Wednesday, 25 October 2023 23:15

More action needed to advance women’s role in global peace and security

Twenty-three years after the adoption of a landmark UN Security Council resolution on women, peace and security, their presence is still woefully lacking at negotiation tables, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday.

Addressing the Council’s annual debate on resolution 1325, he appealed for countries to “urgently bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality” through concrete action in the areas of participation, financing and leadership.

“Of 18 peace agreements reached last year, only one was signed or witnessed by a representative of a women’s group or organization,” he said. Women also comprised just 16 per cent of negotiators or delegates at UN-led, or co-led, peace processes, he added.

War’s impact on women

Mr. Guterres highlighted how women’s contributions are needed in a world that is on a “knife’s edge” due to raging conflicts, escalating tensions, coups, rising authoritarianism, climate chaos, the nuclear threat, and other crises.

“Where wars rage, women suffer. Where authoritarianism and insecurity reign, women and girls’ rights are threatened. We see this around the world,” he said, pointing to situations in Afghanistan, Haiti, Sudan, Ukraine and the recent escalation in the Middle East.

Women and girls are among the many victims of Hamas’ brutal atrocities,” he told the packed Council chamber.

“And women and children are more than half the victims of the relentless bombing of Gaza. Tens of thousands of pregnant women are desperately struggling to access essential healthcare.”

Shut out and fed up

Mr. Guterres called for the women, peace and security agenda to be fully implemented now “because women have had enough of being shut out of the decisions that shape their lives”.

Women are demanding concrete actions, he continued, with the first step being ensuring their presence in peace talks. He encouraged governments to support conflict mediation to set ambitious targets for women on negotiating teams.

The UN chief also underscored the need for “money on the table”, stating that “if we want to stand with women driving change, if we want to support women enduring conflict, if we want to remove barriers to participation, and if we want women’s organisations to deliver, we need to pay for it.”

© UNICEF/Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdee
A UNICEF expert on sexual exploitation and abuse briefs displaced people at a gathering point in Wad Madani in east-central Sudan.

Funding and fair representation

He urged countries to allocate 15 per cent of their overseas development assistance to gender equality, and a minimum of one per cent to women’s organizations mobilizing for peace. Fifteen per cent of funding for mediation must also support women’s participation.

Governments should also support the UN’s goal of raising $300 million by 2025 for the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund through its Invest-in-Women campaign.

Finally, women must have full, equal and meaningful participation at all levels of decision-making on peace and security, and in political and public life.

“That means pushing fair representation in national and local governments, cabinets and parliaments,” he said.

He further called for “robust, comprehensive legislation” to combat violence against women, whether online or in real life, and to end impunity for perpetrators.

600 million in conflict areas

Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on resolution 1325, which reveals that last year, 600 million women and girls were living countries affected by conflict – a 50 per cent increase since 2017.

She also focused on the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, where women and children on both sides have been killed.

Sima Sami Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, addresses the Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Sima Sami Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, addresses the Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.

Middle East crisis

Many women and children were among the more than 1,400 Israelis killed by Hamas, and women are among the roughly 200 hostages seized by the militants. More than 6,000 people have been killed in Gaza, 67 per cent of them women and children.

UN Women estimated that there are now more than 1,100 new female-headed households in Gaza, while upwards of 690,000 women and girls have been displaced.

“But let me be clear — every act of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, is unequivocally condemned irrespective of the nationality, identity, race or religion of the victims,” she said.

Wins and warnings

The UN report reflects a decline in women’s meaningful participation across the peace spectrum, but it also provides examples of what has worked, especially at the local level.

Ms. Bahous listed examples of women’s achievements, including leading successful crossline negotiations to secure access to water and humanitarian aid, brokering the release of political prisoners, preventing unresolved tribal conflicts and mediating local ceasefires.

Women’s participation in UN Peacekeeping also increased in the past year. These “blue helmets” have set up mobile courts to convict perpetrators of gender-based violence, helped to secure the release of women and girls abducted by armed groups and other achievements.

“These examples should inspire us,” she said, while warning that as peace operations withdraw from countries, the UN’s capacity to monitor and protect women’s rights becomes more limited.

An interactive exhibition mounted outside UN Headquarters in New York gives life to the subject of the Security Council meeting.

The 50 large portraits of women peacekeepers and peacebuilders provide a powerful reminder of the urgent need for more action to ensure women are included in efforts to end conflict and build lasting peace.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, briefs the UN Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, briefs the UN Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.

Gender aspects of conflict

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also briefed the Council, saying developments in the Middle East and elsewhere were “a shocking reminder of how rapidly humanitarian conditions can deteriorate.”

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger urged warring parties to “maintain a minimum of humanity” and adhere to international humanitarian law, which upholds the equal protection of civilians, combatants, prisoners of war and those wounded in hostilities.

She drew attention to the gender aspects of conflict, a subject she had raised in a previous address to the Council, noting that “many violations against women go undocumented and continue to be considered an inevitable side effect of war.”

She called for action to prevent and address sexual violence, promote accountability, and to ensure it is always designated as a war crime under international law.

No women, no peace

The ICRC has also been working with legal and military experts to understand how military operations impact women and girls differently, as they often are the ones caring for children, the sick and the elderly, thus affecting their ability to flee danger.

Finally, the Red Cross “sees every day” how women’s meaningful participation in both economies and societies benefits communities as a whole and improves prospects for peace.

“There are 100 steps to peace, and the first are always humanitarian,” said Ms. Spoljaric Egger.

“Without direct input from women, without the recognition of the gendered impact of armed conflict on women, and without the acknowledgement of women’s roles in all aspects of their society, peace responses will fall short and therefore lack the prospect for truth, stability and security.”

Glivânia Maria de Oliveira, Director General of the Rio Branco Institute, briefs the UN Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Glivânia Maria de Oliveira, Director General of the Rio Branco Institute, briefs the UN Security Council meeting on Women’s Participation in International Peace and Security.

Hope from Colombia

Brazilian diplomat Glivânia Maria de Oliveira brought positive news from Colombia, where women participated in the negotiations between the Government and the largest remaining rebel group in the country, ELN, which led to a six-month bilateral ceasefire that began in August.

Ms. de Oliveira represented her country at the talks, noting that “more women were also present as builders and promoters of peace.”

She recalled that earlier negotiations between the Colombian authorities and the FARC rebel group, which ended some 50 years of conflict, also had a “gender dimension” that was further reflected in their 2016 Peace Agreement.

In conclusion, she paid tribute “to the courageous Colombian women who have faced the horrors of violence and pain and loss”, and to the women delegates at the