in the Council’s activities. One issue that should be addressed was women’s role in peace and peace-building. Often women were the first to build peace and foster a culture of peace. It was women who brought creative strategies to the peace table. In Bangladesh, it had taken a woman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to end the 23-year discord in the country.

The Council was becoming somewhat aware of the need to take a more pro-active role to protect women and to harness their potential as peace builders, he continued. For the first time, the Council was considering issuing a press statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day. By doing so, it would be sending a strong, united message addressing women and peace.

That should only be the first step and the Council must look to other areas where women could contribute, he said. One such area was peacekeeping missions, which the Council should reflect further on. Another area was promoting an active and visible policy of gender mainstreaming in all programmes in addressing armed and other conflicts. The Council should consider two recommendations -- the first on encouraging women’s participation in peace agreements and the second on convening a special meeting of the Council on women in armed conflict.

MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said since the inception of Women’s Day, there had been a tension about whether it was a day for celebration or a day for protest and action. It should be all of those things: a time to reflect upon the progress achieved in claiming women’s rights, the sacrifices made to force that progress and the need to protest inequality and the denial of rights; and a day of action to build on existing strategies and develop new ones. It should also be a day of celebration of what women working together were capable of achieving.

Peace was not the absence of war, she said. Rather, it was built on the interrelation of social and cultural norms regulated by the principles set out in the international human rights instruments and which should be given effect through the domestic and legal system. If any States, in real life, had achieved that, then the celebration of Women’s Day would be pre-eminent. Instead, the spectre of violence against women in all its manifestations, the lack of access to economic rights, economic power, equal participation in public life and education, and the lack of access to health care, particularly in relation to reproductive rights, as well as women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS -– all still impeded the attainment of peace.

She said that the statements made by governments in relation to the “Beijing + 5” review had been encouraging, particularly the attention given to issues of violence, but there had not yet been an articulation of a rights-based approach to dealing with those and other issues. Concerning the effects of globalization, governments had been responsible for establishing policies that actively promoted women’s participation in economic life. To some degree, governments had assumed their responsibilities in that regard, but there was a long way to go, and that should be recognized on International Women’s Day.

Some progress had been made in combatting violence against women, although women had continued to be victimized, both in public and private, she said. In all of its manifestations -– psychological and physical -– that violence continued throughout the life cycle. In terms of sexual violence in armed conflict, there had been recognition under international law that it constituted a crime against humanity, and that rape could be prosecuted as genocide. The commitment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to ensure effective prosecution of such violence had been commendable. In addition, rape had been recognized as torture under the European Convention.

Recognition, and the legal removal of impunity, however, had not been enough, she said. States must take responsibility for delivering alleged war criminals and all States must ensure the training and monitoring, discipline and punishment of their own troops in relation to acts of violence against women, and indeed against all non-combatants. Tribute should be paid to the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, which had overcome intense opposition at the International Criminal Court negotiations, and had managed to ensure that rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence were included in the Statute of the Court.

Progress at the international level and in relation to conflict would only be made real by a change of attitude towards violence against women, she continued. The statements of governments had been encouraging, but evidence of their respect for and protection of human rights was needed. Until the police and judiciary had been sensitized about the nature and effect of gender-based violence, she would not be content that the hard work of the non-governmental organizations could be claimed by governments as evidence of their own commitment in combating violence against women.

Indeed, governments had their responsibilities, she said. The aim was to find practical and sustainable solutions. Good cooperative examples at the field level had begun to be built. States must be encouraged to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which had set up a mechanism by which individual women could air their complaints. States should also reconsider and remove all reservations to the women’s Convention and give it concrete effect. One of the most important rights embodied in the Convention had been the right to participate in public life. Women’s participation in all levels of govermment was crucial and must become an “unremarkable” feature of public life.

She said that the world would know when gender equality had been achieved once women were as free to make mistakes as men -- when they could be as wrong as men and not have it blamed on their gender. There was a long way to go. Meanwhile, temporary special measures should be encouraged, and it was especially important to recognize women’s central role in the resolution of conflicts. Such negotiations must involve women, as representatives of the State and civil society. Their needs should be taken into account in those negotiations, by ensuring that a gender analysis was made at the beginning of post-conflict reconstruction, and not years after the event. Actors could learn from the experiences of Bosnia, and others, with the understanding that “we have to do much better”.

Ending the marginalization of women in decision-making and public life would directly affect the response of governments to the critical areas of concern identified at Beijing. Clearly, no one group or agency or approach could effectively ensure peaceful existence based on respect for human rights. Building coalitions and ensuring cooperation, communication and exchanges of ideas could achieve much. The critical areas of concern were the basis, not just for the equality for women, but also for the protection and assertion of their rights, which were a precondition for peace.

