Remarks at the British High Commission’s event marking the UK National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security and International Women’s Day

Write on Thursday, 08 March 2018 Published in Messages from the Resident Coordinator

7 March 2018

The UN Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. Resolution 1325 calls for increased participation of women and gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is important in empowering and protecting women and girls in conflicts and beyond.   

Guyana is fortunately a peaceful state but violence exists and gender-based violence is prevalent.  The Sexual Offences Act was passed in May 2010. Government sponsored help hotlines operate. Radio programmes sensitize the public on gender-based and domestic violence.  A Sexual Offences Court was established last year to facilitate and expedite gender based and domestic violence cases.  These are all important steps but the fight continues.  Prevention and support to victims, survivors and even perpetrators is critical and can only be done effectively in communities.  Neighbors, friends and families cannot be bystanders in the escalation of violence and need to know where and how to seek help.  Faith-based organisations, community groups and NGOs also play an important role in awareness raising and direct interventions to those who need help.  These organisations that work at the community level need predictable resources to strengthen and sustain services.    

Women, peace and security is a part of a broader global agenda for gender equality. 

In the words of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on International Women’s Day, achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.

We are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights. The historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish are being exposed like never before. From Latin America to Europe to Asia, on social media, on film sets, on the factory floor and in the streets, women are calling for lasting change and zero tolerance for sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds.

The activism and advocacy of generations of women has borne fruit. There are more girls in school than ever before; more women are doing paid work and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws, and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage have been outlawed in many countries. 

But serious obstacles remain if we are to address the historic power imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation.

More than a billion women around the world lack legal protection against domestic sexual violence. The global gender pay gap is 23 per cent, rising to 40 per cent in rural areas, and the unpaid work done by many women goes unrecognized. Women’s representation in national parliaments stands, on average, at less than one quarter, and in boardrooms it is even lower.

Where laws exist, they are often ignored, and women who pursue legal redress are doubted, denigrated and dismissed. We now know that sexual harassment and abuse have been thriving in workplaces, public spaces and private homes, in countries that pride themselves on their record of gender equality.

The United Nations should set an example for the world but this has not always been the case. We have now reached gender parity for the first time in the UN’s senior management team, and this will extend throughout the organization. The Secretary General is committed to zero tolerance of sexual harassment. The UN is working closely with countries around the world to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in peacekeeping missions, and to support victims.

There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous. Where women face discrimination, we often find practices and beliefs that are detrimental to all. Paternity leave, laws against domestic violence and equal pay legislation benefit everyone.

Let us be clear:  this is not a favour to women. Gender equality is a human rights issue, but it is also in all our interests: men and boys, women and girls. Gender inequality and discrimination against women harms us all.

We need both women and men to stand up for gender equality.