CSW Side Event Highlights Urgent Need for Youth Participation in the Peace, Security and Humanitarian Space

GA74 -Side Event – Promoting young women’s leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

As conflicts rage across the globe including in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Tigray, participants at an event hosted by the Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA) Compact, highlighted the urgent need to strengthen peacebuilding and humanitarian work through increased engagement with young leaders. 

Not only do young people have bold ideas and solutions to offer, but during times of crisis they are often the hardest hit, meaning their insight and experiences are vital in developing a truly inclusive approach to peace and security.

The Compact’s virtual gathering held 16 March on the sidelines of the sixty-sixth session on the Commission on the Status of Women, saw dozens of peacebuilders and humanitarian workers share ideas on how to increase youth participation and leadership in the women, peace, and security and humanitarian space. 

Key to this is overcoming the deep-rooted barriers that confront young leaders — especially young women peacebuilders — including funding challenges, complex and convoluted bureaucracy, non-inclusive organizational frameworks, and poor access to information and resources.

Addressing attendees at the start of the event, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Åsa Regnér made clear the vital role that young women play in conflict resolution and crisis recovery.

“It is fitting that the Compact is embarking on its first year of implementation with a focus on youth, particularly the leadership and expertise on gender equality that young women bring to peace, security, and humanitarian processes,” Regnér said. 

Funding challenges

A critical issue facing young peacebuilders is insufficient and inaccessible funding. Addressing this requires systemic change, participants highlighted, with a need for less military spending and more investment towards critically under-resourced women and youth-led humanitarian work.

Vitally, young peacebuilders shouldn’t be expected to offer their time without appropriate compensation, participants were told. Studies show that 97% of staff working for youth groups do so on a voluntary basis, explained Maya Ungar — a representative of the Our Generation for Inclusive Peace (OGIP) feminist global network — who illustrated the difficulties that young people can have juggling commitments by sharing that she was joining the session while on her lunch break. 

Impeding this is a deep lack of trust in young people’s capacity to manage funds and meet bureaucratic requirements, participants heard. 

“Another issue is the inability of many youth networks to register formally,” said Amani Aruri, a Palestinian human rights activist representing Karama, a network of civil society groups in the Middle East and Africa. “We know that many donors require entities to be registered in order to channel funds, which deprives youth networks from accessing opportunities,” Aruri added.

There are also issues around the inherent newness of many youth-led initiatives, with their lack of extensive documentary records hindering the funding process. And when finances are provided, they’re often time limited or project-based, both of which restrict an organization’s ability to plan ahead.     

To tackle these challenges, funding systems should be reformed with youth groups in mind, participants recommended. This means using less obscure jargon and bureaucratic language, and a far greater provision of clear information and funding guidelines, particularly at the grassroots level.   

More pooled funding mechanisms — such as the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Fund — would also help young peacebuilders meet their monetary needs, said Mallika Iyer, the Director for Asia and the Pacific and Europe Programs and Humanitarian Action, from Global Network of Women Peacebuilders.

Promoting Youth Leadership and Inclusion  

In addition to removing barriers to financing, women and youth leadership and inclusion must be championed at all levels, if the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises are to be adequately addressed, participants said. 

“We need people in power who understand the importance of youth leadership to exercise the power that they have to appoint young people to leadership [positions],” said H.E. Emma Inamutila Theofelus, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Communication, and Technology, and one of the world’s youngest cabinet ministers.  

Youth leadership can also be promoted by offering access to safe, interactive, and intergenerational spaces where young peace and humanitarian actors can discuss issues and objectives and learn from their peers. The pandemic has proved hugely challenging for these sorts of gatherings, but they must remain a priority moving forward, the online gathering heard.

“We have to open spaces for capacity building, education sharing, and sharing experiences with people from other countries — for example people from Tanzania who can learn from people from South Sudan,” said Honorable Upendo Furaha Peneza, representing the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) – Young Women Leaders Caucus.

Organizations working with young peace and security actors must also recognize the threats and online harassment that many young peacebuilders face, ensuring that they are provided with the adequate protection mechanisms which enable their participation. 

Fostering Collaboration Between Generations

Conflict situations and humanitarian crises invariably impact the lives of young people, whether as victims of violence or suffering its wider consequences. For this reason, effective peacebuilding policy can’t be formulated without meaningful youth input.

