Women, Peace and Security: Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding

Speech by Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri at a panel organized by the Netherlands on “Women Peace and Security: Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding,” 20 January 2015, New York.


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Distinguished panelists,
Dear colleagues and friends,

I would like to start by thanking the Dutch Foreign Minister for inviting all of us to this very important dialogue to ensure coordination among the three forthcoming main United Nations policy reviews on peace and security issues: including peacebuilding, peace operations, and the 15-year review of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

The United Nations turns 70 this year. This coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform of Action, adopted at the last World Conference for Women in Beijing, which remains our leading roadmap for gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 2015 the international community will also agree on new development framework and the Sustainable Development Goals. We are promoting 2030 as the expiry date for gender inequality.

This 2015 is arising as a year of opportunities to bring forward the gender equality agenda. It has come after 2014 which certainly was a very difficult year which took a particularly high toll on women and girls. 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. We also saw how the unexpected Ebola crisis decimated communities in West Africa, and women disproportionately were among the ones losing their lives to this disease. Also, the rapid proliferation of new conflicts and the escalation of old ones quickly unraveled the gains and dividends of peace and development.

The coincidence of all these policy reviews taking place at the same time offers a rare chance to shape the way in which we will be addressing the global challenges in the next decades. This means a great responsibility for all of us to seize this moment and turn it into meaningful change. This can only happen if these important conversations are able to transcend the closed silos in which we often work. This also requires that we are resolved to take ambitious leaps forward rather than settling for incremental steps.

Ensuring coordination and synergy is key, and building on it, are the goals of this panel and several meetings taking place among all those involved in these reviews. For UN Women it is our priority to ensure that the women, and peace and security agenda is central to the discussions and deliberations of the other two reviews. Otherwise, we will miss crucial opportunities to explore new ideas, open new doors, and reach out to and convince more people and change-makers.

We cannot pretend to improve the way in which women’s empowerment and leadership can help prevent and resolve conflicts without simultaneously influencing the largest review of UN peace missions since 2000. UN peacekeeping missions are one of our most visible and expensive forces at the ground level and can profoundly impact women’s lives. Similarly, we cannot take a hard look at the effectiveness of our peacebuilding architecture without putting women’s empowerment and gender equality at its  centre.

The Secretary-General has made women’s participation in peacebuilding, one of his five priorities for his second term because he knows the importance of women’s roles in recovering from conflict and the consolidation of peace.  This point was also made by virtually every member of the Security Council only a few days ago during the Council’s briefing on peacebuilding.

UN Women are engaging at various levels with key players leading these reviews. We are submitting technical inputs and think pieces to inform deliberations and recommendations. We are supporting and relying on the women, peace and security champions in the high-level panels of the other reviews, some of which are members of more than one expert panel.

UN Women is also taking advantage of all the research and hard work put into the preparation of the global study on women and peace and security to provide informed advice and evidence. The first consultations for the peace operations review are taking place today in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and every session includes questions on women, peace and security, apart from having a dedicated session to this topic.

Synergy and coordination will not be enough. We also have to have a bold vision and the political courage to see it through. For example, when we take a look back, we will see that much has changed since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. International courts now routinely investigate sexual and gender-based violence. Security Council resolution 1325 has been invoked to introduce quotas in post-conflict parliaments and governments and increase women’s political representation. The percentage of women at peace tables or receiving reparations has increased. Last year, for the first time, we had a female force commander in a UN mission and 40 per cent of female representation at the UN Security Council.

However, we are making progress at an unacceptably slow pace that is often quickly reversed by the eruption of armed conflict or the rise of violent extremism.

We cannot wait until the next century for parity in the bodies that shape our politics or decide on matters of war and peace. Nearly half of all peace agreements say nothing about women’s rights or needs, and there is still a majority of peace processes where women’s minimal presence is an afterthought. Our peacekeeping missions are heavily dominated by men.

More precisely, recovery funds continue to largely ignore women’s economic role and under-invests in their livelihoods. Far too often, women and girls are forced to marry their abductors and rapists or sold as slaves. Women’s rights defenders and courageous journalists are silenced by violence. Teachers, students, and frontline service providers are threatened or killed for providing education for girls or polio vaccines. Key decisions are still made by men behind closed doors, deaf to the voices of half of the world’s population.

Therefore we must do our utmost to ensure women’s empowerment as a critical step forward to ending conflicts and preventing them from happening. This challenge has never been more relevant or urgent. Women’s rights and women’s leadership offer a path to peace and security sorely needed by a world in turmoil.

We need resources to match our ambition.

I cannot think of other areas in international policymaking where there’s a bigger gap between the rhetorical support and the actual financial support. The Secretary-General has set a very clear target that at least 15 per cent of peacebuilding funds should directly address gender equality.

We need accountability and consequences for failing to uphold our international obligations on women and peace and security.

We need to break the silos and sing from the same sheet in all our areas of work. Whether it is conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding, there is always a strong gender equality and women’s empowerment imperative on their own and in their interlinkages.

In 2015, whether we are discussing Ebola, counter-terrorism, UN peacekeeping, sanctions, sustainable development, peacebuilding or climate change, the gender equality message needs to be heard loud and clear.

UN Women is ready for the challenge and we count on your support.