Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) WomenStopWar centenary conference

Speech

Speaker: Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM (check against delivery)

29 May 2015

Cara, thank you for your kind introduction.

I wish to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Secretary General Madeleine Rees

National President Barbara O’Dwyer

I welcome the delegation of parliamentarians visiting from Afghanistan.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here to celebrate the centenary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

This year marks a century’s work by generations of dedicated women in pursuit of gender equality, peace and disarmament. We remember those women and I congratulate WILPF on its commitment and achievements over many decades.

While this is a global celebration for WILPF, I hope you can indulge just a little parochialism because I’m especially proud of Australia’s involvement in WILPF, from the early days of the League.

The year after WILPF was launched, the Sisterhood of Peace became its Australian chapter, joining what has become the world’s oldest and largest women’s peace organisation and demonstrating right from the get go, that very particular Antipodean insistence on challenging the status quo, on bringing women’s voices to the fore.

Jane Addams, WILPF’s President in its founding year and the second woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize once said, “What after all has maintained the human race on this globe despite all the calamities of nature and all the tragic failings of mankind, if not faith in new possibilities and courage to advocate them.”

Certainly that courage was characteristic of the Sisterhood of Peace and it has run through the veins of a century of Australian peace advocates.  We see it here today.

  • Barb O’Dwyer, President of WILPF Australia, has been a relentless advocate for Women, Peace and Security for over three decades.
  • I would also like to pay tribute to the late Heather Southcott, WILPF member and the nation’s first woman to lead a political party. As State Leader of the Australian Democrats in my home state of South Australia, she was a source of great wisdom and inspiration for me as an advocate for women’s rights.
  • And, it is a privilege to have Madeleine Rees here with us in Canberra today, leading WILPF into its second century with vision and conviction.

Women Peace and Security in 2015

2015 is a landmark year – a year to celebrate not only the WILPF centenary, but a number of milestones of international cooperation to advance the rights of women.

It is 15 years since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed.  This was a history-making resolution, recognising – for the first time – the crucial role of women in peacemaking, peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

This resolution, and subsequent ones building on the foundations of 1325, have WILPF’s fingerprints all over them.

2015 is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Fifteen years after the Millennium Development Goals were established, the international community is in the process of negotiating a new framework to shape sustainable development efforts for the coming 15 years.

And this year we celebrate 70 years of the United Nations.

In short, it is a year for reflection, re-evaluation and renewed commitment.

In this context, I will speak on three main points:

  • The achievement of building and strengthening the global Women, Peace and Security agenda, and Australia’s role in this;
  • Australia’s work to broaden and mainstream the Women, Peace and Security agenda, especially with regard to women’s leadership and participation and the prevention of conflict;
  • And the challenges facing us today.

Multilateral framework for WPS

Significant progress has been made in building the multilateral framework to advance the participation and protection of women in conflict prevention and resolution and peacebuilding. Consistent advocacy by groups, such as WILPF, has been pivotal.

When the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 in 2000, the resolution became the foundation of what we now refer to as the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

This agenda has been expanded and strengthened by six subsequent Security Council resolutions. 

Australia was proud to work on two of these during our term on the Security Council from 2013 to 2014, including negotiating with other Council members to strengthen language on ending impunity for sexual and gender-based violence offences.

We also ensured gender-specific language featured in eight resolutions that mandated peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in eight conflict-affected countries.

Advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda was an absolute priority of our term.

Our leadership on the Arms Trade Treaty and its Women, Peace and Security provisions are achievements of which we are proud.

As a longstanding supporter of the treaty, there was strong symbolism in Australia’s Presidency of the Security Council on the occasion of the treaty’s adoption in 2013.

The Arms Trade Treaty is the first to recognise the link between violence against women and the international arms trade.

It is the first international instrument to include violence against women as a component of a risk assessment.

It requires states parties to take into account the risk of small arms being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of violence against women before authorising their export.

This is landmark recognition that acts of violence against women in conflict-affected areas are often facilitated by the irresponsible and unregulated transfer of arms.

Australia has been actively engaged in promoting the effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty. This is where the challenge lies. Many states will have to strengthen their national export and import control systems.

Australia funds a number of programs worldwide that support implementation of the treaty, including UNSCAR, the UN Trust Facility to Support Cooperation on Arms Regulation.

Headway has also been made internationally on tackling the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence in conflict.

In June last year, I represented Australia at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London. Participants supported a protocol to establish international standards on the comprehensive documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict.

Australia is a lead donor in building capacity within the international community to respond to gender and protection issues in emergencies.

This includes work to address specific risks to women and girls with disabilities. Our support is provided through ProCap, GenCap, the Women’s Refugee Commission, UNICEF and UNFPA.

Since 2007 we have supported the Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in Crisis and Post Crisis Settings, known as the SPRINT initiative. Most recently this program has provided sexual and reproductive health services to earthquake survivors in Nepal.

Current context

There is much good work being done, but on no measure, and in no country, can it be said that gender equality has been achieved.

Further, the world is currently facing more simultaneous violent conflicts than at any time since World War II.

The efforts of peace advocates like WILPF are more necessary than ever.

Since WILPF was born in 1915, the nature of wars has changed. Where last century, most victims of war were combatants, these days civilians, including women and girls, bear the brunt of conflict. For every soldier who perishes, eight civilians are killed or wounded.

And sexual violence – including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy – continues to be used as a tactic of war and terror.

The use of sexual violence by extremist groups and non-state actors is particularly alarming.  It is not only happening more frequently, but it is appallingly calculated and vicious.