Unfortunately, young women peacebuilders are not often seen as legitimate actors by other stakeholders and partners. To address this, they should be granted a higher level of involvement in humanitarian operations, providing them an opportunity to showcase their capabilities.

A reworking of organizational frameworks in the peace and security space is also required to heighten youth participation and leadership. 

When organizations are structured to facilitate collaboration between generations, outcomes are generally more rounded and inclusive, as demonstrated by the WPS-HA Compact, which has been designed with intergenerational co-creation in mind. This involvement of young people in decision-making processes must be extended to other organizations and networks, participants were told.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, Ireland’s Youth Delegate to the United Nations. “All organizations have multiple methods for youth inclusion at their fingertips — they just need to act on them.”

Women Spearhead Climate Change Response in the South Pacific

StPC invests in young women’s leadership on climate action, equipping them with tools to respond to crisis. Photo credit: Shifting the Power Coalition

In 2020, Tropical Cyclone (TC) Yasa wreaked havoc across the South Pacific. As torrential rain, howling winds, and thirty five-foot waves lashed the island nations of Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tongo, thousands of homes and livelihoods were lost. By the time the storm had passed, at least four people were dead, with a financial toll reaching into the hundreds-of-millions of dollars.

And then there are the individual stories of survival.

“I spoke to a young woman from Naviavia, a coastal village, in a post disaster response visit,” recalls Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, a second generation Pacific Fijian feminist working across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. “She was pregnant at the time, and had to crawl along the ground to reach an evacuation shelter. In the midst of a category five cyclone, that’s unthinkable.”

Rising global temperatures are increasing the frequency and intensity of deadly storms like TC Yasa. When disasters strike, the destruction can seem indiscriminate; but constituting a majority of the planet’s poor and disenfranchised, it is women and girls who face the greatest risks.

In Bougainville, Agnes Titus from Shifting the Power Coalition discusses the nexus of women, peace and security and humanitarian action. Photo credit: Shifting the Power Coalition

Women are fearless leaders in the face of climate change 

Women are not powerless victims of an ever-worsening climate emergency, however, nor are they passive recipients of disaster aid. In the Pacific region, as in other parts of the world, women are spearheading climate adaptation and mitigation strategies — something Bhagwan-Rolls has championed throughout her three-decade journey in the women’s rights movement. 

Following the chaos of TC Winston in 2016, she co-created the Shifting the Power Coalition (StPC): a feminist coalition of diverse women-led organisations from across the Pacific that works to strengthen women’s voices, agency, and leadership in humanitarian action and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Key to this, Bhagwan-Rolls says, is shifting the focus away from traditional, securitised responses to climate-related crises.

“The word ‘security’ immediately makes people think of men sitting at tables determining what happens for everybody else. We’re building a different approach which isn’t militarised, but focused on interlinkages between the environment, food security, access to water, healthcare, and so on.”  

Rural Women lead a safety and protection assessment following TC Yasa in Fiji. Photo credit: Shifting the Power Coalition

Climate change is a risk multiplier

Equally important is recognizing climate as a risk multiplier in security situations, exacerbating loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and competition over scarce resources, as well as increasing the threat of trafficking and sexual violence for women and girls. At the same time, climate disasters also provide new opportunities for involving women peacebuilders in conflict prevention and adaptation strategies. 

Intersectionality is an integral part of what StPC does. Its membership includes LGBTQ+ and disability rights groups, ensuring that all women are represented in the campaign for climate justice. And though there is much progress still to be made, it’s important to recognise that women and marginalised communities aren’t idly waiting for a seat at the decision-making table, Bhagwan-Rolls argues, but are already there rewriting the rules.   

“Women’s involvement can’t just be about what happens after a cyclone or a flood strikes. Women need to be shaping policy at all levels. That’s why our approach takes into account diverse women’s experiences and lived realities, and uses those to effectively localise climate response systems.”

It’s a message echoed by the Compact on Women, Peace and Security, and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), hosted by the UN Women Secretariat, which is calling for a redesign of global peace and security and humanitarian processes to systematically and meaningfully include women and girls. StPC joined the Compact as a Signatory last year to further women’s rights in conflict and crisis situations, including climate disasters. 

