Under Secretary Uzra Zeya
U.S. Department of State – Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
New York, New York
January 18, 2022
Thank you, Foreign Minister Huitfeldt, for convening us to discuss this critical issue. We also thank High Commissioner Bachelet and the civil society briefers for their vital perspectives. We welcome your efforts to shine a light on the critical role that women peacebuilders play and steps that we all must take to empower and protect them.
Women are on the front lines of peace building. They bring a unique understanding of local and regional dynamics to peace processes necessary for sustainable engagements. Their advocacy, however, also makes them targets for bad actors intending to exacerbate conflict. We think of the Head of the Somali Police Force’s Sexual and Gender-based Violence Unit who was physically assaulted by four police officers because she was reviewing the sexual violence cases registered at the central police station. Later a female journalist following up on the assault was detained. We strongly condemn these attacks and all similar threats to women peacebuilders. The Council must do much more to protect these women.
Threats to women peacebuilders are highly gendered, using their identity, roles, and social norms against them, often through sexualized attacks. Increasingly, these attacks take place online, including through the spread of gendered disinformation and targeted cyber harassment.
Echoing the calls by our Albanian and United Arab Emirates colleagues, we call upon all governments and international organizations to join the United States in maintaining and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment. We must commit together to support institutions as they strengthen prevention efforts and safeguard survivor-centered response mechanisms and enforce accountability.
It is essential that we continue to increase the number of women peacekeepers and take measures to support their security. Women peacekeepers have unique access to communities. We must redouble efforts to promote human rights and protect civilians and enable women to become a meaningful part of peace and political processes. Women serve as powerful mentors for women and girls in post-conflict settings and are essential enablers for building trust and confidence with local communities while helping improve access to and support for local populations.
Language around protection has traditionally relied on a gendered narrative that portrays women as weak or vulnerable. That characterization perpetuates injustice. In fact, women peacebuilders are targeted because they are highly effective and powerful actors. Deft peacemakers that use dialogue to engage with different parties to foster peace, they successfully negotiate humanitarian access, counter violent extremist ideologies, and facilitate reconciliation and healing.
The question we must ask ourselves is how do we support and amplify these ongoing women-led peace efforts, and how do we prevent malign actors from sabotaging women peacebuilders?
The United States is advocating with partner governments to establish formal processes to ensure that women have influence in decision-making. We are also advocating for necessary technical support to amplify the existing efforts of women leaders. For example, in Colombia, we support the meaningful participation of women in local stabilization and peacebuilding institutions, and advocate for fuller implementation by the Government of Colombia of commitments in the 2016 Peace Accord to promote women’s rights.
We note with concern that 10 of the 16 members of the Colombian Special Forum on Gender, which monitors the implementation of the gender provisions of the peace agreement, reported threats made directly against them. One organization defending the rights of indigenous women had to withdraw temporarily owing to the severity of the threats. This is unacceptable.
The United States supports targeted foreign assistance programs that further the leadership of local women in peacebuilding processes. At the Summit for Democracy, we announced the “Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative.” Under this mantle, the United States will support “SHE WINS” – “Supporting Her Empowerment: Women’s Inclusion for New Security” – through the provision of technical assistance and small grants to local women-led organizations. Activities will include women from ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTI+ women, youth, and women with disabilities, as well as men and boys who are champions for the promotion of equality and equity.
The United States remains fully committed to advancing UNSC Resolution 1325 as a matter of international peace and security. Peace can never be achieved if half the population, particularly those at the forefront of peacebuilding, are routinely ignored or abused.
Thank you, Madam Foreign Minister.