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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

Remarks and Q&A by USG Patten, UNGA 76 Side Event on WPS

Source: ReliefWeb

Remarks: The Gendered Impacts of Security Challenges: The role of the UN System

Source: UN Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Your Excellency Foreign Minister Payne, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador Fifield, my sincere thanks to the co-organizers of this event, Australia and the United States, two steadfast champions of this cause.

Over the past two decades, the United Nations has served as the central stage for the development of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, yet homage must be paid – first and foremost – to the many unsung feminist activists from around the globe who laid the foundations for this work. The ten robust Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security have helped to integrate the fight against sexual violence, and the importance of women’s leadership in peacebuilding, into the decisions of the world’s paramount peace and security body, the United Nations Security Council.

In conflict-affected settings, the United Nations provides a critical convening platform for women’s rights activists, bridging their voices to policymakers, and channeling vital funds to support their work. The United Nations engages an ever-growing number of gender experts to serve in ministries, parliaments, and courts, as well as deploying mediators, peacekeepers, and emergency relief workers to some of harshest places on earth for women.

We investigate and document atrocities, not only to denounce violence, but also to raise the red flag about the urgency of prevention, and to call for restraint in real-time. The information we gather provides a basis for holding perpetrators accountable; vetting them from security sectors in the context of gender-responsive reform; and imposing sanctions to raise the cost of the historically ‘cost-free crime’ of using women’s bodies as part of the battlefield.

Today, I would like to underscore one simple point: a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls requires a paradigm shift in the way we confront peace and security challenges. Addressing gender-based violence is not a side issue, but an integral part of broader political and democratic transitions. In that context, policies of zero tolerance for war crimes against women cannot carry zero consequences. All tools must work in tandem to protect and empower women at risk, including legislative reform; training of justice and security sector actors; monitoring; and accountability. Today’s work of documenting crimes will lead to tomorrow’s convictions.

The evidence that feminist principles would enhance the impact of our security efforts is undeniable. UN reports affirm that women’s inclusion leads to peace agreements being both more swiftly reached and more sustainable. Yet, there has been a stark drop in the number of ceasefire agreements that include gender provisions; women remain grossly underrepresented in peace processes; and funding for gender equality is minimal compared to the global share of resources devoted to military spending, which continues to outpace investment in social services, even in the midst of a pandemic.

COVID-19 has made clear that, in this era, our destiny is shared. As we ‘build back better’ in its wake, we must silence the guns and amplify the voices of women. We must write a new social contract in which no military or political leader is above the law, and no woman or girl is beneath the scope of its protection.

There are encouraging signs of a shift in paradigm and perspective. Conflict-related sexual violence has emerged from the silence of history and is now reflected on the public record, with eight sanctions regimes including it as part of their designation criteria. Peacekeepers are routinely mandated to prevent sexual violence as a core Protection of Civilians objective. Ending gender-based violence and empowering women, is widely understood as integral to the pursuit of peace. This recognition has lent impetus to the participation of women in peace and transitional justice processes, as these issues cannot be credibly addressed without the voices of those disproportionately affected. Initiatives, backed by Australia and the United States, to change the face of peacekeeping by including more women among our blue helmets, and deploying dedicated gender expertise, are essential. Today, the United Nations is reaching and supporting thousands of women survivors of conflict and displacement who were once invisible and inaccessible.

Yet, as wars grind on, they grind down the hopes of entire generations. There are still countless cases of war crimes against women that go uncounted and unaccounted for. Stigma, exclusion, and untreated trauma shatter lives and livelihoods.

For the United Nations, every survivor counts. The survivor-centered approach, which I have made a priority of my mandate, aims to amplify first-hand, front-line perspectives, and ensure that local realities guide the global search for solutions. We must make visible the invisible roots of violence, namely gender-based discrimination, harmful social norms and stereotypes, and systems built on gender-based asymmetries of power. It is clear that women can have no physical security without economic security. And it is also clear that violence begins in the mind: we must demobilize the misogynistic mindsets that breed extremism and normalize gender-based violence.

It is time to close the gap between policies and practice, between laws and lives. It is time to close the empathy gap between people. We must signal to the women and women’s rights defenders of Afghanistan who are navigating the new reality of a Taliban take-over, that we stand with them. We must demonstrate – in word and deed – to the women of Tigray, who have been driven from their homes by violence, as well as to the women of Myanmar, Syria and South Sudan, that international law is not an empty promise.

To end the reign of impunity and indifference, the United Nations will continue to expand the circle of champions and stakeholders working in concert to translate commitments into compliance, and groundbreaking resolutions into solutions on the ground.

No security crisis is gender neutral, and no effective response can be gender blind. Against the historical backdrop of matters of war and peace being viewed as an exclusively male domain, the advent of Security Council resolution 1325 forever changed the face of peace and security.

This agenda not only sets out a problem; it also prescribes a transformative solution. It recognizes that gender equality bolsters social stability. It recognizes that inclusive peace is sustainable peace. Yet any resolution or policy is only as good as its implementation. As I look back on the past two decades of commitments, plans and progress, I also look forward to a time when women will exert far greater influence and control over their own bodies, lives and livelihoods, and the peace and security decisions that directly and profoundly affect them. The rights of women should not be seen as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations, but as a building block for safer and more equitable societies. The best way to pay tribute to the founders and courageous frontline defenders of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, is by turning their aspirations into obligations that will be respected, implemented and enforced.

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