The participants discussed the current opportunities for building sustainable peace and just societies, strengthening an international response to the migration crisis, re-channeling funds in a way that prevents humanitarian crises around the world, and beyond. On the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the UNGA 73 conversations took place on the role of women in peace work, gendered strategies of terrorist groups and gender-sensitive implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
One of the prevalent topics of the discussions was the idea of reconsidering the role of the UN and its Security Council in order to better adjust to the current security situation. The representative of Suriname, in this regard, said, “the process to reform the Security Council must be comprehensive, inclusive, balanced and consensus-based, taking into account the interests of both developed and developing countries and further promoting, preserving and strengthening international peace and security”. Many of the reforms discussed focused on making the Security Council more inclusive and representative of diverse global needs, including by rotating its permanent members, establishing a more equal power structure between the permanent members and the rest of the Security Council, adopting a “human security” vision based on conflict prevention and economic reforms rather than militarised approaches, as well as reforming veto power specifically in cases of sexual violence and crimes against humanity.
Reiterating the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2282 (2016), the discussion during the General Debate, as well as a variety of side-events, brought into light the widespread concern about the fragmentation of the UN system and the lack of policy coherence and institutional collaboration that hinders effective conflict prevention and perpetuates destructive conflicts. As pointed out by the representative of France at one of the side-events, human rights violations against minority groups often constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, while being completely ignored by the international security architecture. Similarly, Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, pointed out gendered strategies of terrorists, with not a single case of sexual violence by terrorists in Iraq being prosecuted. Indeed, the speakers agreed that without accountability, international law is ineffective and enables the cycle of violence to continue. Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, summarised the discussions pointing that “fairness and dignity, justice and equality that bring peace an sustain development”.
The conversation on peace came about loud and clear at the 24 September 2018 Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, which offered world leaders the opportunity to renew their commitment to global peace, conflict prevention, promotion and protection of human rights and long-term development initiatives. One of the most common Nelson Mandela quotes to be cited at the Summit was: “To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. This stood in stark contrast to the lack of representation and recognition of the rights and roles of women displayed in the statements delivered at the Summit. Although the political declaration recognises that women’s early and full engagement in peace processes increases awareness of, and responsiveness to, women’s rights and needs, Member States are yet far from matching their actions and words and ensuring that women are meaningfully represented in peace work.
The annual meeting of the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network presented recent analysis of Security Council implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and pointed positive steps by the Security Council on the inclusion of WPS considerations and gender analysis in its response to country-specific and regional crisis situations, including through increased partnership with civil society. The resolutions that have been adopted and reports considered on specific thematic issues, including small arms and light weapons (SALW), demonstrate inclusion of the WPS Agenda therein. The establishment of the Informal Experts Group on WPS in 2016 was also noted as an important step that enabled Security Council members to receive in-depth information on gender conflict analysis and has provided Security Council members with the information necessary to incorporate focused gender concerns into interventions in the Security Council. At the national level, 76 National Action Plans on Security Council Resolution 1325 and a number of feminist commitments are important identifiers of a Member State’s commitment to gender equality and justice. Several discussions have also raised an important role of women’s initiatives on the ground in Yemen, Afghanistan and beyond. These initiatives support conflict prevention, rebuild communities and create feminist peace.
Over the past decade, an unquestionable evidence base has emerged demonstrating that women’s participation in peace and security and humanitarian processes makes peace and humanitarian work more effective, strengthens the protection efforts of peacekeepers, prevents radicalisation and the spread of extremism, and accelerates economic recovery. Furthermore, evidence shows that women’s meaningful participation results in a more sustainable peace. Yet, the conversation during the UNGA73 confirmed that commitments to support women’s meaningful participation fall enormously short. Out of 1,187 peace agreements reached from 1990 – 2017, only 19 per cent references to women, and only 5 per cent referred to gender-based violence. Moreover, there is an enormous gap in resources to support women peacebuilders and responders as they make this transformative change. In 2015-2016, only 5 per cent of aid allocated to programmes in fragile and conflict-affected countries targeted gender equality as the primary objective.
