Equal economic empowerment between the sexes would yield huge dividends for peacebuilding efforts, the top United Nations official for the empowerment of women told the Security Council today, as she and other experts highlighted the need for increased international efforts on meaningful inclusion, regardless of gender.
“We have the blueprint and the business case to support women’s economic inclusion; what we need is political will to pursue it,” said Sima Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). Investing in women’s economic empowerment has a beneficial impact on both peace and prosperity, she underscored. Conversely, exclusion and discrimination — along with outmoded gender stereotypes — work to keep women out of a variety of spheres, including those related to jobs and technologies.
Highlighting recent developments of concern around the globe, she said that in Afghanistan, the consequences of a new gender apartheid mean that women’s employment rates have plummeted since the takeover by the Taliban. In Ukraine, meanwhile, she underscored that most of those trying to escape conflict are women and children. Achievements in gender equality that gained momentum over decades can evaporate quickly, she warned.
Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), noting that women disproportionately carry the burdens of war, said reducing gender inequality in fragile or conflict situations can have powerful economic consequences. Analysis shows that improving gender equality can raise economic growth, enhance financial stability and make societies more resistant to violence and conflict. Pointing to women and girls as “powerful agents of change” who can help societies transform themselves from fragile States to stable nations, she cited the positive examples to be found in Colombia and Northern Ireland. “To all the women and girls: believe in yourself. Dare to reach your full potential,” she said.
The Council also heard from a representative from civil society, Sidibé Moussokoro Coulibaly, President of the Network of Women Economic Operators of Segou in Mali. Her organization — a partner of the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund — brings women into contact with financial partners — such as banks and microfinance institutions — with the goal of ensuring that financial services are created with them in mind. In the Ségou region, such collaboration resulted in the granting of loans to 200 women to carry out business plans in agriculture, marketing and crafts. Many of these women went on to expand into the private sector, she said, noting that “by giving women a voice, by trusting them, by facilitating dialogue with financial partners, we can have far-reaching results when mobilizing locally available resources”. She urged the United Nations and private sector to facilitate women’s and women’s organizations’ access to sustainable, flexible funding that is sensitive to crisis-affected contexts and to equipment in the economic sectors in which women are most active.
During the day-long debate, several delegates took to the floor to emphasize that peace is always more sustainable if women have a seat at the negotiating table, with Turkey’s representative stressing that women and girls must always be party to conflict resolution efforts. They are agents of change, she said, not passive recipients of aid. She went on to delineate the economic cost of violence against women, emphasizing that it costs the global economy more than $12 trillion annually due to lost productivity.
Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister for Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates, Council President for March, agreed, saying women must not only benefit from sustainable post-conflict recovery; they must be in the driver’s seat, as planners, decision-makers and implementers in all sectors of society to ensure sustainable peacebuilding. Echoing that stance, Ghana’s representative urged the Council to reinforce its support for platforms such as the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action.
The speaker for Uruguay, stressing the need to ensure more women are deployed in peacekeeping operations, said her Government is working with Cornell University and partners on an assessment of opportunities for women in peacekeeping with a view to providing an innovative methodology to assess barriers. Having finalized the study on such obstacles, Uruguay is using the results for national decisions on how best to overcome them.
Canada’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said that the hurdles that women face to economic empowerment and security are daunting, while women’s financial and digital inclusion is significantly lower in conflict settings. He stressed that women’s economic inclusion is an essential enabler of participation and recovery in post-conflict situations, and the Council should always remain cognizant of that fact.
Delegates also referenced the rapid unravelling of women’s rights in several hotspots, with the United States’ delegate said that it was “impossible” to speak on International Women’s Day without shining a spotlight on the suffering and dying of women in Ukraine as they face the unjustified and ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation. Exclusion is antithetical to peace, she said, noting that women must be involved if the Russian Federation agrees to turn towards diplomacy and dialogue. She also highlighted the situation in Afghanistan, where women’s rights have been erased, seemingly overnight.
In a similar vein, Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, sounded the alarm over reports of sexual and gender-based violence and the impact of large-scale displacement on women’s and girls’ access to basic services in Ukraine. The women, peace and security agenda should be at the centre of the international community’s response in Ukraine, she said. On Afghanistan, she called for the removal of barriers to women’s economic empowerment, underscoring that “women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace and political processes is not possible if the effects of women’s economic realities are ignored”.
Silvio Gonzato, Head of the European Union delegation, in its capacity as observer, underscored that Ukrainian women are taking a leading role in the political and humanitarian response to the unprovoked attack on their country, while their female counterparts in the Russian Federation are at the front and centre of protests, despite the risk of losing their freedom. Meanwhile, women and girls in Afghanistan are facing a sharp setback to the exercise of their fundamental rights and are confronting daunting impediments to their access to education, health services and employment. The examples of these two countries demonstrate it is vital to ensure the centrality of the women, peace and security agenda. He cautioned against “cherry picking” in the agenda’s implementation and lauded the efforts of several Council members to mainstream the issue.
Pakistan’s delegate noted that Western media is currently filled with reports on desperate women and girls in Ukraine. However, there is much less coverage on other areas around the world where women’s rights are violated and violence is enacted against them, including Jammu and Kashmir, where Indian occupation forces use rape and sexual violence as weapons of war.
Also speaking were ministers from Ireland, Mexico and Maldives also spoke.
The representatives of India, United Kingdom, Kenya, Gabon, France, Brazil, Albania, China, Russian Federation, Norway, Egypt, Malta, Morocco, Switzerland, Japan, Greece, Jordan, Germany, Iran, Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Dominican Republic, Portugal, Peru, South Africa, Poland, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Georgia, Malaysia, Italy, Viet Nam, Thailand, Costa Rica, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Argentina, Nepal, Ukraine, Barbados (for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Bahrain and Bangladesh also spoke.
The meeting began at 9:14 a.m. and suspended at 12:24 p.m., then resumed at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:44 p.m.