Photo: Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, addresses the Security Council's open debate on women, peace and security. At left is Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. UN Photo/Kim Haughton - Photo: 2017

No Real Progress Toward Gender Equality Since October 2000

By Santo D. Banerjee

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – While normative frameworks to empower and protect women in conflict situations have made steady advancement in the last 17 years since the adoption of a landmark resolution by the Security Council, real progress in women’s meaningful engagement in all phases of peacebuilding and their protection from abuse and exploitation are seriously lagging.

The representatives of UN member states at the ministerial and diplomatic levels agreed during a 10-hour Security Council debate on October 27 on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ that progress on the ground must be accelerated by way of more funding for gender expertise in peacebuilding.

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, said there was a pressing need for more action to implement the women, peace and security agenda, with prevention as a core pillar. Women were affected in negative ways by armed conflict and violence and comprised most of the victims of rape and human trafficking. In urban warfare, they were at risk in houses and checkpoints.

She said women’s underrepresentation in the security sector increased their exposure to harm and undermined their potential in conflict prevention. When the Council had visited the Lake Chad Basin, local leaders had emphasized the situation of women as a root cause for the current crisis. Citing other examples, she said the Secretary-General was committed to promoting gender equality and to fully integrating the voice of women in conflict prevention. He had put forward a plan to achieve gender parity in the United Nations.

Noting that only 3 per cent of peacekeepers were women, the Secretary-General was working with troop- and police-contributing countries to increase the number of female uniformed personnel. The new Office of Counter-Terrorism was integrating a gender perspective. Reform of the peace and security architecture would emphasize gender expertise. Monitoring mechanisms should include a focus on women marginalization.

Tackling the root causes of crises included tackling gender inequality, she said. Gender indicators should therefore be strengthened. Seventeen years after its adoption, implementation of the landmark Council resolution1325 (2000) was too often ad hoc. Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh initiated the resolution when he presided over the Security Council in October 2000.

Viotti invited Council members and other Member States to share evidence and examples in order to examine gaps and successes. She said she looked forward to working with Member States to ensure that women’s participation would strengthen the Organization’s peace efforts.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), welcoming the Secretary-General’s latest report on women, peace and security, said that that report celebrated progress and development of good practices, but also brought into the spotlight several alarming trends and setbacks.

“The chorus of voices that are appalled by the persistent political marginalization of women in decision-making is speaking louder; the number of people who are determined to find new solutions to the human suffering caused by conflict is growing,” she stated.

Regarding progress, she noted the presence in the chamber of a Colombian activist who helped ensure that the peace agreement in that country mainstreamed gender equality, with more than 100 provisions for women’s participation.

Unfortunately, the Colombian situation was an exception, she said. Indicators tracked by UN Women showed an overall decline in women’s participation in United Nations-led peace processes, inclusion of gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements and consultation with women’s civil society organizations, in comparison with one year ago. Recent peace talks on the Central African Republic did not include a single woman, she lamented.

Political marginalization, she added, was not limited to peace talks. Only 17 countries had an elected woman head of State or Government, and the proportion of women parliamentarians in conflict and post‑conflict countries had stagnated at 16 per cent.  The use of quotas and temporary special measures would help, she stressed, pointing to Somalia and Mali, where representation of women surged when such measures were instituted.

Turning to sexual violence, she said that atrocities against women and girls in armed conflict were now the focus of attention and documentation, with extensive evidence of such crimes in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. What was missing was consequences for perpetrators and justice, dignity and support for the survivors. “This impunity cannot be allowed to continue,” she stated.

Noting the work of her organization and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) among many others, she said the international community was assisting hundreds of thousands of survivors of sexual crimes, but many more could not be reached due to lack of resources, access and security. Conflict had also exacerbated extreme poverty, women’s responsibility for households, illiteracy, maternal mortality and child marriage in many areas.

Recalling testimony to the Council by one of the escaped Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria, she said there was still much to learn about the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees and their children. Regarding the work of the Council itself, she regretted that the participation of women in peacekeeping was still low and sexual exploitation by peacekeepers had not yet been stamped out. It was encouraging to see, however, the reduction in allegations of such abuse in the Central African Republic, improvements in victims support and assistance and a culture of accountability taking hold. (READ ALSO: Growing Support for Ending Political Marginalization of Women)

In order to build on progress, she urged the continued forming of alliances and coalitions, noting that regional rosters of women mediators had been established.  The African Women Leaders Network was an example of growing cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union on the issue. National focus points and action plans on women, peace and security had proliferated and projects aimed at preventing violent extremism had been spread over several regions.  There were also encouraging signs for gender justice in the international courts.

