“A culture of peace requires the participation of women” – Lakshmi Puri

Speech by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, at UN Headquarters in New York, 9 September 2014.

Date: Friday, September 12, 2014

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I would like to start by thanking the President of the General Assembly for inviting UN Women to this important and valuable event on the Culture of Peace, particularly as this coming Saturday, 13 September, is the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace.

This High-Level Forum is an important opportunity to strengthen the global movement and implementation of the Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace.

With the horrifying spread of and relapse into conflict in so many countries, from Ukraine to Libya to Central African Republic to Iraq, the principles of the Declaration and Programme of Action, including tolerance, justice, equal rights for women and men, and the right to dialogue and understanding, are as relevant now as they were 15 years ago.

Recent developments also bring home the lesson that to achieve sustainable peace we must all work together in an integrated and coherent way, otherwise the drums of war will drown the music of peace.

The role and contributions of women and youth to the Culture of Peace is not only important because women and young people represent the majority of the global population — there are 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world and the global population is experiencing a youth bulge. But also because women and young people are key drivers of the radical change of mindsets, institutions and cultures that we seek.

The promotion and achievement of gender equality and women's empowerment is both a means and an end for the deconstruction of militarism, negative masculinities and patriarchy which glorifies violence and aggression, and undergirds the culture of war in all its insanity and senseless assault on humanity that we seek to end.

The feminist movement and global women's movement, as was said by its strong votary Margarita Papandreou, has a vision which understands that we have but one Earth shared by one humanity. So there is a clarion call for a war against the culture of war, such that it will diffuse women-centred values throughout society and the world.

Women and their empowerment are  crucial to advancing the culture of peace in all its vectors — education, sustainable economic and social development, human rights and equality, democratic participation, advocacy based on true knowledge but also wisdom, tolerance and understanding  at all levels —  in the family, community, country, region and globally.

As the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 and other Women, Peace and Security resolutions affirm, women must not only be protected from war and the violence unleashed thereby, but they must be seen as agents of conflict prevention, of peacemaking, and as reconcilers in peacebuilding in post-conflict.

Many of the conflicts today are as much between States as between State and non-State actors and, increasingly, these non-State actors are claiming the territoriality and legitimacy of governments. This makes it all the more urgent that the international community support women's role and agency and leadership to rein in the forces of terror and violence, in protecting themselves and the community, bringing their sons and daughters to the peace table, and being there to hold them to the purpose of peace, to rebuild peaceful and sustainable societies and economies.

As stated by the Secretary-General: “Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.”

And with women —  mothers, grandmothers, and other family members —  often being the first teachers of children, they can play a vital role in educating young people to value peace and not war. As Jane Addams said: “Peace is not merely an absence of war, it's a nurture of human life and, in time, this nurture will do away with war as a natural process.”

And who can be better at this than women who are natural nurturers, who are better disposed to find solutions through dialogue, are sensitive to human needs and rights and inter-generational perspectives?

The role of women in achieving a culture of peace has also been affirmed in various normative instruments of the United Nations, but perhaps most importantly in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on peace and security, which will have its 15-year anniversary next year. And last year, the Security Council adopted resolution 2122, which reaffirmed the role of women in peace and security, mentioning gender equality as necessary to ensure sustainable peace.   

As the global leader on gender equality and the empowerment of women, UN Women strives to promote women’s ability to strengthen peace and dialogue within their communities. At all levels, we work to amplify the voices of women in peace activities and facilitate their access to peace and security decision-making. We support women’s peace coalitions in South Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Colombia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Nepal, among other places. 

In Liberia, women devised the peace hut mechanism in which local women leaders mediate and resolve local and domestic conflicts before they escalate into violence. In the peace huts, now numbering 17 in rural Liberia, women leaders are also referring survivors to services, liaising with local police through a mobile phone hotline, and engaging in local peacebuilding efforts.

In South Sudan, UN Women has supported in select communities women’s empowerment centres where sexual and gender-based violence-prevention activities and referrals take place. In Liberia, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Haiti, UN Women is supporting local organizations to build referral services and networks for survivors, such as reproductive health care, access to justice, livelihood support and psychosocial counselling.

And yet, despite the progress we have seen in promoting the rights of women and their roles in peace processes, there remain situations like Afghanistan, where progress for women and girls risks reversal with women and girls increasingly targeted because they dare to attend school, or occupy positions of leadership in government or enter the public sphere.

Or the abduction of the school girls in Nigeria that shows us how the empowerment of women and girls, their education and self-reliance, are in fact the most threatening to the forces of violence and chaos, which is why we see Boko Haram and the Taliban attacking girls as they learn. 

Even within international fora we sometimes still face the attitude that women’s priorities are a secondary concern in peace and security — the so-called “hard” issues. This attitude deprives women of their right to participate and goes against the spirit of not only Security Council resolutions 1325 and 2122, but the UN Charter itself. This attitude also means that women’s contributions to peacemaking and peacebuilding are undermined or underutilized.

However, we must continue to break these stereotypes and beliefs that undermine the role of women in peace and security. We must focus on improving the access to education of girls and all young people, providing a secure environment for them to learn, breaking down gender stereotypes in school curricula and teacher training programmes, advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity, and ultimately spreading a culture of gender equality which will lead to a culture of peace.

Next year will be an extremely important year due to the convergence of so many global policy events, the post-2015 development framework, the 20-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 15-year anniversary of resolution 1325.

And we at UN Women were pleased to see an important focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the proposal put forward by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. The achievement of goals and implementation of targets included in this framework will be a significant contribution to creating the enabling environment needed for a culture of peace.

For the goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, these include targets on:

  • Ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere;
  • Eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls;
  • Eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilations;
  • Recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work, and promoting shared responsibility within the household and the family;
  • Ensuring women’s participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life; and
  • Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights

It also includes three targets on means of implementation:

  • Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources (land, property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources);
  • Enhance the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs); and
  • Adopt and strengthen sound policies and legislation

In addition, Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies makes it clear that without eliminating all forms of violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination — and without ensuring equal access to justice for all, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making, and institutions that are effective and accountable (all of which require special attention to the needs and rights of women and girls) — it will not be possible to achieve the kind of sustainable and just peace that we all seek.

Governments will come together to agree on a vision for the future. Gender equality is crucial to the success of this future agenda. There can be no human rights, peace or sustainable development without gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ rights. We need to put policy into practice.

As Eleanor Roosevelt, another great female peacemaker, used to say:  “For it isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” There is no question that one must both believe in and work at the nexus between gender equality and women’s empowerment and peace, and that all of us gathered here will take our talk and advocacy beyond this hall to make sure women's value and contributions to peace are integrated in peace strategy processes and outcomes 

We must all work to increase investment in building the capacity of women’s organizations and local civil society networks working in conflict and post-conflict settings, in line with Security Council resolution 2122.

There is no question that a culture of peace requires the participation of women, especially young women. So I ask women and youth of the world to unite to make sure that half of humanity is liberated from violence and discrimination, has the power of decision-making in all spheres, and has the economic muscle to nurture a culture of peace and rollback the tides of conflict.

I also ask the international community and the culture for peace constituency to continue to play its leading role in fostering an international environment which recognizes and promotes women’s and girls’ rights by engaging women as well as men, girls as well as boys, in our quest for peaceful and non-violent societies.

Thank you.