Systematic sexual violence is part of Daesh’s strategy of spreading terror, persecuting ethnic and religious minorities and suppressing communities that oppose its ideology. Women and girls fleeing Daesh-controlled areas report widespread brutal physical and sexual assaults, including sexual slavery and forced marriage.

In Nigeria, forced marriage, enslavement and the ‘sale’ of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s modus operandi and ideology.

This year, more than 50 million people worldwide are displaced as a result of conflict, a record 38 million inside their own countries.[1] More than half are women and girls.

When women and girls are displaced, their existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated:

  • sexual violence and forced marriages increase;
  • economic opportunities are undermined, which increases their exposure to sex or labour trafficking; and
  • girls’ education is disrupted at a higher rate than that of boys, affecting their opportunities over their lifetime.

Women’s participation in formal peacebuilding, including peace negotiations, remains extremely low. Between 1992 and 2011, fewer than four per cent of signatories to peace agreements and fewer than 10 per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

A 2011 review[2] of 585 peace agreements from 102 peace processes revealed that since 1990, only 16 percent of these have contained at least one reference to women or gender.

And of approximately 300 peace agreements reviewed, only 18 mentioned sexual and gender-based violence.

Women are not at the peace table even though our commitment to peace and our capacities to identify solutions through dialogue, debate and our focus on human needs and rights are especially sorely needed at those tables.

While we have the architecture in place to promote the women, peace and security agenda, implementation clearly remains a challenge. Australia has welcomed the UN’s Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and has been actively engaged with the authors and international partners. We look forward to the findings and to the High-Level Review later this year.

WPS Pillars

Many of you would be familiar with the five pillars of the Women, Peace and Security agenda: participation; prevention; protection; relief and recovery; and normative work.

Resolution 1325 is focused particularly on the protection of women and girls in conflict and their participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts.

Successive resolutions have expanded on that foundation, but more attention needs to be paid to the prevention of conflict, and to addressing women’s participation in its broadest sense – participation in the UN system, in peace operations, in domestic peace processes, in justice and security sector organisations and in politics and decision-making.

In the words of Louise Allen, head of the New York-based NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security – why are we prioritising the protection of women in conflict over seating women at peace tables where protection is designed?

The Australian Government’s commitment to advance all four areas of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, both at home and internationally, is outlined in our National Action Plan. WILPF and other non-government organisations were instrumental in bringing the Plan into being.

Participation

Women’s full and equal participation in conflict resolution, conflict prevention and peacebuilding is essential to inclusive and sustainable peace, and is a priority of Australia’s National Action Plan.

When women participate meaningfully as decision-makers in all fora where conflict and post-conflict issues are negotiated, their experiences are acknowledged, their specific needs are addressed and decisions about peace and agreements and governance of their communities are well-informed and lead to durable solutions.

This is why, for example, Australia has made its partnership with women in Afghanistan a priority through the aid program. Australia is supporting the Afghan Women’s Network and its member organisations to strengthen their advocacy and leadership efforts, particularly on matters of peace and security.

In Burma, where the government is negotiating with 16 ethnic groups to end conflict, Australia is funding the Women’s Peace Leadership Programme to build the capacity of women engaged in the peace process. This includes bringing together female peace leaders from Cambodia, Kashmir, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to share lessons from the region.

In the Philippines, Australia has supported the Mindanao Commission on Women for over a decade in articulating and implementing a peace and development agenda from a women’s perspective and ensuring the active participation of Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women from across Mindanao.

We are working to build the coverage and capability of gender advisers in the international system. Australia has supported the appointment of gender and Women, Peace and Security advisers in peace building operations such as the Pacific Police Development Program and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. 

Gender advisors are integral in the operations of the Australian Federal Police and Defence Force and we deploy civilian gender equality and gender-based violence specialists through the Australian Civilian Corps.

The recruitment of women into national police forces and militaries - and their retention and promotion into senior positions - is crucial to addressing the issue of women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.

The Australian Federal Police has mainstreamed gender in all international policing operations, and has a target to increase participation of women in international operations by 5 per cent by the end of this year. In the Pacific, Australia supports regional policewomen’s networks in the form of mentoring, coaching, technical support and funding for policewomen to attend regional meetings.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has embarked on a process of significant cultural change to improve the participation and advancement of women and is working remove gender restrictions for combat roles.

Prevention

It is sobering that in this anniversary year, the centenary of WILPF, of ANZAC, we are living in an international security environment that is more complex and fraught than ever.

Preventing conflict is a core element of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda that is too often sidelined.

We need to focus more explicitly on engaging women in addressing the root causes of war and tackling instability before conflict erupts.

We must also build a gendered perspective into development of early warning indicators of conflict in order to reduce the harmful impacts on women and girls.

Seizing the opportunity 2015 presents

We must seize the opportunities that 2015 offers to broaden, strengthen and embed the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

Australia will continue to press for all aspects of the agenda mainstreamed across all UN efforts, beyond the Security Council.

And we are advocating for a comprehensive approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 framework, including to: end violence against women; ensure the economic empowerment of women; and ensure women’s leadership and participation at all levels in the public and private sectors.

Conclusion

To the women of WILPF – in this room today, and those who have participated in more than 100 years of your history: you have played a crucial role in the formation of the multilateral system that we celebrate in 2015.

However, each of us has an important ongoing role in making that system function effectively as the foundation of a peaceful, equitable and just world for all.  The partnership between government and civil society is vital in these efforts.

Madeleine said in her opening address to the WomenStopWar conference in The Hague last month:

“There are more of us wanting an end to warfare, and permanent peace, than there are of those who want it to continue.”

May we take strength in that and work to empower those who are voices for peace – especially our global sisters.

  • [1] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2015
  • [2] By UNIFEM, now UN Women

Last Updated: 1 June 2015