Secretary-General's remarks to the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women side event - Women, Peace and Security and Prevention: New directions and opportunities
Content by: UN Secretary General
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Secretary-General and myself, I would like to thank the Governments of Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Uruguay for convening this discussion.
I commend you for championing an agenda that is crucial to every aspect of the work, vision and values of the United Nations.
As you know, the Secretary-General and his team are committed to working with all of you to ensure that we put sustaining peace and sustainable development front and center. As he has often said, strengthening the organization’s work in crisis and conflict prevention is pivotal to this effort. We have seen again and again how easy it is to trigger a crisis or conflict, within and between countries. A small fire can quickly spread to engulf a country or an entire region in flames. Yet at the same time, we also know that a small investment can prevent the fire from spreading or erupting in the first place.
The Secretary-General’s prevention agenda is one that builds on this imperative and draw on the strength and opportunities of the UN to work across all its pillars: peace and security, development, human rights and humanitarian assistance. All pillars must come together for upstream prevention efforts in a joint and integrated manner. This is the Secretary-General’s aspiration, and the work has begun to bring all pillars together into an integrated platform for early detection and action building on a mapping of prevention capacities in the system.
The universal nature of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its pledge to leave no one behind, is further codified in the new paradigm of sustaining peace, as elaborated in the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. The best means of prevention, and of sustaining peace, is inclusive and sustainable development. And by inclusivity we mean – include all segments of the society and most critically women. Ensuring the meaningful participation of women and girls in all national and international endeavors, including conflict resolution is investing in sustaining peace.
The primary work and responsibility in crisis prevention clearly lies with Member States but the UN can do a great deal to support them. The women, peace and security agenda that has evolved over the past 12 years is central to this effort. Gender equality and inclusion are some of the strongest prevention tools that the UN has spearheaded. Security Council resolution 2242 takes this further, by updating the women, peace and security agenda to our current context and the interlinked challenges we face, from surging levels of displacement, climate change, and rising violent extremism. It also provides us with new tools to address these challenges.
As the Secretary-General said on International Women’s Day, ‘It is better to prevent conflict when we have women fully empowered in societies, and it is better to solve conflicts when women fully participate in conflict resolution’.
The evidence is clear. Inclusive processes with strong participation and leadership of women are systematically more comprehensive and lead to more sustainable solutions, whether in domestic political decision-making or in peace negotiations. Women’s participation in the security and defense sectors improves operational efficiency, reduces corruption, diminishes sexual exploitation and abuse, and increases trust between authorities and civilians. All of these effects are true in both domestic and international contexts.
Recent examples further illustrate. We are well aware of the important role played by Colombian women’s organizations in the peace talks in Havana. Similarly, women’s civil society organizations and women leaders, organized in Women’s Situation Rooms, have contributed to maintaining peace during elections in fragile or volatile settings all over Africa. For example, last year, in Uganda, the Women’s Situation Room responded swiftly to almost 1,500 incidents to prevent them from escalating, and acting as trusted, neutral mediators, promoting dialogue between opposing parties.
These are the kinds of interventions that make a huge difference and rely on relatively modest resources. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are low in cost but most effective as tools for economic growth, social and political stability and sustainable peace.
However, despite the evidence, women’s role in conflict prevention is often touted in theory, but is rarely put into practice or funded. It is seldom part of discussions at the highest level of policy-making on peace and security, and gender analysis or alerts related to violations of women’s rights or patterns of anti-women speech and behaviors in public life are almost never part of early warning or prevention monitoring. This needs to change, and the Secretary-General is determined to push for this change.
As part of our new prevention agenda and our focus on sustaining peace, we intend to work very closely with the Peacebuilding Commission. It is great news that the PBC adopted a gender strategy last year, which is the first of its kind for an inter-governmental body of the UN. The strategy firmly embeds gender in the day-to-day work of the PBC, and outlines many entry points for good prevention work, from early warning to political dialogues, governance, rule of law and security sector reforms, disarmament and economic recovery.
Both resolution 2242 and the Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism are premised on a gender-sensitive approach and the meaningful participation of women. This is needed more than ever now that many terrorist and violent extremist groups are placing the control and subjugation of women and girls at the core of their agendas, using gender stereotypes to radicalize and recruit, and undoing generations of progress on the respect and promotion of women’s rights. In this context, promoting gender equality and supporting women’s empowerment is a powerful and effective counter-measure against the spread of radicalization. I am glad that an inter-agency group on gender and preventing violent extremism (led by UN Women, CTED and CTITF) has begun its work this year at the UN, and we look forward to supporting its work and drawing from it as we make sure that our efforts to countering violent extremism are also geared towards prevention first and foremost. It is also important that all strategies and programmes on countering violent extremism recognize victims of sexual violence, the majority of whom are women and girls, and provide them with the required support.
Finally, I want to commend the efforts made by the co-sponsors of this event to ensure that the Security Council, through its Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security, receives and acts on timely and relevant information and gender conflict analysis in specific countries on the agenda of the Council. This is a new tool that comes from the Global Study and resolution 2242 and it is vital for our prevention agenda. It will ensure that we monitor in our conflict analyses women’s rights violations, including not just violence against women and girls, but trends that reflect an increase in misogyny, such as anti-women rhetoric, political marginalization of women or women’s groups, and strict enforcement of traditional gender norms, dress codes, or segregation. These indicators have long been identified as telling signs of rising extremism, authoritarianism, and outbreak of violence, and they must be integrated into all early warning systems and addressed in prevention programming or preventive diplomacy.
In conclusion, prevention is the core mandate of the UN, and gender equality must be placed at its center. It is time to move from a costly culture of reaction to a culture of prevention. One that fully integrates the potential and strengths of women in sustaining peace.