UNITED NATIONS -- The head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality told the 20th anniversary commemoration of a resolution demanding equal participation for women in peace negotiations that its implementation has failed, declaring Thursday that women still remain “systematically excluded” from talks to end conflicts where men make decisions affecting their lives.
Despite some good initiatives, UN Women's Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Security Council that in peace negotiations from 1992 to 2019 only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories to peace agreements were women.
She said negotiations elevated and empowered “the actors that have fueled the violence,” instead of empowering women and others who are peace-builders — and women were either confined to “informal processes or relegated to the role of spectators.”
Germany’s Foreign Office Minister of State Michelle Muntefering called the U.N. resolution adopted on Oct. 31, 2000 “a little revolution” because a united Security Council made clear for the first time that women’s equal participation “is required to maintain world peace and security.” It also affirmed that gender equality is also about security and conflict prevention, and that sexual and gender-based violence in war is a crime that must be punished and abolished, she said.
But Muntefering said: “20 years and nine hard-won Security Council resolutions later... women are still excluded from peace processes, their rights and interests continue to be ignored when building post-conflict societies.”
She was blunt in pointing at who Is responsible: “As a global community, we have not lived up to our commitment.”
Too often, the German minister said, sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts remains unpunished and “even worse, in the past years we have seen a global push-back on women’s rights.” And she expressed doubt that the principles in the resolution on women, peace and security adopted in 2000 would be approved today.
“Let me be clear,” Muntefering said. “We have a joint responsibility to implement what we have agreed upon, And that is: without watering down any of the commitments we have signed up to.”
Last year, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging all countries to implement the provisions of all previous resolutions on women, peace and security “by ensuring and promoting the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of peace processes.”
This year, Russia which currently holds the council presidency, has called a vote on a draft resolution which some diplomats say weakens the previous resolutions, especially on issues of human rights and the participation of civil society organizations which have been key in promoting gender equality and participation.
The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because email voting is taking place. The result is expected to be announced on Friday afternoon and it’s unclear whether Russia will get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated to the council that “gender equality is first and foremost a question of power, and wherever we look, power structures are dominated by men,” starting at the top where women lead only 7 percent of countries.
He said women remain largely excluded from delegations to peace talks and negotiations and said “we face serious obstacles" if they are not fairly represented, for example, “in the rooms where the future of Afghanistan is being discussed between the Taliban and the government, or in Mali, as it embarks on a political transition.”
Afghan women’s rights advocate Zarqa Yaftali, who spoke on behalf of non-governmental organizations that work to put women at peace tables, said “the presence of four women on the government’s negotiation team is a positive development, but it is not enough.” The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and refused to allow women to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escorts, do not have any women in their delegation.
Yaftali urged the international community to insist that the parties, especially the Taliban, don’t “restrict women’s human rights, civil liberties or citizenship in any way.”
“We are not the only ones demanding action,” Yaftali said, pointing to women caught in conflicts from Yemen and Syria to Congo and Sudan who see Afghanistan as “the true test” of the Security Council’s commitment to equality in peace negotiations, and “an indication of what they too can expect" in similar challenges in their own countries.
Actress and playwright Danai Gurira, a UN Women goodwill ambassador, retold the stories of women affected by conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan who previously addressed the council, saying she didn’t want members to forget their words about working for peace and pleas for women to be at top tables.
Gurira, who was born in Iowa but grew up in Zimbabwe and has appeared in the “Black Panther” and “Avenger” movies, said one thing all those women have in common is their insistence that “equality between men and women in decision-making is the only way we will build peace.”
“Male-dominated rooms in the 21st century should be embarrassing to us all,” Gurira told the council. “And just like (the women) keep showing up for peace, it is your turn to show up for them.”