Speech: We must give peace a chance
Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, at the United Nations Security Council meeting on “Advancing the women, peace and security agenda through partnerships: Women’s economic inclusion and participation as a key to building peace”.
I thank Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, United Arab Emirates Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Her Excellency Ambassador Nusseibeh for their leadership and for prioritizing a discussion on women, peace, and security on the Council’s agenda on International Women’s Day. Happy International Women’s Day.
Excellencies, when the pandemic emptied this Chamber almost two years ago, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire. There was hope that in the face of a common enemy, there would be renewed international cooperation. That instead of spending money on weapons we would invest in science, health, and social protection for all, especially for women and girls.
Instead, we got more military spending, military coups, seizures of power by force, and a multilateral system against the ropes. This very Council has spent the last 10 days in multiple emergency meetings on the situation in Ukraine. As the Secretary-General has said, people demand peace. We must give peace a chance.
We also lost gains that took us decades to achieve, especially on gender equality. We have less than nine years to go until 2030, yet we are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. COVID-19 has further set us back across the Goals, including on gender equality, on poverty, and on climate. International Women’s Day is a day for reflection, for renewed hope, and for increased action. Today, we have an opportunity to do things differently, and it is clear to me, more than ever, that we need another model of leadership on this.
One of the least discussed elements of our agenda is women’s inclusion in economic recovery as an essential element in our pursuit of peace. Study after study shows that investing in women’s economic empowerment yields enormous dividends for both peace and prosperity, and that countries where women are economically marginalized and shut out of the workforce are much more likely to go to war.
We know that women are more likely to spend their incomes on family needs and make a larger contribution to recovery. And yet, large-scale reconstruction and investments after conflict are dominated by men and overwhelmingly benefit men, while exclusion, discrimination, and antiquated gender norms keep women away from employment, land, property, inheritance, credit, and technology.
This script plays out across all conflict zones and situations on the agenda of the Security Council. In Afghanistan, we are rightly concerned about humanitarian aid and frozen assets, but the consequences of a new gender apartheid include women’s employment plummeting sharply since the Taliban takeover. In Yemen, the world’s largest humanitarian emergency, closing gender gaps in women’s participation in the workforce would have increased Yemen’s GDP by 27 per cent. More than half of the World Bank’s fragile and conflict-affected countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, where economic losses due to gender inequality stand at 2.5 trillion dollars.
Not many conflict-affected countries have data on women’s land ownership, but those that do show that it remains very low. In Mali, it is just three per cent. In Haiti, where more than 45 per cent of households are headed by women, the pandemic led to a 24-per-cent decrease in women’s employment. And yet, as in many other countries, the strategies to address the economic fallout of this crisis remain largely gender blind.
In Ukraine, humanitarian needs are multiplying and spreading by the hour. Among the nearly 1.5 million people who have fled, the majority are women and children. Here too, we risk a backsliding of women´s rights and women´s access to employment and livelihoods.
Many of the women activists who have been invited to speak at this Security Council have told us that private sector actors, including multinational corporations, are often part of the problem when they could be part of the solution. This is not just the case for extractive industries and large agribusinesses, but increasingly telecommunications platforms. They have a major role to play in facilitating inclusion and preventing hate speech and targeted reprisals. The solution, therefore, is clear. We need more engagement, greater accountability, and shared responsibility.
The Security Council can say much more about women’s economic inclusion. Some of the resolutions that cover women, peace, and security most comprehensively, like resolutions on the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have several paragraphs on economic security, on development issues, and illegal exploitation of natural resources that tend to be gender blind.
The Security Council could use such resolutions to call for women’s meaningful engagement and inclusion not only in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and recovery, but also in decision-making. Equally, in the prioritization of women-led businesses, women in frontline service delivery and support for the care economy in all reconstruction and recovery initiatives.
I welcome today’s focus on the role of the private sector and private–public partnerships as an under-explored area for innovation. I want to give you two examples of global initiatives on women, peace, and security where we invite the private sector to play a larger role in women’s peacebuilding work.
One is the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, which has funded more than 500 women’s organizations in more than 26 countries since 2016. I am pleased that we have Ms. Coulibaly joining us today from Mali to share her invaluable perspective as a partner of this fund. We put a lot of effort into bringing the private sector along, both as donors and as pro-bono partners, but there is much more that can be done to multiply by five the financing for women’s organizations in crisis settings by 2030, as requested by the Secretary-General.
Secondly, as part of Generation Equality, we now have a Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to move the needle on this over the next five years. This includes strengthening social protection mechanisms, promoting women-owned social enterprises and businesses, addressing discriminatory legislation and practices that hinder women’s economic empowerment, and ensuring that gender equality is a priority in the national, regional, and global peace and development strategies. The Compact has 158 signatories so far, including several members of this Council, but we need to do more to reach out to multilateral development banks and the private sector.
There are many other ways, Excellencies, in which private sector actors can be champions of change. If engaged meaningfully, they can play a positive role in creating sustainable peace in support of the women, peace, and security agenda.
We have the blueprint and the business case to support women’s economic inclusion. What we need is political will to pursue it. I look forward to working with you on this and to deepening our investments on women, peace, and security.
I thank you.