“Where a crisis moves in, inclusion moves out, but there is no law of nature governing this,” declared Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, making the point that although the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set back the goals of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, it should instead be a factor motivating a redoubled effort to push for the agenda’s full implementation. “Diplomacy and dialogue are needed more than ever in the international response to the pandemic and in our efforts towards sustaining peace,” she said. “The Women, Peace, and Security agenda is crucial.”
Ms. Linde was the opening speaker at a September 16th high-level virtual forum co-sponsored by IPI and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs titled “Implementing Transformative Action: Prioritizing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in a Time of Pandemic.” She noted that women’s organizations were already responding vigorously to the societal challenges posed by COVID-19, intensifying their own peace work, providing support for humanitarian aid flow, facilitating information exchange, and establishing “new ways of connecting.”
She argued that their work needs to be “recognized as the community resilience fabric it is and needs to be connected to the highest decision-making levels.” For example, she said, women civil society representatives should be entrusted with briefing the United Nations Security Council and other decision-making bodies on country-specific matters, as well as other security threats such as terrorism and climate change. “There is no need for the pandemic to be used as an excuse to decrease this participation.”
Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, acknowledged that the pandemic had overshadowed many of the UN’s global priorities like the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of landmark Security Council resolution 1325 and had had a significant impact on global social-economic well- being and on key matters of peace and security, but particularly so for women. “Many of the economic costs of the pandemic are disproportionately affecting women, who are overrepresented in some of the sectors hardest hit by shutdowns, and ensuing layoffs and cuts. Gender-based violence, particularly in the home, surged around the world as COVID-19 lockdowns became necessary.”
Ms. DiCarlo said that digital technology had enabled UN officials in the field to maintain contact and consultation with otherwise marginalized women but had at the same time served to reveal the extent of their exclusion and discrimination. “Virtual spaces mirror the inequalities that exist in the offline world. Women and girls in conflict-affected settings often lack equal access to technology and are subject to online harassment and intimidation that can have real-world consequences for their safety. Supporting access to technology and combating online bullying must therefore be prioritized as fundamental to ensuring women’s participation in public and political life.”
A top priority was funding, she said. Her department allocates 17 percent of its extra-budgetary resources to projects supporting women, peace, and security; it has created a “gender marker” to track the mainstreaming of gender issues in all of its initiatives, and the UN Peacebuilding Fund devotes 40 percent of its total investments to “gender-responsive” undertakings. “Allocating adequate, predictable, and sustained financing must be a joint priority for all of us to achieve the Women, Peace, and Security agenda.”
Alvin Botes, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, highlighted the disconnect between the forefront role that women play in peacemaking and the low level of their inclusion in peacebuilding leadership. “They are the majority in the health sector and informal economy, but at the same time, few have been included in national COVID-19 response plans,” he said.
Mr. Botes proposed that a certain percentage of both official development assistance for conflict–area countries and of spending by the UN Peacebuilding Fund be earmarked for women, peace and security, with dedicated budgets in National Action Plans or equivalent frameworks. He called for more partnerships between governments and women NGOs and greater involvement across the board of young women.
Amat al-Alim Alsoswa, former Minister for Human Rights in Yemen, said the experience of women in her country, site of what the UN has identified as the world’s leading humanitarian crisis, illustrated both the value of women peacebuilders and how they are ignored by people in decision-making positions. “Yemeni women have been active local mediators throughout the conflict, and, in response to COVID-19, women have worked through villages, municipal councils, and the private sector to manufacture and distribute PPE [personal protective equipment], masks, and protective clothing to medical staff and the public. They have also negotiated the release of prisoners from detention centers to reduce the spread of infection. Women doctors and nurses have been among the first responders at the peak of the pandemic, and young women entrepreneurs continue to be active participants.” She paused for emphasis. “These efforts all were not initiated top-down.”
She contended that while the UN had pursued peace in Yemen “with dedication and sincerity, the well-established standards of Women, Peace, and Security, with respect to building sustainable peace, have been given no more than pro forma attention. This is a common trend; it’s not only related to peace negotiations. UN envoys’ mandates need to clearly include women in peace negotiations. It is not enough to give a voice to women, often after considerable additional pressure, unless they have their rights and also they can vote. Excluding women because one or more of the warring parties refuses to accept the woman’s presence is unacceptable.”
Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO of International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and Director, LSE Centre for Women, Peace, and Security, said that independent women peacebuilders merited special consideration and explained why. “They are a very unique community of people. They run to the problem when others are running away. They are the bridge, they are interlocutors, they are trusted. They represent the voice of communities and people and marginalized sectors of society, which neither governments who are bombing their own people nor armed groups that are also bombing their own people, do. In a sense, women peacebuilders have taken on the responsibility to protect, without having the power of the gun, or having the power of the political elite. They need to be recognized as actors in conflicts, and as independent delegations at peace tables. That’s the next step of where we need to go.”
Kaavya Asoka, Executive Director, NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, said during the question-and-answer period that despite the adoption of numbers of resolutions endorsing women’s rights and participation, seven out of ten peace processes still exclude women, and only 14 to 22 percent of peace agreements actually include gender provisions. Saying the movement was facing a crisis of political will, she asked, “How do we translate these rhetorical commitments that we’ve heard from the international community over a period of 20 years into real and concrete action? We’ve heard of technical solutions, like including women through virtual spaces, but the fact is what we actually need are political solutions to address the core problem of women’s participation that we continue to confront 20 years since the adoption of Resolution 1325.”
Foreign Minster Linde noted that much research had been done on the added durability of peace agreements where women were active participants. “When I was in Aden, I met so many women who had ideas, who had a lot of constructive ways of how to go forward in this terrible conflict. But they were not used in a way that would be so good for the peace process, and it makes me really frustrated. That’s also why I think the Women, Peace, and Security agenda needs to be pushed. All of us, both in government and in civil society, need to really push this issue, not as some little thing you do, as we say, ‘with your left hand’ but something that should be at the center, because it gets results, and it makes final peace agreements much more sustainable.”
Martha Delgado, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that her country had officially adopted a feminist foreign policy and was an active member of the global network of focal points on women, peace, and security, promoting joint international efforts to implement its agenda. “We need to recover from the current pandemic with a renewed commitment not to leave anyone behind, and to fully realize that we need a more integrated, multi-sector and gender transformative framework to conflict prevention and resolutions on sustaining peace in which the leadership of women is a reality and not just an aspiration.”
The forum also served to launch an IPI Women, Peace, and Security issue brief by Masooma Rahmaty, IPI Policy Analyst, and Jasmine Jaghab, entitled Peacebuilding during a Pandemic: Keeping the Focus on Women’s Inclusion.
IPI Vice President Adam Lupel moderated the discussion.