Despite Notable Progress, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Still Rampant, Women’s Leadership in Peace Processes Sorely Lagging, Secretary-General Warns
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the head of the United Nations gender equality entity, briefers from the field and Security Council members called for expedited empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, during a video-teleconference Council meeting today, on the twentieth anniversary of the Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000).
“We cannot wait another 20 years to implement the women, peace and security agenda, Mr. Guterres said as he opened the video teleconferenced meeting, reporting that despite much progress, sexual violence is still rampant in conflict zones and women’s leadership in peace processes sorely lagged.
In addition, Mr. Guterres noted that, in a resolution supporting his plea for a global ceasefire to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council made a strong link to the 1325 agenda because of the disproportional impact the virus has on women and girls due to the diversion of funds from programmes promoting their rights, inclusion and health in conflict zones, along with their protection from rising sexual violence.
Women, he said, are also on the front lines of the COVID-19 response at all levels and are dominating sectors of the economy that are critical to daily life. Women caregivers, nurses, teachers, farmers, food vendors and other essential workers are providing the services that keep communities, economies and societies running. “We must recognize these women as the peacebuilders they are, at the local level, in communities around the world,” he stated.
That reality, he continued, confirms the urgent need to ensure that women are in positions of leadership and decision-making everywhere, in order to mitigate the climate crisis, reduce social divisions and achieve lasting peace. He noted the changes in United Nations peace and security efforts to implement resolution 1325 (2000) and the kind of expertise enlisted. The women’s movement and its allies in Governments and international institutions have changed discriminatory laws, reached milestones in political representation and international jurisprudence, and made a difference in peace processes, he added.
At the same time, he said, power structures everywhere are still dominated by men, with women leading Governments in only 7 per cent of countries. Even though the representation of women in United Nations mediation teams has been increased, they remain largely excluded from delegations to peace talks and negotiations, he stated, pointing to Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere as examples.
Ensuring that women play their full part in peace processes, he said, requires stronger partnerships between the United Nations, regional organizations, Member States and civil society, using all tools and innovative solutions. Temporary special measures including quotas can make a huge difference, and women must be included as a priority from the outset. As peace processes move online during the pandemic, efforts to promote women’s participation must keep pace.
Affirming that the issue is a priority of his tenure as Secretary-General, he said gender parity in leadership has been achieved in 2020, with 90 women and 90 men as full-time senior leaders. There is parity among resident coordinators, including in countries affected by conflict. In field missions, women’s leadership has leapt from 21 per cent to 41 per cent in just three years; in special political missions, 52 per cent of Heads or Deputy Heads of Mission are women, he said, expressing determination to continue to push for parity at all levels, well ahead of deadlines. Representation of women among uniformed personal is also still needed, although it has improved.
He said that the international community has a choice: to continue down the path of increasing militarization, conflict and torn societies or to work towards greater inclusion, equality and prevention of conflicts and crises of all kinds. The women, peace and security agenda calls for a broader consideration of ways to prevent conflict and gender-based violence, and to create peaceful, inclusive communities and societies.
Also briefing the Council, Danai Gurira, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) Goodwill Ambassador, paid homage to “real life heroes”, highlighting the work of several activists, including Nujeen Mustafa, a young Syrian woman born with cerebral palsy who travelled from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair, and Clemencia Carabali, defender of the rights of Afro-Colombians, who recently survived yet another assassination attempt. Noting that many of these activists had addressed the Council in the last year, she also pointed to the work of Ilwad Elman, whose family escaped the civil war in Somalia after the killing of their father and made their life in Canada. However, she noted, Elman decided to come back to her country of birth to work for peace in Somalia, and in her speech to the Council, reminded members them that peace talks which focus on warlords while excluding women-led civil society groups are doomed to fail.
What all these real-life heroes have in common, Ms. Gurira said, is their faith in inclusion. While the United Nations has been pushing this idea for the past 20 years, with some progress, it is not nearly enough. “0.2 per cent of aid for women's organizations is not good enough,” she stressed, also adding that “19 per cent of seats in parliament and conflict countries is not good enough.” Male-dominated rooms in the twenty-first century should be embarrassing to all, not least to the men in those rooms, she said, also adding that $1.9 trillion in military spending is not making the world safer.