StPC’s work also correlates closely with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, as well as the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, both of which recognise women’s contributions to the fight against climate change. 

Woman Wetem Weta puts climate info & accessible ICTs into the hands of diverse women leaders. Photo credit: Shifting the Power Coalition

Turning climate policy commitments into concrete action 

Acknowledging and promoting these contributions is particularly important in the Pacific region, where women’s representation in formal decision making remains low. Giving women the knowledge and resources to engage with disaster management officials — and getting more women into leadership positions at a national and local level — would help turn climate policy commitments into concrete action, Bhagwan-Rolls says. Likewise, greater involvement of the women’s rights movement would help bridge the gap between the scientific community and women and girls on the ground, leading to better readiness and disaster response outcomes.  

StPC’s activities in Vanuatu illustrate this point. In 2018, the group helped establish Women Wetem Weta (WWW) — a country-wide climate preparedness network which empowers women to study meteorological  patterns, receive real-time information, disseminate news within their communities, and make other weather-related preparations. 

As TC Harold, the first category five tropical cyclone of 2020, bore down on Vanuatu’s coast, WWW members sprung into action. With SMS weather alerts updating them on the storm’s progress, women and girls set about securing rooftops, storing food and clean water, and relocating vulnerable individuals from unsafe structures. In terms of local resilience, WWW made a massive difference, Bhagwan-Rolls says. 

What would her advice be for women and girls seeking to create their own climate adaptation and mitigation strategies?

“You need to think about what women in your community need, what girls in your community need, what people with disabilities in your community need. How can your traditions and knowledge help with those needs?”

“You also need to take time to consider what commitments are being made on your behalf — get to know what decision makers are talking about with regard to the environment. And if you don’t like what you’re hearing, be persistent about change.”

Young women leaders from StPC partner organisation Transcend Ocenia lead TC Yasa protection assessment and response. Photo credit: Shifting the Power Coalition

Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action
2021 – Year in Review

Nearly 160 signatories have joined the Compact’s bold, global movement for gender equality since its official launch at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris in July 2021. More than 25 years since the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and more than 20 years after the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1325, public rhetoric on women’s rights has not been matched by concrete action and investment. This fact is starkly evident in the peace, security and humanitarian sectors where women are woefully underrepresented.

Over the past 12 months, the Compact has developed into a movement which aims to reshape peace and security and humanitarian action processes to systematically include women and girls in the decisions that impact their lives.

By joining the Compact, signatories pledge to take concrete action on existing commitments for women and girls in five key areas: increased financing for Women, Peace and Security and gender equality in humanitarian programming; meaningful participation in peace processes; economic security and access to resources; leadership and agency; and protection and promotion of women’s rights in conflict and crisis.

Below are some of our proudest achievements from 2021.

GA74 – Side Event – Promoting young women’s leadership within the UN. UN Women/Ryan Brown

Throughout JANUARY AND FEBRUARY, Compact Working Groups, including more than 50 stakeholders representing Member States, UN entities, regional organizations, civil society organizations and youth networks, started development of the Compact Framework.

Indigenous women’s groups perform a Tlalmanalli opening ceremony to kick off the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico. UN Women/Dzilam Méndez

In MARCH, the Generation Equality Forum kicked off in Mexico with more than 13,000 participants and over 250 speakers from 85 countries. The Compact’s session focused on amplifying intergenerational leadership, driving forward concrete action on gender equality, and raising the visibility of women and girls in all their diversity – including those with disabilities, those from indigenous or marginalized communities and the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as refugees and stateless women.

From APRIL TO JUNE, Compact Working Groups finalized the official Framework Document which outlines more than 130 actions that Signatories can take to advance gender equality. The UN Women Secretariat also officially opened the signatory application process.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women and Pramila Patten, Under-Secretary-General and UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict provide welcome remarks at the Compact launch in Paris

In JULY, the Compact celebrated its official launch at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris with 20,000 participants from around the world. More than 100 governments, United Nations entities, regional and civil society organizations, academic institutions and private sector groups formally announced their signatory status at the event. The Compact launch was in the top 10 most watched events out of nearly 200 events on gender equality at the Forum.

Throughout 2021, the Compact amplified the voices of inspirational women peacebuilders, human rights defenders, gender equality activists, and Signatories. Their inspirational leadership and lived experience helped us drive further commitments to the Compact’s bold agenda.

