On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security with a focus on Displaced Women and Girls: Leaders and Survivors. Marking the 14th Anniversary of UNSCR1325, the debate partly showed how much progress has been made on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. However, as emphasized during the debate, much work still needs to be done in order to make sure that the agenda is fully implemented. A Presidential Statement (PRST) was adopted at the debate, which, along with discussing the increasingly grave situation of female Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) further expounded upon the effects of violent extremism contribution to these rising numbers. Hundreds of thousands of women have been displaced due to this new nature of conflict, and women are disproportionately affected. The all-day debate had 70 speakers, including 62 representatives from member-states and Representatives of the European Union Delegation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Other speakers included: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka the Head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally-displaced Persons Chaloka Beyani, Edmond Mulet the Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations, and Suaad Allami who was representing the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG). Ms. Perceval, Representative of Argentina who held the presidency for this month, remained present for the entirety of the debate and was noted as a leader of women's rights by many speakers.
On a general note, the Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2014/21) did not add significant new elements but re-emphasized the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 as well as all subsequent Women, Peace, and Security resolutions. It highlighted the importance of women's empowerment, gender equality, and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, as a cross-cutting subject throughout all UN thematic areas, as well as throughout national, regional and local levels- importantly including civil society. It broadly noted that “Persistent barriers to full implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) will only be dismantled through dedicated commitment to women's empowerment, participation, and human rights, and through concerted leadership, consistent information flows and action, and support, to ensure women's full and equal participation at all levels of decision-making.” In addition, the statement made a point to mention the role of men in “promoting gender equality and ending sexual and gender-based violence.” The statement also confirmed that a High-level review would be held in 2015, to assess the progress of SCR1325 implementation.
In the debate-topic related discourse, the Security Council recognized “that refugee and internally displaced women and girls are at a heightened risk of being subject to various forms of human rights violations and abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, and discrimination, which can occur during various stages of the displacement cycle.” Member States were reminded that they are responsible for their own populations, and along those lines they were reminded that they need to take measures in order to protect refugee and IDP women from such violence- including by preventing the illicit spread and use of arms.
The statement urged for not only the protection of women, but better access to justice, basic health services and humanitarian assistance. More sex and age disaggregated data is needed. The Council discussed the impact of violent extremism and terrorism on women, including grave human rights offenses such as: “murder, abduction, hostage taking, kidnapping, enslavement, their sale and forced marriage, human trafficking, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of violence.” In this regard, the Council said that women's efforts could stem such violence stemming from radical views. However, the council failed to agree on strong language on women's human rights defenders and gendered conflict analysis.
As Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka of UN Women stated in the beginning of the debate, the numbers of displaced peoples worldwide have reached a post-Second World War peak of 51 million. One reason for this peak, she noted, was that the nature of conflict is changing and violent extremism is becoming a driver of displacement. Following her statement, DPKO spoke with regards to women's socio-economic empowerment, their voice in decision-making, and their important role in peacekeeping, and said “we must recognize that the best way to protect and support [internally displaced] women is to help women help themselves.” Mr. Beyani, noted that there was a record-high 33.3 million internally displaced persons and that females account for half of that figure. Ms. Allami, speaking on behalf of the NGOWG, expressed concern over the levels of sexual violence in the increasing numbers of displaced peoples. She recounted the story of two Yazidi girls who had to escape forced marriages, and emphasized the need for more psycho-social support for the displaced, who are often also trauma victims. She also urged for more support for civil society, especially human rights defenders.
Forty-nine of the other 67 speakers at the debate, touched upon the progress that had been made in the area of women's rights, but 43 speakers held high expectations for the 2015 High-level review and global study, which often seemed to overbear any recent progress. All of the speakers expressed concerns about the systematic gender violence that is prevalent in recent conflicts and many speakers expressed discussed violent extremism at length, so much so that they neglected to effectively discuss the ongoing factors in the displacement crisis. Other speakers emphasized economic development as a tool for women's empowerment, but these speakers seemed somewhat detached from the immediate needs of displaced women and more focused on longer-term solutions. Better legal and security protection mechanisms for women against human rights abuses, increased participation of women in peacemaking efforts, and better social services in terms of healthcare (including psychological aid) and education were amongst the most commonly reiterated points made by speakers. Along the same lines, 60 speakers highlighted the gaps between existing legal provisions and effective implementation of such laws, especially in situations of conflict. The Ambassador of Malaysia, for instance, emphasized that it was critical to end the culture of impunity and replace it with a system that promotes justice and the rule of law, especially when dealing with the protection and prevention of violence against women. In terms of violent extremism, the role of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was the most commonly referred to terrorist group. The situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Ukraine were also amongst the most commonly mentioned crisis areas. Positively, 25 speakers noted the importance of gender-sensitive programs and underlined the role that women and girls can have in conflict prevention- despite the fact that conflict prevention was not the topic of this debate. While many of these factors were important elements of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, speakers seemed to stray from the issue of displaced persons, and focused on terrorism instead.
As Argentina held the presidency for the month of October, they produced a concept paper for the debate. The concept paper gives an overview of the progress made in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda so far and the tragic situation of refugees, asylum seekers and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from a WPS lens. In addition to providing a background of the situation addressing the concerns of gender inequality and sexual and gender-based violence, the paper lists the focus and objectives of the debate. Notably, the paper asks, "How can effective implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda improve protection, service delivery and building peace to prevent new outbreaks of violent conflict forcing people to flee?" The concept paper is available here.
In addition, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security wrote an Open Letter to Permanent Representatives to the United Nations, which provides recommendations pertaining to the debate. The Letter advocates "for strong and progressive statements that address the full spectrum of the women, peace and security agenda, particularly related to forcibly displaced women and the full and meaningful participation of women in all peace, political and security processes." It provides strong recommendations for Member States to implement before next year's high-level review and the 15th Anniversary of SCR1325 which was adopted in 2000. The Open Letter is available here.
We have also attached the Secretary General's September 2014 report on Women, Peace and Security and slides from UNWomen's presentation summarizing his report.
Representatives from the following countries spoke: Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Chad, China, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, France, Fiji, Germany, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Rwanda, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.