In response to this situation, several opportunities have been discussed on the margins of the General Debate on how to flip the progress, including by providing the opportunity to direct resources through the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, which supports local women’s action in conflict, the Central Emergency Response Fund, which serves as a financial mechanism to respond to humanitarian crises, and the Secretary-General’s Strategy for Financing the 2030 Agenda, which focuses on financial innovations, technologies and digitalisation to create equal access to finance. However, as rightly pointed out during the side-event, “Promoting Gender-Responsive Migration Governance through the Global Compact for Migration”, very much will depend on gender-sensitive implementation and the ability of the international community to manage funds in a way that does not support “economic colonisation” of marginalised groups and ensures sustainable peace and development for all.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were also at the core of the discussions at the UNGA73. On 25 September 2018, the world has celebrated the #Global Goals Day, featuring the commitment of different stakeholders to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. To strategise ahead of the 2019 Review of SDG16 (on peace) and the four-year review of all SDGs and 2020 (the 75th Anniversary of the UN and the 20th Anniversary of the WPS Agenda), multiple events were held throughout the week featuring different sustainable development initiatives. This included an event on the Secretary-General’s launch of the “Youth 2030: Working With and Four Young People Strategy”, aimed at restructuring and mainstreaming the involvement of youth in the UN system and in achieving all 17 SDGs.
Aiming to facilitate commitments, encourage reporting and allow Member States, civil society, the private sector and youth to share how they are taking steps on meeting SDG16, Pathfinders hosted a “Stand Up for SDG16+: Accelerating Progress for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” event. Similarly, the Action Platform for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions was launched by the UN Global Compact to facilitate the understanding, reporting and implementation of global business standards in the relevant areas as well as provide a platform for dialogue between the private and public sector. Launched initiatives vital to reaching SDG16 missed however to integrate a gender perspective and recognise the interconnectedness between SDG 5 (on gender equality) and SDG 16 (on peace). Although the SDGs are not always translated through a women’s rights framework, this shows that they can provide a foothold to mobilise behind activist demands gender-sensitive demands have not translated.
While sustainable development and building peaceful, just and inclusive institutions remain the key for effective conflict prevention and sustainable peace, the very needed conversation on disarmament was missing. With 19 States Parties and 67 signatories, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and disarmament action gains more and more recognition. As pointed out by Ray Acheson, WILPF’s Disarmament Programme Director, “abolishing nuclear weapons is about preventing violence and promoting peace. It is neither strategic nor stable to deploy thousands of nuclear weapons, risking total annihilation of us all. It is neither strategic nor stable to spend billions of dollars on nuclear weapons when billions of people suffer from our global inability to meet basic human needs for all” At the same time, the world’s military expenditure keeps growing. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military expenditure rose to $1739 billion in 2017. The statement by the United States President Donald J. Trump that announced the ongoing increase of country’s military spendings, along with numerous calls for military engagement in Venezuela and Iran, encouraged a military confrontation, building up military industrial complex and enhancing separation policies at the expense of partnership and cooperation.
In the era of growing militarised rhetoric, it is important to ensure that gender perspective and women’s leadership and participation is ensured in all stages of planning the peace around emerging world’s issues. On the Koreas, the UNGA73 saw a number of formal and informal discussions some positive discussions on opportunities for peace. The signing of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula was described by the President of the General Assembly, H.E Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés as “a historic milestone to a new era of peace and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”. Peace activist and Co-Chair of the PyeongChang Appeal for Peace, a Forum aimed at focusing on the Korean peace process, emphasised “the Korean peace process is a people-centered movement with a fair involvement of youth and women.” Similarly, Women Cross DMZ has been calling for an end to the armistice agreement and the creation of a peace treaty with women’s meaningful participation and rights at the center that ends the almost 70-year-long Korean war. At a time when the discussion on the use of sanctions and the strengthening of the UN command’s mandate is happening, it is important that women’s meaningful participation and rights are ensured, including through holistic gender analysis from women civil society.
Migration and displacement was a common thread among the statements made by world leaders. In general, these references were made without a gendered perspective. The importance of mainstreaming gender in all stages of migration has been seen in the recent adoption of the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which includes a gender-sensitive and gender-responsive approach. However, the representative of Mexico noted that the adoption is not the end of the road, claiming that “now, very much will depend on gender-sensitive implementation” every step of the way. During the side-event “Empowering Girls, Opening Futures: Evidence-Based Programming for Indigenous Girls in the Americas”, one of the speakers similarly mentioned that “we need to speak to indigenous communities and listen to what they are saying and include adolescent girls in these conversations to address and support their needs”, arguing that participatory implementation is the key. There are mass movements of refugees, displaced persons and migrants in all regions of the world and it is vital to include a gender perspective to fit the specific needs of women in these situations.
