Citing Troubling Reversals in Women’s Rights, Secretary-General Calls on Security Council, Member States to ‘Turn the Clock Forward’ for Half of Humanity
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council open debate on women, peace and security, in New York today:
We just came from the exhibition you mentioned, and indeed, we were seeing true women heroes and I think their struggle, their commitment, their courage, is an inspiration for us all. Nothing could start better our debate than the testimony of this group of women heroes.
Seen through the lenses of talented women photographers, the exhibit brings to vivid life the inspiring stories of women around the world dedicating their lives to the most important and consequential cause of all — peace.
From the safety of this chamber, we discuss and debate pathways of peace for countries around the world. But, the women portrayed in the exhibition are on the front lines of the fight for peace. They’re peacebuilders, change‑makers and activists, defenders of human rights, decision makers and leaders.
They’re mediating and negotiating with armed groups. Implementing peace agreements and pushing for peaceful transitions. And fighting for women’s rights and social cohesion in their communities.
Yet, too often, women remain on the periphery of formal peace processes. And they’re largely excluded from rooms where decisions are made. Today, women’s leadership is a cause. Tomorrow, it must be the norm. We can no longer exclude one half of humanity from international peace and security.
Last month, I warned the General Assembly that we face a moment of truth — the greatest cascade of crises in generations. As a world, we are stuck in reverse and gaining speed. Military coups are back. Seizures of power by force are back. A new arms race is back. Nuclear risk is at its highest level in almost four decades.
And last year, military spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) saw its largest annual increase since 2009. It is now approaching $2 trillion annually, diverting funds from much-needed development at the moment it is needed most. These are not separate issues. Especially because conflict prevention and disarmament have been at the core of the women’s movement for peace for more than a century; and because, as this year’s report highlights, there is a direct relationship between greater investment in weapons and greater insecurity and inequality for women.
The power imbalance between men and women remains the most stubborn and persistent of all inequalities. It finds its expression in many ways: in the rising rates of violence and misogyny that women and girls face in every society; in the extreme underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions; and certainly, in the myriad challenges faced by women in situations of conflict. In every humanitarian emergency, the clock on women’s rights has not stopped, it’s moving backwards.
In Myanmar, where women have long been a force for peace — including in the civil disobedience movement — a large share of women’s organizations had to close their operations due to security reasons after the military coup. Many are now continuing their efforts underground.
In Ethiopia, we hear chilling reports of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war. An outrage. Despite courageous efforts, Yemeni women continue to be excluded from the overall political process by the warring parties. And the latest Government failed to include a single woman minister, something unseen in 20 years.
In Mali, after two coups in nine months, the space for women’s rights is not just shrinking, it’s closing. And in Afghanistan, girls and women are seeing a rapid reversal of the rights they achieved in recent decades, including their right to a seat in the classroom.
We need to fight back — and turn the clock forward — for every woman and girl. This commitment is at the heart of my report on Our Common Agenda, as well as my Call to Action on Human Rights. We want to fast-track women’s full and equal participation in every aspect of life. This includes across peace processes and political transitions.
Last year, women represented only 23 per cent of delegates in peace processes led or co-led by the United Nations. Even getting to this point required innovation, persistence and leadership. Sometimes I would say stubbornness. But, we’re working to accelerate these gains.
As we’ve seen in Libya and Syria, for example, measures including bold targets, inclusive principles and incentives can be a powerful way to increase women’s participation in mediation and peace processes. I’m committed to expanding measures like these everywhere I can.
In Colombia, women’s organizations are key partners of the United Nations Verification Mission, and we’re working closely with them to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement.
And in Afghanistan, the United Nations is staying and delivering, and will continue to promote and defend the rights of women and girls in all our engagements with the Taliban de facto authorities. We will not stop until girls can go back to school and women can return to their jobs and participate in public life.
As part of our “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative, we’re also investing in partnerships with local women leaders and peacebuilders and increasing the number of women across our peacekeeping operations.
Since January 2018, the percentage of women staff officers and military experts has risen from 8 per cent to nearly 18 per cent today — and from 20 to 30 per cent among individual police officers. We also have more women leading our field missions than ever before — we now have parity among our Heads or Deputy Heads of missions.
And we’re not stopping there. Increasing women’s representation and leadership across every aspect of the United Nations peace activities is critical to improving the delivery of our mandate and better representing the communities we serve.
But we need this Council’s support in three ways — partnerships, protection and participation. First, support our work to strengthen and deepen our partnerships with local women leaders and their networks in line with my Call to Action on Women Transforming Peace and Security. They need to be able to meaningfully engage in peace and political processes.
Second, help us protect women human rights defenders and activists. The heroes captured in the photo [exhibit] are risking their lives to build peace in their communities. They deserve protection as they carry out this essential work.
And third, work with us to promote women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace talks, peacebuilding and political systems as countries transition to peace. We need full gender parity — including through the establishment of ambitious quotas — across elections, security sector reforms, disarmament, demobilization and justice systems.
We know it can be done. Last month, the Deputy Secretary-General travelled to Somalia to support the 30 per cent quota for women in the upcoming elections there. Upon her return, she was met with expressions of support from Council members.
The time has come to transform these words of support into action — not just in Somalia, but across all countries under discussion at this Council. Women will no longer accept reversals of their rights. They shouldn’t have to — in countries in conflict, or anywhere else.
For our part, the United Nations will double down on truly inclusive peacemaking and put women’s participation and rights at the centre of everything we do, everywhere we do it. The best way to build peace is through inclusion. And the best way to honour the inspiring commitment and bravery of women peacemakers is to open doors to their meaningful participation. Let’s turn the clock forward on women’s rights and give half of humanity the opportunity to build the peace we all seek.