UNITED NATIONS (AP) — On the eve of International Women’s Day, leading women’s rights campaigners at the United Nations and the African Union and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate criticized male-dominated governments Tuesday for excluding women from peace negotiations.
They complained that governments are ignoring a U.N. resolution adopted in 2000 demanding equal participation for women in talks to end conflicts.
Sima Bahous, head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality, lamented “the regression in women’s rights.” She told the Security Council that “we have neither significantly changed the composition of peace tables, nor the impunity enjoyed by those who commit atrocities against women and girls.”
Bahous, executive director of UN Women, called for “a radical change of direction.”
She said action should be taken to mandate the inclusion of women at every meeting and in every decision-making process, with consequences for non-compliance. And funds should be channeled to women’s groups in conflict-affected countries where the money is most needed, she said.
The Security Council was assessing the state of the resolution it adopted on Oct. 31, 2000, that stresses the important role of women in preventing and resolving conflicts and demands their equal participation in all efforts to promote peace and security. It also calls on all parties to conflicts to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, especially rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
Since the 20th anniversary of the resolution in 2020, Bahous said, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have imposed “gender apartheid” and war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region reportedly led to sexual violence “at a staggering scale.” Coups in conflict-affected countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sudan to Myanmar have dramatically shrunk the civic space for women’s organizations and activists, she added.
The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women began its annual two-week session Monday focusing on closing gender gaps in technology and innovation. It is also examining digital harassment and disinformation aimed at women that fosters violent misogyny.
Bahous cited a recent study that says politically motivated online abuse of women within Myanmar and from the country increased at least fivefold after that country's February 2021 coup.
“This mainly takes the form of sexualized threats and the release of home addresses, contact details, and personal photos or videos of women who had commented positively on groups opposing military rule in Myanmar,” she said.
Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, addressed the gender-based violence aspect of the U.N. resolution, saying that “more than 100 armed conflicts are raging around the world” and hard-won gains toward gender equality are being reversed.
“This is no coincidence,” she said. “As respect for gender equality declines, violence rises.”
Egger said the Red Cross sees “the brutal impact” every day of “sexual violence at the hands of arms bearers at shocking levels.”
Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who mobilized street protests against the brutality of the country’s long civil war and shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, told the council that “it has been proven time and again that men do make war but are unable to make peace themselves.”
“Sadly, the conversation is the same in 2023,” she said. “How do we discuss the issue of peace and security and leave out fifty percent of the population?”
Gbowee said that as the U.N. resolution on women, peace and security approaches its 23rd anniversary “investment in its implementation is either stalled or slow.”
Action plans submitted by governments are “a tool for politicians and political actors to window-dress women peace and security issues as they cover up for their failure" to advance women’s rights, she said.
Gbowee called for women peace activists to be part of all peace missions, calling them “custodians of their communities.”
“We will continue to search for peace in vain in our world unless we bring women to the table,” she warned.
Bineta Diop, the African Union Commission chair’s special envoy on women, peace and security, said in a virtual briefing to the council that the current impact of armed conflict on women and girls “is precarious.”
Diop cited kidnappings in the Sahel, rape, killing and maiming of young girls and boys in Congo, and atrocities in the Lake Chad Basin and in East Africa, including “an unprecedented rate of sexual violence.”
“Unfortunately, while many women are engaged in the community and peacebuilding initiatives, their voice is yet to be heard in peace negotiations and mediation where roadmaps to return to peace are drawn,” she said.
Diop said the African Union is helping to promote African women leaders who can sit at peace tables and to bring women from rival regions together, as just happened at a retreat in Pretoria, South Africa, for Ethiopian women.