The WILPF April 2017 #ReclaimUN Convening in Geneva has demonstrated that in order to make the UN relevant for everyone, it has to reclaim its status as a peace organisation. At the core of the UN mandate is saving future generations from the scourge of war. It means that the UN should prioritise action on making the UN relevant to all people, reclaiming its role as a peace organisation through women’s meaningful participation, integrating the WPS Agenda across all Agendas, support disarmament efforts and restructure funding for peace efforts and not militarised efforts. This means the UN should use information and insight from communities affected by conflict and local women so as to better understand the root causes of conflict, the possibilities for change, and the policies needed to achieve it. Finally, it means putting local women and women’s groups are at the centre of conflict prevention efforts because they have the analysis, the knowledge and the capacity to do so.
These experiences are rarely integrated in the major UN conventions, such as the UNGA73. At the WPS Focal Point Network meeting, Abigail Ruane, WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security Programme Director, affirmed that “Member States have to commit to political rather than technical change”. According to Ruane, this includes addressing structural discrimination and obstacles to women’s meaningful participation, rights and justice, supporting consistent gender conflict expertise and analysis, ensuring safety and justice for women human rights defenders who are the beating heart of the WPS Agenda and ensuring strong funding for WPS and gender equality. As the UN approaches the new milestone and planning to assess its performance in 2019 and 2020, it is important to put implementation of the WPS Agenda at the heart of the global action on peaceful societies.
Out of a total of 197 statements, 114 statements (57.86 per cent) contained specific and general references to women and gender. Many of these were generalised and vaguely asserted the importance of women’s empowerment and gender equality, viewing women as victims rather than specific actions necessary to ensure gender equality, women’s meaningful participation and respect for their rights. Most of the references to gender were simply countries expressing their congratulations to the President of the 73rd General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, for being the fourth female and first Latin American woman to hold the position. However a few speakers stood out in their commitment to WPS. H.E. Mr. Mamadi Touré, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guinea was one such speaker, saying that “the creation of an inclusive society underpins the elimination of inequalities and social barriers which prevent the participation of young people and women in economic activities and politics”. 80 statements (50.7 per cent) addressed women and women’s situation very generally, and only 34 speakers (17.2 per cent) discussed specific initiatives and provided policy recommendations.
During the General Debate, only 5 per cent of speakers recognised the strong connection between the inclusion of women in peace processes and a more stable, longer-lasting peace (a 3 per cent increase from the 72nd Session). It affirmed that women’s inclusion in peace processes gains more recognition and political support. The Prime Minister of Norway said, “as women rights and participation are crucial for lasting peace and stability, we will keep this issue high on our agenda”. The statement indicated that key challenges to implementation continue to be: political will, accountability and resources, as well as the existence of institutional and attitudinal barriers. Canada affirmed the importance of women’s meaningful participation with the Elsie Initiative, a practical plan to double the number of women in peacekeeping operations. The President of Colombia announced that for the first time in its history, his cabinet has achieved full gender parity. The Parliament of Guinea-Bissau approved a law that guarantees a minimum representation quota of 36 per cent for women in positions of note, particularly in the National People's Assembly and in Government. The President of Spain said that over half of his Cabinet of Ministers is comprised of women.
Even though women are a formidable force for peace in every region of the world, they face entrenched and pernicious obstacles. The need for gender analysis of national and sub-national governance and peace and security efforts, essential for a comprehensive understanding of the needs and priorities of communities, was strongly supported by 47.3 per cent of speakers. The President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau claimed, “there can be no peace when a large portion, if not most, of the population, particularly women and youth, are not sufficiently valued". Women and girls are targets of attacks against their physical and mental integrity, stripped of their dignity, and being used as shields of war in armed conflicts. Gender norms are part of the fabric of all societies, which play an important role in determining how men, women, boys and girls access services and rights, how much power they have over resources and how they can influence decision-making. Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany said, “only just societies will remain peaceful in the long-term - societies in which men and women enjoy equal rights and in which women participate in all social decision-making. This is not only a matter of fairness and respect. It is simply about humanity and reason”.
