Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the ministerial round table on “Transformative approaches: State support to promote women’s participation in peacebuilding”, in New York today:
I thank the Government of Sweden and the International Peace Institute for convening this virtual platform.
2020 was set to be a milestone year for gender equality and the empowerment of women. A year to commemorate and reflect critically on progress made in the 20 years since Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security was adopted. Instead, the world over, attention has shifted to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. And we have quickly realized that inequalities in all forms are shaping the way in which the pandemic is affecting individuals and communities — and hampering our capacity for effective recovery.
In the case of gender equality, the crisis is putting at risk the limited gains that have been made in recent years. The world over, women represent more than 70 per cent of health workers globally and carry the burden of unpaid care work at home. Meanwhile, women’s increased engagement in informal and insecure work has left many vulnerable to exclusion from formal social protection measures and facing economic insecurity. Emergency measures, including movement restrictions, confinement and the shifting of resources to fight COVID-19, risk disproportionately affecting women. This includes increased gender-based violence and restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The global health crisis is testing governance, leadership and democratic institutions everywhere. The urgent need for action is often obscuring issues of inclusivity. The complexity of these challenges is heightened in conflict and fragile settings where displaced, rural, refugee, poor or otherwise marginalized women face compounding difficulties, including lack of access to information, services and critical technologies. In these situations, shifting resources from gender-equality initiatives can have harmful intergenerational consequences.
So, at this critical time, what transformative actions can States take to support women’s participation? Today, I would like to highlight 10 key points.
One, States must continue to prioritize implementing the women, peace and security agenda. For 20 years, this agenda has provided a road map for inclusive and effective peacebuilding for sustainable peace. The current health crisis should not deviate us from these goals. Women’s full and meaningful participation must be built into national, regional and international responses to the pandemic and peacebuilding alike.
Two, States should maintain support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. The women, peace and security agenda is not an agenda to make war safe for women. It is fundamentally an agenda of prevention and sustainable peace. This is also the aim of the ceasefire. More than 110 Governments, regional organizations, religious leaders, civil society and armed groups have endorsed the call. However, many conflict parties have yet to act. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have rejected all calls for a ceasefire during Ramadan. In Syria, the parties have refused to engage in ceasefire talks, and in other parts of the world, declared ceasefires are faltering. Continued high-level and high-profile advocacy, and where possible, engagement with conflict parties is needed.
Three, States should lead by example. Put simply, States must include women in decision-making at all levels and deploy women to support global peacemaking efforts. States must work in partnership through multilateral institutions like the United Nations. Only together, working cooperatively, can we forge peace and recover from the pandemic.
Four, States must continually ask: “Where are the women?” As we are seeing in the COVID-19 response, without women’s equal participation, we are missing half our expertise and solutions. Women as community leaders are key to the response, especially in those countries where trust in the Government is low.
Five, States should support innovative methods for inclusive peace processes to continue. Some peace processes have slowed or moved online due to the pandemic, but many women’s organizations continue to mobilize using social media and other tools. The Special Envoys for Colombia, Syria and Yemen have been using digital platforms to continue to consult women. As the crisis continues, States should consider investing in innovations to ensure women’s participation in peacemaking continues, to link local women peacebuilders to Track 1 processes, and to support women’s engagement in peace agreement implementation efforts.
Six, States must use evidence-based approaches to drive conflict-sensitive and gender-responsive actions. COVID-19 is likely to increase existing grievances and inequalities and the response must ensure that these do not increase, and where possible, address them. Sex- and age-disaggregated data should guide policy and emergency‑response efforts should be reviewed regularly to check for unintended consequences, such as increased domestic violence, narrowing the space for women’s civil society organizations to operate and hindering women’s political participation.
Seven, States should provide direct financial support to women’s organizations. These are the organizations that continue to deliver for communities, particularly when access for others may be difficult. And yet, many women’s organizations are currently facing existential threats due to the pandemic and shifts in resources. States must continue to prioritize flexible and sustainable funding for women’s civil society groups and grass‑roots organizations to help secure their survival. For our part, the United Nations Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund has opened a dedicated window for COVID-19 response and the Spotlight Initiative is shifting resources to women’s organizations.
Eight, States must continue to support and integrate gender equality in the response. Through this pandemic we have two choices — we can lose the gains of past decades or we can emerge more resilient, equal and inclusive. The second option is only possible if we continue to support gender-equality priorities through this period. Gender equality and meaningful participation of women should be integrated into the health, emergency and socioeconomic response.
Nine, intergovernmental processes, including the Security Council, should continue to build on the efforts made to hear from women civil society representatives directly. Last year, 23 women’s civil society representatives briefed the Security Council on country-specific situations. Only just a few years ago, this number was zero.
As the current situation forces us to find new ways of working, we need to find not the limitations, but rather the potential in this. People who we could not travel previously because of distance, time or other obstacles, are now just a screen connection away. This is an opportunity for us to, in fact, hear more from those we haven’t connected with before. In this context, it is an opportunity to hear from women peacebuilders in countries most affected.
I’m pleased to note that the Peacebuilding Commission has adopted innovative approaches to ensure briefings from local women peacebuilders. In this context, Generation Equality, the UN’s most ambitious campaign to accelerate gender‑equality actions and mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, has not been stopped by COVID-19. The United Nations is joining activists from around the world to promote women’s rights, using every space possible, including social media.
And ten, finally, together we must pursue transformative political, social and economic change. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) projects that, for the first time since 1990, global human development could decline this year, and intergenerational equality could be at stake: by disrupting schooling for hundreds of millions of children, the pandemic obstructs social mobility for a generation, especially women and girls. Concerted equity-focused interventions are urgently needed to mitigate the far-reaching socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.
The United Nations framework for immediate socioeconomic response puts gender equality and prevention imperatives at its centre. It provides an integrated support package with a focus on the most vulnerable countries, groups and people who risk being left behind. Our socioeconomic impact assessments at the country level apply a gender lens throughout our response and identify inequalities and grievances that are oftentimes the root causes of violent conflict. The national socioeconomic responses should build trust, enhance social cohesion, resilience and peacebuilding.
As entire countries and economies look to rebuild after the COVID-19 crisis, our combined efforts must be directed to build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies — to rebuild better, as we work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Like the women, peace and security agenda, the 2030 Agenda is premised on the recognition that women’s full, equal and meaningful participation is fundamental to changing our world. Effectively supporting this is the ultimate of transformative acts. I thank you.