The women, peace and security agenda was now an essential pillar of global affairs, she said, adding: “This is only the beginning. The chorus of voices that are appalled by the persistent political marginalization of women in decision‑making is speaking louder,” along with those who are calling for an end to conflict‑related suffering, she stated. “This agenda unites us because people from all over the world, every day, look up to the United Nations for peace, equality and inclusion,” she concluded.

Charo MIina‑Rojas from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, said that Colombia had become a new source of hope thanks to the comprehensive peace agreement that had been reached. Two provisions of that agreement were particularly progressive and could bring radical changes to future peace processes around the world.

The first was the explicit inclusion of a gender perspective as an international principle, while the second was the inclusion of the “Ethnic Chapter”, which provided important safeguards to ensure the protection and promotion of Indigenous and Afro‑descendant People’s rights from a gender, family and generational perspective.

The inclusion of those two specific principles was a historic advancement on peace and security that the United Nations and other countries experiencing violence and armed conflicts could learn from. The peace accord was also important for civil society, and in that regard, the engagement and active participation of women, ethnic groups and their communities was anticipated.

She emphasized that Colombia risked wasting an opportunity for peace if it did not completely disarm itself and if the communities most impacted during the internal armed conflict, including women human rights leaders and activists, continued to be ignored in the implementation of the peace accord.

“I am here today to make visible their urgent calls and want to stress that for my people, it is actually a matter of life or death,” she warned. Ensuring the ongoing participation of women, especially from diverse communities, in all areas related to the implementation of the peace accord, was of critical importance. There was an urgent need for local women’s organizations and community leaders to be consulted and participate in the design of local protection strategies to keep communities safe.

There was also a need to guarantee women’s integral and collective security, she said, noting that the proliferation of weapons was fuelling increased fear and forced displacement among largely Indigenous and Afro‑descendent communities. It was also negatively impacting women’s participation and mobility, and resulting in increased sexual and gender‑based violence.

Sexual and gender‑based violence and the stigmatization it caused, especially for Indigenous and Afro‑descendent women and their children, was a matter of integral and collective security. “The silence around these crimes is as appalling as the crimes themselves,” she stressed. It was also crucial that the framework put in place for the implementation of the peace accord include specific goals and indicators designed to measure the progress and outcomes of policies, programmes and reforms in a matter that corresponded to the needs, values and rights of Indigenous and Afro‑descendant Peoples.

Michaelle Jean, Secretary‑General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, said 17 years ago it was agreed to underline the importance of women’s participation, on equal footing with men, in crisis prevention, mediation, peacebuilding, and maintenance and consolidation of peace and security. Women had not waited for the adoption of the resolution, however.

In Liberia, for instance, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had stood up to the warlords and had mediated between the fighting parties. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, women had always been among the first to seek reconciliation. Turning to women’s activities in Rwanda and Mali, she said the Ouagadougou Agreement of April 2012 had been drafted by four women who initially had not been allowed to speak, but were finally allowed to sit at the negotiating table. Women contributed to peace and security and it was a mistake to underestimate their ability.

“How many more resolutions, studies, high‑level meetings of independent groups and expert advisory groups are necessary to end this unacceptable figure of only 9 per cent women’s participation in some 30 major peace negotiations over the last 25 years?” she asked.

Participation of women had led to a 20 per cent greater chance of achieving a peace lasting two years and 35 per cent chance of a peace lasting 15 years. More than lip service should be paid to ensuring that women were invited to participate in national dialogues. Why wait to address the fact that only 3 per cent of women were in peacekeeping missions, she asked. It was proven that the presence of women there would contribute to a better understanding of security forces and improve their credibility among the populations they served, she said, stressing that “Women inspire confidence”.

She said the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie had invested in women as peacekeepers and had been active in encouraging participation of women in missions and training them. The organisation underscored the importance of women’s participation to its member States. The climate of impunity and the trampling of human rights also affected women. Peace, stability and security furthermore depended on economic development. More must be done to increase financing for women’s participation in peace and security. Funding of grassroots women organisations should also be addressed.

More must be done to end impunity, she said. Years and resolutions had gone by but had not been put into action in that regard. Women were the first targets when the decision was made to annihilate a population. The rape of women and girls had become a weapon of mass destruction. Describing the horrors women had to undergo in several area, she underlined it was not only an African problem. The horrors took place everywhere in the world. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 October 2017]

Photo: Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, addresses the Security Council’s open debate on women, peace and security. At left is Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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