Gender consideration in security management: a speech by Lakshmi Puri

Statement by Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, at a meeting of the Inter-Agency Security Management Network (IASMN) Working Group on gender-related issues, 19 January 2015, New York.

Date: Monday, January 19, 2015

[Check against delivery.]

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of UN Women on a subject that is of crucial importance. Security, in all of its dimensions, cannot be overlooked. For our UN colleagues, who consistently put their lives at risk every day to protect and enhance society, we must ensure their protection.

Our mandate is about making sure gender equality perspectives are incorporated into all norm-, policy-, and standard-setting initiatives, including in the area of safety and security.

Yet as much as it is about the security of half of the world’s population, not only do women’s concerns tend to be overlooked but also their voices, experiences and leadership continue to not be recognized or valued.

It is clear that women have a different set of needs and concerns than men, when it comes to security issues. These must be given adequate attention in decision-making if we are to effectively and adequately provide security to all. Yet, even in the United Nations system, the needs of women are overlooked. For example, the United Nations system has, on various occasions, spent financial resources on purchasing bullet-proof vests for personnel in conflict situations. However, on some occasions women were not taken into consideration when these vests were ordered and were too large for them to wear, making the vests—a lifesaving resource in conflict situations—not useful or available to all. How have we allowed things like this to happen? How have we overlooked our own colleagues in the field—undermining their protection?

In order to examine our processes, identify gaps, map risks and make recommendations to enhance our support to UN personnel, especially women, we must have a clear articulation of all the gender-related issues that might comprise security. We must also have a clear articulation of all security regulations and decisions that might compromise the adequate attention to women’s specific needs.

We need to discuss the manifestations of physical and psychological insecurity for women. Where and why are women insecure? Where and why do women have a perception of insecurity? How can security forces address this? And how do physical setting and conditions of our personnel impact women’s security?

What creates fear and intimidation and erosion of trust and constructive relations? What are the warning signs and how may they be addressed, specifically for women? How do country settings impact how the security system responds to the security challenges?

From a programmatic perspective, what programmes involve security and law enforcement dimensions? What are the gender perspectives within them that warrant incorporation and replication?

We also need to recognize and value the important role that UN female security personnel play in all aspects of security operations. We need to grant their participation in processes such as this working group and ensure their experiences feed into the decisions and protocol that guide security practices. It is not only about making policies but it is also about adding to the quality of the work that we do and the decisions that we take.

In the area of peacekeeping we have learned that the participation of female security officers is necessary—as well as making women in conflict zones feel safe and comfortable, often comfortable enough to reveal key information enhancing security and intelligence efforts. There have been cases in which women knew where arms were kept, but would not speak to men—who in the past and in their experience had turned the same arms against them. A simple example—but it gives us a great lesson!

We have the responsibility to understand and address these inter-linkages in our internal frameworks; influence our external partners on how to better address the differentiated needs of women and men in their work and to incorporate women as equal stakeholders and contributors to these processes.

As you all know, violence against women continues to be one of the gravest violations of human rights and most extreme manifestations of gender inequality and discrimination. Globally, 35 per cent of women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. This is one of those issues that truly affects all women, regardless of their culture, religion, nationality, education, income level and position at work or in society. This happens at home, at work, in public spaces and event through technology in cyberspace.

The right to live a life free from violence is a fundamental human right enshrined in many UN international agreements that continues to grow in importance on the political agenda, including as a key issue for the post-2015 agenda.

This right applies to all of us and the UN system has a particularly critical role to uphold this right by “walking our own talk” and modelling what we expect from Member States.

As such, we as a UN system have a duty to ensure the safety and security of all of our staff. But to do so effectively, we have to understand that women and men experience the risk and impacts of violence differently, therefore our approaches need to be tailored to each.

We are very pleased to know that within the 15 Point Action Plan of the Under Secretary-General of UNDSS, Thomas Drennan, the first one is the “Establishment and Implementation of a UN System Gender-Responsive Security Strategy.”

We are also pleased to learn that this working group will be looking at the gaps that exist within security policies and practices in relation to gender, and we look forward to assisting in the development of the strategy and providing support in these areas.

The UN DSS has already embraced the accountability framework for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP)—along with many of the agencies represented here today—which is a unified framework for the UN entities that report on it annually, and that in the process enhance their understanding and implementation of mainstreaming gender.

As you know, UN Women has long been mandated to mainstream gender not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do—improving any outcome to which we strive. The perspectives of men and women must be equally brought to bear on all our work irrespective of its dimension.

And with this said, we are glad to know that UNDSS plans to continue to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women with impressive and include concrete actions such as:

  • the development and release of a strategic vision on gender in early 2015 followed by the development of a departmental gender plan;
  • the establishment of an Evaluation Team to track the progress on gender mainstreaming projects, including recruitments and an increase in gender-focused training; and
  • the rolling out of UN Women’s new “I Know Gender” course for all DSS staff in order to increase the department’s capacity to deliver on its gender-related mandates.

Let me emphasize the importance of this working group. The outcome of the session that you are initiating today will inform the upcoming 21st session of the IASMN, in Manila and it will impact not just the UN system but also external security frameworks.

In the context of the post-2015 development framework, your work will be critical to ensure the UN system is “fit for purpose” when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are many aspects of the proposed SDGs that include critical safety and security considerations and from which your experience will be a critical asset. For example:

  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and its target on the elimination of violence against women;
  • Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;
  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; and
  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development

Your work will also inform and enforce security partners in conflict situations where, certainly, you can influence the work that they do. 2014 was a very difficult year, which took a particularly high toll on the security of women and girls. For example, we saw a rising wave of violent extremism directly targeting women’s rights as their common agenda and first order of business, invariably placing limits on women’s access to education and health services, restricting their participation in economic and political life, seeking to control their bodies and lives, and enforcing these restrictions through terrifying violence. Also, the rapid proliferation of new conflicts and the escalation of old ones quickly unraveled the gains and dividends of peace, development, democracy and women’s human rights.

Your deliberations during these two days and the development of the UN gender-responsive security strategy will also influence the largest ongoing review of UN peace missions since 2000. The effectiveness of our peacebuilding architecture will depend on its capacity to put women’s empowerment and gender equality at its center.

With your work not only will the UN improve the security of all male and female staff, but also you will be able to influence external security frameworks so we are never faced again with adolescent girls being abducted from places that are traditionally safe—was was the case in the schools in Nigeria.

UN Women is deeply appreciative of this initiative and the security that you provide. You can fully count on UN Women to provide support as best as it can.

I thank you!