The Gender Index examines the statements delivered by the representatives of Member States and delegations with an observer status, as well as the President of the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretary-General, during the General Debate of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA72) from the Feminist Peace perspective based on transforming gendered power, stigmatising war and violence and strengthening political economies of peace. It includes all references to specific WILPF PeaceWomen themes, women’s rights and experiences, as well as references to conflict prevention, reform of the multilateral system and sustainable peace. It also provides a gender-specific assessment of the references to specific country situations and determines the number of female speakers.
During the General Debate, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, President of the UNGA72 Miroslav Lajcak, country representatives from 193 Member States, and three observer delegations put forth their concerns, positions and priorities under the theme, “Focusing on people — striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet”. For the first time in 11 years, all UN Member States and observers addressed the UN General Assembly during the General Debate.
The participants delivered speeches outlining their visions for sustainable development and international cooperation, including around issues of peace and security. Many voiced their support for the Secretary-General's proposal prioritising sustainable peace and conflict prevention and discussed possibilities of other reforms within the UN system for strengthening its capacity to prevent and respond to conflicts. Other recurring themes in their statements include support for UN peacekeeping and respect for human rights and gender equality. The participants also highlighted their concerns about the potential of the use of nuclear weapons by the Democratic Republic of Korea, the protracted crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, the spread of terrorism across the globe and the increase in the number of people affected by conflict and crisis.
On the margins of the General Debate, various initiatives and strategies were introduced, including as part of the Secretary-General’s Reform Agenda that puts a renewed emphasis on conflict prevention. New strategies on gender parity and conflict prevention were launched in line with the Agenda outlined by the Secretary-General when he was elected in October 2016. The Secretary-General also introduced a new position within the UN system, Victims’ Rights Advocate, which will be filled by Jane Connors. Her role is to strengthen the support that the UN provides to victims of SEA through adequate protection, appropriate assistance and reliable recourse to justice.
Several actions to ensure strengthening of women’s role in peace processes have been introduced. First, the Italian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Benedetto Della Vedova, announced the launch of Mediterranean Women Mediators Networks, one avenue of supporting meaningful participation and an example of gendered conflict early-warning systems. The second meeting of the Focal Points Network on WPS provided an opportunity for Member States to strengthen their commitment to WPS Agenda and to leverage this space to consolidate different perspective on the best practices to enhance women’s participation in peace and security, particularly in the security sector.
Many discussions around the General Assembly supported the role of women in the military and security fields. For instance, Ireland stated that they are committed “to doubling the number of women in our Defence Forces, with the aim also of increasing female participation in peacekeeping.” The Focal Point Network meeting also demonstrated a worrying shift from women’s participation for peace to women’s participation in the defense sector. Notably, this recurring theme highlights the necessity of applying the Feminist Peace framework while designing practices for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. However, including women in the security sector does not address the root causes of conflict embedded in the existing patriarchal institutions such as the military and the police force.
At the beginning of the two‑day High‑Level Meeting on on the Appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Member States adopted with a majority the “Political Declaration on the Implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”. In the meeting, the gender dimension of trafficking was addressed through the discussion on the needs and rights of women. However, the meeting did not address demilitarisation and disarmament as a tool to prevent trafficking. Such approach that will challenge and deconstruct patriarchal institutions rather than include women in them will contribute to achieving sustainable peace. In fact, Feminist and Sustainable Peace will remain only a vision as long as the UN, a guarantor of peace and stability in the world, is unable to challenge patriarchal attitudes that often accompany violent conflict.
However, some progress on challenging patriarchal and militarised discourse was made. During the debates’ week, the world’s first legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons was signed. 122 countries approved the treaty in July despite opposition from nuclear-armed countries and their allies such as France, the UK and the United States. 42 states signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty during the opening ceremony; the number of Member States that have signed it continues to grow. Three states have also ratified the Treaty: Guayana, Holy See and Thailand. There is a direct linkage between violent masculinities, gender-based violence and the spread of these weapons. Reaching a Sustainable and Feminist Peace requires flipping the power relations of the world, currently based on the role of nuclear-power countries, and eliminating various weapon systems, including nuclear weapons.