The speakers also highlighted the way in which the history of armed conflicts and arms proliferation has had a different impact on women due to structural discrimination and inequality, paired with gender-specific violence, such as torture, sexual and gender-based violence, among others. This was reiterated by 11.6 per cent of the Member States representatives. For example, Trinidad and Tobago, which supports the Arms Trade Treaty as a mechanism for reducing armed violence in the Caribbean region, has tabled the biennial resolution on Women, Disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, which encourages women’s participation in disarmament decision-making processes since 2010. As a contributor to assisting in the development of peace and security to Afghanistan, Kazakhstan hosted the Regional Conference on Empowering Women in Afghanistan, which focused on how the presence of arms affects women’s meaningful political participation.
Despite the benefits of investing in women, the failure to allocate sufficient resources and funds has not been discussed in depth. While Papua New Guinea and Norway spoke about financing women and girl’s education, there was no other mention of initiatives or intentions to invest in the WPS Agenda. The President of Ecuador expressed concern over this, saying, “big powers invest in arms instead of investing in the development of peoples”. “We do not understand how those countries, that are developed and have achieved military superiority, that have experienced wars through their own children, that those countries invest in conflicts that do not concern them, without seeking to solve them, but to aggravate or even perpetuate them,” he added.
Conditionalities linked to funding provided international financial institutions (IFIs), which contribute to the feminisation of poverty and the deepening of gender inequalities, were not discussed, while there is an increased rhetoric about the engagement of private sector and corporations in the implementation of SDGs. Such an approach also prevents the international community to fully succeed in understanding root causes of violence within communities and ensure conflict prevention, including around natural resource distribution. A number of violent conflicts have erupted, in part, over the abundance of resources. The President of Zimbabwe stated, “we should address the root causes of conflict which includes poverty, inequality, deprivation, disputes over land and resources, as well as struggles for self-determination”.
Many Member States acknowledged the devastating impact of conflict on people across the globe and the inability of the UN to appropriately respond to crises. The majority of countries referenced the situations in the MENA region, the Korean Peninsula and Africa, including the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and Nigeria and the fragile peace situation between the Koreas. Finally, 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 need to respond to the needs and support the experiences of local groups on the ground in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere gained increased support. The President of Nigeria brought attention to the fact that the terrorist insurgencies in the Lake Chad Region are fueled by local factors and dynamics. In this regard, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh invited the international community to promote women’s political empowerment at the grassroots in order to respond to the crisis effectively.
The importance of disarmament for peace in conflict countries was also highlighted during the General Debate. The President of France pointed out that “the military engagement of certain countries has allowed the regime in Syria to re-establish itself, resulting in crimes for which the perpetrators will one day be held accountable”. The President of Cyprus encouraged “the cooperation of all […] and the peoples that are the victims, those suffering from phenomena such as: […] investments and promotion of the military industry and infrastructure”.
Differently from last year, very little attention has been brought to the peace process in Colombia. At the same time, the peace process in the Koreas and its fragility has been widely referenced by the leaders of Member States. While noting that the threat of nuclear weapons resonates much more often than anyone could have imagined in the past years, the President of Slovakia expressed his hopes that the current developments in North Korea will bring tangible results. Similarly, the President of South Korea suggested that denuclearisation should be the first step that will allow the parties to focus on economic development, putting nuclear disarmament at the core of the agenda.
The number of women speakers has not significantly changed since last year. Regrettably, only 20 female leaders (10 percent) spoke at the General Debate compared to 19 last year. In addition the President of the General Assembly, these speakers represented the following countries: Marshall Islands, Estonia, Croatia, the UK, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Serbia, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Barbados, Australia, India, Suriname, Austria, Dominica, Timor Leste. Of these speakers, only 4 (from Croatia, the UK, Serbia, ) did not mention women or gender at all, whereas 11 of them (President of the General Assembly and representatives from Marshall Islands, Estonia, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Liechtenstein, Norway, Barbados, Australia, India, Suriname, Austria, Dominica, Timor Leste), specifically referenced women. The remaining four (4) speakers used only general references to gender equality and women’s rights.
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