When women make their mark, she continued, usually it is despite impossible odds, and not because they were given the space or the opportunity. Recalling that Liberian women went so far as barricading a hotel full of warlords and preventing them from leaving until they signed a peace agreement after 14 years of gruesome civil war, she emphasized that women should not be doing this on their own. Even at this time of uncertainty and lack of trust in authorities and institutions, she pointed out, people expect global unity and multilateral cooperation more than ever. “It is now your turn to show that you have been listening,” she said, calling on the Council to show up for women, just as women have been showing up for peace.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN-Women, said resolution 1325 (2000) was born of the tragic experiences of women in Bosnia and Rwanda and the examples of those who fought for their political representation in peace processes in Northern Ireland and Latin America. It emerged from the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, during which women demanded that their rights be recognized as human rights. Those legacies have continued as women in Colombia, Liberia, Afghanistan and elsewhere have insisted on their meaningful participation in peace processes. The United Nations has supported them, including by taking action against atrocity crimes. Recalling the 2015 creation of the Women, Peace, and Security Incentive Fund — which now supports women’s organizations around the globe — she urged all countries to redouble their contributions to such work, warning that “we are still falling short”.
Indeed, she said, women remain systematically excluded from many peace negotiations, confined to informal processes or relegated to the role of spectators as men make crucial decisions about their lives. In recent decades, only 13 per cent of negotiators and 6 per cent of peace agreement signatories were women. Shocking violence against women is still common, as was seen when 250 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria. While women civil society leaders have worked hard to put those perpetrators on record, justice has yet to be delivered. “We have yet to see Da’esh or Boko Haram persecuted for crimes committed against women,” she said. Women and girls around the world are left to fend for themselves while “beautiful words remain just words” in many peace agreements. Latest figures show that funding to women has recently declined.
Turning to the Secretary-General’s latest report on women, peace and security (document S/2020/946), she said it calls first and foremost for a radical shift in women’s meaningful participation in peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping. “This must be a non-negotiable priority for the United Nations,” she stressed. The Organization must also step up action to protect human rights defenders as a hallmark of its work. Meanwhile, women’s needs must be central to efforts to address the world’s most pressing emerging challenges, including the risks posed by technology and the impacts of COVID-19. “We have to resolve to protect gains made and build back better,” she said, describing 2020 as a critical and difficult year for women. Having made women, peace and security an important international issue, the Council must now turn its attention to implementation deficits. In the context of COVID-19, women remain overrepresented in hard-hit economic sectors and underrepresented in pandemic recovery plans. They suffer the worst impacts in conflict zones. Pointing out that women and young people are taking to the street to demand their rights, she said they understand that “there is too much at stake to remain silent”.
Also briefing the Council was Nataliia Emelianova, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Adviser for the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), who said that the Russian Federation has been participating in United Nations peacekeeping activities since 1992, paying special attention to the role women can play in restoring and maintaining international security. People living in places of conflict, weakened by hunger and on constant alert for danger, are wary to trust peacekeeping personnel. If they see a woman, however — “kind, strong and bold” — they tend to trust her, she said.
Ms. Emelianova then detailed her own experience in the field, beginning with her post in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) as the first female Russian peacekeeper on the African continent. The Mission’s mandate initially focused on capacity-building and law enforcement, but was later reoriented towards protecting civilians as the conflict worsened. The knowledge and experience she accumulated with UNMISS allowed her to become an instructor upon her return to the Russian Federation, training her countrymen and foreigners alike to be peacekeepers, she added.
Speaking as a representative of UNISFA, she detailed how the Mission has complied with relevant Security Council recommendations on the participation of women in peacekeeping. Female officers account for 28 per cent of personnel serving throughout the United Nations system and 75 per cent in UNISFA. Furthermore, the Mission’s leadership always considers female officers when appointing key positions. One of the Mission’s primary tasks is to assist the community protection committee in the prevention and investigation of crimes involving sexual and gender-based violence. It is difficult to defend women in situations where they have long been oppressed, she said, pointing out that accurate and timely reporting is a key part of United Nations policework. Major attention has been given to developing a tool-kit and database for these crimes, allowing the Mission to better collect information for follow-up and further analysis.
The COVID-19 pandemic, she continued, has presented its own set of challenges for UNISFA. Interactions with the local community have necessarily been limited, and as the number of infected increases, new initiatives have been put in place to keep United Nations personnel and the local community safe. The UNISFA gender team has provided 30,000 face masks to the local community and maintains contact with the local women’s association, contributing to mutual trust and information-sharing. The Mission also worked to release detainees, especially women and children, who committed petty crimes; of the 185 people in detention, 51 women have been released between April and September.
She underscored that a key challenge in this area is convincing women in tough circumstances that they can live differently, pointing out that women peacekeepers feel this problem more acutely, and can find solutions faster. “The future of humanity lies equally in the actions of women and men,” she said, and only through the joint efforts of all nations is it possible to establish a world safe for women and children.