During the UNGA72 General Debate, several meetings on the situation in Libya, Yemen, Syria and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region took place. On Syria, for example, the meeting hosted by the European Union discussed the humanitarian assistance and resilience and stabilisation efforts in the country, as well as support to neighbouring countries. The Secretary-General and the World Bank also held a high-level meeting on the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria to discuss what can be done to prevent and respond to these impending famines. The newly appointed Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, also presented his vision on the future of Libya, expressing his commitment to work closely with all Libyans on facilitating a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process. However, all these meetings lacked any attention to the experiences and knowledge of local women that are necessary to identify, design and implement practical strategies to overcome the challenges facing these countries and to achieve Sustainable and Feminist Peace.
While the main pillars of Feminist Peace include transforming gendered power, stigmatising war and violence and strengthening political economies of peace, there is a general lack of willingness on behalf of the Member States to act on them.
Out of a total of 198 statements,128 statements (64.64 percent) contained specific and general references to women and gender. Many of these were generalised and focused on the importance of women’s empowerment and gender equality rather than specific actions necessary to ensure gender equality, women’s meaningful participation and respect for their rights. A recognition of the importance of women’s meaningful participation for conflict prevention and Feminist Peace was missing. Only 26 statements (13.13 percent) addressed women’s participation. Only 50 speakers (25.25 percent) provided more specific and policy-oriented statements. In this regard, the representative of Latvia stated, “In strengthening the capacities of our partner countries, we prioritise good governance and public sector reforms, combating corruption, and fostering inclusive economic growth, including by empowering women.”
Similarly to last year, an in-depth discussion on the implementation of the WPS Agenda and Feminist Peace was missing (2.02%). Even though some countries, including Sweden, Finland and Iceland, have highlighted the necessity of including women in peace processes, their voices were in the minority. For instance, the representative of Iceland stated, “Iceland knows first-hand the massive potential resting in gender equality [...] and [will] continue to promote women’s participation in the peace and security agenda.” The speakers did not give sufficient attention to the principles of Feminist Peace embedded in the WPS Agenda. Only Sweden introduced feminist foreign policy as “an agenda for change aimed at increasing rights, representation and resources for all women and girls, based on the reality of their lives.”
Transforming gendered power through the strengthening of meaningful participation of local women was also not sufficiently addressed. The participation of civil society in conflict prevention and the peace process was barely addressed and when it was mentioned, it did not talk about women civil society groups. The representative of Ireland stated, “African countries are particularly affected by global challenges [...], which can only be addressed in their African contexts in a spirit of effective global partnership. Such partnership requires understanding local perspectives anchored in local experience, in particular on how to tackle root causes.” Women’s meaningful participation is about having women engage from their experience to address root causes of conflict and violence and promote mobilisation and policy change for peace and gender justice.
The discussions on stigmatising war and violence by adopting demilitarisation and disarmament policies were marginal during the debates, with only 30 speakers (15.15%), including Brazil, Nigeria, Liberia and France, making references to the need for disarmament for peace. Gabon noted that “it is desirable to leverage the embargo on weapons [...] in order to restore security and authority across [the DRC].” However, the discussion on disarmament lacked an analysis of the effect of militarism and the spread of weapons on gender violence.
Even though the importance of conflict prevention in the UN-led activities is currently growing, only 49 countries (24.75 percent) made references to conflict prevention. Switzerland, for example, reiterated that “the cost of a conflict is a multiple of what it costs to prevent one.” Countries like Finland and Ireland therefore touched on the importance of allocating adequate financial resources for conflict prevention. For instance, the representative of Ireland noted, “We all know that conflict prevention has the potential to save lives [...]. Of course, conflict prevention involves policy planning and engagement on the ground, all of which requires funding.” Other countries, including Jamaica and Angola, recognised extra-territorial obligations of Member States when it comes financing the implementation of SDGs. In this regard, the representative of Angola contended, “The economic and financial difficulties affecting most countries have had a negative impact on the mobilisation of financial resources for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, especially among the poorest, most vulnerable and with limited internal resources.” However, there is still a long way to realise the importance of conflict prevention from the lens of non-violence and disarmament as opposed to assessing it within the current militarised frameworks.
