Statement to the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

[As delivered]

It is an honour to address the Security Council and present the Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security on the 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325.

The resolution was born out of the horrors committed against the bodies of women and girls in Bosnia and Rwanda, and the example set by women who fought for their representation in Northern Ireland, Southern Africa, and Central America. These were impossible to ignore.

In 1995, the UN convened nearly 50,000 women in Beijing, China, where women stated that women’s rights are human rights and forced attention to institutionalized gender inequality. Since then, the legacy of women in the struggle has been carried on proudly by the Colombian women who made peace and history in Havana; the women who led the negotiations to end Asia’s longest-running insurgency in the Philippines; the women in Kosovo who fought for nearly two decades to get reparations for what had been done to them; the Liberian women who were not invited to the peace talks but crashed the place and their presence made a difference; the Afghan women who came out from the oppression of the Taliban to never again accept the will of the Taliban; the women in many countries, whose brave testimonies aimed to put their abusers in the docks of international courts.

The United Nations has taken note and actively supported these women. It has devoted increased attention and resources to boost the leadership of women who are affected by conflict and to address the atrocities committed against them. For example, 40 per cent of the Peace-Building Fund’s investments in 2019 supported gender-responsive peace building. The Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund was created on the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325 and is now supporting more than 200 women’s organizations on the ground in many countries. For two decades, we have been saying we need more women in peacekeeping, so I encourage all countries to support the Elsie Initiative, designed to incentivize increased participation of uniformed women in peace operations.

But despite all these good initiatives and progress, we are still falling short. Evidence shows that peace processes that involve women are key to long-term and lasting peace, yet women are still systematically excluded, confined to informal processes, or relegated to the role of spectators, while men sit in the rooms that will define their lives and decide everyone’s future. In peace negotiations from 1992 to 2019, only 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators, and 6 per cent of peace agreement signatories were women. The negotiations are still structured in a way that elevates and empowers the actors that have fueled the violence, rather than empowering those constituencies who are peace builders, making exclusion and impunity the norm.

We have seen how, in Nigeria, 250 girls disappeared from a school and a community in the most shocking act of defiance and provocation. The world failed to Bring Back our Girls – a real tragedy that I personally still feel pained by.

Voices of women and civil society have brought the atrocities against women and girls out of the silence of history and put them on record. But we are yet to see justice, and to witness consequences for those who committed these atrocities. We are yet to see Daesh or Boko Haram prosecuted for crimes against women. We had to wait until last year to see the first-ever successful conviction for sexual and gender-based violence at the International Criminal Court.

The women are trapped in the men’s wars. They have a surplus of supportive words and statements, but they have a funding drought. They are still left to fend for themselves, with beautiful words remaining just words. Our latest figures show that the percentage of funding to conflict-affected countries, that goes to programmes whose principal objective is to advance gender equality, has declined to 4.5 per cent. But only a quarter of them also have gone into programmes that are saving lives of women. Our latest figures show that the funds to women declined.

So, the report of the Secretary-General that we present to you looks ahead as we enter the new decade. It sets out five overarching goals for the next decade of our work in women, peace and security.

Goal One, which is on meaningful participation, calls for a radical shift and tangible results in women’s equal and meaningful participation in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. This must be a non-negotiable priority for the UN. The UN and Member States who facilitate peace processes must always include women in their own delegations, so that we can lead by example.

Goal Two, the unconditional defense of women’s rights, has to be one of the most visible and identifiable markers of the UN’s work on peace and security, standing with Women Human Rights Defenders. The UN should step up its efforts to protect the Human Rights Defenders. If repressing women’s rights is the hallmark of conflict parties, the UN must be the loudest voice in their defense and make the fewest compromises. In all the conversations I have with women’s civil society organizations about women’s rights, they start or finish with concerns about women’s sexual and reproductive rights and widespread violence against women. For women to play a role in decision-making in society, they need to be able to decide about their own bodies and they must see that impunity of men against women is tackled decisively.

Goal Three is a reversal of the upwards trajectory in global military spending. This has always been a chief strategic objective of the women’s movements for peace. Last year, global military expenditure reached US$1.9 trillion, following the largest annual increase in a decade, while governments are struggling to fund the social infrastructure and essential services that underpin human security.

Goal Four is a minimum of 15 per cent of official development assistance to conflict-affected countries should be dedicated to advancing gender equality, including multiplying by five the direct assistance to women’s organizations. Without investments in women, our talk will remain talk.

In Goal Five, the report calls for a gender data revolution that reaches the general public and increases our knowledge around today’s most pressing issues and the new security environment, from pandemics and climate change, to the growing power of private security actors and new technologies. So, as we make these strides in closing the gender data gap in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, we must also close the gap in the area of peace and security.

2020 is a most difficult year for humanity. We have to resolve to protect gains made and re-build better after the pandemic and worldwide lockdowns have exposed the deep inequalities in education, health systems and economic opportunities. We have been shown the enormous value of unpaid care and domestic work as enablers of economies and how disproportionately this burden is falling on the shoulders of women. In conflict settings, women perform three to seven times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. And girls’ education is at risk in many places as they face the threat of forced marriage. We have also seen the shadow pandemic of violence against women that is at an all-time high, prompting the Secretary-General to call on all governments to address gender-based violence with renewed vigour. All this means that the Women, Peace and Security agenda just got bigger.

Excellencies, 20 years ago, this Council embraced the longstanding claims of the women’s movement about women’s leadership in conflict resolution, and then made this to be a global norm by adopting resolution 1325. At this point we need to consider the implementation deficit and address especially the implementation gap that impacts on people’s lives.

We also need to ensure that the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire is heeded. Women have amplified the Secretary-General’s call in all parts of the world as they battled to survive the pandemic and the effects of conflict.

Women are also struggling for healthcare, childcare, jobs, and shelter. These challenges are even greater for women in displaced and conflict areas. Women constitute the bulk of frontline healthcare workers everywhere in the world and are highly represented in the hard hit sectors of the economy. Many will not regain pre-pandemic economic activity. This is the experience from the Ebola pandemic, because there is no gender-neutral pandemic. Yet women are under-represented in pandemic decision-making, and this is worse for women in conflict areas.

In war zones and everywhere in the world, women and people are calling for inclusion and representation. That is one of the main reasons why so many ordinary people are taking to the streets, organizing protests and raising their voices. Young women and young peacebuilders are ready to work and they want change and they want to be included. The many young women who are out there do not want to be bystanders, they want to be involved. People who are making changes cannot accept the slow pace of progress and they cannot accept the possibility of reversal. They know that there is too much at stake, as we know too in this august house.

After 25 years of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, we have unfulfilled dreams that we need now to focus on. Hence, we have mobilized multiple stakeholders to fast-track the implementation of resolution 1325 and the Beijing Declaration through Generation Equality. As part of our commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, UN Women, Member States, civil society, youth, individuals, have developed a Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action to bring everyone together, to assist in pushing implementation, getting results and ensuring accountability.

We have a rich normative framework and we thank this Council, among others, for their contribution towards this dispensation. But going forward, we need to move more to leverage effectively this normative framework, to improve implementation with a focus to look forward to a decade of action that will be a decade of change that is irreversible and long-lasting for women. We look forward to a Peace and Security agenda that brings benefit to women and girls fast rather than slowly, because each day passed is a day lost.

The leadership of this council is invaluable, and much needed in the achievement of international peace and security that benefits the women and girls as they emerge from a pandemic.

Excellencies, happy 20th anniversary.


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