15 NOVEMBER 2008


In a presidential statement the Security Council on October 29 called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint more women to senior positions, particularly as Special Representatives and Special Envoys. That same appeal was made exactly a year ago. However, despite declarations by all parties involved, very little progress was accomplished in the field. Since the Council's deliberations on 23 October 2007, only one woman was appointed as Special Representative, the former Ambassador of Denmark to the U.N. Even that move was attributed by some cynics to the fact that she had voted to elect Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General.

More, much more has to be done.

A comprehensive and sustainable peace is not possible in post-conflict situations unless women’s security and participation is a primary objective for peacekeepers, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council during a recent meeting reviewing women's vital role in conflict zones.

Gender issues must be addressed in conflict mediation as well as in the deployment of peacekeepers, and women must participate in promoting peace and security, UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Executive Director Inés Alberdi told the meeting.

"This is particularly important in conflicts in which sexual violence is used as a tactic of war," said Ms. Alberdi, addressing the Security Council debate on women, peace and security.

"If abuses of women’s rights are tolerated through de facto impunity for perpetrators, efforts to restore the rule of law lose their credibility," she told the 15-member panel.

Ms. Alberdi noted that Security Council resolution 1820 -- which states that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity -- acknowledges the importance of women’s security in assuring a durable peace areas experiencing conflict.

She warned the Council that if direct measures are not taken by national authorities to prevent the widespread and systematic targeting of women, the violence will spill over in the post-conflict environment.

"We know that in some contexts attacks on women increase after conflict. If countries and the international community do not respond decisively to violence against women, they raise the cost of peacebuilding," warned Ms. Alberdi.

"The cost is in delayed stabilization and reconciliation in countries where the rule of law cannot take root," she added.

"However, despite their successes, women continue to be marginalized and ignored," said the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women Rachel Mayanja.

"It is our duty and indeed our obligation to millions of women in conflict areas to use the opportunity offered by Security Council resolution 1325 to set in motion perhaps one of the most promising approaches to conflict resolution of this new century," she added.

Resolution 1325, which was adopted by the Council eight years ago, stresses the importance of giving women equal participation and full involvement in peace and security matters and the need to increase their role in decision-making.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed the Council on specific steps his department was taking to incorporate women and gender perspectives into peace and security work.

"It is no exaggeration to say that in the last eight years since its adoption, resolution 1325 has changed the way we do business in peacekeeping," Mr. Le Roy said.

He noted that the resolution had galvanised women in post-conflict countries to demand greater accountability from peacekeeping operations to respond to gender issues, and cited the examples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire and Kosovo, where women’s groups have established regular channels of communications with mission leadership.

"Peacekeepers understand all too clearly that our efforts to avoid conflict relapses in fragile post-conflict countries can only succeed if we ensure that all members of society have an equal stake in safeguarding the peace dividend," the peacekeeping chief said.

Peacekeeping operations have supported the participation of women in elections in a number of countries. Mr. Le Roy told the Council that it is not enough to have women voting or being elected to office; the real challenge is for women to stay in office and implement gender-sensitive policies.

"In Timor-Leste, for example, four women parliamentarians quit office with the first three months of their election to office in 2002. We must first invest in providing technical support to those who are unfamiliar with constitution-making, and with the working of formal political procedures and legislative process," Mr. Le Roy told the Council.

Following speeches from dozens of Member States, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, which held the Council presidency in October, read out a statement urging the international community to increase the participation and decision-making of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities.