Amid a raft of recent rapprochements and revitalized peace processes in the Horn of Africa, the Security Council — fresh off the heels of a visit to the region — must do more to support women peacekeepers and civil society leaders on the front lines of conflict, the 15-member organ heard today.
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer for the African Union, briefed the Council on the two organizations’ recently-concluded joint solidarity mission to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Both officials expressed optimism for the region, highlighting a unique window of opportunity for the Council to support new strides towards lasting peace. They also outlined concrete ways to push forward women’s leadership, including accelerating the deployment of women mediators and equipping female peacekeepers with basic necessities.
“The chance for peace in this region is real,” said the Deputy Secretary‑General. Not only was each country moving at its own pace through a process of reform and transformation, but women were playing a critical leadership role. Ethiopia now had its first woman President, and half of its Government ministers were women. Spotlighting “islands of stability” in Somalia, she outlined the joint delegation’s visits with civil society leaders in Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan — including women who helped drive the latter’s recent revolution.
However, she also observed that the United Nations continues to deploy less than 4 per cent female peacekeepers. It was important to increase the percentage of women in security and peacekeeping forces but for that to happen, much more support needed to be provided, including ensuring that Blue Helmet deployment kits were properly equipped for female peacekeepers. Commenting that it might be the first time such words have been spoken in the Council, she pointed out that peacekeeper deployment kits do not include sanitary pads, a basic necessity to female peacekeepers.
The Permanent Observer for the African Union said that the joint mission — the third of its kind to focus on women — comes amid a broader understanding that peace, security and development stand little chance without the full participation of women. Indeed, women are on the front lines of addressing climate insecurity, radicalization and violent extremism.
Calling on the Council to provide substantive support, she said joint efforts by the United Nations and the African Union can help the Horn of Africa bridge gaps in women’s leadership. “Whatever support we give, we also need to consider […] the basic needs that women peacekeepers have,” she said, citing private bathroom facilities and services to allow them to communicate with their families. Those simple things can be easily overlooked but make a huge impact, she said.
As Council members took the floor, many applauded improved relations between countries in the Horn of Africa, progress in Sudan’s political transition and strides in implementing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. Many echoed calls to bolster the deployment of female peacekeepers, while some also posed specific questions to the briefers.
Equatorial Guinea’s delegate pledged his Government’s full support for efforts to address ongoing challenges throughout the region — including sexual violence against women — and to help increase women’s participation in peacemaking. Recalling that the Deputy Secretary-General has also visited West Africa in a similar capacity, he welcomed collaboration by the United Nations and the African Union in promoting the women, peace and security agenda and called for more joint efforts to increase the presence of females at negotiating tables and in governance.
China’s representative was among those speakers who drew attention to the Horn of Africa’s strategic importance to ensuring peace and stability across all of Africa and beyond. Actions by the United Nations and the international community, while respecting sovereignty of States, must also help create an enabling environment for the engagement of Africa’s women in peace and security matters — including conflict prevention and mediation. In addition, he urged partner agencies and countries to prioritize social and economic development and to help eliminate the root causes of conflict.
The representative of the United States emphasized that the abilities of women peacekeepers often rendered them better able to relate to local communities. Urging all troop- and police-contributing countries to increase women’s deployment, she also encouraged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to engage with South Sudan’s leaders to implement their peace agreement, underlining that the eyes of the world are on the country as the 12 November deadline for launching the transitional Government approaches.
Echoing that point, South Africa’s representative described it as crucial to ensure that the political processes under way in the region are sustained through dialogue and cooperation, with the active participation of women. Noting that the deployment of female peacekeepers remains negligible despite the adoption of a 2015 Council resolution calling for the doubling of women in military and police contingents, he nevertheless welcomed the recent adoption of resolution 2493 (2019) — by whose terms the Council urged States to recommit themselves to the women, peace and security agenda.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Peru, Belgium, Poland, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 11:57 a.m.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, reported on the visit conducted jointly by the Security Council and the African Union to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia from 21 to 26 October. The mission was an opportunity to strengthen the implementation of shared United Nations-African Union frameworks on peace and security, the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” campaign and the organizations’ respective sustainable development agendas. Stating she left each country with a sense of optimism, she said: “The chance for peace in this region is real.” Not only is each country moving at its own pace through a process of reform and transformation, but women are playing a critical leadership role. Ethiopia now has its first woman President, and half of its Government ministers are women. Efforts under way include far-reaching legal reforms for greater gender equality, which were cited by the Nobel Committee when they awarded Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed the Peace Prize in September.
