Progress in Security Council’s Women, Peace, Security Agenda Lacking, as Sexual Violence, Insufficient Protection, Absence in Peace Processes Continues

As Agenda Nears Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, Gains on Gender Equality Shrinking Worldwide, Women Still Suffering from Brutal Armed Conflicts, and “Gender Apartheid”

From freedoms vanishing under Afghanistan’s Taliban regime to sexual violence committed against the backdrop of war in Ukraine, the rights of women around the globe remain under threat more than two decades after the Security Council first decided to crystalize the issue on its agenda, delegates heard today, during a ministerial-level debate on women, peace and security.

More than 90 speakers took the floor over the day-long meeting, emphasizing the challenges faced by women in the world’s increasingly complex conflict zones, from Syria to Mali, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan and beyond. Delegates focused on strides made since the Council adopted its landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, such as the growing number of States tackling the nexus of gender and security in national action plans. However, many lamented that, two years shy of the resolution’s twenty-fifth anniversary, progress in protecting women and embedding their voices in the decision-making processes that shape their lives remains woefully insufficient.

Sima Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said the first two decades since the Council adopted resolution 1325 (2000) saw several historic firsts for gender equality. “But we neither significantly changed the composition of peace tables, nor the impunity enjoyed by those who commit atrocities against women and girls,” she stressed, adding that the resolution’s twentieth anniversary, in 2020, “was not a celebration, but a wake-up call”. Recent years have seen numerous military coups — from the Sahel region to Sudan and Myanmar — as well as the outbreak of fighting in Ethiopia, the invasion of Ukraine and the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and the resurgence of “gender apartheid” in Afghanistan.

Many of those situations have seen civic space for women activists shrink dramatically, if not close all together, she said. Noting the spread of online misogyny, she recalled that in 2020 – against the backdrop of a new pandemic that revealed the enormous value of caregivers and the importance of investing in health, education, food security and social protection – “we had hoped that countries would heed the lessons from decades of activism by women peacebuilders, and rethink military spending”. Instead, that spending has only grown. Calling on countries to push forward a radical and urgent change in direction, she also emphasized the need for women themselves to help drive that shift, imploring: “I ask that your plans […] be characterized by mandates, conditions, quotas, funding earmarks, incentives and consequences for non-compliance.”

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), agreed that hard-won generational gains on gender equality are being reversed around the globe against the backdrop of more than 100 armed conflicts. “As respect for gender equality declines, violence rises,” she said, noting that ICRC sees the brutal impact on armed conflict in its daily work — from women and girls exposed to sexual violence at the barrel of a gun, to those who are displaced or recruited to fight as soldiers and those who die giving birth at home without medical care. “Civilians, fighters, caregivers, prisoners, mothers, daughters — the realities of women in conflict are all-too-often invisible, disregarded.”

Outlining several important paths forward, she demanded respect for international humanitarian law and equal protection for all victims of conflict — including diverse women, men, boys and girls. Among other provisions, those laws require parties to conflict to assess and take steps to reduce expected civilian harm. States must also ensure the clear prohibition of sexual violence is integrated into national law, military doctrine and training. Emphasizing that women cannot effectively take their seat at decision-making tables if they are absent in labour markets, fail to benefit equally from technological advancements, lack access to health care, or are chronically impoverished, she drew attention to critical technological gaps, especially in conflict settings, and stressed that only those who control assets will ultimately yield influence when decisions are made.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said the deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — as well as chronic conflicts in the Sahel region, the Lake Chad Basin and parts of East Africa — are combining with the impacts of climate change and declining financial flows to exacerbate the suffering of women and girls in Africa. The result has been an unprecedented rate of sexual violence, a deprivation of necessary commodities and services, and the denial of opportunities to fully enjoy the right to peace and security. The African Union’s Office of Women, Peace and Security is leading a two-pronged strategy, including advocating for the adoption and implementation of national action plans, and mainstreaming women’s leadership in peace, development and governance processes across the continent.

Leymah R. Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate as well as Founder and President of the Liberia-based Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, also briefed the Council, recalling that conversations about peace processes 23 years ago were limited to men with guns and political power. Too little has changed since that time, she said, noting that many national action plans are viewed by politicians as tools to “window-dress” gender issues, cover up for their failures to truly integrate women’s rights, or impress donors. Meanwhile, local activists continue to press forward with their daily work. Indeed, the greatest threat facing women is not the barrel of a gun, but economic hardship, lack of health care, food insecurity and the climate crisis. She underlined the need to move beyond political rhetoric and match action plans with real resources, stressing: “Without funding and political will […] resolution 1325 will remain a toothless bulldog.”

As Council members and dozens of representatives of the wider United Nations membership took the floor, many echoed those expressions of concern, drawing attention to situations — in conflict zones, and elsewhere — where the lives, rights and safety of women are under acute threat. Others pointed to more systemic and structural barriers keeping women from realizing their full potential, including vast inequalities in employment and the digital sphere. Meanwhile, some speakers shared examples of concrete steps taken by their countries to enshrine or improve upon the women, peace and security agenda, and to improve daily life for women.

