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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women, peace and security

Friday, June 20, 2008

At a meeting organised by Faith Regen Foundation Meg gave the following speech.

 

I will speak today on the theme of women, peace and security; and how the inclusiveness and equality we prize so highly here in the UK must be an integral part of our approach to conflict overseas.

Before I do so however I should mention that in my previous government job, as Minister for Women and Equality, I tried to ensure that all UK’s citizens regardless of gender, age, ethnic background or sexual orientation were given equal opportunity to fulfil their individual potential. Part of my current Ministerial responsibility at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to promote diversity within the organisation itself. Part of our focus at the moment is on increasing the representation of women, especially at the senior grades.

The challenge

Men usually dominate the politics of war and peace, with women and children left facing some of the worst atrocities. Women suffer disproportionately as victims of the sexual violence unleashed by conflict, especially in countries recently where rape seems to have been used as a weapon of war.

Conflict can also distort women’s role within a society. It can lead to the militarisation of government structures at national level. This often excludes women from decision-making, and complicates their access to resources. Displacement from homes can lead women from being breadwinners and decision-makers into passive recipients of aid.

Consequently, the UK government’s approach to conflict prevention and resolution places the involvement and particular needs of women centre stage. We try and integrate a gender perspective into our work on conflicts, and into peacebuilding efforts that will result in a more stable and sustainable solution. Empowering women can be an important element in the transformation of society required for successful peacebuilding.

UN Resolution 1325

The international community has recognised the importance of gender in effective conflict management. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This groundbreaking resolution recognises the disproportionate effect of conflict on women, and promises to protect their rights across the globe. It seeks to remove the barriers which prevent equal participation in decision-making on security issues. Importantly the resolution seeks to ensure that women’s perspectives are considered in all aspects of conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance and post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

The UK government was a driving force behind the adoption of the resolution. We have made some progress; UN agencies have taken clear steps to implement a range of related measures in UN peacekeeping missions. Encouragingly, other international organisations such as the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have followed the UN’s example in this area.

National action plan

But it’s not just up to international institutions to tackle this issue. Governments must take action themselves. We proposed in 2004 that UN member states should develop their own national action plans under resolution 1325. We believe that these will help ensure that the principled rhetoric of the resolution will be translated into meaningful action.

The UK remains one of only a handful of countries in the world to have developed a national action plan to turn our good intentions into concrete action. Agreed in March 2006, the UK action plan brings together departments across government including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. We wanted a comprehensive national approach, extending right through the prevention, resolution, peacebuilding and reconstruction phases of conflict situations. Our action plan links development, humanitarian, defence and diplomacy work, and aims to ensure that we take women’s perspectives into account in our efforts on conflicts throughout the world.

Civil society

This action plan contains the input of civil society. Non-governmental organisations should have an important voice in these matters, their voices are crucial in conflict situations. They are often involved on the frontline, seeing at first hand the abuses inflicted on women and children. They make a difference to their lives through delivering food and healthcare. We see this in the refugee camps in Darfur; and although not a conflict situation their role in alleviating acute suffering has rarely been as vital as it is now in the cyclone-hit delta of Burma.

As I say, we did involve civil society in developing the UK’s national action plan under resolution 1325; we also rely on them regarding its implementation. Working with non-governmental organisations is one of the five specific areas of activity outlined in the action plan. The plan also promotes work to:

  • support the efforts of the UN,
  • increase training and improve policy-making within the UK government itself,
  • promote gender justice and tackle gender-based violence, and
  • address gender issues in UK-supported disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes in countries emerging from conflict.

Practical examples

So, in practical terms what does this mean? A couple of examples to illustrate activity under the UK’s resolution 1325 action plan:

  • At the UN the UK government is funding a package of projects building capacity for gender mainstreaming in the Department for Peacekeeping operations and its missions. A parallel project completed in September 2007 included training of peacekeeping personnel, the development of a virtual resource centre and sharing best practice to encourage dialogue with other organisations in the peacekeeping field. The UK also provides peace support operations training to a wide range of existing and potential troop contributing countries, regional training centres and multilateral organisations like the African Union. These capacity-building activities incorporate aspects of resolution 1325.
  • In terms of training and awareness-raising within the UK government itself, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has marked International Women’s Day for two successive years with seminars on women’s role in conflict prevention and resolution. I chaired this year’s event, which heard from NGOs and other experts on women’s role in conflict and its resolution. Last year’s seminar focused specifically on resolution 1325, focusing on priorities for implementation of the resolution at national, regional and international levels.
  • The Ministry of Defence continues to deploy women on operations, in proportion to the roughly 10% of the armed forces that are currently women. For example, a woman was among a small group of military observers deployed to the UN mission in Nepal in February last year, particularly important as around 40% of the combatants in that conflict were women.

The UK government has also done a great deal to promote justice for women and tackle gender-based violence in post-conflict situations around the world. To give just a flavour of this activity:

  • in Pakistan, support to the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, which seeks to raise input and awareness of women’s involvement in parliamentary and democratic processes,
  • in the Eastern Caribbean, prison reform programmes to address specifically the diverse needs of female officers and prisoners,
  • in Sudan, support to national non-governmental organisations to implement local peacebuilding initiatives. Projects have raised awareness on issues such as HIV/AIDS and gender issues, as well as media campaigns against gender-based violence, and
  • in Afghanistan, support for the “Afghan Woman’s Hour Project”, which addresses gender issues through broadcast programming. This aims to help Afghan women explore new ideas, find solutions to their problems, and encourage them to participate more fully in the rebuilding of their country.

Conclusion

We want to promote resolution 1325, not just to tackle the very real needs of victims of conflict; but to ensure a worldwide recognition of the vital role of women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Too often peace processes involve just the leaders of the fighting groups, and established political figures. But for peace to be sustainable, it has to be inclusive.

We have a long way to go before women achieve a truly equal stake in conflict and security matters. But I hope that I’ve been able to indicate what is possible when governments and non-governmental organisations work together in implementing Resolution 1325.

Thank you listening.


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