Twenty years after a landmark U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to include more women in the prevention and settlement of conflicts, the head of U.N. Women says "exclusion is still the norm."
"Evidence shows that peace processes that involve women are key to long-lasting peace, yet women are still systematically excluded, confined to informal processes, or relegated to the role of spectators, while men sit in the rooms that will define their lives and decide their future," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, told a Security Council meeting marking the anniversary Thursday.
She said in peace negotiations from 1992 to 2019, only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of peace agreement signatories were women.
"These negotiations are still structured in a way that elevates and empowers the actors that have fueled the violence, rather than empowering the constituencies who make peace," she said.
Resolution 1325 was adopted unanimously by the Council on Oct. 31, 2000. It stresses the importance of equal participation of women in both the prevention and resolution of conflicts, as well as peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. The resolution also calls on parties to conflicts to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
"This resolution was born out of the horrors committed against the bodies of women and girls in Bosnia and Rwanda, and the example set by women who fought for representation in Northern Ireland, southern Africa, and Central America," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
While she commended women and civil society groups for bringing atrocities committed against women and girls from the shadows into the light, she said justice is yet to be won for most victims and impunity continues to be the norm.
"We had to wait until last year to see the first ever successful conviction for sexual and gender-based violence at the International Criminal Court," she noted.
That case was against Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He was convicted on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
There has been notable progress in several countries, where women have made and retained gains. Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed to achievements by women in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Philippines and Liberia, among other countries.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said moving ahead, there must be "a radical shift and tangible results" in the equal and meaningful participation of women in peace processes. She said that neither the United Nations nor its member states should give funding or legitimacy to processes that have only symbolic or superficial female representation.
The protection of women's rights should be another goal going forward, she said.
"In all conversations I have with women's civil society organizations about women's rights, they start or finish with concerns about women's sexual and reproductive rights and widespread violence against women," Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "For women to play a role in decision-making in society, they need to be able to decide over their own bodies."
She also warned that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on the female population. Lockdowns have exposed deep inequalities in education, health systems and economic opportunities for them. Women also make up the majority of front line health care workers globally.
"Yet they are once again under-represented in pandemic decision-making," she said, noting it is even worse for women in conflict areas.