Many Member States acknowledged the devastating impact of conflict on people across the globe. The majority of countries referenced the situations in the MENA region and Africa, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and Nigeria, reiterating the prevalence of local-driven political solutions. The representative of Ghana called on the international community to support, not undermine, the efforts of regional and continental organisations in resolving the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The representative of Egypt similarly stated that “there would be no salvation for Syria except through a consensual political solution amongst all Syrians at the core of which is the preservation of the unity of the Syrian state, the maintenance of its institutions and the broadening of their political and social base.” The importance of disarmament for peace was also highlighted during the General Debate. The representative of Gabon touched on the need to “leverage the embargo on weapons, exclusively for the legal and legitimate government of the DRC, in order to restore security and authority across for the nation.” The situation in Palestine and the conflict with Israel continued to be one of the prominent topics addressed in the debate, with various Member States reiterating their support for a two-state solution.
The peace agreement in Colombia was spotlighted in the statements as a “good practice” of peacebuilding and reconstruction work. The representative of Bolivia highlighted specifically the role that disarmament has played in conflict resolution. “By means of votes and awareness amongst peoples, it is possible to bring people together, not with bullets,” he stated. However, the role of women in this process seems to be fading. Only the representative of Norway highlighted that women's participation in the Colombian peace process contributed to the increased chances of sustainable peace. But the President of Colombia failed to mention gender perspective of the peace agreement, while the representative of Bosnia praised women for their contribution in Bosnia’s post-conflict transition.
Female Speakers at the Podium
The number of female speakers has not significantly changed since last year. Regrettably, only 19 female leaders (9.6 percent) spoke at the General Debate compared to 18 last year.These speakers represented the following countries: the United Kingdom, Chile, Liechtenstein, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Liberia, Estonia, Argentina, Denmark, Australia, Kenya, Barbados, Sweden, India, Suriname, Jamaica, Turkmenistan, Timor-Leste, and Nicaragua. Of these speakers, only 4 (from Lithuania, India, Turkmenistan, and Nicaragua) did not mention women or gender at all, whereas 11 of them (from Liberia, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Chile, Bangladesh, Denmark, Kenya, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Jamaica, and Timor-Leste), specifically referenced women. The remaining four (4) speakers used only general references to gender equality and women’s rights.
There are several statements that highlighted elements of Feminist Peace during the General Debate. These statements reflected on the need to strengthen equality, justice, demilitarised security and move from conflict response to conflict prevention through nonviolent inclusive social transformation.
The importance of transforming gendered power by increasing women’s participation for peace was highlighted in Sweden’s statement. H.E. Ms. Margot Wallström, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, stated, “Lasting peace requires the involvement of the entire population, meaning that the full, equal, and effective participation of women must be hardwired into all of our efforts towards sustaining peace.” “Sweden is working tirelessly to put the Women, Peace and Security agenda into action in all aspects of the Council’s work, from including gender reporting in mission mandates to adding listing criterion for sexual and gender-based violence in sanctions regimes”, she added. It is important to continue moving the leadership of Sweden on strengthening action on WPS and women’s meaningful participation, including in the UNSC.
Several statements, in this regard, were delivered in support of investing and strengthening the economies of peace by promoting demilitarisation and disarmament. Mr. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe stated, “Yet, by some strange logic, we expect to reap peace when we invest and expend so much, in treasure and technology, in war... Those mega investments in ever more lethal weapons and more sophisticated war machinery have not resulted in greater peace or security”. Mr. Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, addressed the increase of military expenditure instead of investing in eradicating poverty. He stated, “Military expenditures have increased to 1.7 trillion dollars. This reality belies those who claim that there are not enough resources to eradicate poverty." The representative of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Damukana Sogavare, said that violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights worldwide, including in his country. He also pointed out that violence against is an obstacle against achieving economic and social gender equality. Over time, Member States come to realise that militarism only enables the legitimisation and continuation of violence and that a change in thinking about priorities is necessary for sustainable and feminist peace.