Thank you Mr President for holding this important debate today, and I thank ASG Kang, ICRC Director Durham and Ms Elman for their sobering and challenging briefings this morning. This is the first Protection of Civilians debate where an NGO representative has briefed the Council and I welcome this initiative. It is vital that we listen to people on the ground and I hope that this example will be repeated in future.
The Protection of Civilians is at the heart of everything we strive to achieve at the Security Council. It is our raison d’être, and what the UN system is ultimately judged upon. Protecting the lives of women, men, boys and girls from the ravages of conflict is vital to our mission. Today, we consider the unique and devastating impact that conflict has on women and girls and the challenges that we must overcome to empower them, as equals in our society.
Daily we are reminded of the vast array of human rights violations that women suffer in conflict. And of extremist groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram who attack women’s rights – their bodies, their education, their choice of religion - as a central tactic of their terror campaigns. Last year, it’s estimated that 1,500 Yezidi and Christian people were forced into sexual slavery in Iraq. In Nigeria, hundreds of women and girls were kidnapped from Chibok. And in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, high levels of child forced marriage and rape persist, unabated. It is clear that much more can be done and it is vital that we do it. We must address the underlying causes of gender inequality and violence against women, not only in conflict but also in peacetime.
I think there are four key areas for the Security Council to consider. The first is women’s participation and equality.
Queen Boudica is a symbol of powerful female leadership in Britain. A tribal warrior, she has inspired many great women over the last 2000 years who have fought for gender equality. But even in my country, there is still a way to go and we cannot be complacent. The UK is thirty fifth on UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. We continually strive to achieve gender equality and to end violence against women in our society. Our gender pay gap is the lowest on record. We have allocated almost $60 million to specialist support services and national help lines for domestic violence. And by 2016 women in our military will be serving in combat positions alongside men for the first time.
But unsurprisingly, countries in conflict face particular challenges on this agenda with underlined inequality being compounded by a breakdown in society. To quote a few examples, the Democratic Republic of Congo comes number 147 in the Inequality Index. Mali is 148, and Afghanistan 149. One woman is raped every minute in the DRC. In Afghanistan, women face the daily threat of assassination purely for choosing a role in public life. These are challenges that we have to address.
The fact that women are not present at every peace table is as much a rebuke to men as an insult to women. That so many post-conflict governments do not include women in their security and judicial infrastructure is as damaging to those bodies’ success as it is to women’s rights. That we struggled to have an appropriate number of women on a high level panel considering the future of peace operations shows that even here at the UN Headquarters, our own words do not yet match reality. This must change if we are truly committed to enhancing women’s protection and to bringing about more peaceful societies.
Second, supporting survivors of gender based violence should be incorporated into humanitarian programming and into the first stage of an emergency response. Provisions should be put in place for vulnerable populations such as the young, the disabled, the elderly and LGBTI communities. Through the Call to Action in 2013, the United Kingdom announced $30 million in new funding to help protect women and girls in emergencies. This includes $5 million for UNFPA to establish safe spaces for women in Syria, and $6 million and $2.5 million in Lebanon and Jordan respectively to prevent vulnerable families from turning to child labour and survival sex.
Third, the protection of civilians by peacekeepers must address the needs of women and girls, as well as men and boys. The Report of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last June will be circulated shortly with recommendations including on peacekeeping. Addressing sexual violence in conflict should be a mission wide objective. Indicators of success for Protection of Civilians mandates should include the consultation of women, particularly displaced populations, and how the concerns identified have been addressed. Scenario based training on sexual violence must be incorporated into every pre-deployment training for contributing countries, including at senior officer level. And existing reporting and accountability mechanisms for sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeeping personnel must be much tighter. We look forward to examining recommendations from the high level discussions on Monday on this topic. It is critical that the Peace Operations Review reflects these issues, and the broader obligations of DPKO and DPA on Women, Peace and Security and women’s participation.
Finally, engaging with military and security actors remains a key challenge. The security sector should be responsive to women’s needs, and gender sensitive training should be a part of any police, army and justice sector reform. Concrete measures must be taken to increase the recruitment, retention and promotion of women throughout national military and police. And greater information sharing amongst military and civilians is crucial to better inform our strategies to protect women.
2015 is a significant year for women in conflict environments as we move towards the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325. We look forward to the publication of the Global Study and the High Level Review on Women, Peace and Security in October. We hope for ambitious, tangible outcomes and commitments that can really change the lives of women and girls across the globe. Words are no longer enough: now our actions must speak louder.
I thank you.