Welcome to Geneva. Welcome to Switzerland’s hub for global peace and security. International Geneva brings together more than 170 States, 32 international organisation, 250 NGOs and many think tanks and academic institutions. It provides great opportunities for collectively addressing today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Switzerland is committed to providing the best possible conditions for people like you to come together, discuss, develop ideas, and help make this world a safer and better place. We are delighted that the Geneva community will soon be growing further, as the city will become the seat of the secretariat of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The spirit of La Genève Internationale is perfectly reflected in the Maison de la Paix, our host today. This building is a source of inspiration, where a broad range of actors come together to share experiences, discuss ideas and take common action – all under one roof. The Maison de la Paix mirrors the importance Switzerland attaches to promoting peace and security. With so many crises and challenges confronting us today, our commitment to fostering dialogue and inclusive solutions is more important than ever.
We must do more for peace and security, and we can do more if we all join forces and proceed together.
This also holds true for our conference theme today: Women, peace, and security. As we are gathering here to commemorate the adoption of UN Resolution 1325 15 years ago, we can note important accomplishments since then. But we must also acknowledge that major shortcomings remain. Although strong norms on gender-specific aspects of violent conflicts were established, implementation remains uneven. More must be done, and today’s stock-taking should help us identify ways of translating Resolution 1325 more vigorously into practice.
Ladies and gentlemen
Why is Resolution 1325 so important?
To start with, this is the first Security Council Resolution to take a gender-based perspective on peace and security. It recognises women not only as victims, but also as vital actors when working on peace and establishing security. The resolution is about participation and protection. It calls for stronger participation of women in all decision-making on peace and security. And it requests all parties to protect women’s rights and prevent sexual and gender-based violence - before, during and after violent conflicts.
This resolution is about human beings – about improving the security of girls and women and empowering them. Resolution 1325 and the resolutions on women, peace, and security that followed it are about human security.
Human security has long played a major role in Swiss foreign policy. We are equally committed to gender equality and women’s rights. Resolution 1325 links both issues – human security and gender equality. It should surprise no one that Switzerland has been a strong supporter of the resolution from the outset.
A noteworthy characteristic of the resolution is its unusually broad spectrum of demands, which are directed both at parties to a conflict and at peace-promoting actors. A major tool to translate these demands into concrete and accountable policies and actions are the National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security.
Switzerland was among the first countries to adopt such a Plan in 2007. Our Action Plan has since been regularly reviewed and updated. It includes reporting to the Swiss Parliament, which strengthens the accountability for our own commitments.
Almost 50 countries have developed National Action Plans to date. Countries from the North and from the South. The six most recent ones are Iraq, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Gambia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. This illustrates that Resolution 1325 has long moved from being an issue predominantly pushed by Western countries to a global project.
But while it is a global project, it is still far from being a universally shared project. We must encourage more States to develop their own National Actions Plans. And we should persuade regional organisations to follow the good examples of NATO, the OSCE and the African Union to come up with such plans and policies too.
But let us be clear: while it is important to set up the necessary instruments to advance the objectives of Resolution 1325, the key to measure progress is the everyday reality of women and girls in conflict contexts. Here much remains to be done, both in terms of participation and protection.
Let us first look at participation.
Strengthening women’s participation and inclusion in peace processes is of the utmost importance. This is not just a question of equal say in matters of peace and security. It is also about achieving better results. Research conducted by the Graduate Institute here in the Maison de la Paix and supported by Switzerland suggests that substantive participation by women increases the quality and sustainability of peace agreements. Whether it is through a seat at the negotiating table or through other channels: Providing women with the ability to bring in ideas and concerns that are otherwise not represented is essential for the prevention and resolution of conflicts.
The current track record is not good. Switzerland is very engaged in mediation support in peace processes. We know from our own experience that women’s concerns remain in constant danger of being swept under the carpet. All too often this is simply because of a lack of political will.
One lesson we have learnt is that we need to engage with civil society and build capacities and empower women from early on. We need to form a group of women leaders who are ready to get on board when time has come. Women should be included in all mediation training and activities. We are also promoting local women’s networks that are active in peace and security.
As a positive example of Swiss engagement, I would like to highlight the work with our partners in Myanmar, who have been strengthening the voices of women in the peace process and in policy making through training. Another example are the Geneva 2 talks on Syria last year, where we actively supported the Syrian Women’s Initiative that aims to unite different women’s networks to stand as one voice demanding an active role in the peace talks.
The need to enhance women’s participation also applies to “traditional” mediation actors, including Switzerland. In our case, we have had excellent female mediators – just think of Heidi Tagliavini – but we must and can do better to widen our pool. We are currently in the process of enhancing Swiss mediation capacities in the foreign ministry, and women’s participation will be a major consideration.
An important issue that you will discuss at this conference is that women’s participation must continue after conflicts are actually settled. Gender aspects are important in statebuilding processes too. Women’s rights and gender equality must be a cornerstone of any peace- and statebuilding agenda and must be taken into account from the very beginning of any political settlement. This requires long-term engagement.
Experience shows that statebuilding processes not only gain from stronger women’s participation, but can actually provide a momentum for women’s empowerment. In Tunisia, for example, Switzerland supported the training of female candidates in the national elections that took place last year. Out of 200 women who underwent this training, 9 have been elected and have now a seat and a say in the national Parliament. These are small, but important steps in the right direction. We are strongly committed to further promoting women’s substantive participation in peace- and statebuilding as well as in security sector reforms.
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me now move from participation to the protection part of Resolution 1325. Here, too, much remains to be done.
In theatres of conflicts around the world, women and girls continue to find themselves under daily assault. We read and watch horrendous reports about sexual violence, abductions and forced sexual slavery of women and girls in Syria and Iraq. Similar atrocities are occurring with Boko Haram in Nigeria. Another example is South Sudan, where brutal violence, including group rape and mutilations as well as forced marriages to militia members, are the terrible consequences of failed statebuilding.
The vast majority of victims of sexual violence are women and girls of all ages. But we know that men and boys are deliberately being targeted too, a fact that often remains taboo but must be vigorously addressed as well.
All such acts are a severe violation of human rights and international law. These crimes have devastating consequences for the lives of victims, affecting their physical, social and economic well-being. Being a victim often means facing stigma, shame and rejection by husbands, families and communities. Impunity is widespread and seeking justice is hard because legal systems in war-torn societies are generally weak and prosecution procedures may expose survivors to further danger and humiliation.
Switzerland has a long record in supporting victims and violence prevention, both on a multilateral and a bilateral level. Programmes are implemented in conflict countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, but also in post-conflict and transformation contexts such as Nepal, Tajikistan and the Western Balkans. Most of these programmes also target men and boys.
In our National Action Plan, we have committed ourselves to further increasing our engagement in this field and, for example, deploying protection experts as part of our peacebuilding strategies.
But no matter how much we do – there are far too many crimes that we cannot prevent. UN Resolutions and their norms seem frustratingly remote to people on the ground who are confronted with the atrocities committed by groups such as the so-called Islamic State.
Still, Resolution 1325 does provide a unique instrument to facilitate dialogue with some actors that are not always easy to reach when it comes to the issue of women’s rights. One such group are military and security personnel.
I would like to commend the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces – our partner for this conference – for its pioneering work in integrating a gender perspective in the reform of security sectors. For example, since 2005, DCAF has supported the Sierra Leone Police in developing gender and anti-harassment policies and in its outreach to civil society to better serve the women and men in their communities.
Another example is Afghanistan, where Switzerland supports the training of female police officers. These officers are subsequently stationed in police family units that were established to respond to the widespread violence against women.
An issue requiring urgent attention are the cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by troops and police serving in UN peacekeeping missions. Switzerland shares the UN Secretary General’s outrage at such misconduct. We call for zero tolerance and welcome the measures announced by the Secretary General to address gaps in reporting, investigating and prosecuting such cases. Punitive action must be taken against all personnel committing such crimes.
Ladies and gentlemen
In the 15 years since Resolution 1325 was adopted, the world has changed – quite significantly, in some ways. While terrorism is not mentioned in the Resolution, I believe that it is just as important to include a gender-based perspective in strategies to prevent violent extremism as it is in conflict settlement and statebuilding strategies.
Women and girls play a wide variety of roles with respect to violent extremism. They can be sympathisers, mobilisers or perpetrators. But much more often, they are victims: violent extremist groups have become the main perpetrators of sexualised violence in the Middles East and Africa. Moreover – and this is the point I wish to stress here –, women can be major agents for preventing violent extremism.
Switzerland is a strong proponent of linking the agendas of Resolution 1325 and the prevention of violent extremism. Both women’s participation and protection must be priority issues when dealing with violent extremism.
During the Swiss OSCE chairmanship last year, the OSCE addressed the issue of Women and Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism jointly with the Global Counterterrorism Forum. On the margins of the High Level Review on Resolution 1325 in New York this year, Switzerland will hold a side-event on how to bridge the agendas between Women, Peace, and Security and Preventing Violent Extremism. (We also consider it important to create closer linkages between the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and the women’s human rights framework, particularly the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and will organise a side-event on this too).
The UN Security Council recognised the need to empower women as a mitigating factor to the spread of violent extremism in last year’s Resolution 2178 on Foreign Terrorist Fighters. From a Swiss perspective, the issue of women, peace, and security should also be included in the UN Plan of Action on the Prevention of Violent Extremism that is due to be submitted to the General Assembly this November.
Later this morning, I will visit the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund next door. GCERF is the first global effort to support local initiatives aimed at strengthening resilience against violent extremist agendas. As a public-private partnership operating at the interface of security and development, GCERF is set to work with a broad range of partners in beneficiary countries to address local drivers of violent extremism. Empowering women will be among the major issues.
This is still a new initiative, and it is being carried out with pilot countries at this stage. Switzerland has been a strong supporter of GCERF from the start and is proud to have it based in Geneva. Today I can announce that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is granting GCERF four million Swiss francs for the first four years. We will sign the corresponding agreement today when I visit GCERF.
Ladies and gentlemen
Switzerland remains committed to advancing the objectives of Resolution 1325.
The current budgetary situation compels us to identify clear priorities within our engagement for peace and security. Against this background, the decision of the Federal Council last month to increase Switzerland’s contribution to UN Women by 25% for the next three years sent a clear signal: This decision underlines the importance Switzerland attaches to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Switzerland’s commitment is also underscored by our engagement for the new Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development that will be adopted by the international community by the end of this month: Switzerland was at the forefront pushing for strong stand-alone goals on both, gender equality (goal 5) and peaceful and inclusive societies (goal 16).
Dear friends: Let us further enhance our efforts to protect women and girls and foster women’s participation – in conflict settlement, peace- and statebuilding and the prevention of violent extremism.
Let us move from good norms to good practice.
You can count on us. We also count on you. And we thank you for coming to Geneva, to this inspiring Maison de la Paix, to jointly promote our common cause.