Mr. President of the Security Council,
Distinguished members of the Council,
Madame Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security,
Ms. Bience Gawanas, Special Adviser on Africa to the Secretary-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking the President of the Security Council for convening this meeting on women, peace and security in the Sahel, as well as for Sweden’s leadership on this issue during the country’s time in the Security Council.
Yesterday I returned from a joint UN-African Union mission to three countries – South Sudan, Niger and Chad. This mission was the second of its kind, following last year’s high-level visit to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In reporting back to the Security Council at that time -- marking the first time this Council had heard a briefing on women, peace and security in relation to a country situation -- Members of the Council requested further trips of this nature. A request I am pleased to report we took forward. I would like to thank the governments of South Sudan, Chad and Niger
In Niger and Chad we were joined by Foreign Minister Wallström in her capacity as President of the Security Council for July. At various points on the trip, we were also joined by relevant senior UN colleagues – including the Executive Directors of UN Women and UNFPA, SRSGs on sexual violence in conflict, Great Lakes, UNOCA and Energy for All, the DSRSG for UNOWAS, and the Special Adviser on the Sahel. I was proud to lead a delegation in which women made up the majority.
Our purpose was to highlight issues of women, peace and security and development. Throughout the trip, we met with women’s civil society leaders, community representatives as well as religious and traditional chiefs. We visited development projects, and then met with local authorities, senior government officials and heads of state to discuss key challenges and opportunities as well as convey the voices and messages we heard.
Four issues resonated most dramatically.
First, the need to address the stark cost that women and girls pay for conflict. This was particularly evident in South Sudan, where we visited women in protection of civilian sites who spoke of the violence they face both inside and outside the camps. It was also borne out in the stories of women in rural areas of Chad, where the impact of Boko Haram has resulted in insecurity, loss of family members and the increased use of female suicide bombers.
Second, we heard a universal and increasingly frustrated call by women for greater inclusion, representation and participation in all areas of society.
They demand greater participation in decision making. In South Sudan, they asked that their voices be heard in Juba, Addis Ababa and Khartoum in the peace process. In Chad and Niger, they advocated for implementation of legislation on a quota for political participation, and recognition of their role in the economy and in preventing violent extremism.
Greater representation at the community level is a further imperative. The women religious leaders we met in Chad are a powerful voice against gender inequality and against the attacks on women’s rights that are such a core part of terrorist groups’ strategy and identity. By teaching the Quran, they are sending a message that the Quran and Islam are both for men and women and a is a religion of peace.
Women are also seeking greater inclusion in the economy. In the Bol region of the Lake Chad Basin, we saw the multiple roles fisherwomen were playing in maintaining livelihoods in the absence of men who had been killed, and in building community resilience in the face of environmental degradation and insecurity caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Such models, if scaled up, have the potential to generate economic dividends of for the country.
We reminded leaders that inclusion is not a woman’s issue, it is a whole-of-society issue.
Third, there is a clear need to keep countries experiencing fragility today from becoming the failed states of tomorrow.
In Chad and Niger, the countries are dealing with challenges that are largely not of their making, including insecurity that originated beyond their borders and climate change that respects no borders at all. Despite their own constraints, they are among the world’s most generous hosts of refugees. But the impact on their economies and development aspirations has been profound. The President of Niger, for example, presented to us his renaissance plan to meet the basic needs of the country’s population, but these have been hampered by the fall in uranium and oil prices and the expenditure on security. Security comes at a price; too often it comes at the expense of development.
In this context, it is critical that we all step up. This means urgently increasing our budget support for development in these and other fragile countries. This is a matter of human dignity first and foremost. But it is also a matter of peace and security. Investment in development must be transformative; it must support only scaled-up, integrated projects. In Niger, we visited a UN programme that brought together health, nutrition, agriculture, water and sanitation alongside women’s empowerment recognizing the context of climate change. I am confident that the reforms we are pursuing in the Organization will provide the necessary space to scale such interventions.
With today’s conflicts greater in both number and complexity, it is more important than ever to find the path to peacebuilding and sustainable development for all. Across the three countries we visited, it is evident that women can be the agents of a new and necessary approach.
We sensed during our visit an increasingly pressing need to operationalize the policies, frameworks and agendas we have in place. For 18 years, this Council has debated the agenda item of women, peace and security annually during thematic debates. Once a year we assert that gender equality is foundational to stability and peace. But rarely have we moved beyond principles. Now is the time to move from frameworks to action. Investing in peace now in this region will bring global dividends to all.
With Resolution 1325 and the seven resolutions that build on it, we have the necessary commitments. We have tools such as a recalibrated UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. We must now bring these to life, and encourage further alignment between the Sahel Support Plan, Agenda 2030, Agenda 2063 and national plans.
The cost of inaction is high. Poverty, weak institutions and gender inequality, including the abhorrent practices such as child marriage, are creating an environment ripe for extremism.
Thank you again for supporting such joint missions, which we believe contribute greatly to advancing the work of this Council. We look forward to working together to draw the appropriate lessons towards building lives of peace and equality for all.