Five weeks ago, four women and a man were seated at the podium in conference room 4 in the UN building. Prime ministers, ministers, state secretaries and other dignitaries were listening to them along with a full auditorium; they were sharing their experiences from conflict zones and their efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism.
The event was co-hosted by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg , UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (anerkjenne hennes tilstedeværelse) and the leader of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership, Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini.
At the meeting we launched a new dialogue forum – the Global Solutions Exchange. Because policymakers like myself need input from peacemakers from the frontlines to inform our policies. We need to hear the voices of those who experience conflict first hand, and who nevertheless insist on – and struggle tirelessly for – peace.
We know that their voices are worth listening to, because for them this is not a discussion about principles. It is not a theoretical debate. It is their rights and freedom that are in the balance. Their lives – and those of their loved ones – that are at stake.
We can no longer leave it to the war-makers to make peace. We need inclusive processes where the people – all those affected – are involved.
We need to understand the challenges they are facing. To learn from their insights and experience. To see more clearly what their needs are. What they hope for. What peace looks like to them. Otherwise, how can we develop solutions that are truly relevant?
Inclusive peace processes are key to achieving peace. Inclusive processes are crucial if we want peace to last.
Including more stakeholders makes a real and measurable difference. But it is including more women that makes the greatest difference.
This is not just my opinion. This is confirmed by recent research that has examined decades of peace processes.
The fact that women’s participation makes a difference should come as no surprise. If we exclude 50 % of the population, we lose out on half the competence available, half the creativity, half of the team. When half of the population is left out, the legitimacy and sustainability of whatever we are trying to build up will be undermined.
Yet women’s inclusion is still often seen as a ‘nice to do’ rather than a ‘need to do’.
Slowly this is changing, though.
Look at the Colombia process – where women are increasingly involved, where civil society is being consulted, and where real attempts have been made to include a broader spectrum of actors.
We have had stark reminders lately of how much remains to be done. Yet, I believe that the Colombia process has helped raise the bar for us all.
We’ll probably still have to insist on women’s participation. We’ll most likely have to explain yet again why it matters. And we’ll have to ensure that women are not only present, but also able to influence the process. It is not just about counting the women, but about making the women count.
But at least from now the right questions will be asked: Are women included? Has the gender perspective been taken into account? Has civil society been consulted? How is this reflected in the final agreement?
And consider the Syria process. In spite of all its shortcomings, in one respect we have made some headway. As far as I know, this is the first time that such concrete and strategic efforts have been made to ensure women’s active participation and civil society’s constant involvement through formal mechanisms.
While the talks are not moving forward as we had hoped, common ground has been found and solutions are being sought in these other forums: in the ‘Civil Society Room’ and in the Women’s Advisory Board. They are showing us where we might proceed from here.
Norway is privileged to have roles to play – albeit very different roles – in these two processes. And we are excited and grateful to be cooperating with UN Women.
UN Women builds, strengthens and expands networks of civil society organisations. UN Women enables women to take part in the formal process, and works to ensure that the broader civil society is informed and involved.
We are well aware that the real struggle about resources and interests starts when the process ‘moves home’. This is, of course, the case in Colombia. More than ever, the unity of the women’s movement will be key, and that is why UN Women’s continued engagement is also key.
Likewise, we are mindful that home-grown trust in the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board is critical for its effectiveness. UN Women is working to increase the ‘buy-in’ and to facilitate constructive dialogue – between those who have key roles to play in Geneva and those who are less directly involved.
This is why we are hosting this meeting, and why we are advocating for UN Women’s flagship programme on women, peace and security. The women, peace and security agenda is a priority for the Norwegian Government, and UN Women has been, and continues to be, a close partner in some of the most important processes we are involved in.
We are increasing our support to UN Women’s work in the Syria process. We are entering into a new agreement with UN Women on Colombia. We have worked together for years in Afghanistan, and will continue to do so. We are embarking on a new initiative with Nigerian authorities on women’s role and the gender perspective in preventing and countering violent extremism in Nigeria. Here too, UN Women is a key dialogue partner.
In short, UN Women has demonstrated an exceptional ability to be where it matters when it matters. We are very pleased to be promoting this women, peace and security flagship programme, which is focusing on four specific country situations as well as preventing and countering violent extremism. Women’s participation and the gender perspective are relevant and necessary regardless of the cause of the conflict or the ideology of the parties.
Women’s inclusion and influence should be as important to men as it is to women if the aim is lasting peace and sustainable development. Until men are just as active in our meetings on this issue as women are, we will not have captured this reality – that the women, peace and security agenda is about women’s rights and women’s protection, but is also about building a solid foundation for peace and prosperity for all. He for she is crucial in times of war as well as in times of peace. Because it benefits women, and it benefits men.
We will continue and strengthen our cooperation with UN Women on women, peace and security, and we encourage you to do the same.