Speech: “It is essential to have women in the centre of peacemaking”—Executive Director

Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Opening Session of the Workshop on the Rights of Internally Displaced Women and Women Affected by Conflict in Recovery and Peacebuilding in Kyiv, Ukraine


[As delivered]

Thank you very much. It is wonderful to be here with you. Excellencies, it is also great to have this time with you to exchange ideas. Thank you for your warm welcome.

To the women who are here—those that are activists, those that are supporters, those that are displaced—it is wonderful to be here with you today.

One thing that we know about displaced persons, whether they are inside their country or outside their country, it is that it is not a trip that they look forward to. You do not leave your home and your country happily. So, the joy of returning to where you want to live is always something you look forward to. What we are discussing today is, in part, making it possible for that day to arrive. In circumstances like that, when the numbers are so great, that journey is not one that you make alone. It is a task for a community and partners to do together.

Evidence tells us that the majority of affected people in these situations of displacement, everywhere in the country, are always women and children. That makes it an issue affecting all of us here.

From the announcements in the last few days about the steps the government has taken, it is clear that the issue of women and girls is at the centre of the reforms. But we do have to do more and to be stronger, and the support that we give in partnership means that we grow stronger together.

I also want to appreciate the leadership of the Vice Prime Minister and to congratulate you for the victories that you have scored.

Many of you will remember that one of the critical outcomes of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was the adoption of gender machineries. Before Beijing, more than 20 years ago, many countries did not have the structures to advance gender equality. It was an ad hoc endeavour. There were no budgets; there were no milestones; there was no monitoring mechanism; there was passion. And we saw then that passion sometimes evaporates and does not tell us have far we have come. So, the issue of establishing gender machineries around the world started to gain ground.

There have been many reviews about the difference that gender machineries make. Not all progress has been perfect; in most countries underfunding has been the biggest problem of the gender machineries. But the existence of the gender machinery creates an obligation for the whole of government; it creates certainty. Women know where to go when they need to talk to somebody about their issue. So, I say to the many ministers and all of you who helped bring this together, this is an important and necessary step.

I am also very happy that the progress made includes a national action plan that will enable you to implement Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It took a long time before the Security Council recognized that violence against women was a security threat, as well as a violation of women’s rights. The Security Council, which is responsible for global peace and security, recognized that to truly advance peace and security in the world, we have to understand what happens to women and we have to have the mechanisms to address the issues that impact on them.

Each country therefore has to develop an action plan in order to make sure that there are machineries to implement this resolution, step by step. Women who are displaced; women who are at the heart of conflict in some countries; women who are in peacebuilding: All of those issues are addressed in resolution 1325.

So again, welcome as a member of the United Nations, to this very difficult but very necessary area of work. The commitments that you are making in peacebuilding, and in ensuring that the country is focused on recovery, will bear fruit when the issues that affect women are set at the centre.

Addressing gender-based violence, which also occurs in times of peace, is critical. This issue becomes much more complicated when we are also dealing with a conflict. The lack of a mechanism to deal with gender-based violence in a conflict situation can only mean an increase of the violence that you see in peacetime. This is a time when the trafficking of girls, early marriages, and all of the issues that we fight against are also in ascendance. That is why the Istanbul Convention is critical. It pulls together a number of interventions that are possible for the State to use in order to do this work systematically.

When we deal with issues of gender equality, communities must be included. We need communities to be trendsetters in requiring that men and women are treated equality. We must raise the bar for society so that we create a world that is safer for all. We will support you as you bring together different sectors of society to take that goal forward.

I come from a part of the world where there has been conflict: Southern Africa. There was internal conflict in South Africa, my country. We had conflict in Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique. The fact that, at the time of making peace, we addressed significantly and systematically the struggle of women and provided rights for women has contributed towards sustaining peace for much longer. There were no perfect solutions, but none of these countries have a full-blown war or hostilities that are threatening the lives and the way of life of people.

Women are stakeholders and they are custodians in managing and maintaining the peace. From my own lived experience I can tell you that it is essential to have women in the centre of peacemaking.

In the review of the 15 years of implementing resolution 1325, one of the conclusions that was reached was that peace is safer, with more longevity, when women are involved in deciding the peace agreement, in accompanying it, and in participating in institutions of leadership.

Amongst the women sitting here is a huge resource of peacemakers that the world underutilizes. I hope that Ukraine will be able to use this resource to make sure that your peace is protected and made sustainable. As for the UN: We are here with you for the long haul. You can count on us.

Thank you.