The General Debate of the 69th session of the General Assembly was held on 24 -30 September 2014. During the debate, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, representatives from 193 Member States, and two Observer delegations put forth their concerns, positions and priorities under the theme "Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda"
As part of WILPF’s engagement with the General Assembly, PeaceWomen and our sister program Reaching Critical Will worked together to monitor the debate for gender and disarmament issues.
The main topics during the General Debate included the post-2015 development agenda (or Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs), climate change, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, terrorism in the Middle East and Africa, and the conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and Gaza. Several member states highlighted national achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and encouraged accelerated implementation of remaining targets by the end of 2015. A considerable number of leaders also acknowledged the close link between peace and sustainable development and called for building on the progress of the MDGs to transform development for the post-2015 agenda. While speaking on climate change, leaders from many small-island and least-developed countries called for attention and assistance toward the issues of increasing sea levels, droughts, and floods that endanger their existence and economies. Finally, many leaders strongly condemned the terrorist activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as the killings of civilians, especially women and children, in Gaza. The substantial coverage of terrorism and regional conflicts demonstrated the importance of peace and security to sustainable development, especially through the inclusion of targets on peace, gender equality, and reduced military spending in the SDGs.
This year’s General Debate was preceded by the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples on 22-23 September, as well as the Climate Summit on 23 September 2014, where leaders discussed a global vision to reduce emissions and advance climate action plans in preparation for their meeting in Paris in 2015.
A "men" only conference on gender equality – does that sounds empowering, inclusive and balanced? Well, at this General Assembly, Iceland and Suriname announced exactly that. From WILPF's analysis of the statements at the 69th session's General Debate, there is certainly much more work to be done to build adequate political will and commitment to gender equality and holistic understanding and implementation of women, peace and security.
Overall, out of a total of 197 statements, 98 contained references on women and gender. Many of these focused on women as victims of the recent conflicts in Gaza and Syria, nonetheless a significant number of the statements (70) made references to gender equality and/or women's empowerment. Most of these member states highlighted that the active and equal participation of women was necessary to ensure lasting peace, security, and sustainable development. Finland, for example, remarked, “Women in Syria, as in other conflict-driven countries, must be included in the peace process. We welcome women's active efforts to strengthen their voices in Syria and everywhere”. Ireland noted “political will is a crucial element”.
Many member states linked gender equality and women's empowerment as a priority on the post-2015 development agenda, but none linked demilitarization and conflict prevention. Chile, recognized that “today women are at the center of the new development and peace architecture” but not enough states made these linkages in their statements. Liechtenstein was among the strongest: “There is no sustainable development without the full empowerment of women”. Many states did reference Beijing+20. Here, Iceland announced a “men” only conference on gender equality to the surprise of many advocates working on inclusion and efforts to shift from male-dominated international policy discussions.
Regrettably, only thirteen (13) female leaders – one less than last year – spoke at the debate.
In their statements, most speakers recognised the importance of women’s empowerment in economic and sustainable development and in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. Several member states, such as the Czech Republic, Uruguay, Botswana, Chile, Mauritius, Liechtenstein, and Sweden, called for greater efforts in making gender equality and women’s empowerment priorities in international and national agendas, particularly in the SDGs for 2015-2030. Several speakers also emphasised the need to increase the proportion of women in decision-making and leadership positions. The Netherlands described women as agents of change and acknowledged that "women's leadership is essential to achieving peace and security." Some member states further mentioned the positive developments in their proportion of women in key public positions, including Bangladesh, where “women simultaneously hold high positions of Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader,” and Italy, where the government “for the first time in history is composed more than half of women.” Additionally, many speakers stressed the need for safe and equal access to education for girls.
Furthermore, many member states acknowledged the devastating impact of conflict on defenceless women and girls, particularly in Gaza and Syria, and called for the greater respect for and protection of their fundamental human rights. Some speakers, including Timor Leste, questioned the source of funding and arms to terrorist groups who were responsible for the infliction of countless atrocities upon women and children. Around 18 member states, the same amount as last year, spoke on the subject of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, and most called for the urgent need to eradicate this great injustice. Showing the same dedication for gender equality as last year, Japan pledged to “stand at the fore and lead the international community in eliminating sexual violence during conflicts."
During the debate, several member states highlighted or reaffirmed their commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment and to Resolution 1325, including Netherlands, Nepal, Brazil, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Zambia, Solomon Islands, and Georgia. Ireland underscored that “achieving real gender equality requires a commitment from all of us here – men and women.” Lastly, some speakers referred to the 20th anniversary of Beijing Platform for Action in 2015 and stated that now was an opportune time to reflect on the past and future progress of women’s rights. As Brazil so stated, “We consider the 21st century to be the century of women."
Female Speakers at the Podium
It should also be pointed out that the number of female speakers during the general debate was diminishingly low. Out of 197 statements, thirteen (13) – one less than last year – were delivered by female representatives (Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbados, Brazil, Central African Republic, Chile, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, and Trinidad and Tobago). Seven (7) of them referred to women or gender issues in general terms, and five (5) specifically spoke about women in the context of peace and security. No member state spoke of women in connection to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), arms trade more generally, disarmament, or nonproliferation.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, Aurelia Frick, delivered a noteworthy statement when she declared that the world has still not realized “the full potential of women as agents of peace”. While addressing the issues of protection in conflict and participation in the peace process in her speech, she declared that further progress was necessary. “Next year, we will also reflect our progress in the Women, Peace and Security agenda, fifteen years after it was established by Security Council resolution 1325. Clearly, we will have to find new strategies to protect women in conflict from violence, in particular sexual violence.” Furthermore, she stressed that “women must get their seat at the negotiation table – where they belong, and where they are needed.”
Additionally, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that the focus on women was key to any plan: “Transformation is our goal. I can think of no better place to start than with opening doors and shattering ceilings for women and girls. . . . We cannot fulfill 100 per cent of the world’s potential by excluding 50 per cent of the world’s people."
Disarmament should be a key aspect of any transformative development agenda. Yet very few countries spoke about disarmament or arms control related topics. Perhaps this is because, as the UN Secretary-General remarked, “Disarmament is viewed as a distant dream, sabotaged by profiteers of perpetual warfare.” Only 27 countries spoke about disarmament. 41 talked about nuclear weapons in some form, down from 65 last year. Even the Arms Trade Treaty, which reached its 50th ratification necessary to bring about its entry into force during the high-level week, was only mentioned by 21 countries. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas was the only disarmament topic to receive increased mention this week, largely due to the bombing and shelling of towns and cities in Gaza, Syria, and Ukraine.
Please visit the Reaching Critical Will website for an overview of the discussion and full index of disarmament extracts.