In Somalia, the mission met with Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre and with dynamic female ministers who are introducing reforms to address the challenges of women’s low representation in political life, she continued. Outlining meetings with civil society groups and others on the front lines of preventing the spread of violent extremism, she observed: “There are islands of stability in [Somalia] that can be built upon.” However, that will require more central Government cooperation with federal member states, as well as a road map for transitional justice and social reintegration. Also outlining meetings in Eritrea — one of the few nations in the world where women fought in significant numbers on the frontlines of the independence movement — she said relations between that country and its neighbours are nascent but making strides. “There is a unique opportunity in this moment for the international community to support greater integration and sustainable peace,” she said.
Describing similar visits in Djibouti and Sudan, she said that in the latter, she met with some of the women who were the engine of the recent revolution and who are now demanding equality and inclusion across all strata of society. “The road ahead for the Horn of Africa will not be easy,” she said, but the foundations have been laid for a transition from peace to sustainable development. Building on those fragile foundations will require unity and cooperation across the region, as well as common ground internationally — particularly with regards to the issues of refugees, internally displaced persons and sexual violence in conflict.
Developments in one country of the region will affect the others, she said, drawing special attention to the “new dawn” currently taking shape in Sudan. Urging the Council to stand ready to provide support, she welcomed the recent unanimous decision to extend the mandate of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) for one year. Women in all her visits made clear that a premature drawdown could leave a security vacuum, exposing them to greater violence and putting at risk progress towards economic stability.
She called on the Council to assist in identifying concrete actions that can be delivered in Sudan in the next three months, spotlighting that the new Government is committed to addressing the root causes of conflict. The opportunity in Sudan will require putting aside usual ways of working; development investment will be needed alongside the political transition if the latter is to flourish. Efforts are needed in a range of critical areas, including delisting and debt relief, as Sudan urgently needs a fresh start.
Each country of the region is headed in the right direction, she said, adding: “We must seize this opportunity to invest in and support peace.” It was also important to increase the percentage of women in security and peacekeeping forces, she emphasized, highlighting the fact that the United Nations continues to deploy less than 4 per cent female peacekeepers. Much more needs to be done to provide support. Commenting that it might be the first time such words have been spoken in the Council, she pointed out that peacekeeper deployment kits do not fit women’s needs, including such basic necessities as sanitary pads.
FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer for the African Union, said: “The central tenet of these missions is to support women’s initiatives and enhance their role in leadership and peace processes, governance and the development of their communities, countries and ultimately the transformation of Africa.” Recalling that the visit was the third of its kind, she said that in July 2018 the Council went to South Sudan, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel region. At that time, it was clear that peace, security and development stood little chance without the full and effective participation of women and youth; they are on the frontline of addressing climate insecurity, radicalization and violent extremism. This year, the mission’s efforts highlighted the poignant realities of women and girls who continue to suffer from exclusion, communal conflicts, internal displacement, unregulated migration and violent extremism.
Outlining some of the mission’s experiences and perceptions, she said that it participated in the launch of the Ethiopian National Chapter of the African Women Leader’s Network and visited a shelter for women victims of human trafficking. In Djibouti, the delegation met with women parliamentarians, entrepreneurs and doctors who are leading transformation on the ground, as well as with President Ismail Omar Guelleh. In Somalia, it met with Prime Minister Khayre and other senior Government officials and visited the headquarters of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Reaffirming the African Union’s commitment to women’s participation in that mission, she went on to describe the joint delegation’s interactions in Djibouti and its meeting with President Isaias Afwerki. The Council’s substantive support for women’s organizations and projects is crucial, along with ongoing engagement with other Member States. Furthermore, concerted efforts between the African Union and the United Nations provide an immense opportunity to bridge gaps on women’s leadership. In that context, she called on the two organizations to be on the vanguard of solidarity with the peoples and Governments of the region.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) welcomed attention to the role of women and youth in the Horn of Africa. Stressing that women have abilities that differ from men in peacekeeping missions as they can better relate to some communities, she urged all troop- and police-contributing countries to institute policies to increase women’s deployment. She deemed it critical that women have a significant role in Somalia’s elections and its progress to federalism. Urging greater harmony between Djibouti and Eritrea, she encouraged further dialogue between countries in the Horn. In addition, she encouraged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to engage with South Sudan’s leaders to implement their peace agreement, underlining that the eyes of the world are on the country as the 12 November deadline for launch of the transitional Government approaches. To accomplish that and other advances, she stated that it is an obligation of Member States to ensure that women have a greater presence in institutions of power. “Let’s give more women a seat at the table and let’s listen to what they have to say,” she said.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that positive developments in the Horn of Africa must feed into the women, peace and security agenda, and that Ethiopia is an example to follow in terms of women’s participation in peace and governmental processes. In Sudan, he added, women have earned their role in the transition. In that light, he called for the female quotas for representation to be respected. Noting the challenges that must be met to meet the 12 November deadline in South Sudan, he stressed that there too, quotas for women must be respected in transitional bodies. He called on the Council to closely follow development of rapprochement between Djibouti and Eritrea. Expressing concern over continued attacks of Al-Shabaab in Somali, he affirmed that women have a key role to play in the development of federalism there.