Among those was Verónica Nataniel Macamo Dlhovo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique, who chaired the meeting in her capacity as Council President for March. She said in her national capacity that Mozambique has enacted an array of crucial legislation and policies protecting women, including a law preventing early marriage and another ensuring the equal right to education for all. In addition, the country has in place a national action plan for women’s advancement and a national gender policy, resulting in full gender parity in its Council of Ministers and female leadership in both the Administrative and Constitutional Courts.

Laura Gil Savastano, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said the women, peace and security agenda — as it currently stands — needs an injection of modernity. However, it is nevertheless bearing fruit in her country. Colombian women in all their diversity are serving as agents of change, she said, recalling that the country negotiated the world’s first peace agreement with the full participation of women, ending its half-century-long civil conflict in 2016. The country’s women are redefining the content of resolution 1325 (2000), moulding it, and treating it as a “living document”, she stressed.

Marlène Schiappa, Secretary of State for Social and Solidarity Economy and Associative Life of France, said the women, peace and security agenda is indispensable, especially considering the massive, systematic violation of women’s rights and freedoms and the sexual and gender-based violence affecting them in conflicts and crisis situations. Among other things, she urged partners to step up pressure on violators of women’s rights by imposing sanctions and encouraged the Council to incorporate the “never without women” principle in all its work.

Lin Yi, Vice-Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council of China, agreed with other speakers that, while “she-power” continues to grow, much remains to be done to achieve true gender equality and inclusive development. As an advocate for those goals, her country has taken a “Chinese path” to modernizing women’s lives and protecting their interests, she said, noting that more than 100 laws and regulations help women from all walks of life participate in politics, decision-making and administration. From rural revitalization to scientific and technological innovation, more Chinese women have become leaders, and the country has provided training to more than 130,000 women from developing countries, she said.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, welcomed the adoption of national action plans by more than 90 countries around the world, which have empowered women and girls and helped them respond to violence and conflict. Nevertheless, he joined others in voicing concern that women and girls continue to be the primary victims of crimes and conflict. Expressing disappointment over restrictions imposed on women in Afghanistan — including their right to access work and education at all levels — and urging their reversal, he added that the most egregious hypocrisies and crimes occur in foreign occupations and places where the right to self-determination is violated.

Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister for State of the United Arab Emirates, said that, amid continued misogynistic, violent attacks against women and girls who try to build peace across conflicts, the women, peace and security agenda must be a key prism through which to look at emerging threats. Those include climate change, which disproportionately impacts women and girls, affecting their education and employment opportunities, health and physical safety. In addition, she called for a stronger focus on protection as one of the most powerful tools to defend women’s participation and empowerment, pointing out that crimes of sexual and gender-based violence continue to be among the cheapest weapons of war, terrorizing and controlling whole communities.

Luka Mesec, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, also voiced concern over the worsening trend of attacks on women around the globe. He expressed support for the drafting of national action plans on women, peace and security, noting that Slovenia will soon develop its third such strategy, and said those plans can have a catalytic effect not only on women’s public participation, but on all stakeholders. In the Council’s own daily meetings, more efforts are needed to protect women briefers from reprisals, he said, emphasizing: “The Security Council needs to do everything in its power to enable their safe work.”

Echoing those concerns was Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland, who stressed that women activists should never face intimidation, threats or harm as a result of their participation in Council meetings. Noting that women’s real participation sadly remains the exception, rather than the rule, he also shared other speakers’ concerns over the alarming and accelerating push-back on gender equality and women’s rights, from Afghanistan to Haiti, Libya, Iran, the Central African Republic and elsewhere. He also stressed that Ukraine’s women must be fully represented in all decision-making platforms as that country emerges from the impact of the Russian Federation’s invasion.

Also speaking were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Switzerland, Gabon, Ecuador, Ghana, United States, United Kingdom, Malta, Brazil, Russian Federation, Albania, Japan, Czech Republic, Morocco, Luxembourg, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, South Africa, Angola (on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries), Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Panama, Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic Countries), Spain, Greece, Belarus, Estonia, Ukraine, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Georgia, Egypt, Armenia, Indonesia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Guatemala, Poland, Germany, Lebanon, Italy, Philippines, Canada (on behalf of a group of countries and in national capacity) Portugal, Viet Nam, Australia, India, Mongolia, Romania, Austria, Malaysia, Latvia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Bulgaria, Republic of Korea, Namibia, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Türkiye, Chile, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Israel, Iran, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Uruguay, El Salvador, Myanmar, Uganda and Bangladesh.

A representative of the Observer State of Palestine also participated, as did a representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer. An observer for the Holy See spoke as well.

Due to technical difficulties the following statements could not be included in this press release: Iraq, Bulgaria, Republic of Korea, Namibia, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Türkiye, Chile, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Israel, Iran, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Uruguay, El Salvador, Myanmar, Uganda, Bangladesh and the Holy See.

Source: UN Security Council