Many of the challenges the world faces today, from proliferating conflicts to worsening assaults on human rights, are connected to the trampling of women’s rights and to deeply ingrained misogyny around the world, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the Security Council today, opening its annual day-long open debate on women, peace and security.
“Women and girls are often the primary targets of violence and abuse in conflict settings,” she said, stressing: “They must be in the vanguard of our response.” Presenting the latest report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security (document S/2022/740), she observed that despite the well-documented benefits of strengthening women’s resilience and leadership, progress has been slow, creating a barrier to bringing about inclusive and sustainable peace, stressing: “We must do better.”
Pointing out that while between 1995 and 2019, the percentage of peace agreements with gender equality provisions increased from 14 to 22 per cent, within the same time frame, women constituted just 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes. Against this backdrop, she called for more women mediators and negotiators to be put forward; and for greater support to be extended to the underfunded frontline work of women peacebuilders. In addition, she called for the swift implementation of five actions identified by the Secretary-General, ahead of the decade on women’s rights.
She went on to highlight the work of the Organization across the world to promote women’s meaningful representation and participation in peacemaking efforts, including in Sudan, where the Mission’s strategy for a gender responsive process included a 40 per cent target of women in delegations to the peace talks, adding: “Today, let us recommit to putting women’s participation at the centre of everything we do — everywhere.”
Sima Sami Iskandar Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), sounded a similarly rousing call to action, underscoring the need to do more to support women, including female human rights defenders around the world, from Iran to Tigray, Ukraine and more, who are under attack and continue to risk their lives.
Citing a number of setbacks in progress, including a decrease in women’s representation in United Nations-led peace processes in 2021 from the previous year, and a 72 per cent shortfall in funding aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies, she warned: “Denying women space, access or funding because of safety concerns emboldens perpetrators and, in their eyes, validates their tactics.”
Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, pointing out that her office is the first of its kind in the world, said the women, peace and security agenda is a core priority of the Union, which follows the model of solidarity missions that reach out to women in crisis situations and has been deployed in Mali, Somalia and South Sudan, among other countries.
Painting a vivid picture of struggles faced by women across the continent, including threatened livelihoods, sexual violence and kidnapping, from the Lake Chad Basin to the Sahel, she urged Member States to create a safe space for women and girls in conflict situations, and called on the Council and the United Nations to better support their leadership by ensuring that women’s organizations have access to predictable and flexible funding and implementing deliberate measures to increase their meaningful participation and inclusion in peace negotiations, among other measures.
The urgency and high stakes of tackling such issues was vividly brought to life by Zahra Nader, the Editor-in-Chief of Zan Times, a woman-led newsroom that covers human rights violations in Afghanistan, who described the devastating situation in which Afghan women find themselves. “Today, an estimated 20 million women and girls who grew up in Afghanistan going to school, to work, who grew up being able to go where they liked and to speak their minds, are, under the Taliban, deprived of these fundamental human rights because of their gender,” she said.
Painting a distressing picture of an across-the-board crushing of the rights and girls, with women being ordered to stay home or arrested for so-called “moral crimes”, and of a dramatic increase in forced and child marriages, sometimes to Taliban members, she said, “The truth is that we don’t know — and will probably never know — the full extent of violations taking place because United Nations monitoring is thin on the ground; the Afghan media, especially women journalists, have been crushed by the Taliban; and the international media have mostly left.”
Noting that the Council has met 11 times since the takeover of the Taliban in August 2021, she observed that none of its efforts have pressured the Taliban to change course, stressing: “When it comes to women, peace and security, there is a major gap here at the United Nations between words and action — and the Taliban have no respect for words.”
During the ensuing debate, in which representatives of some 80 Member States and other entities participated, speakers observed that 22 years after the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000), it is yet to be accompanied with concrete changes on the ground, with women continuing to pay a heavy price in conflicts around the world. Many speakers emphasized the need to ensure the participation of females in all peace processes, and for robust support and protection to be provided to women human rights defenders. A number of speakers expressed alarm about conflict-related gender-based violence occurring in Ukraine, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places, and emphasized the need to hold the perpetrators of such abuse to account.
Several speakers lauded the courage of women leaders and human rights defenders in Ukraine and Afghanistan, and of female protestors in Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar and Iran, with the representative of the United States pointing out that the Iranian people are currently protesting because Mahsa Amini “was killed by the Iranian morality police for the crime of being a woman”. She underscored the importance of ensuring that the women, peace and security agenda is deliberately and strategically integrated into the Council’s country resolutions.
Echoing such points, Irene Fellin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Women, Peace and Security, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said it was sad to see women’s rights being challenged in places such as Iran and Afghanistan. Moreover, horrific war crimes are having a disproportionate impact on women and girls amidst the Russian Federation’s war of aggression on Ukraine. NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted in Madrid in June, explicitly recognizes that women, peace and security, as well as gender equality, are integral to the Alliance’s values and actions.
The representative of Mexico also spotlighted many places in the world where women found themselves victims of violence and reprisals, including in Myanmar, where they are attacked and tortured for peaceful protest, declaring: “To them, we say today: their struggle is not in vain.” Mexico will continue to advocate on their behalf in the Council and with the Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security, which it co-chairs with Ireland, and will incorporate a gender-transformative perspective in work and resolutions and products it adopts.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s delegate said that, through seven months of resistance against the Russian Federation’s war, the international community has witnessed that “current resilience in Ukraine has a particularly female face”. Women are organizing, leading, taking charge of children’s education, and bear the sole responsibility for care of themselves, children and the elderly. They are also on the front lines of military defence, numbering 50,000 in the armed forces, she said. Stressing that Russian Federation forces actively target women, using rape and sexual assault as part of its military strategy, she called for the prosecution of all perpetrators of these crimes.
Sylvie Valérie Baïpo-Temon, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and Central Africans abroad of the Central African Republic, said that with her country’s return to constitutional order, women occupy many important positions, such as in defence, diplomacy and reconciliation. The presidency of the constitutional court is also held by a woman, she added. Many initiatives to advance women’s resilience and leadership have been implemented, she said, spotlighting a follow-up committee dealing with the trafficking of persons — an issue that affects women in particular.
Meanwhile, the representative of Lebanon, citing a quote from UN-Women, stated that “at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality,” stressing: “We cannot wait 300 years.”
For her part, Iran’s delegate denounced allegations made by “certain Western countries” that claim to support the rights of her country’s women, which she characterized as “nothing more than a political attempt to politicize women’s rights” and advised them that they are not required to act as guardians or caretakers of Iranian women or speak on their behalf. Expressing regret over the death of Ms. Amini, she highlighted that a thorough investigation had been carried out and its findings have been shared with Member States and United Nations-affiliated organizations.
Also speaking today were ministers and representatives of Gabon, Albania, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Brazil, Norway, France, Kenya, Russian Federation, Ghana, India, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Finland, Canada, Türkiye, Liechtenstein, Philippines, Luxembourg, Malta, Egypt, Ecuador, Colombia, South Africa, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Italy, Austria, Greece, Republic of Korea, Namibia, Jordan, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, Iran, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Chile, Spain, Malaysia, Estonia, Latvia, Australia, Viet Nam, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Belgium, Yemen, Thailand, Croatia, Guatemala, Georgia, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali, Lithuania, Netherlands, Morocco, Niger, Kuwait, Guyana and Israel, as well as the European Union, Palestine and International Committee of the Red Cross in their capacity as Observers.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m., suspended at 1:13 p.m., resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 7:55 p.m.