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru), hailing the perspective of the speakers today, affirmed the importance of women leadership in transitional processes. Somalia’s women must play a leading role in development and fighting violent extremism and in shaping federalism in the country, he stressed. Underscoring the role played by women in Sudan’s recent advancements, he asked for more information on their current participation. He added that job opportunities and access to Government posts for women need to be expanded in all post-conflict situations, with the support of the Council in terms of its formulation of mandates.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), welcoming advances in cooperation with the African Union and in the women, peace and security agenda evidenced by this meeting, said that women’s continuing participation in all areas in the Horn of Africa is needed to consolidate the progress that has been made. She commended also the accomplishments of the leader of Ethiopia in that light. She added that the United Nations and its Member States should lead the way to seek real parity in all peace activities as a model for Somalia’s elections. Every actor on the international stage should assess its efforts for parity in that context.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) highlighting new, promising political dynamics in the Horn of Africa, including the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the democratic transition taking place in Sudan, said that the region is facing a unique opportunity to work collectively to “forge the future of peace and progress”. Stressing the indispensability of the meaningful participation of women in this process, he encouraged the region to ensure that they have a strong voice in decision-making. He commended the recent appointment of females in senior decision-making positions in Sudan and expressed hope that authorities in Somalia will secure a 30 per cent quota for women in the upcoming elections. Further, evidence shows that security efforts are more successful and sustainable when women contribute to prevention and early warning, mediation, peacekeeping, post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding. There is no alternative to supporting women’s political, social and economic empowerment if the international community is to be serious about its commitment to a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Horn of Africa, he stated.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) welcomed cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations, noting that harnessing the current moment of hope in the Horn of Africa requires the critical engagement of women. Welcoming women’s advancements in political processes across the region, he said their engagement in peace processes must also be encouraged. Expressing concern that Somalia’s draft Constitution does not guarantee women’s political representation, he asked the briefers whether any other measures to ensure such representation were raised during the joint visit — including in the context of that country’s upcoming election. Additionally, he asked them to outline measures being undertaken by the Sudan’s Government to implement the country’s national action plan on women, peace and security. Noting that mandate renewal of UNAMID offers a chance to rethink the relationship between the Operation’s exit strategy and the needs of females, he stressed that women’s participation is particularly crucial in the Horn of Africa as it faces such emerging challenges as climate change.
WU HAITAO (China) said stability in the Horn of Africa impacts peace and security across the entire continent. Noting that several challenges remain — including ensuring women’s participation in security issues — he called on the United Nations and the international community to act on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of States in the region. They should assist those countries in creating an enabling environment for the engagement of Africa’s women in peace and security matters, including conflict prevention and mediation. Also underlining the primary role and responsibility of countries of the region to protect women in conflict situations and address any violations of their rights, he stressed that the international community should fully trust and respect the countries concerned. The various United Nations agencies should maximize their respective advantages to provide support, he said, calling on partners to prioritize social and economic development and to help eliminate the root causes of conflict. China fully supports the region in bringing the women, peace and security agenda to new heights, he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) agreed with other speakers that strong links exists between security in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere on the continent and the world. Spotlighting the close ties between the Horn of Africa and the Arab region, he said the African Union and IGAD play a critical role in supporting strategic Arab security. Welcoming recent rapprochements as well as the revitalization of Sudan’s peace process, he said such successes encapsulate the region’s commitment to peace as well as alleviating the wounds of the past. Encouraging further joint visits by the United Nations and the African Union, he pointed out that women represent half of society while young people are the future. Those groups are therefore critical for establishing lasting peace, he said.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) noting historic changes in the Horn of Africa, said the rapprochement between Addis Ababa and Asmara in 2018 triggered subsequent engagements between Eritrea and Djibouti and Somalia. Acknowledging unresolved bilateral issues and unhealed wounds, he underscored the need for African solutions to African problems. Countries in the region are still facing many conflict drivers, including weak governance and socioeconomic difficulties. Terrorism remains among the largest security threats, he noted, calling for caution to minimize the impacts of conflicts and to protect the safe passageway across the Red Sea. Strategically located on a major shipping route and blessed with natural resource, the Horn of Africa contains some of the continent’s fastest growing economies. The international community must capitalize on the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area and further economic cooperation, he said.