Executive Director briefs the Security Council on Liberia

Statement to the Security Council meeting on Liberia by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, 17 March 2016, New York.

Date: Thursday, March 17, 2016

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka briefs UN Security Council on Liberia. Photo: UN Women/J Carrier
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka briefs UN Security Council on Liberia. Photo: UN Women/J Carrier

[As delivered]

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues,

I visited Liberia three weeks ago and am thankful to Angola for the invitation to speak to you on that subject today.

I found that the country has a strong democracy with the engagement of different stakeholders. And the women continue to be resilient in the face of persisting challenges. We applaud the strength of the Liberian democracy since the end of conflict. It is vital now that we continue to invest in the Liberian people’s broader resilience and recovery. The dividends of peace need to flow greater and deeper for women and girls.

Liberian women have earned global fame for helping to bring an end to the civil war, convincing rebels to lay down arms, and consolidating peace in a country that has avoided a relapse to conflict since it ended 13 years ago.

Now they are also known for the extraordinary role they played in halting, reversing, and eliminating the Ebola epidemic. I bring up the inspiring example of Liberian women when I speak to women from Syria, Colombia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, or the Democratic Republic of Congo in my travels to conflict-affected countries.

They are truly a source of inspiration.

However, Liberian women have yet to benefit fully from the dividends of peace. The absence of war does not mean the presence of “complete peace.” We have to ask ourselves: what does peace mean for women when they experience the high daily levels of sexual and gender-based violence that they continue to experience today—with limited or no access to justice?

Only 8 per cent of girls have completed secondary education or higher, and there are reports of alarming rates of sexual abuse and exploitation in schools by teachers and administrators, with total impunity. Whenever I spoke with them, they asked for more female teachers and this call was echoed by the President.

Harmful traditional practices, from child marriage to female genital mutilation and abduction of girls into the Sande and Poro secret tribal societies, are devastating both to women’s lives and the country’s recovery. Thankfully, a bill currently in front of Parliament includes the banning of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The country that elected Africa’s first woman president is ranked 149th in female representation in parliament, and even lower rates of women’s leadership in local districts, towns, clans, or chiefdoms. Thankfully, there is an effort which needs our support to secure a quota ahead of the coming local elections.

Sexual and gender-based violence continues to be one of the most reported crimes, particularly against minors, yet the overwhelming majority of perpetrators escape justice, despite the hard work on the part of some government officials and CSOs.

The drawdown of our troops must be accompanied by significant investment and support for the criminal justice system.

In addition, as many of you know, women were disproportionately affected by the Ebola epidemic. They were at a greater risk of infection because of their roles as caregivers and nurses. Women were proud of their role and share a strong desire for a strengthened health system.

In a country where women are a majority of cross-border traders and approximately 85 per cent of daily market traders, many women were suddenly impoverished by border closures, travel restrictions and market shutdowns. These women have called upon us to help them rebuild their trade. As one Government Minister noted to me, these women were heroes before the Ebola crisis hit. They are now back to zero.

Gains against maternal and infant mortality were quickly reversed by the disruption of basic services. My mission to Liberia was also to give our support to the effort to provide water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, an initiative which we worked in collaboration with Oxfam and the Government.

Today, this Council is mainly deliberating the continuation of the mission drawdown plans and the future of the UN presence in Liberia.

There cannot be a vacuum when the mission leaves. We have to demonstrate to Liberians that the end of the peacekeeping mission does not mean that the international community will turn away.

There is no better way of showing this resolve than by investing in those who have been most affected by the war, most affected by the epidemic, and most affected by post-conflict insecurity and impunity: women and girls.

From the international community, I am asking for greater development support to reconstruction, peacebuilding initiatives, and support to the rule of law that will bring to women and girls the justice and peace dividend they have earned.

During my visit I launched a five-year joint programme to prevent sexual and gender-based violence that encompasses every important government actor and a majority of UN entities, in a great example of positive coordination and extensive consultations with the community. This plan needs our support to succeed, especially on the law enforcement aspect.

The Government of Liberia, with support from UN Women and the UN Country Team, has been at the forefront of implementing the Secretary-General’s Seven Point Action Plan on Gender-Responsive Peacebuilding.

Future investments in Liberia’s reconstruction must continue to adhere to the commitment to allocate a minimum of 15 per cent of all peacebuilding funds to gender equality.

Similarly, we have to ensure that women benefit from and participate in all the investments in water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure planned as part of the recovery from Ebola. We stand ready to support the training to enable women to be competent and equipped for this task.

We should learn from the good practices led by or targeting women in the fight against Ebola so that we can apply it against other epidemics that are also particularly affecting women and girls, like Zika virus.

We have supported efforts and provided economic grants for hard-hit cross-border traders, supported orphaned children and stigmatized survivors, and ensured women’s needs were reflected in the UN’s humanitarian response.

The country’s network of women’s Peace Huts, the local peacebuilding mechanism that has inspired replication in several countries in the region, must continue to receive the support they need, and become fully embedded in local governance systems. This is needed now.

The country needs thousands of female teachers and midwives, ambitious economic empowerment programmes for rural women, strong women’s organizations, and justice and security sectors that address women’s needs and respect their rights.

And even as they continue their drawdown, I must ask the peacekeeping mission to consider their contribution to gender equality as a key element of their legacy.

I am happy to report that in Liberia the country team and the mission have been planning for an orderly handover of gender-related functions.

The mission has been playing an important role in the advancement of women’s participation in peacebuilding and peace consolidation, supporting selected government institutions to implement their commitments to gender equality, advocating for important legal reforms, and even building the capacity of women’s organizations through quick impact projects.

UN Women and the rest of the UN family are preparing for the challenging task of inheriting these functions and continue to move forward.

We need the support of the mission, the Security Council, and the international community at large in these next crucial months, especially in four specific areas:

One, the adoption of pending bills that are important to women and gender equality on domestic violence, land rights, reproductive health and governance decentralization.

Two, women’s involvement in the decentralization of health, education and agriculture services to the county level.

Three, a robust and dependable criminal justice system that can protect its women and girls.

And four, the need to take ambitious measures to change the decreasing numbers of women’s representation in politics at the national and local level, including through enforceable quotas and temporary special measures.

It is a long list, but the women that defeated the rebels and defeated Ebola can also defeat gender inequality and find their political voice. The future of Liberia depends on its women. That is something that the international community cannot turn away from.

Thank you, Excellencies, for your kind attention.