"If we want half of world’s population to have a say in conflict prevention ... then let us begin in this building."

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.

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Thank you Madam President. I join others in thanking the briefers for their insights, and I welcome Palegi Eyang to the Council. We should hear the voices of women activists from civil society in this Chamber more often.

I’d like to begin with the words of another activist, the Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee. In 2003, her group ‘Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace’ successfully pressed Charles Taylor to attend peace talks. Talking afterwards, she said, and I quote: “We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”, end of quote.

What was your role during the crisis?

The answer to that question for so many women in Africa isn’t ‘negotiator’. It isn’t ‘envoy’, it isn’t ‘delegate’ even, and this needs to change.

It isn’t just about ending gender inequality. It’s not just a women’s issue. It’s a peace issue. When women’s voices are heard in peace processes, in negotiations, in state-building, the chances of a lasting peace increase.

And if we’re serious about truly resolving conflicts, about preserving peace, not just for hours, but for generations, we must heed the words of Leymah Gbowee and our briefer, Palegi Eyang. They demonstrate just how powerful community-based activism can be. Just think how powerful those women’s voices could have been had they actually been in the room at key times during peace processes?

So, whether in Africa or in any other part of the world, we need to make sure that women are playing the fullest role in conflict resolution. I’m proud that all future UK-hosted peace-building events will ensure that women’s voices are heard. If the rest of the Council follows suit, then we’d send a strong message to the rest of the world.

To support this effort, we have to increase women’s participation in politics and society. And that means delivering on the commitments we made in resolutions 1325, 1889, 2242 and so many others.

Because breaking down the barriers facing women in peace talks requires breaking down barriers facing women across society. It means helping girls stay in school, improving healthcare, and yes, tackling sexual violence. At its heart, it’s about ending discrimination against women. We all have a part to play. In Somalia, the United Kingdom is helping make health services available to over a million Somali women and children. We’re also providing legal assistance to thousands of Somali women and will soon be supporting initiatives that boost their participation in politics too.

But this issue won’t be solved by one country alone. That’s why the United Kingdom is contributing a million dollars to the Global Acceleration Instrument on Women, Peace, Security and Humanitarian Action. By funding the GAI, we can all offer material support that can break down these barriers. In Burundi, a network of women mediators was able to deal with 5,200 local conflicts in 2015. That’s over 14 a day. Thanks to the GAI, they’re now scaling up their activities. At a time when this Council has been so frustrated by the crisis in Burundi, it’s heartening to see how powerful women’s civil society can be in their local mediation efforts.

Ultimately, however, supporting this effort requires more than just our money. When the Council visited Mali, Guinea Bissau and Senegal earlier this month, there wasn’t a single female representative of this Council on the trip. And even here in New York, only two of the fifteen Security Council countries are represented by a woman at this debate. So as we call upon Africa’s leaders to do more to bring women into conflict prevention and resolution, let us also heed the call ourselves.

What signal does it send when the primary body for preserving international peace and security only has one woman among its fifteen permanent representatives? What message does it send to that young girl in Somalia who dreams of becoming President? Or to those who want to answer the question ‘what was your role’ with something other than ‘survivor’?

If we want half of world’s population to have a say in conflict prevention and resolution, then let us begin in this building. That’s why the United Kingdom has been clear that we need as many credible women as possible to apply to be the next UN Secretary-General. We’ve had three so far and I hope that there are more to come.

It’s time to make history; a historic moment that’s long overdue. All things being equal, we hope that this will be the year that we appoint a woman to be Secretary-General of the United Nations for the first time. And when asked ‘what was your role’ she will be able to say that she was at the forefront of the UN’s action to prevent conflict and resolve crises, and represent the entire world, not just half of it.

Thank you Madam President.

Published 30 March 2016