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  • Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, addresses the Security Council open debate on “The role of women in conflict prevention and resolution in Africa”.
Tayé-Brook Zerihoun addresses the Security Council open debate. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Security Council Open Debate on the Role of Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation in Africa, Assistant-Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun

Madam President,
Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity to address the Open Debate on the role of women in conflict prevention and mediation in Africa, on behalf of the Department of Political Affairs.

The Secretary-General has made the advancement of women a top priority since he assumed office in January 2007, and has instructed the senior management of the secretariat to place the issue at the centre of what they do. This system-wide focus signalled the beginning of an important reorientation informed by the basic fact that women living with conflict have strategic knowledge and networks that can contribute to its resolution.  Recent research has also established that women’s participation in peace talks not only facilitates the conclusion of agreements and their implementation, but crucially also the sustainability of peace.


Madam President,

For the Department of Political Affairs, promoting women’s effective participation in conflict mediation and addressing their specific needs in peacemaking efforts has been a priority since the Department undertook fifteen women, peace and security commitments in 2010.  As you are aware, the Department monitors and reports annually to the Security Council on progress made in implementing these commitments.

As a result of senior leadership and institutional buy-in, combined with a systematic effort to mainstream these commitments in its work, the Department’s conflict prevention work has become increasingly inclusive.

Since 2012, all UN mediation support teams have included women.  UN co-led mediation processes consult with women’s representatives on delegations of negotiating parties. These positive developments have improved the inclusion of stronger gender relevant provisions in ceasefires and peace agreements.

To advance these efforts, the Department of Political Affairs has developed a high-level mediation skills training.  Half of the participants are women and the training aims to enhance gender parity and the future character and configuration of international peacemaking.  To build institutional capacity, the Department conducts a semi-annual Gender/Women Peace and Security training for our own staff.  In addition, some 164 envoys and senior mediation actors have taken part in our separate High-level Seminar series on Gender and Inclusive Mediation. 

The Department also continues to implement its Joint Strategy with UN Women on Gender and Mediation.  It helps build mediation capacity for envoys and mediation teams by providing gender expertise and training while UN Women strengthens the capacity of regional, national and local women leaders and peace coalitions, and supports access opportunities for women in peace negotiations. We also document relevant lessons learned and develop practical guidance materials for mediators. The UN Guidance on Effective Mediation and the Guidance for Mediators on Addressing Conflict-related Sexual Violence in Ceasefire and Peace Agreements are yielding concrete results on the ground, where it matters the most.


Madam President,

We must, however, not forget that despite the concerted efforts by international and regional organizations, as well as by national governments to eliminate discrimination and promote the empowerment of women, unequal access and opportunities for women’s participation in political decision-making processes persists worldwide.

As highlighted by all three peace and security reviews that were undertaken last year, prioritizing prevention and inclusive political solutions has never been more urgent.  It is only by uniting our efforts that we will be able to advance the principles underpinning the UN Charter.  Peace processes afford unique opportunities for promoting women’s effective participation.  The UN therefore supports regional and sub-regional organizations by promoting and strengthening regional capacities for inclusive mediation to enable more effective participation of women at all levels of peacemaking.

This cooperation is built on the knowledge that women’s effective participation in transformative decision making processes will help address underlying inequalities and social divisions.  It also addresses the specific needs of women and helps to incorporate a stronger gender perspective in reconstruction, reconciliation and post conflict peace-building.

During the last decade, we have sharpened our preventive tools and achieved some progress.  The good offices of the Secretary-General, our regional presences and our cooperation with regional organizations have yielded positive results.  Today, about 85 per cent of UN mediation involves working closely with regional and sub-regional organizations.

To cite one example, the Department of Political Affairs has been working very closely with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) following the signing of a Framework for Cooperation between the two organizations in September 2010, focusing on the need to strengthen partnership in prevention, peacemaking and mediation.  In close coordination with UN Women, DPA continues to complement SADC’s efforts to advance the promotion of the women, peace and security agenda in the region.

Further policy initiatives have seen the development of a Framework for Mainstreaming Gender into SADC's Peace and Security Architecture, and a Strategy for Combating Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations.  And regionally, we welcomed the appointment by the African Union of its first Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security in 2014.


Madam President,

Our work on elections also underscores the centrality of women’s participation in decision-making processes.  The UN Office for West Africa actively enhances the role of women in conflict prevention and political participation.  In 2011, the Office started training and building the mediation and negotiation capacities of women and set up a network of 32 women mediators.  These women mediators have moved on to build the capacity of other women in the region, and have since contributed to national dialogue processes in Mali and Guinea.  The Office also helped advance women’s participation in electoral processes in Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Togo by supporting the adoption of legislation on gender parity and quotas to help women assume political office.

Noticeable efforts have also been made by the African Union and other partners in the region to ensure that gender is more systematically integrated in electoral processes, including in election observation.  It is encouraging to note that currently the average rate of women Members of Parliament in Africa is slightly above the global average.

To promote women’s political participation in Central Africa, the UN Office for Central Africa, in cooperation with its regional partner, ECCAS, organized in 2014 a gender workshop on the role of women in electoral processes in the region.  That effort has helped the Central Africa region to establish a platform for the promotion of women's participation in politics in the region.  And ahead of elections in Chad next month, the Office is taking steps to facilitate a national political dialogue.  A workshop on the participation of women was organized to feed into the broader dialogue with civil society organizations.


Madam President,

The case for inclusive preventive diplomacy is compelling. Experience has shown that if we are present, with early diplomatic initiatives, actively engaging civil society, and notably women’s organizations, with the support of the international community and the necessary resources, we stand a better chance of helping prevent and resolve conflicts, and in making political stability and peace sustainable.

Thank you, Madam President.