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Remarks and Q&A by USG Patten, UNGA 76 Side Event on WPS, 20 September 2021, Permanent Mission of Australia, New York

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OSRSG Sexual Violence in Conflict
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Remarks: The Gendered Impacts of Security Challenges: The role of the UN System

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.



1. How can national action plans support a shift in resourcing women-led innovation to address the “triple nexus” and also ensure women have the resources to participate at the policy table and at the field level?

In response to the question posed by Ms. Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, I would note that 98 countries and territories – half of the United Nations membership – have now adopted a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Twelve regional organizations have similar strategies and plans in place. In the vast majority of conflict-affected or fragile settings, these plans and processes were supported by the United Nations, often by bringing together civil society organizations, government actors, and donors, and providing expertise to ensure that progress could be adequately tracked. As a result of these efforts, 86 percent of countries with national action plans have monitoring frameworks and indicators in place, which represents a significant improvement from just a few years ago. Critically, these plans have to be owned, budgeted and implemented by government actors; they risk becoming ineffectual if they are simply seen as UN projects that are reliant on ad hoc external funding. These plans must also be harmonized and coherent with other national priorities and policies. An important measure of the success of national action plans should be the extent to which they empower and support women’s civil society organizations, who continue to be grossly under-funded, even though we know that the strength of the women’s movement is the strongest predictor of gender equality gains in any country.

With respect to the “triple nexus” approach, it is critical for national action plans to provide a framework to connect efforts across the spectrum of development cooperation, humanitarian action, and peacebuilding. This will contribute to fostering women’s resilience to economic and security shocks, strengthening institutions, and addressing the underlying causes of fragility.


2. Today the voices of women in civil society are silenced when it comes to questions of peace and security in the Central African Republic. What is blocking the international community from supporting these women in their efforts to implement the peace agreement and position themselves in the mediations to hold actors accountable?

In response to the question raised by Ms. Lina Ekomo, I would agree that women’s voices in the peace process in the Central African Republic are indeed not yet heard and heeded to the extent they should be, though women’s organizations have made some important progress. For instance, their advocacy leading to the 2019 peace accord and their participation in the negotiations resulted in a more progressive agreement with respect to gender equality and women’s rights.

As the country gears up for the Republican Dialogue, which aims to mobilize all segments of Central African society behind an agenda for the consolidation of peace, the organizing committee features a representative of the largest umbrella of women’s organizations in the country, and women’s groups have been consulted in the preparations. However, women’s under-representation, especially at the national level, remains unacceptable. Women currently comprise just 16 per cent of members of the implementation and monitoring mechanisms for the peace accord at the national level, and they make up just 30 per cent of the 41 Local Peace and Reconciliation Committees. While this is the primary responsibility of the Government and parties directly involved, in line with the country’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, the international community can and must do more to support their efforts. This should entail the provision of both political and financial support to women’s organizations, as well as to regional networks like FemWise and the African Women Leaders Network, who could play a pivotal role in ensuring that solutions are co-created with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and with women from communities directly affected by protracted conflict.

To cite one concrete initiative: I have been in dialogue with the national authorities in the Central African Republic to advocate for the appointment of a special adviser on addressing conflict-related sexual violence within the Office of the President to ensure that survivors’ calls for justice and accountability are acted on at the highest levels.


Closing remarks

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our discussion this morning has reaffirmed that 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.

Thank you.