Zarqa Yaftali, Head of the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, speaking on behalf of the Non-governmental Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, said that attention to the women, peace and security agenda is critical now in her country, Afghanistan, as peace talks are imminent. “Every day is war and everyday people lose their lives,” she said. Women suffer the worst toll due to gender-based violence, child marriages and other scourges, with COVID-19 exacerbating those ills. Despite the challenges, however, for women who have struggled to go to school, free media has arisen which promotes the rights of women and minorities, and women are no longer shot or stoned in stadiums as under the Taliban. They have become doctors, taxi drivers and filmmakers, all of which was forbidden under the Taliban regime. They are now in a better position to help lead their nation towards the future.
She warned that, unless women’s empowerment is prioritized in peace negotiations, all such progress can disappear quickly as it has in areas taken over by the Taliban. Peace cannot be achieved at the cost of women’s rights. She noted that there are four women on the Government’s negotiation team, calling it promising but not enough. Expressing concern that women’s rights will be used as a bargaining chip in talks with the Taliban, she appealed to international partners, who have significant leverage, to ensure that women’s rights will not be eroded in any ways and that women will be included adequately in the peace process. Women must be guaranteed the full scope of human rights in any peace agreement and the safety of women’s rights defenders must also be protected.
Such guarantees of women’s equality must be a prerequisite for any international assistance in the country, as they should be around the world, she emphasized. As the tenth Afghan woman representing her country’s civil society before the Council, she stressed that the Council’s role is more important than ever in the current context. The Council’s actions to ensure women’s progress in Afghanistan throughout the peace process there will be watched by women and human rights defenders all over the world, she said.
Following those briefings, Council members took the floor to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) and to review progress in its implementation. Speakers agreed that the resolution fostered great advances in women’s empowerment and protection, particularly at the international level and in staffing of peacekeeping operations. However, the continuance, and even increase, of gender‑based violence on the ground, attacks on human rights defenders and a lack of critical women’s leadership in peace processes and at the national level are just some of the many indicators of urgent work that still must be done, speakers also stressed. Most therefore appealed for the issue to remain a Council priority, with many noting the work their countries were supporting in that regard.
James Cleverly, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa of the United Kingdom, noted that resolution 1325 (2000) recognized 20 years ago that sustainable peace relied on the integral inclusion of women and girls in peace processes. His country is proud to lead the way in working with Governments and non‑governmental organizations worldwide to include women at the grass‑roots level in resolving conflicts and achieving peace. Stressing that the United Kingdom will not accept any rollback on women’s rights, he said the international community must ensure that resolutions on this topic are taken seriously and fully implemented.
Despite the international community’s best intentions, however, he said resolution 1325 (2000) is facing a wide implementation gap. Considering the vital work they contribute to peace processes, he urged global partners to ensure that women receive the support and respect they deserve. While the voices of women in peacebuilding must be heard and amplified, this may at times come with a risk to their personal security. The United Kingdom supports a protection framework for women in peacebuilding, which will work on preventing and responding to any negative reprisals. Adding that the COVID‑19 pandemic has also threatened hard‑won progress on gender equality, he said his country has contributed 250,000 pounds ($323,000) for research on the impact of the disease on gender.
Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, said that, 20 years on, implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) remains too weak, with women excluded from peace processes and their interests ignored in peacebuilding efforts. “As a global community, we have not lived up to our commitments, she said, pointing out that acts of sexual and gender-based violence are going unpunished amid a global push-back against agreed women’s rights. Twenty years ago, all Council members agreed on the principles enshrined in the women, peace and security agenda, but it is doubtful that the same milestone could be achieved today, she asserted.
She said that as a Council member, Germany made the women, peace and security agenda a key priority, initiating resolution 2467 (2019) to strengthen the rights of survivors of sexual violence and to hold perpetrators accountable. Human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, must be guaranteed and civil society, which had an essential role in forging the women, peace and security agenda, must be included in Council debates. “We have a joint responsibility to implement what we have agreed upon, without watering down any of the commitments we signed on to,” she said. Calling for more support, funding and protection to women peacebuilders, she described how Germany is mainstreaming the women, peace and security agenda into its foreign policy and the training of young diplomats.
