Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security in New York

Let’s close the gap between words and action


[As delivered]

There is a common message coming from women affected by conflict, and actors who are concerned with women, peace and security matters, whether it is women in Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Burundi, the Philippines, DRC, Yemen, Colombia or Kurdish and Yazidi women. Whether it is the youth who are here for this week, or the global focal points on women, peace and security from different countries; or whether it is women peacekeepers, like the ones from South Africa who shared their touching stories with us yesterday, highlighting the need to increase numbers of women in uniform. The loud and common message is: progress is too slow, political will is not strong enough, and pushback against the needs and interests of women is threatening the progress we have made and pushing further away those who need the resolve and support most.

This is despite the many good words, agreements, discussions and events that have taken place. Change is not as real as it needs to be. As I address the Council today, I urge that we heed the call of these women.

As we discuss the report of the Secretary-General, we must aim to close the gap between words and action, as has been already articulated by the Secretary-General.

The collective scorecard is not where it should be, even though we agree on so much. There is a stark contrast between the expressed support from Member States and regional and international organizations to women, peace and security, and the reality.

The correlation between gender inequality and a society’s propensity for civil or interstate conflict is now well established. The link between the participation of women and more durable peace has also been established. And yet, we still live in a world that tolerates and excuses women’s continued exclusion from peace and political processes and institutions. We still live with violent misogyny that is on the rise. We are witnessing record levels of political violence targeting women. Sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war and terror, while its survivors are left without justice or support. And the support they need is minimized sometimes by decisions we take, even here. After conflict, economic recovery for women is primarily limited to micro-credit and micro-enterprises, while large-scale reconstruction is dominated by men and overwhelmingly benefits men.

Feminist organizations have repeatedly called for disarmament, arms control and shifting military spending to social investment. Still these calls have gone unanswered. It seems easier to use arms than to deliver clean water, energy, or heal the women in northeast Nigeria from recurring trauma as observed by our Assistant Secretary-General, Åsa Regnér, last week. The list of examples of people who should be benefitting from this resolution but who are not benefitting is just way too long.

Last year, the Secretary-General tasked UN Women with commissioning an independent assessment of progress in implementing the gender-related recommendations of the three peace and security reviews that the UN conducted in 2015.

Its findings are summarized in the Secretary-General’s report. Of the recommendations that targeted the UN specifically: we found that 50 per cent of the recommendations have been implemented or are in progress and that 10 per cent had either gone backwards or were not progressing at all. From 1990 to 2018, less than 20 per cent of peace agreements included provisions addressing women or gender. And last year none of the agreements reached in UN-led processes included provisions addressing women. The UN-led processes are also supported by Member States. So together, we have a responsibility to do better than this.

Many of the countries that will speak here today generously support mediation and peace negotiation efforts. But we need also for all those countries to advocate for the full deployment and use of these women who have tremendous skill and commitment to the agenda.

We need you to demand women’s direct and meaningful participation in peace talks in all phases. Women’s absence from peace tables is still commonplace, but it no longer goes unnoticed. Partners who support peace talks also do not include women or they have limited the women who represent them.

As we speak – and it is not for lack of trying on our part – in all ongoing peace processes, fewer than 8 per cent of agreements contain gender-related provisions, down from 39 per cent in 2015.

In the recent past, where agreements do include specific gender provisions, ensuring implementation has also remained a challenge.

The 2016 peace accord in Colombia is a landmark agreement and great effort went into putting it together. But a recent analysis shows that around half of the gender-related provisions in that agreement have not been initiated; and that gender provisions are being implemented at even slower rates than the rest.

I have some promising news because it is not nice to give a report like this, I have to say. The independent assessment did identify areas of progress that are underway, such as in the stronger integration of gender considerations in preventing violent extremism.

We do, however, also face challenges when national counter-terrorism legislation impacts negatively on women’s civil society organizations and the report urges Member States to review them and to take action.

UN Women has just supported two research projects conducted by Monash University in four countries: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Libya and the Philippines. In all four, hostile sexist attitudes towards women were the factors most strongly associated with support for violent extremism – far more than age, degrees of religiosity, level of education or employment. This is a significant finding, especially because the vast majority of studies on terrorism ignore gender. We appreciate the strong collaboration with the agencies that are working in this area and the Member States that collaborate with us.

