Mr. President, [Ambassador Martin Belinga-Eboutou, Cameroon]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you, Mr. President, for this initiative in holding this meeting on women, peace and security.
Two years ago, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325, a landmark step in raising awareness of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and of the vital role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Since then, the Council has maintained close attention to this key aspect of international peace and security. It has used the Arria Formula to hear directly from women living in countries mired in conflict. During missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, Council members have met with women's groups and networks. And last July, the Council held a further open discussion on the issue.
Resolution 1325 has also galvanized the UN system into looking more critically at our own work, and how we deal with gender perspectives not only in peace-making, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, but also in humanitarian, disarmament and reconstruction activities.
And more importantly, women at the grassroots level around the world have found the resolution an effective tool in bringing greater attention to their needs and priorities, and in supporting their efforts to contribute to peace processes.
My report on women, peace and security, called for in resolution 1325, is now before you. It is based on the larger study distributed to you earlier this week. I hope you will read it closely and sustain the momentum that has been generated. Toward that end, I would like to draw your attention to a few issues.
The report stresses that while many of the experiences of women and girls in armed conflict are similar to those of men and boys, there are important differences. Existing inequalities between women and men, and patterns of discrimination against women and girls, tend to be exacerbated in armed conflict. Women and girls become particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Women and children make up the majority of the world's refugees and internally displaced persons. Even in refugee camps, which are meant to be safe havens, the vulnerability of women and girls may continue, especially if there is a proliferation of small arms. And some women may be forced to follow camps of armed forces, providing domestic services and/or being used as sexual slaves.
But if women suffer the impact of conflict disproportionately, they are also the key to the solution of conflict. Women's groups and networks at grassroots level have provided many examples of the imaginative strategies and flexible approaches required for effective conflict prevention. They have worked tirelessly and courageously in preserving social order in the midst of chaos, and promoting reconciliation through informal processes that receive very little support. However, with few exceptions, women are not present at the formal negotiating tables and at formal peace negotiations. The report calls for greater representation of women in formal peace negotiations, and for the incorporation of gender perspectives in conflict-prevention activities, and in mandates for peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations, including those set in motion by this Council. It also stresses the need to increase the appointment of women at the highest levels of decision-making, including as Special Representative, Deputy Special Representative and Special Envoy.
The report also points out serious gaps in the legal protections available to women. Certainly, advances have been made in recognizing women's rights. The legal framework is increasingly responsive to the experiences of women and girls in conflict, especially in cases of sexual violence, as we have seen in the important work being carried out by the international criminal tribunals. But there remains much to be done, particularly to improve prevention and to combat impunity.
The report recommends the strongest possible response to the sexual exploitation of women and girls, including prostitution and trafficking, which can occur in the context of peacekeeping, humanitarian activities and other international interventions. The United Nations and its Member States, and in particular troop-contributing States, must do their utmost to ensure that an international presence provides protection and security for all people –women and men, girls and boys -- and does not exacerbate inequalities or lead to an increase in violence against women and girls. The United Nations must not and will not tolerate sexual or other abuse by any staff -- civilian, military or humanitarian.
Two important steps in this direction are the OIOS investigation of allegations of sexual abuse in West Africa, the results of which were made public earlier this week, and the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises. Since the allegations leading to the OIOS report first arose, the United Nations has been determined to act firmly and quickly, not just in West Africa, but on a global basis. Improved systems for recourse, investigation and discipline are being instituted. Mechanisms for protecting those who depend on international aid are being strengthened. And strict standards of behaviour expected of all UN personnel, and our partners in the NGO community, are being adopted. I welcome these steps and reaffirm my commitment to work closely with all involved to ensure full and speedy action wherever necessary.
Finally, the report emphasizes the need for extensive capacity building. If women are to play their full part in negotiating peace accords, mediating disputes, creating new governments, rebuilding judicial and civil infrastructures, and the many other activities that support peace, the world needs to make an investment in building up their skills for doing so. This will require both political will and a much larger pool of funding.
In addition to my own study and report, an Independent Experts' Assessment commissioned by UNIFEM has been made available to you. Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf travelled to many of the world's conflict zones and talked to women and girls who have experienced the devastating impact firsthand. Their analysis, insights and recommendations provide additional food for thought to this Council, as well as for the wider membership, the UN system and civil society.
The world can no longer afford to neglect the abuses to which women and girls are subjected in armed conflict and its aftermath, or to ignore the contributions that women make to the search for peace. It is time they are given the voice in formal peacebuilding and peace-making processes that they deserve. Sustainable peace and security will not be achieved without their full and equal participation. Just as your work can promote gender equality, so can gender equality make your work more likely to succeed.
Thank you very much.