New York: The Women, Peace and Security agenda is “one of our best hopes” for a more peaceful future and a liveable planet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday.
“At this time of proliferating crises, the international community must pursue proven strategies for peace and stability. Protecting and promoting women’s rights is such a strategy,” he said during the debate, highlighting the positive role regional organizations have played in protecting and advancing the key agenda.
‘A question of power’
Although gender equality offers a path to sustainable peace and conflict prevention, the UN chief observed that “we are moving in the opposite direction”.
“Today’s conflicts are amplifying gender inequality, poverty, climate disruptions, and other forms of inequality,” he said, adding that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the violence, and impacts of these cascading crises.
Millions of girls are out of school, with no prospect of financial independence, while rising numbers of women and girls suffer violence at home.
Extremists and military leaders who take power by force, are disregarding gender equality and persecuting women.
“Misogyny and authoritarianism are mutually reinforcing, and are antithetical to stable, prosperous societies,” he said, reminding that “women’s equality is a question of power”.
Patriarchy continues to fail
Political deadlocks and entrenched conflicts continue to highlight examples of enduring power imbalances, such as in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Mali and Sudan.
And most recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced millions of women and children to flee for their lives, “putting them at risk of trafficking and exploitation of all kinds,” he said.
Last week, the Council heard human rights chief Michelle Bachelet highlight 124 reports of conflict-related sexual violence across Ukraine, mostly involving women and girls.
“In all these conflicts we have men in power and women excluded, their rights and freedoms deliberately targeted,” the Secretary-General pointed out.
Collaborating with neighbours
When conflict erupts, neighbouring countries and regional organizations can make a significant difference.
As such, Mr. Guterres expressed his appreciation for UN collaboration with the European Union, the African Union (AU), the League of Arab States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – all of which participated in Wednesday’s debate.
He gave the example of the UN-AU and regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) partnership, in Sudan, to steer the political process back to an agreed and legitimate constitutional order, aiming to ensure that at least 40 per cent of participants are women.
The Secretary-General urged regional organizations to strengthen their engagement with this group for the sake of Sudan’s future.
Committed to women
The UN bolsters women peacebuilders and civil society organizations through its peacebuilding and political missions around the world, including by supporting survivors of sexual violence and investing in partnerships with local women leaders and peacebuilders, and by increasing the number of women personnel at all levels.
“Supporting survivors of sexual violence as well as women peacebuilders and activists is key,” he said. “The evidence is growing by the year that securing women’s rights, including their right to equal participation at all levels, is essential to building and maintaining peace”.
Moreover, full gender parity is required – including through quotas – across election monitoring, security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and justice systems.
Notwithstanding the evidence, “the Women, Peace and Security agenda continues to be challenged and even reversed around the world,” acknowledged the UN chief, urging the ambassadors and all Member States to reflect on the fact that, despite consistent agreement on the value of women at the peace table, “there is still a huge gap in their participation, and in the implementation of promises made for their protection, human rights and dignity”.
“I encourage you to commit to increasing support to women’s civil society, conflict prevention and peacebuilding work,” he concluded.
The head of UN Women, Sima Bahous, highlighted the impact of conflict on women and girls, from disrupting education to early forced marriage, sexual and gender-based violence, food insecurity, and lack of livelihoods as well as access to shelter, sanitation, and dignity.
“It sets us back decades,” she said.
And yet, even as women face threats to their bodies and safety, they further risk their lives as leaders in their communities, as the head of the household, as peacebuilders and mediators.
She reminded the Council of their agreements through Security Council Resolution 1325 to protect women and girls in conflict and to ensure that women are front-and-centre in finding peace.
She added that many Member States have also made national commitments, as have regional organizations.
“Regional organizations have also played a key role in the development of networks of women mediators,” she said, adding that nearly every region and sub-region has at least one.
Yet, with all this institutional progress, almost every time there are political negotiations, peace talks, we wonder: “where are the women?”
“The reason is simply that we have not honoured our commitments,” said Ms. Bahous.
Women must be equally involved “part and parcel of finding peaceful solutions, of recovery and of prevention mechanisms,” she upheld.
The UN Women chief urged the Council, Member States and regional organizations to ensure that all response efforts fully include the voices of women leaders.
“Make sure that women are there. In their own right. With their own lived experiences. Their own knowledge, and with their vision for their future,” she underscored.
“The peace and security to which we aspire, will only be possible when women play a central role,” she added.