France’s representative said that women negotiators and mediators do not have the place that they deserve in peace processes. “Let’s be honest, the talent pool is there - and it must be used,” he said. Sexual and gender‑based violence must be prevented, and when committed, it must be repressed. He regretted the politicization of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, adding that France condemns any overtly sexist, misogynistic or homophobic discourse. Underlining the need for national action plans to implement resolution 1325 (2000), he said that France is giving more attention to gender issues in its humanitarian and development assistance, and that it is launching a €120 million fund to support feminist organizations, especially in developing countries.
The speaker for Tunisia said today’s commemoration should serve as a reminder that, despite progress, the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) was not the end of women’s long march towards equality. Noting that text’s mutual links with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, she said its implementation should be achieved within the broader efforts to fulfill human rights and gender equality, including through the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Acknowledging the contributions of civil society, feminist groups and women human rights defenders, she reported that her country has established a national committee for the implementation of that resolution. The work of this multi‑stakeholder committee culminated in the adoption of a comprehensive and multidimensional national action plan in August 2018, she said, also noting the devastating consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic on women and girls, particularly in conflict and post‑conflict settings. Civil society organizations are struggling, with their resources diverted towards urgent crisis response, she said, calling on Member States to ensure continuity of the necessary funding mechanisms.
The representative of the United States said that women play a central role in preventing and resolving conflict, in countering terrorism and violent extremism and in building post‑conflict peace and stability. Calling on the international community to empower women leaders with the access, skills and positions they need to be effective, she said women have “always had a strong voice, they just need to be heard”. Referencing UNMISS, where women bear the burden of providing for families broken by conflict, she said that an increase in the number of women peacekeepers has improved performance and resulted in fewer instances and increased reporting of sexual abuse by troops. She expressed concern, however, about recent allegations of widespread sexual abuse by international personnel deployed to respond to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and called for these charges to be taken seriously.
Estonia’s representative said restrictions on women’s full enjoyment of human rights and the absence of gender equality increase the risks they face in conflict and undermine their full, equal and meaningful participation in peace processes. Emphasizing that women’s access to sexual and reproductive health is equally relevant, he described the current pushback against women’s rights as unacceptable. Welcoming steps taken to bolster accountability for the women, peace and security agenda’s implementation, he said Estonia has joined the Generation Equality Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action and is developing its third national action plan on women, peace and security. The agenda should also be an integral part of each Council decision and outcome, he said, pointing out that while the organ has agreed to move forward in that direction, it often fails to reach agreement and to live up to those goals in its mandate renewals and country‑specific resolutions. He also called for the Council to engage in broader, more meaningful cooperation with diverse women civil society representatives; back up its commitments with more resources; and stand up to threats and reprisals against women human rights defenders. “We cannot take a step back from the clear commitments that we have made,” he said.
The representative of the Dominican Republic said that gender equality is “a predictor of peace”, calling for full implementation of the women, peace and security agenda. This can only be achieved by addressing the intersecting forms of discrimination that many women face and by removing the structural barriers that prevent their inclusive participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. He called on the Council and United Nations at large to protect and support civil society and defenders of women’s human rights so they can carry out their work without fear of reprisal. Noting COVID‑19’s disproportionate impact on women and girls, particularly in fragile and conflict‑affected areas, he said that women have become critical figures in responding to the virus in their communities and countries. More women peacekeepers are necessary, as is the inclusion of gender‑disaggregated data in peacekeeping mission reports.
China’s representative said the many important anniversaries being marked in 2020 are reminders of the interconnectedness of global peace and development agendas. Since resolution 1325 (2000) first re‑examined and redefined women’s relationship to peace, important strides have been made, with female peacekeepers and senior United Nations officials now deployed around the globe. Chinese women are deployed to UNMISS and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and female Chinese doctors treat patients in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Calling for steady progress to be made in a balanced manner on all four pillars of the women, peace and security agenda, he urged the Council to promote the political settlement of hotspot issues and compel conflict parties to resolve their differences through dialogue.
Rejecting gender‑based violence – including its use as a weapon of war - he called on States to promote women’s right to decision‑making. China plans to participate in the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security and stands committed to the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000). Noting that the issue of women in armed conflict is one of the priority areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, he said it forms a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Efforts are needed to capitalize on the decade of progress already made in that regard, and special attention should now be paid to the role of women and young people in national COVID‑19 recovery efforts. Countries should be supported in implementing the women, peace and security agenda in line with their sovereign rights as well as national conditions, he added.
