Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to participate in this high-level panel, which is part of a series of events to celebrate both the 40th anniversary of CEDAW and the 10th anniversary of my mandate.
I will focus my remarks on how my mandate addresses the critical linkages between gender equality and sustainable development, and highlight how we support national authorities in building more effective, accountable and inclusive institutions in their response to conflict-related sexual violence.
Since I took office in June 2017, one of my strategic priorities for the mandate has been to address the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence, with structural gender inequality and discrimination as its invisible driver.
Indeed, in all countries covered by my mandate, we see how structural gender inequalities and discrimination are exacerbated in conflict and post-conflict situations, leaving women and girls furthest behind in terms of development, locking them in situations of poverty and heightened risk of violence and vulnerability that persist across generations.
While both men and women suffer the pain of war, structural bias means that women have far fewer resources with which to cope. Conflict compounds the pre-existing gender gap in access to land and other productive resources, and in some cases, reduces women to an expendable form of “currency”, through which armed and violent extremist groups consolidate their power.
When war erupts, and the threat of rape at gunpoint becomes a pervasive terror, women are unable to safely access fields, marketplaces and water points. Girls are unable to safely attend school, while early marriage spikes because families have no other means of providing for or safeguarding their daughters. In addition, armed, terrorist and transnational criminal groups directly profit from trafficking, with victims being either abducted or deceived by false promises. Their dreams of finding safety and opportunity become nightmares of sexual slavery and forced prostitution.
The burden of care that war leaves behind in its wake, including care for the wounded, sick, traumatized and orphaned, is disproportionately borne by women. Shouldering the burden of unpaid labour keeps women impoverished, without educational opportunities nor chances for participation in public life.
This continuum of violence requires a holistic response that focuses on the advancement of substantive gender equality before, during and after conflict, and takes into account the survivors’ diverse experiences of conflict and specific needs.
War is not gender-neutral. Our responses cannot be gender-blind.
Consider the plight of a woman who has been raped, cast out of her home and community due to stigma, and forced to fend for herself and her dependent children in an environment of ongoing insecurity. This woman will confront greater threats and be forced to take greater risks because the basic needs of her family are not being met.
With the advent of the 2030 Agenda, we are better poised than ever before to tackle the gender-based discrimination that is the root cause and invisible driver of sexual violence in times of war and peace.
The inclusion of the goal on gender equality, particularly its Target 5.2, gives renewed impetus to ending all forms of violence against women and girls. This target also reflects global recognition that eliminating violence against women and girls is key to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, which in turn are essential conditions for sustainable development.
In addressing the structural drivers of conflict, and in line with Goal 16, my Office also supports national authorities in building stable and inclusive societies by reinforcing institutions that uphold the rule of law. Justice and the rule of law are essential for development. Yet, for too many survivors of sexual violence, justice is out of reach. My priorities for the mandate include ensuring that justice and security sector institutions are equally accessible and responsive to women.
To engage States’ responsibility, my Office develops specific, time-bound commitments, expressed in the form of Joint Communiqués or Frameworks of Cooperation, which establish priority areas for a holistic approach to prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence. The implementation of these agreements is supported by the UN Team of Experts on Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, located in my Office, to support national authorities to strengthen the rule of law response to sexual violence crimes. I have made it a priority to reflect in these agreements that all actions be integrated in the context of wider, national efforts on gender-based violence, so that the response to sexual violence contributes to the transformation of pre-existing structural gender inequalities and thereby enables the consolidation of more inclusive democratic societies.
I coordinate efforts across the UN through UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict – a network of 13 UN entities which I chair, to also ensure that all impediments to women’s full and formal participation in political, economic and social life, are removed. Self-reliance, economic empowerment and political voice are among the most effective forms of protection from conflict-related sexual violence.
It is in that same spirit that in July 2018 my Office signed a Framework of Cooperation with the CEDAW Committee, marking a first collaboration between a Security Council mandated body and a human rights mechanism.
Gender-based violence was considered the “missing dimension” of the MDGs. Today, the SDGs provide a comprehensive blueprint for addressing gender inequality and enhancing peace and shared prosperity. The international community has set its sights on the year 2030 as the expiry date for gender-based inequality and violence in all its forms. The survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by war, have a right to justice, reparations and redress, and must not be left behind in these efforts.