Opening Remarks by Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo at the DPPA Event: "Beyond the Pandemic: Opening the Doors to Women’s Meaningful Participation"
Thank you, Akila. I am very pleased that you could be here today.
I also want to acknowledge our distinguished panelists Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Plasschaert, Kaavya Asoka, Executive Director of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Huda Ali, Member of MANSAM – a Sudanese coalition of 13 women’s rights civil society bodies; and Erika Brockmann, former member of Bolivia’s national parliament.
Thanks also to everyone joining us for this discussion.
Ladies and Gentlemen
One year ago, Alaa Salah went from leading peaceful protests in the streets of Khartoum to briefing the UN Security Council on her concerns for the future of Sudan.
There she issued a clarion call: “if [women] are not represented at the peace table, and if we do not have a meaningful voice in Parliament, our rights will not be guaranteed, discriminatory and restrictive laws will remain unchanged, and the cycle of instability and violence will continue.”
At the same time, across the world, thousands of women, tired of political inaction, have taken peacefully to the streets – protesting sexual violence in Chile and across Latin America; pressing for transparent elections in Belarus; and demanding an end to excessive use of state force in Nigeria.
But despite this political mobilization, the divide between women’s activism on the ground and male-dominated political power has stubbornly persisted.
Women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peacemaking and political life is essential. Research has shown that inclusive societies are more stable and peace processes that include women at the table have a greater chance of promoting peaceful societies.
History has shown, however, that people who benefit from existing power structures rarely cede space and influence willingly to others. Rather, for women to take up their rightful place at the decision-making table, smart, deliberate, and concerted efforts are needed to create opportunities and open doors.
In the 1990s, during the all-party talks in Northern Ireland, it took a cross-party coalition of women forming their own political party to capitalize on a procedural opening in the process for women’s voices to formally be heard. Braving mockery and worse, they successfully consulted women across the Protestant-Catholic divide and secured successes on victims’ rights, reconciliation and other key issues.
In Colombia, activism by women’s groups, together with pressure from international actors, and encouragement from facilitators, saw women’s participation during the 2012 peace talks grow from one woman among 20 negotiators at the start of the process to women representing nearly one-third of delegates later on.
Their participation led to the establishment of a landmark Gender Sub-Commission and to a final peace agreement regarded as a model for gender inclusion.
Twenty years since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, we can point to an abundance of normative milestones, and important but incremental progress to implement them. But it is also clear that if we are to fully realize the women, peace and security agenda, we have a lot of work to do.
All partners must be galvanized to engage in sustained efforts to take on structural obstacles, tackle power politics, confront entrenched patriarchal attitudes, overcome socio-economic inequalities and create conditions conducive to inclusive peacemaking.
As we look to this challenge, I would like to focus on five critical steps we all must take.
First, if we are to credibly press others about the importance of women’s leadership, we ourselves must demonstrate the advantages of inclusivity. This includes nominating and appointing women to senior posts and recruiting women to peace and security roles at all levels to create a pipeline of women’s talent.
The United Nations is committed to this objective. As of last month, 54 per cent of senior leaders in Special Political Missions were women.
It also involves strengthening gender responsive peacemaking across the board. In 2019, my Department deployed more gender advisers to missions than ever before. We also introduced a policy embedding women, peace and security considerations into all our work.
Second, those of us who occupy seats of power need to use our influence to support grassroots women’s civil society and bring their concerns to the decision-making table. Such efforts are especially critical in the face of global backlash against women’s rights, shrinking civic space, and targeted attacks against women leaders and human rights defenders.
Currently, all UN Special Political Missions consult regularly with women’s civil society organisations and are supplementing these efforts with a range of innovative, context-specific methods to engage diverse women and elevate their voices.
In Afghanistan, the UN mission supported radio discussions in which thousands of listeners participated in discussions on the criticality of women’s engagement to the success of any future peace deal. In Yemen, we undertook a similar large-scale virtual consultation with over 500 women and civil society representatives.
And in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in the face of fierce opposition to women’s direct participation, our Special Envoys have used indirect inclusion mechanisms to engage women and ensure their priorities inform discussions. In Syria, the Women’s Advisory Board has served as a springboard for women’s inclusion, with several members of the Board now serving as delegates to Syria’s Constitutional Committee.
Third, put very simply, we need to elect more women. Today, women make up less than 19 per cent of national parliamentarians in conflict-affected areas. My Department has made gender a key guiding principle in providing UN electoral assistance.
Just this year, the UN has supported efforts to increase women’s electoral participation in Bolivia, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere.
In Mali, such support saw women candidates for legislative elections rise to around 30 per cent up from 14 per cent during the 2013 elections, with 41 women elected compared to 14 in 2013.
Fourth, our efforts need to be underpinned by adequate, predictable and sustained financing. This includes support to the work of women’s civil society on the ground.
This is why the UN Peacebuilding Fund has allocated 40 per cent of its investments to gender-responsive initiatives, why we have scaled up the Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative from $2.7 million in 2016 to $20.4 million in 2019, and why my department has allocated 17 per cent of its multi-year appeal to women, peace and security initiatives.
And fifth, we must all work together as long-term strategic partners to drive change.
Under our Joint Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security the UN and the African Union supported several initiatives to enhance women’s political engagement, including the African Women Leaders Network and the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation (FemWise). Together we provided training on mediation for over 100 members of FemWise to date.
In short, such efforts cannot be achieved alone.
As we look ahead to the next decade of the women, peace and security agenda, we must all do our part to elevate women and amplify their priorities as fundamental to inclusive peace.
I look forward to today’s discussion and to continuing our collaborative efforts to achieve peace that works for all women and all people.