INTERNATIONAL: UN Political Affairs Chief Notes Progress on Role of Women in Mediation Activities

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
UN News Centre
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General Women, Peace and Security
Peace Processes

The United Nations is making progress in its efforts to incorporate women into its conflict mediation activities – but much more still needs to be done.

That was one of the key messages of the head of the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe, on Tuesday, to the Annual Policy Forum of the Institute for Inclusive Security, a Washington D.C.-based organization that advocates for the full inclusion of all stakeholders, especially women, in peace processes and peace building around the world.

“We are working on it, but we are not as good as we need to be we need women's talent in a mediation role and we need strong involvement of women from all the conflicting parties,” Mr. Pascoe said. “Only then, can we be sure that we are paying appropriate attention to the gender dimensions of conflict and assembling our best talent to resolve the conflict and keep it from re-emerging.”

Those attending the event included members of Washington's policy-making community and also included twenty experienced women mediators from around the world who are participating in a program organized by the Institute.

“We at the United Nations, and especially the Secretary-General, attach great importance to increasing women's participation in the resolution of conflict,” Mr. Pascoe said, pointing to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's address to the UN General Assembly last Friday, where he outlined his top priorities for 2011, placing women's empowerment at the forefront.

Mr. Pascoe added that “the Department of Political Affairs is actively working to bring this approach into the mainstream of our efforts.”

Expounding on changes to the way DPA approaches conflict resolution, the Under-Secretary-General said that in much of its work today, mediation is not so much about stopping conflicts through classic negotiations. Rather, it is about making sure new ones do not break out with the ultimate goal being to encourage policies that promote long-term stability, reconciliation and functioning states.

“Our focus has to be on preventive action, with the aim of stopping potential crises early before they escalate to the point where massive and costly international interventions become necessary,” Mr. Pascoe said. “There is wide consensus on this point, which after all is only common sense, but it is a major challenge for us to turn the theory into effective preventive action on the ground – failure becomes all too visible in hindsight, whereas successes can and do occur with little fanfare.”

The political affairs chief said DPA is working on several fronts to rise to the challenge: it has strengthened and sharpened its focus, through increases in resources and personnel it has built more partnerships with regional organizations, which are at the frontlines of the conflicts and may need help it is putting increased attention in its field offices to ehance its effectiveness in peacemaking or mediation support and, it is improving its professional expertise in mediation.

“We believe that the inclusion of women and increased attention to gender issues in these efforts are vital,” Mr. Pascoe said, noting Security Council resolutions related to the importance and role of women in UN, such as resolution 1325 which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

“One of our critical problems is to expand the domestic constituencies engaged in peacemaking, and therefore build credibility and national buy-in. Issues from basic livelihoods to gender violence must be addressed,” he said. “And, if women's participation results in solutions that meet the needs of society in general, those solutions will be more sustainable.”

Citing examples of the importance of women in the UN's activities, Mr. Pascoe mentioned the recent establishment of UN Women, the UN body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, and the office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, as well as the Secretary-General's increase of 40 per cent in the number of women in the UN's highest ranks since coming into office.

The Under-Secretary-General said that the UN is continuing to raise the numbers of senior appointments, and it is also trying to increase the numbers of qualified women on its rosters. Currently, 38 per cent of the 200 people on the DPA Mediation Unit's roster are women and 39 per cent are from the global South – however, he painted a different picture outside of the UN's structures.

“While we are making good progress inside the UN, the harder issue is to encourage greater participation of women on the ground in the peacemaking or preventive efforts,” Mr. Pascoe said. “We must redouble our efforts in this area.”

The political affairs chief said that DPA has worked in a number of recent cases to ensure that gender experts are deployed to peace talks in order to shape their content and ensure strong channels of communication with women's organizations.

He cited the department's close cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNIFEM – a predecessor of UN Women – on the successful Commission of Inquiry into the violence in Guinea in September, 2009 and its work to develop measurable indicators in the implementation of resolution 1325.

After his speech, Mr. Pascoe held a discussion with the 20 women mediators attending the forum.