Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 25, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President, for organizing this open debate. And our thanks, too, to the Secretary-General for his briefing and strong commitment to supporting the meaningful participation of women in issues of peace and security, and to the Executive Director of UN Women and the Ministers of the Netherlands and Sweden for their important contributions to today’s discussion.

The United States is committed to exercising leadership on implementing the global Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. The effort requires action from Member States and the United Nations itself. Today, I’d like to discuss how we are working to advance women’s participation in peacemaking and security issues, as well as how we are furthering women’s economic empowerment.

Promoting women’s equal and meaningful inclusion and participation across efforts to restore security, promote democracy and good governance, and support economic development are not women’s issues; they are vital national security issues.

Mr. President, this month we celebrated one year since the United States became the first country to translate this agenda into a comprehensive national law with passage of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. A cornerstone of implementation of this landmark legislation will be developing a bold new strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, anchored in the U.S. National Security Strategy and long-standing commitment to women’s empowerment.

This historic milestone reaffirms the United States’ long-standing belief that the meaningful participation of women is at the heart of efforts to promote security and advance peace. Our renewed commitment to WPS aims to ensure women’s voices are at the center of efforts to secure peace.

Our legislation also provides an opportunity to renew efforts to bring women from all backgrounds to the peace table. Our experience shows that women often have the best understanding of the needs of their communities.

In one example, our government collaborated with Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute to monitor implementation of the Colombian peace accord, including its inclusivity and gender provisions. The parties to the accord use Kroc’s data to guide strategic decision-making at the national and territorial levels.

The United States has also identified Yemeni women experienced in conflict resolution, security, and policing and is encouraging the UN Special Envoy for Yemen and UN Women to expand female involvement in the peace process and conflict resolution efforts there.

Mr. President, while the Secretary-General’s report points to progress in the UN system and at regional and national levels, there is much more work to do. Translating the WPS agenda into action requires long-term commitment. At the UN, we continue to call for integrating the tenets of WPS across all operations, which will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our work.

Through efforts like the Security Council informal experts group on WPS, we’re better integrating gender analysis into the Council’s discussions and decisions. WPS is now in more peacekeeping mandates than ever before. However, only when WPS is a priority task in mandates, as is the case with MONUSCO, do we really start to see the issue treated as the priority that it is and should be. We encourage UN leadership, here in New York and through the SRSGs in the field, to take the lead on WPS, empowering gender advisors and facilitators to support their work. It’s up to leadership to drive the culture change we need to deliver results we want to see.

And when it comes to the best ideas on WPS, we know they often come from outside the Secretariat, outside this Council, and outside ministries in capitals, which is why it’s essential that we fight efforts to limit the space for civil society and bring outside voices in, particularly women’s voices to inform and drive our work here. From women civil society leaders to human rights defenders to peace negotiators, the work they do is essential, often dangerous, and we should look to leverage their successes.

We also continue to call on and support more governments taking leadership on this critical issue. The United States strongly supports the design and implementation of National Action Plans on Women, Peace, and Security worldwide. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we have supported civil society monitoring and advocacy initiatives related to National Action Plans. We are also working with the African Union to strengthen its capacity to review, monitor, and implement National Action Plans on the continent. Finally, we have provided support to develop National Action Plans in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

But the WPS agenda is about more than peace; it’s also about security, and the United States believes strongly that countries with high rates of gender inequality are more likely to experience instability and deadly conflict. Meaningful participation of women at all levels of security work, including in uniform, can help counteract this worrying trend.

When women serve as military members, they make the security sector more representative of the population. They help security forces understand the communities in which they operate, serve their needs, and earn their trust. Women’s leadership in the security sector also reinforces the importance of women’s participation in every aspect of society and opens up opportunities for other women. While we support these efforts in our own armed forces, we’re also working with governments around the world to support them in bringing the skills, leadership, and untapped potential of women into their security forces. This focus on substantive inclusion of women is particularly important in UN peacekeeping.

Turning to women’s economic empowerment, the United States is working to build communities that are more resilient to conflict. We have invested $50 million in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Financing Initiative, an innovative multi-donor facility that’s aimed to expand access to finance and technical assistance for women entrepreneurs.

Fourteen other governments have already joined us since we launched this initiative at the G20 last year. And together, we have committed more than $340 million to this fund and leveraged more than $1.6 billion from public and private sectors to support women entrepreneurs in developing countries. It’s unlocked the multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity that women’s economic participation truly represents.

Empowering women economically starts with ensuring girls have access to education. This is a complicated issue, but I want to highlight one particular area, and that is the attacks on schools and their misuse in armed conflict. Girls suffer most when there are attacks on schools or when combatants misuse schools to support combat operations. Even when fighting ends, parents are particularly wary of sending their daughters to school when there is the risk of violence. Girls are also less likely to return to education once conflict interrupts schooling. Terrorists, with their disregard for the welfare of civilians, are amongst the worst abusers, as we have seen with Hamas, among others. That is why the United States strongly supported language in this year’s renewal of the Global Counterterrorism Strategy condemning the use of civilians to shield military objectives from attack, including when terrorists are using schools or other civilian facilities to advance their violent aims.

Madam President, if we hope to prevent conflicts and build lasting peace, promote better governance, and advance sustainable economic growth, we must empower women as full and equal partners at every step. Women are half the population. It’s only right that they be full participants in the discussions and decisions that shape our present and those that will shape our futures.

Thank you.