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Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security - Protecting Participation: Addressing violence targeting women in peace and security processes - Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Distinguished President of the Security Council,

Excellencies,

This Council has played a vital role in the drive to ensure that peace is built by, and for, women.

Yet between 1992 and 2019, only 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes worldwide were women.

And that was before the pandemic struck – and before a wave of intensifying conflicts, undemocratic political transitions and disastrous humanitarian crises took hold in many societies, further reducing women's rights.

The situation that now faces women human rights defenders, and prospects for women's full – not tokenistic – participation in shaping and building peace – are vastly worse.

This harms all of us. Women's safe and meaningful participation is necessary to ensure a fuller range of action to bind society together, and address not only the root causes of conflict but also its full impact – including gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Implementing Resolution 1325 requires consistent policies for public recognition, effective protection and vastly increased strategic, flexible, sustainable and targeted financing for women's civil society organizations, including women human rights defenders. And it requires action to end the violence that so frequently targets women and girls who seek to lead movements for change.

In reality, barely 1 per cent of funding in fragile or conflict-affected countries goes to women's rights organizations. The enabling environment that lies at the heart of the women, peace and security agenda is also largely absent.

In 2020, my Office verified 35 killings of women human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in seven conflict-affected countries where data could be retrieved. This number, which is certainly an undercount, surpassed the confirmed numbers of killings in 2018 and 2019.

We have also documented patterns of attacks against women working on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, corruption, labour rights and environmental and land issues. In every region, we have seen women subjected to arrests and detention; intimidation; sexual violence; and harassment via smear campaigns. Intimidation and reprisals by State and non-State actors against people who cooperate with the UN also remain high, including in countries on the Council's agenda.

These human rights violations significantly undermine global efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace – because they deter women from participation and leadership.

Excellencies,

In Afghanistan, the de facto Cabinet and other key fora, at national and provincial levels, exclude women. This heavily undermines their capacity to ensure a durably peaceful future in which all have an equal stake. Facing a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions, the country needs all its people to come together. Instead, denial of the fundamental rights of women and girls is massively damaging the economy and the country as a whole.

In recent months, many Afghan women human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and judges have been forced to flee or to go into hiding – often after repeated threats. Many have lost all sources of income. Afghan women have been excluded from decision-making that affects their lives and families, and prevented from fully exercising their right to participate in all spheres of civic and public life.

I urge the Security Council to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Afghanistan – including against women and girls – are held to account, to enable conditions for sustainable peace. I ask all States to use their influence with the Taliban to encourage respect for fundamental human rights.

I further call on States to create safe pathways and resettlement programmes for Afghan women human rights defenders, and to immediately halt the deportation of Afghan women who seek protection.

It is also vital to maintain a strong human rights presence and focus for all UN engagement in Afghanistan, with strong advocacy and tangible support for women human rights defenders and peacebuilders, and for women's human rights.

Excellencies,

In the Sahel region, critical deficits in women's empowerment are clearly a factor in the complex development, security and humanitarian crisis. Several countries in the region are at the very bottom of UNDP's Gender Equality Index. Extremely violent armed group attacks also increase the threat of abductions, violence, exploitation and abuse of women and girls, as well as local closures of schools, particularly for girls.

I was therefore encouraged, during my recent mission to the region, to hear senior members of the G5 Sahel joint forces emphasising the importance of increased integration of women in political, security and development policies to address the crisis. OHCHR will continue to support implementation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force Compliance Framework to address these issues – including obstacles to women's direct participation in the security forces. Ensuring women's presence in the armed forces will be helpful on many levels, including fostering public trust.

In Myanmar, women human rights defenders have long been a force for peace and inclusivity – including at the forefront of resistance against military rule. But many women's civil society groups have been forced to shut down amid the violence that has gripped the country since February last year. Women medical workers, media workers, protestors, participants in civil disobedience, activists on social media and those providing food and shelter to people in need have been targeted for assault and arbitrary detention. Women and girls appear to number over 2,100 of the estimated 10,533 people detained by the State Administration Council and its affiliated armed elements between February and November last year.

In contrast, Colombia's 2016 Peace Agreement was a global landmark in terms of women's participation and the inclusion of gender-specific measures. The Truth Commission and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace have also promoted women's participation, and the Search Unit for Persons Deemed as Missing has recognized women's essential role in the search for missing people.

Nonetheless, implementation of gender-specific measures on issues such as land reform, political participation, security guarantees – including for women human rights defenders – and other points of the agreement should be strengthened. I also recommend greater efforts in Colombia to combat continued conflict-related sexual violence and to guarantee that victims of such crimes are treated with dignity and have access to adequate protection, justice and reparation. This work will serve the cause of justice – and therefore, peace.

Excellencies,

At the heart of Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions by this Council is the need for strategies that create inclusive and safe participation channels for women from all backgrounds, movements and communities. Protection of their work, lives and rights is central to this effort.

The international community must stand united and push back against attempts to attack, silence and criminalize women's rights to defend rights, participate in decision-making and express dissenting opinions.

We also need to do more and better to provide safe spaces for women human rights defenders to interact with the Council and its subsidiary bodies, without fear of retribution.

I am encouraged to see some States working to mitigate reprisals against women peacebuilders who engage with the Council– including tailored contingency plans in coordination with UN peace operations on the ground. I also applaud States that provide support to women briefers who face retribution as a result of their cooperation with this Council, including technical, financial and advocacy assistance.

It would be valuable for the Security Council to consider harmonising approaches to ensure the safe involvement of women in peace processes, as well as their participation in the Council's work. Going forward, peace operation mandates could explicitly include provisions for protection of all civil society actors and UN interlocutors from threats and reprisals, particularly women peacebuilders – as is already the case for UNMISS.

Strengthening the timely, disaggregated collection of data on women's participation and protection in peace processes is also essential to more effective monitoring of results.

In recent years, OHCHR has been strengthening the gender perspective of UN investigative bodies, providing training and guidance, and deploying dedicated gender and gender-based violence experts. For example, the October 2021 report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Libya documents the disproportionate effect of the conflict – and proliferation of militias – on women, including the emblematic killings of a woman political leader and a woman journalist. It also highlights repeated attempts to silence prominent women through violence, including through online incitement to violence, and the resulting chilling impact on women's engagement in civic space. These investigative efforts – including through the deployment of dedicated capacities – require more consistent and more effective financial resources.

Excellencies,

Decisions on peace that do not reflect women's voices, realities and rights are not sustainable. There must be clear advocacy for and significant investment in women human rights defenders and peacebuilders – removing obstacles such as the digital divide; expanding financial support; and significantly increasing accountability for attacks and intimidation. The work of addressing discrimination, inequality, denials of women's civic space and gender-based violence should also be viewed as a priority for building peace.

Thank you