Secretary-General Says Protecting Women Does Not Mean Deciding What Is Right for Them; It Means Letting Them Negotiate, Respecting Their Decisions

15 July 2009

Secretary-General Says Protecting Women Does Not Mean Deciding What Is Right for Them; It Means Letting Them Negotiate, Respecting Their Decisions

15 July 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the First Ladies Summit of the Fifteenth Non-Aligned Movement Summit, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, today, 15 July: 

It is a unique pleasure and privilege for me to participate in this First Ladies Summit on women in crisis management.

I participated this morning in the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.  It was very important; I regard this Summit as even more important.  I thank you for your leadership in enhancing the role of women in crisis management and I count on your continued engagement.

I want to pay tribute to Mrs. [Suzanne] Mubarak, who has dedicated her life and her international movement to advancing sustainable peace and human security.  I have listened with great interest to her important statement, vision and commitment to advancing women at this very difficult time.

Mrs. Mubarak once wisely pointed out that the concerns of women are the concerns of the world.  She said, if I may quote, “The status and condition of women is not an independent item, it is a part of a whole; that whole is the international society in which we live and in which future generations will live.”

I completely agree.  In addressing the many crises facing our world today -- from hunger that afflicts 1 billion people to rampant poverty to wars and climate change -- women are not a separate category.  They are often the first and worst-affected victims, but they are also even more often the key to finding a solution.

That is why I was so pleased to learn that you will be discussing women in crisis management.  This is a very timely subject.  We need to view women as agents of change.

This is what we are doing at the United Nations.  We advocate for women, but more than that, we involve women.  Under my tenure as Secretary-General, more women have been appointed to senior positions than ever before, nearly tripling their number in top managerial roles. 

For example, when I started [as Secretary-General] there were 17 women at the rank of Assistant Secretary-General, and now there are 45.  That is more than two and a half times as many in two and a half years.  At the rank of Under-Secretary-General, which is the senior-most level, I have increased the number of women by 45 per cent with the addition of nine women.

I firmly believe that protecting women does not mean deciding what is right for them and then imposing it.  Protecting women means letting them negotiate and respecting their decisions.

I can send numerous male mediators and peacekeepers to a war-ravaged country and encourage the leaders there to involve women in negotiations.  But it is more effective when I staff my missions with many capable women, or choose a woman as my top envoy.  That is what I did in Liberia.  I also recently appointed another in the Central African Republic.  I am very proud of them.  They are demonstrating excellent leadership.

Here is what those female professionals are showing:  women not only play a role that is equal to men in crisis management; they also open doors that might otherwise remain closed.  It is only natural, for example, that women who have been victimized by sexual violence will be more comfortable discussing their terrible ordeal with a female officer.  And so where we deploy female officers we have seen more victims coming forward, which means more criminals can be prosecuted and punished.  It is also only natural that when local women see female police on patrol, they may be inspired to seek a career in law enforcement.  And so where we deploy female officers we have seen a rise in recruitment among women.  In Liberia, we have an all-woman police contingent.

One female captain serving with the United Nations in Haiti described how her gender puts her at an advantage.  She said, “One is still a woman with the heart, the sensitivity… [and] all the feelings of a woman but one can work… and even more so in peacekeeping missions”.

I would only add that this is true not just in peacekeeping missions, but wherever there is a crisis.

Women around the world are making an enormous contribution, and they can do even more.  You, as First Ladies who have a unique and compelling perspective on global events, can lead the way.

I am counting on your continued leadership and initiative, and I look forward to the results of this valuable Summit.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.