The number of countries that have adopted National Action Plans on women, peace and security increased by 50 per cent since 2015. We welcome this and applaud these countries. But still, that still represents less than half of the countries in the world, and only 22 per cent of all plans included a budget at adoption. We urge the countries with the new plans to make sure that they include budgets.

Excellencies, women’s economic empowerment is key to sustaining peace. Women need to be given priority in efforts to respond to crises and plan for peace. Without shelter, food, support for educational and health needs, women’s lives continue to be frozen in low-intensity warfare.

Discrimination against women in access to assets and productive resources violates women’s human rights and leaves them vulnerable to extreme poverty, gender-based violence and trafficking in all countries. Family members also are at risk of being drawn into terrorism and of being in harm’s way.

The marginalization of women in decision-making in the political economy of foreign aid, reconstruction and economic revitalization is part of the problem that you can solve and together we can move the needle.

In fragile and conflict-affected countries, only 4 in 10 women are in paid work, compared with 7 in 10 men. Creating work opportunities for women is therefore an important contribution. In countries experiencing prolonged crises like Afghanistan, Syria or Yemen, the gender employment gap is 50 or 60 points.

In contrast, from 2016 to 2017, only 0.2 per cent of total bilateral aid to fragile and conflict-affected situations went directly to women’s organizations. Investing directly in women is also critical. In 2018, total world military expenditure reached 1.8 trillion dollars. Some of it is deepening the crisis in the same fragile countries they are meant to be helping in line with Security Council resolution 1325. It is important to state that the overall share of aid promoting gender equality in some form has increased to 42.6 per cent, higher than ever before. But less than 5 per cent of it goes to programmes with the primary objective to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment. This support comes from a small group of donors which we can really expand. In the UN, to date, only a few entities have committed to achieving minimum targets on allocation and expenditure on gender equality.

The Peacebuilding Fund remains a bright spot thanks to consistent championing by senior leadership and the collaborative effort, which we can all learn from.

The Secretary-General’s 2019 Women and Peace and Security report urges that next year, UN entities have to benchmark targets and put in place accountability mechanisms. Your active support in this direction to support this call could go a long way to help.

I further ask again that you address the issue of participation and inclusion of women in all peace processes as well as the inclusion of women in uniformed services. This is one of the important components of Resolution 1325 and you can also do much more to help us and to enforce and implement this. 

As I said last year, the UN and Member States should not be giving support to peace processes that exclude women. If we take a stand on this, things will change. We know such exclusive processes have a limited chance of bringing durable peace. It is therefore important that you intervene decisively. Choosing to exclude women therefore means that we may be choosing to compromise on our collective desire for lasting peace.

Tomorrow, most of you will be at the global forum for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. This is led by Nobel Laureates Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad and my colleague Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Thanks to many efforts over the last decade, this is no longer history’s greatest silence. We know women are not just victims – they continue to lead and stand up even after torrid experiences. Nadia is a living testimony of the resilience of women who defy all odds.

I applaud the contribution that UN Women has been made in partnership with OHCHR, the ICC, Justice Rapid Response and others to ensuring there is thorough investigation of crimes and that these crimes are also documented.

I want to make sure that as we move forward and as we prepare for the 20th celebration of 1325 next year, we can close some of the gaps within the year ahead of us.

You will be listening in a few minutes now to women’s voices and stories. Alaa Salah, from Sudan, is one of the many women that are leading the change in the country because these represent the young women of courage. You have listened to Congolese women describing the political representation barriers they were facing in the lead up to the country’s first election since 2011. You have also heard from South Sudanese women. You have listened in the past to Afghan, Libyan and Yemeni women demanding respect for women’s rights and meaningful participation of women in the negotiations and decisions that will determine the future of their countries.

And on International Women’s Day, just a few months ago, Angelina Nyajima Simon Jial, one of the members of the South Sudan Women’s Coalition, told you that, “We need not just to be consulted, but to be heard. When we raise concerns about tensions mounting or the needs for services, we speak from an informed position ...”.

There is a lot of trust and expectations on this Council and I hope we will be able to rise to the occasion.

Between now and October 2020, on the 20th anniversary of the 1325 resolution, let’s take big steps to close the gap. That is what women are asking us to do. There is lot we can do even in this year.

Your actions can move the needle and be the examples of political courage, not just the courage of the people who have less to give and much more to lose.

All of us together can take action.

Thank you.