She said everyone here should be encouraged to devise strategies for future cooperation, to find ways of encouraging States to comply with their obligations, and to demand a space for women to work in solidarity towards sustainable peace- building. The achievements should be celebrated, and an achievable programme should be set out. The aim of States, civil society representatives and United Nations agencies should be to ensure the development of national action plans which incorporated the 12 critical areas of concern contained in the Beijing Platform for Action.

In that respect, she said that representatives of civil society should have ready access to national governments, in order to ensure the effective implementation and monitoring of those actions plans. The States parties, together with international financial institutions, should give immediate consideration to the impact of their policies on women and ensure that full effect was given to the Beijing Platform.

Discussion Segment

CAROL JENKINS, New York news anchor and talk show host, one of the moderators of the town meeting, said that today's discussion would provide an excellent opportunity to examine the groundbreaking and innovative strategies that women had been focusing on in the global struggle for peace. "The challenge is to find a way to put the past, bloody century behind us, and find a way to work together so the voices of women can be heard", she said.

She said that while the contributions of women had been largely ignored in the area of peace negotiations, they were hard at work and very active at the grass-roots level. But could the world community continue to afford to ignore women's voices when perhaps women’s views were the answer the world was looking for? she asked. Since women represented roughly half the world's population, perhaps their ideas and voices could provide half of the solution.

A representative of Women in Black, from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, said that the women of her group dressed in black in protest against war, militarism, ethnic cleansing and rape of their sisters in the region. Their black attire was an expression of non-violence and the right to be different. They believed in resistance to any and all military regimes.

She said that Women in Black were "disloyal" to the language of hate and bloodthirsty language of politics; they opposed the mass killings and ethnic cleansing in their regions and considered their own activities to be politically responsible behaviour. She went on to say that her group denounced rape, particularly marital rape or rape within the home. Her group also understood the need for greater democracy in the area of women's issues in the region and actively supported men who refused to go to war. "Deserters are our allies", she said. Their motto was: "Take care of others while the patriots take care of themselves".

Over the past nine years, Women in Black had published 11 books and held many conferences to address the situation of women in their region and around the globe. They had also published leaflets promoting non-violent conflict resolution and the increased involvement of women in peace negotiations. She said that they had done much work, but they had not been able to stop war. More work and attention from the international community was encouraged.

She called on everyone present to remember the women and children in the refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina and called for a moment of silence for Serbian refugees in prison camps and all prisoners of war.

ZOHREH TABATABI, Focal Point for Women in the United Nations Secretariat, speaking on behalf of Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that women were indeed serving in missions, but not in numbers that were representative of their possible contributions. There were no special envoys or heads of peacekeeping missions that were women. There was always a request, however, particularly for short-term missions, to include women in the contingent.

She said that the Secretary-General always included women's issues on his agenda and was aware of the need to promote a gender perspective in all the workings of the United Nations and its related agencies and bodies. The United Nations Secretariat was aware that an enabling attitude towards gender sensitivity was important.

A representative of International Alert, a conflict-prevention organization

from the United Kingdom, said that time and time again women were portrayed as the

passive victims of war. That overshadowed their true role as peace builders, as

examples from South Africa, Mali and Northern Ireland had shown. It was the

mothers of the disappeared in Argentina that had ultimately brought down a cruel

regime. Women were working for peace and their work made a difference. They

brought with them the concerns of whole communities but were excluded from

participating at the peace table.

Today, she was proud to launch the Women Building Peace Initiative, which sought to put women at the heart of the global peace agenda. It was creating a partnership with governments and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to ensure that in every conflict region, women’s concerns were brought to the forefront. The UNIFEM was providing an opportunity to bring the voices of the women on the ground to the United Nations. The two-year campaign sought to ensure that women made up 50 per cent of peace builders and peace missions, and that women’s organizations were given the resources they needed to carry out their work. She called on the Security Council to convene a special meeting to address women and armed conflict. The time had come for the international community to implement all the pledges it had made to women.

SWANEE HUNT, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, said that she was recently in Vienna meeting with a group of women survivors from Srebrenica, as they were planning a commemoration for the men and boys that they had lost. She had asked them if they could invite the Serb women who had also lost their sons, and their response was “we are all mothers”. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there had been over 40 women’s groups that had organized themselves in the region. Those who had not been organized were the policy makers, who had to respond to women’s concerns. At Harvard, an initiative known as Women Waging Peace had been created to bring together women, who were actively working to stop wars in conflict areas and to exchange strategies. They could be reached on the Internet at the following site -- .

