(English) Speech by Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the Sérgio Vieira De Mello Center for Joint Peace Operations (CCOPAB)


Speech by Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the Sérgio Vieira De Mello Center for Joint Peace Operations (CCOPAB). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 16 December 2011.

A very good afternoon to you all. Let me say that it is indeed a very special honor to be here today with you all.

For me it is certainly an honor to be here, to have the opportunity to visit the facilities of the Center for Joint Peace Operations, and interact with people, like you — who have embraced the cause of peace, as the best way to ensure stability, trust and the development of our peoples.

Nowadays armed conflict is the main obstacle standing in the way of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the leading cause behind poverty and extreme inequality between countries and regions.

One fifth of the world's population lives in countries that are afflicted by wars or are at various stages of post conflict recovery with high rates of fragility and instability. Large human displacements that we can witness in the world, and in which violence and insecurity affect principally women and girls, are the result either of violence or natural disasters, the intensity and frequency of which have generated humanitarian and political crises which constitute another major challenge for us.

42 million people have been displaced, within their own countries or as refugees of war in other countries. More than 70 percent of these displaced people are women and children.

During the course of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, between 20 thousand and 50 thousand women were raped, many of these incidents occurring in detention centers. In 1994, during the genocide in Rwanda, between 250 thousand and 500 thousand women were raped as part of a deliberate strategy to change the demographic and ethnic composition of the country.

In Sierra Leone, more than 50 thousand displaced women were sexually assaulted by combatants.

In more than a decade of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many hundreds of thousands of women and girls were raped, and despite the fact that the United Nations mission has been successful in reducing other kinds of violence, sexual violence continues unabated and large-scale attacks on civilians continue to occur. These attacks have not resulted in fatalities but nonetheless in hundreds of cases of rape.

Wars (current ones) are characterized as asymmetric and irregular and typically result in a significant number of civilian victims, especially women and girls. The proliferation and fragmentation of irregular armed groups entails the use of tactics that are designed for compensating for the imbalance in military capacity, and as a result lead to deliberate attacks on schools and hospitals, or result in a strategic use of sexual violence in order to cause terror or displace entire populations.

It is in the context to these events that General Cammaert, who commanded the United Nations forces in the East of Congo, said to the Security Council, “these days it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.

Given the magnitude of the problem and international recognition that it was necessary to seek a solution, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was approved unanimously in October 2000, recognizing that men and women are affected differently by conflicts and wars, and that women are not just a part of the problem but in fact a part of the solution, given that they can contribute to the consolidation of peace.

As of now there are 15 peacekeeping operations in progress all over the world with 99 thousand military personnel taking part with only 3.6 percent women peacekeepers. There is still considerable progress to be made in this area.

In this context, we are happy that three women activists have played a very special role in bringing peace to their countries. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia and Tawakkul Karman from Yemen have this weekend been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with them during the ceremony and to reiterate to these women the significance of their example for millions of women all over the world, who are working for the wellbeing of their respective countries and communities and also want to make a vital contribution to ensuring that peace prevails.

Brazil has been a key player in terms of peace with its military forces since 1956 participating in more than 30 peace missions, as well as giving primacy from its seat on the Security Council to the link between peace, security and development, now playing an important role with regards to the protection of women.

Indeed, the Brazilian army has been a pioneer since 1905 allowing and encouraging the admission of women to its Military Command.

This very day witnesses the graduation from the Military Command School course of a group of female doctors whom we should certainly congratulate for their generosity of spirit and leadership qualities. One of these, Major Carla Clausi, has even been awarded first prize as valedictorian in her academic group.

Major Clara Clausi served in Haiti in 2008 and some days ago stated, when giving a press conference, that the most emotional moment of her life occurred when in the course of a rescue mission that lasted more than six hours, together with a group of eight nurses, she succeeded in saving the lives of four boys. Clara has demonstrated in this example - that in the process of carrying out their duties - the commitment of women with regards to respect for human lives and the wellbeing of their communities is a fundamental characteristic of peacekeeping activities and post-catastrophe reconstruction.

Many of you have already served in areas of conflict or in areas devastated by natural disasters and as a result you are witnesses to the very different ways in which women and men respond to these adverse circumstances.

The participation of women in peace and stabilization efforts helps to reduce the incidence of conflicts and hostilities and promotes better access and support for women who have been displaced and victimized by war, and it is also the case that the presence of women helps to empower other women in their native communities and increases the perception of security by the local population, in particular for women and girls and boys.

We are aware that a common denominator to the two contexts is insecurity for those civilians that live in the areas affected, as well as official lawlessness. We are responsible for protecting civilians, and in all situations. According to the mandate and the rules in force, the individuals who act as the so-called blue helmets, and that act as United Nations peacekeepers, should intervene in all areas in which civilians encounter aggression, be they combatants or not.

The reconstruction process for those territories that are recovering from situations of conflict are based on three pillars: economic recovery, the reestablishment of social cohesion and the recovery of political legitimacy. And women have a great deal to contribute to these three pillars, not only with regard to the issue of rights and social justice but also because, thanks to our participation, the results of the reconstruction of communities are more effective, legitimate and participatory.

As I was saying, one of the international instruments that support our performance in this field is Security Council Resolution No. 1325 of the Security Council that recognizes the importance of women in peace processes and the need to incorporate the gender perspective and women themselves in these initiatives.

Ten years have passed since the implementation of this resolution and together with the evaluations and necessary adjustments that we should provide, in the future, interventions on “women, peace and security will include a greater exchange of experiences, will incorporate successful practices which are innovative and many of which have been tested in Brazil.

We are going to increase the practice of training joint forces to protect civilians; made up not only by military personnel and members of the police but also by civilians who are expert in the field of protection, human rights, gender and other areas of concern, and who are better prepared to communicate with civilians and to obtain more information and also earn their trust. Preparation for training workshops and modules for troops on the issues of gender and preventing and responding to sexual violence in armed conflict, or changes in patrolling patterns so as to protect women and girls, as has been implemented in Haiti, Darfur and the Congo.

You, as peacekeeping forces, play a central role and should mainstream into your activities the fight against gender inequalities and against discrimination based on gender. To be more specific, you can play a fundamental role in providing environments that are more secure for women in conflict situations. During your missions, you can help disseminate those arguments that defend the participation of women in the contexts that we have described.

We at UN Women are in dialogue with the Brazilian government so as to continue collaborating with all the activities of the Joint Peace Keeping Center, supporting the work that is currently being carried out by Colonel Pessoa and his team, in courses and training workshops as well as during the Military Games.

I want to close these remarks by saying that you have a great responsibility when you are engaged in peacekeeping missions, intervening to protect women, working shoulder to shoulder with women in the reconstruction of their communities and countries, and spreading the message that gender equality is essential for democracy and peace. You can help to make this goal a reality.

Thank you so much.