Pledges on Women’s Rights Have Not Translated into Real Change in Nearly 20 Years
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council open debate on women, peace and security, in New York this week:
The women, peace and security agenda is clearly one of the top priorities of the United Nations as a whole. We see this in the adoption of a great many resolutions by the Security Council, including the landmark resolution 1325 (2000) and its many follow-up decisions. We see it in the global recognition of the central role that women must play in preventing and resolving conflicts. And we see it when we gather to discuss the issue. That is always when this room is at its fullest and the list of speakers is the longest. We have exactly the same situation today.
Given such strong support and common understanding, an observer might be forgiven for thinking that things are substantially improving. But, the sad fact is — and we must be blunt about it — the commitment that is always reflected around this table is not translating into real change around the world. It is not coming fast enough or far enough. Change is coming at a pace that is too slow for the women and girls whose lives depend on it, and for the effectiveness of our efforts to maintain international peace and security.
Nearly two decades since resolution 1325 (2000) was adopted, women still face exclusion from so many peace and political processes. Peace agreements are still adopted without provisions considering the needs and priorities of women and girls. A pitifully small 0.2 per cent of bilateral aid to fragile and conflict‑affected situations goes to women’s organizations.
The number of attacks against women human rights defenders, humanitarians and peacebuilders continues to rise. Sexual and gender-based violence continues to be used as a weapon of war, with the survivors of such violence often left without justice or support.
This year alone, millions of women and girls were in need of life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, and millions more required interventions to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. There is also a growing number of armed groups for whom gender inequality is a strategic objective, and misogyny part of their core ideology. And of course, we know that women and girls continue to pay the consequences of conflict in general. To cite just one example, in north-east Syria, we saw thousands of women and children fleeing the latest violence.
But, despite this grim litany, we will not give up. This, for me, is an absolute priority. We can report at least some progress. In Yemen, where women were absent from the formal rounds of consultations, my Special Envoy established a Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group to ensure the perspectives of Yemeni women are included. In Guinea-Bissau, women played a direct role in breaking the political impasse last year, supported by the Peacebuilding Fund. They led unprecedented mobilization for parity laws requiring a minimum of 36 per cent of women on the ballot, and they were key to the success of the elections this year. There were record numbers of women candidates and voters, and the country achieved parity among ministerial posts. In Syria, some 30 per cent of the new Constitutional Committee are women, including some from the Women’s Advisory Board that has been working for peace all these years.
Within the United Nations itself, the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Department of Peace Operations are implementing a new and stronger policy on women, peace and security. All heads of special political missions and my Special Envoys have been instructed to report regularly on their efforts to promote women’s direct participation throughout all stages of peace processes, in ways that ensure they have influence over the outcomes.
An objective related to women, peace and security has now been included in all senior managers’ compacts related to peace and security mandates. In our peacekeeping operations, we are working to end sexual exploitation and abuse and increase women’s participation. Incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse have been reduced by half, and we are finally moving the needle on the percentage of women in the military and the police component of our operations. I have appointed many more women as heads and deputy heads of missions, and we are pursuing emergency measures to achieve gender balance.
Women, peace and security is one of the eight priority pillars of our Action for Peacekeeping [initiative], endorsed now by more than 150 countries. I have also requested peacekeeping and special political missions to improve their monitoring and reporting of threats and violence against activists, including women [human] rights defenders, and for this to be built into early warning signs of escalating conflict or instability.
Without a gendered analysis, we are operating on partial information and are unable to anticipate and respond to early warning effectively. Today, we recognize both progress but also how much more we must do. When we fall short, women and girls and all members of society pay the consequences. Failure to act on women’s rights and the principles of the women, peace and security agenda brings enormous costs. Let us work together to change the narrative and improve by implementation the situation on the ground. Thank you.
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