Statement to the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, by Danai Gurira, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, award-winning playwright and actor
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When we tell stories on a page, a stage, or the screen, we often use heroes to inspire the audience. But in your privileged position as members of the Security Council, you get to hear directly from real-life heroes. I would like to use my time here today to pay homage to them and make sure you do not forget their stories.
Earlier this year, you heard from Wafa’a Alsaidy in Yemen, who regularly crosses the conflict frontlines to provide medical assistance to mothers whose children have survived so many bombings that they are now fearful of the sound of rain. In a meeting like this, she asked you to put an end to the direct and indirect support to military operations in Yemen.
You had the opportunity to meet Nujeen Mustafa, a young Syrian woman born with cerebral palsy and famous for traveling from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. Speaking on behalf of women with disabilities in wars everywhere, she told you: “Nothing about us without us.” She is one of 10 Syrian women from civil society that have addressed this Security Council in the last year and a half.
You heard from Clemencia Carabalí, who has been defending the rights of Afro-Colombians for almost a quarter of a century and had recently survived another assassination attempt. She told you that women are being killed for defending the human rights and territories of their communities, and she gave you names, dates, and details.
There was also Rida al-Tubuly from Libya, who has lost many activist friends but refuses to be stopped or silenced. When she’s not teaching at the university in Tripoli, she spends every minute she has mobilizing women and calling out men in power to let women take their rightful seat at the table. She told you that, in the name of preventive diplomacy and state-building, the international community often supports troublemakers instead of peacebuilders, and gives power and legitimacy to a violent minority instead of empowering the peaceful majority, which is an eloquent summary of what women, peace and security is all about.
You listened to the bright and talented Ilwad Elman, a young Somali woman whose family escaped the civil war after the killing of their father, a human rights activist. She managed to make a life for herself in Canada, yet decided to come back to her country of birth, alongside her two sisters, all three of them determined to help peace in Somalia. Ilwad told you that peace talks that focus on warlords and reconciliation processes that mainly engage political leaders while excluding women-led civil society groups are doomed to fail.
The last time that Russia presided over this annual debate on women, peace and security, four years ago, you invited Rita Lopidia from South Sudan to brief the Security Council on a day like today. When she was seven years old, Rita would run to the riverbank of the Nile to stay away from the shelling and the artillery drowning out all other sounds in her native Juba. And yet, like Ilwad Elman, even though she was able to escape the war, she came back to her country as a young woman to organize thousands of women for peace and contribute directly to peace negotiations. She asked you to put pressure on parties to include women not just in the peace talks, but in all the mechanisms set up to implement and monitor these agreements. And she said: “South Sudan is becoming a living hell for a lot of women and, in my opinion, this should not be happening on your watch.” This was four years ago.
One of the things that these real-life heroes have in common is the conviction that inclusion is our only way out of these dark times, and that equality between men and women in decision-making is the only way we will build peace.
The United Nations and this Security Council have been pushing this idea for the last 20 years, and there has been some progress, but it is not nearly good enough. 0.2 per cent of aid for women’s organizations is not good enough. Nineteen per cent of seats in parliament in conflict countries is not good enough. Male-dominated rooms in the 21st century should be embarrassing to us all, not least to the men in those rooms. USD 1.9 trillion of military spending is not making us safer today.
The stories from these real-life heroes are inspiring, but they should have more support from everyone else. Most of the times, when women make their mark in spite of impossible odds, it is not because they were given the space and the opportunity, but because they protested against their exclusion and persisted. Liberian women went so far as barricading a hotel full of the warlords and preventing them from leaving until they signed peace after 14 years of gruesome civil war.
Women like them will continue to rise and fight for peace. But they should not be doing this on their own. Even at this time of enormous uncertainty and loss of trust in authorities and institutions, people expect global unity and multilateral cooperation more than ever. The women that you have been inviting have inspiring stories and a powerful message. It is your turn to show that you have been listening. And just like they keep showing up for peace, it is your turn to show up for them.