PUMLA GOBODO-MADIKIZELA, former member of the Human Rights Violations Committee at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, said that when human beings hurt each other, they crossed a line. When that boundary broke down, the expected result was a repeat of the cycle of vengeance. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission demonstrated that that did not have to be the case.

The Commission had been established to break the cycles of violence in a country ravaged by years of violence, she continued. Women had played a crucial role in that process. Women were able to reach out to their perpetrators in a most amazing way and offer forgiveness. There had been no precedent for that, where first generation victims had been able to forgive their perpetrators. She had seen many mothers who looked perpetrators in the eye and said, “you could have been my child and I forgive you”. There had been some who had invited the perpetrators to work together to build communities.

The Commission had been an important model for all who worked in peace- building to follow, she added. What was it about victims that enabled them to forgive their perpetrators? What was it about perpetrators that enabled them to see their victims as fellow human beings? The Commission had created a forum for that humanness to return to both victims and perpetrators. The process of formal justice was not known to build peace or bridges of humanity. But forums, such as the Commission, could do it and did it. While the Commission was a first step, much remained to be done in the country concerning violence, particularly rape.

A representative of the Women’s Media Collective from Sri Lanka said it was an important goal of her organization to ensure that women in the margins could be seen and heard. Her organization had also played an important role in promoting the respect of women’s human rights as well as advocating a feminist perspective in Sri Lanka’s policy-making. The Collective also ensured the democratic treatment of women in political, economic and social areas.

She said that the Collective had worked to bring about peace and had demanded a cessation of hostilities in the region. The Collective was also very active in settlement negotiation and in increasing the number and involvement of women in the country’s human rights movement. The Collective had also called on women in border areas of the country to come to the capital to demand peace and to participate actively in the peace process.

In response to a question from the floor about what important lessons could be learned from the horrors of the past -– slavery, the holocaust and apartheid –- to help the international community end all forms of discrimination of women, Ms. GOBODO-MADIKIZELA said that crossing the line between peace and violence and choosing peace was a reminder of what was possible. The next few years would teach the international community that it should hold on to what had been accomplished while moving forward to achieve new goals.

The challenges were still immense, she continued. There needed to be more focus from the international community on that issue because in many countries, the end of political conflict was not the end of violence. Rape was also an issue that needed to be addressed by the international community.

Ms. Tabatabi agreed with a comment from the floor that it was time for the Secretary-General to issue a report on violence against women and to appoint a special rapporteur on the issue.

ADIATU TERSA DEIGH, of the Sierra Leone Youth Empowerment Organization, spoke about the youth caught in the continuing conflicts in that country. She said that 700,000 lives had been lost, 1-2 million people had been displaced and hundreds of schools had been closed. “How can we be expected to cope?” she said.

She went on to say that her organization was active in promoting sensitivity to the effects of conflict on the youth of her nation, as well as around the globe. They were also attempting to reinstate the government that had been overthrown when war had broken out. Healing and reconciliation were the key.

There would always be more that could be done, she continued. In that regard, she recommended support for an international trust fund for war victims, as well as technical support for youth policies and the creation of an information clearing house that would promote activities and rehabilitation. All those things could lead to the empowerment of youth caught in conflict and to helping build a better world.

MAYERLY LOPEZ, a 15-year-old representative of the Children’s Peace Movement

of Colombia, said that through women’s hands a better world could be built.

Colombia was a country of 40 million men, women and children, who had experienced

war for the past 40 years. The children had grown up in the midst of a war that

was not theirs. The Movement had been started to show adults that children also

needed an opportunity to have their voices heard.

The truth of Colombia was still painful, she said. There were still many women and children who were victims of violence. Sixty-five per cent of the 835,000 displaced persons were boys and girls. The children in the Movement had organized themselves as a force for peace in their schools and communities. Through the Movement, girls were creating spaces to make their voices heard. With it, they had the possibility of building a different country, where all people were equal. As a child, she hoped that one day Colombia could experience a peace where girls and women were no longer victims of war, violence and sexual abuse.

Asked why girls should participate in peace movements and what their contribution could be, Ms. LOPEZ replied that participation meant that girls no longer remained anonymous. Women were capable of giving their lives for their children and friends. They would work from the heart.

Another question raised was what measures could be used in the Beijing +5 process to advance the role of women in peacekeeping efforts. The issue of violence against women committed by peacekeepers was also raised.

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For information media. Not an official record.