The speaker for Indonesia said that women’s participation in peace and security is essential, urging the international community not to be complacent of what has been achieved for the last 20 years. Jakarta continues to support the involvement of more women mediators and negotiators, as it brings more legitimacy to the peace process and ensures sustainability of peace itself. The Afghanistan‑Indonesia Women’s Solidarity Network aims to increase the role of Afghan women in peace process. His country is also developing the Southeast Asia Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators. Indonesia initiated resolution 2538 (2020), the first such document that specifically emphasizes the valuable role of women in peacekeeping efforts. Partnership between national authorities and local community is also essential. Indonesia has approximately 30 “peace villages” that promote women’s role and participation to reduce the potential of violent extremism and terrorism in society.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines underscored the resolution’s links with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Noting the underrepresentation of women in peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding, she voiced concern about the escalating levels of sexual and gender‑based violence in many conflict situations. Also pointing to the large number of displaced women and children and the gendered impact of COVID‑19 in conflict‑affected countries and regions, she called on the international community to reckon with the significant gaps in translating the existing normative framework into action. The Council must ensure that gender analysis and the commitment to gender justice guide all deliberations, outcome documents, operations and actions, she said. Highlighting the urgent need to remove structural barriers and intersecting discrimination experienced by women, she added that the current funding model for advancing gender quality remains unpredictable and insufficient.
South Africa’s representative said while virtual means have been used to expand women’s participation in various peace processes during the COVID‑19 pandemic, these virtual engagements should not be used to exclude women’s physical participation. South Africa will keep building the capacity of women negotiators and mediators with annual training locally and across the continent. Women in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are among those who have benefited from these programmes. The recently adopted, first‑ever, Council resolution on women in peacekeeping expands the growing number of normative frameworks on women in peacekeeping. This move is important to South Africa as it remains the leading contributor of female troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations, with 15.1 per cent of its deployed troops being female. He underscored the pivotal role regional organizations play in advancing the women, peace and security agenda, and requested that upcoming Secretary‑General reports provide details on how regional organizations, such as the African Union and its subregional organizations, are promoting the agenda.
The speaker for Belgium pointed out that much progress had been achieved in women’s empowerment since the first United Nations General Assembly, when there were only four women delegates. Much remains to be done, however, and the agenda is a priority in his country’s domestic and foreign policy. Belgium’s funding for implementation of the agenda is steadily increasing, particularly for work at the local level in conflict areas. As women remain underrepresented in peace processes, particularly in counter‑terrorism and disarmament, his country is active on those subjects in places such as the Central African Republic. It is critical, he said, that human rights defenders be protected from attacks and intimidation. Perpetrators of such violations must be prosecuted and sanctions should be used against them in appropriate situations, such as South Sudan. The Council must continue to work in a unified way to implement resolution 1325 (2000), so that gender equality is realized and peace processes strengthened.
Viet Nam’s representative emphasized that peace can only be sustained if conflicts can be prevented and addressed at their roots, and therefore, the women, peace and security agenda should be fully implemented in conflict prevention, socioeconomic development, and post‑conflict peacebuilding, recovery and reconstruction. For its part, his country fully recognizes the key role of women in these processes. Vietnamese women have fought for the country’s freedom and independence, making significant contributions to national recovery and development. Vietnamese women peacekeepers can be effective agents of peace. Women’s organizations, including the Women’s Union, have played an active role in post‑war recovery, mine clearance, and assistance to Agent Orange victims and veterans’ families.
The speaker for Niger underscored the need to continue challenging the status quo – that too few women are meaningfully involved in peace processes despite bearing the brunt of the consequences of conflict worldwide. For Niger, situated in a region with multiple crises, the women, peace and security agenda is fundamental to sustaining peace and preventing conflict. For its part, the country has increased the quota for women in elected positions from 15 to 25 per cent and appointments for senior positions from 25 to 30 per cent. More financing needs to be directed to women peacebuilders’ organizations, as only 0.2 per cent of total bilateral aid for interventions in conflict areas goes directly to these entities. Addressing structural inequalities and discrimination against women and girls is paramount to conflict prevention, he added, urging that access to education is one of the surest ways to tackle some of the drivers of conflict.
The representative of the Russian Federation, Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, highlighting a worrying trend of certain countries’ attempts to claim a monopoly over the protection of women’s rights, in which they arrogantly tell other States what to do and make proposals to that effect. The involvement and participation of women in the resolution of armed conflicts equates to better relations with the local population and ensures the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims. For its part, the Russian Federation continues to partner with the United Nations to train women peacekeepers in certified centers in Domodedovo, and 17 per cent of Russian peacekeepers are women. Measures to implement the women, peace and security agenda should focus on specifics and avoid duplicating the work of the General Assembly, Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, he said.