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), noting severe challenges that remain despite recent positive developments in the Horn of Africa, affirmed the importance of women’s participation in both peacebuilding and governance in the region. Integration of women into the countries’ economic fabric is critical to increase such participation, he stressed. Surveying improved intercountry relations in the region, he called on the Council to maintain close vigilance on progress in women’s participation there.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), welcoming the fact that joint missions have now become a tradition between the United Nations and the African Union, agreed that peace and security have no chance if women are excluded. He paid tribute to the President of Ethiopia and the opening of the women’s network there but regretted that there were no other female Presidents in Africa. He also warned against complacency regarding progress in all the countries being discussed today. In that regard, he asked what could be done to have more women participate in current developments in Sudan. Noting also many challenges that remain in Eritrea and Djibouti, he pointed to a need for women to participate in improving the situation in each country and in the relations between them. Women must also participate integrally in planned elections in Somalia and other efforts for progress there.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) pledging his Government’s full support to fight sexual violence against women and increase their participation in peacemaking, noted the Deputy Secretary-General’s visits to his region as well, welcoming the cross-cutting nature of her efforts. He welcomed the joint visits of the United Nations and the African Union in promoting the women, peace and security agenda and called for continued collaborative work to increase the presence of females at negotiating tables and in governance across the continent. It is clear that both women and young people are critical in facing the challenges of Africa, he concluded.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) deemed the joint visits very instructive in the context of what he called the critical juncture in which the Horn of Africa finds itself. In pursuit of normalization between Eritrea and Djibouti, he stressed that dialogue must continue to overcome challenges. He stated that the dossier no longer represented a threat to international peace and security, however, and could be taken off the Council agenda. Concerned over the situation in Somalia, he underlined the important role of peacekeepers there and pledged his country’s continued aid to the country. He also supported the call to lift restrictive measures on Khartoum and looked for the parties in South Sudan to meet the 12 November deadline. Affirming that development progress must be made to consolidate peace, he called attention to the first Russian Federation/Africa summit held recently in Sochi as well as his country’s extensive aid to the continent, which has been increased recently through the World Food Programme (WFP).
JERRY M. MATIJA (South Africa) applauded the improvement in relations between countries in the Horn of Africa, as well as progress in Sudan’s transition and the implementing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. He also underlined the need to strictly adhere to the 12 November deadline to form the latter’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity without any delays. It is crucial to ensure that the political processes under way in the region are sustained through dialogue and cooperation, he said, spotlighting the important role to be played by women. Women’s involvement in United Nations peacekeeping remains negligible despite the adoption of resolution 2242 (2015) — which calls for the doubling of women in military and police contingents over the next five years. He, nevertheless, welcomed the Council’s recent adoption of resolution 2493 (2019) by whose terms it unanimously urged States to recommit themselves to the women, peace and security agenda. Indeed, the international community must continue to support the narrative that women and young people are agents of change, he said.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, echoing calls for more women in political and peace processes. That means an even greater emphasis should be placed on girls’ education, which will enable them to take their place at negotiating tables in the future. Spotlighting some of the joint delegation’s activities in the countries visited, she urged Somalia to ensure women’s meaningful participation in its political process and welcomed ongoing work on that front in Sudan. As well, there is a clear opportunity to improve Eritrea’s relationship with the United Nations and other partners, including in such areas as human rights. She called on that country to ensure women’s strong participating in the upcoming elections and to reform security and justice institutions to make them more responsive to the needs of women and girls. Directing several questions to the briefers, she asked how partners can ensure that increased investment in girls’ education translates to women’s empowerment and what practical steps could improve women’s participation in peacekeeping. She also asked what types of support are needed to strengthen the role of women mediators and civil society members in political dialogues.
Ms. A. MOHAMMED, responding to those and other questions raised throughout the meeting, said it should not take a delegation’s visit to identify and address gaps in women’s participation. Calling for a mapping of skill gaps in peacekeeping forces, she also underlined the need for more resources to deploy female mediators across the region. “We need to be aware of some of the needs of women,” including in AMISOM and other operations across the Horn of Africa, she said. More so, girls’ education is critical, she stressed, adding that “without it, we won’t silence the guns”. She also drew attention to second-chance education programmes for women, as well as those aimed at renewing their skills. In Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere, the joint delegation explored the issue of gender inclusivity in school curricula and found that more planning and resource allocation is needed.
Ms. F. MOHAMMED said the implementation of Sudan’s 17 August Constitutional Declaration must be encouraged, along with the lifting of sanctions, in order for the country to move forward — including on women’s empowerment. In South Sudan, partners should strive to help accelerate the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement while not overlooking the ongoing humanitarian crisis. She also pointed out that the United Nations and the African Union have begun to explore a political strategy to facilitate their coherence in Somalia. “Whatever support we give, we also need to consider […] the basic needs that women peacekeepers have,” she said, citing private bathroom facilities and services to allow them to communicate with their families. Those simple things can be easily overlooked, she observed. However, they nevertheless make a huge impact.