Known as Yemen’s “Mother of Detainees,” Laila Lutf Al-Thawr is a prominent human rights activist who has mediated the exchange and release of over 1000 prisoners and detainees. Read more

Nearly 30 per cent of girls in Aissa Doumara Ngatansou’s home in North Cameroon are married before the age of 18, facing loss of education, high rates of maternal mortality, and increased risk of gender-based violence. Today she’s changing the narrative. Read more

Around the world, women’s empowerment programs and local women’s organizations are facing a severe lack of funding. Signatory OECD shares how the Compact provides a unique opportunity to increase financing for gender equality. Read more

In 2021, the stakes on gender equality were higher than ever, including in Tigray, Haiti and Afghanistan. In some parts of the world, progress has never looked so bleak. Here are four ways to advance gender equality and peace and security: Read more

Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations chairs a Security Council meeting. UN Photo/Manuel Elías

In SEPTEMBER, Board and Catalytic members convened for a joint session to take stock of the Compact’s progress and discuss a five-year road map for advocacy and awareness-raising, as well as implementation of signatory commitments.
  Compact Board Member Ireland took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, using their platform to highlight the needs of women and girls in conflict and crisis, and to initiate a focus on Women, Peace and Security at the Council for three consecutive months (September, October, November). This focus was further emphasized as Compact Catalytic Member Mexico took the reins in November.

In OCTOBER, more than 240 participants gathered for a Compact event on the sidelines of the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, hosted by Signatories including the Permanent Missions of Sierra Leone, Norway and Mexico to the UN, the African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the UN, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), and UN Women.

Focused on dialogue between stakeholders at the regional level, panelists urged increased cooperation to ensure full protection and participation for women and girls in matters of international peace and security. Read more.

At the UN Security Council Open Debate, a number of Member States shared their actions and investments on women, peace and security and humanitarian action, as Compact Signatories.

Building on a Signatory-wide survey and bi-lateral meetings with key stakeholders, the first Working Session to develop an inclusive monitoring framework was held in NOVEMBER to track the implementation and achievement of Compact Framework actions. The data collected through this process will support Signatories with drafting more inclusive policies and making better strategic decisions regarding financial investment in women’s empowerment programming.

In DECEMBER, we closed out the year by celebrating the sixth anniversary of UN resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. As part of the Compact’s commitment to intergenerational leadership, we asked young leaders to share why the Compact is important to them:

“The Compact provides an opportunity to address and tackle the systemic barriers to participation in peace and security spaces and global processes young people face; placing them as leaders and experts in their own right.” – Our Generation for Inclusive Peace

 “It is essential that the integral, independent role that young women play in promoting human rights and preventing conflict is recognized and defended. Young women face specific human rights violations and insecurity such as early, forced, and child marriage, conflict related sexual slavery and trafficking, forced disappearances, and female genital mutilation. These threats are unacceptable and serve as a deterrent to their participation in leadership, especially in contexts where they must already overcome cultural, political and economic barriers to entering public life.” – Mallika Iyer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

To learn more about the Compact on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), including how you can become a Signatory, visit our website at www.wpshacompact.org or follow us on Twitter @WPSHACompact

Upholding Human Rights in Yemen: Q&A with Laila Lutf AL-Thawr

Known as Yemen’s “Mother of Detainees,” Laila Lutf Al-Thawr is a prominent human rights activist who has mediated the exchange and release of over 1000 prisoners and detainees. She is also the first woman to hold a top position in a Yemeni political party, the Arab Hope Party. To mark the International Day for Human Rights, the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA) spoke to Laila about the challenges women detainees in Yemen face, as well as the threats against women human rights defenders.

As a human rights activist you’ve fought for fair treatment for prisoners and detainees in Yemen. Who inspired you to fight for the rights of others?

My mother was the one who inspired me. She was always helping others with everything – solving other people’s problems, from marriages to resolving disputes. I have always wanted to be like her.

Why are women being detained in Yemen and what are some of the challenges they face?

Yemen is now in its seventh year of civil war, compounded by a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Women political activists and human-rights defenders are being detained by all parties to the conflict. Innocent bystanders are also being captured and used as bargaining chips in prisoner-exchange deals.

Since the conflict broke out, I’ve witnessed people hitting women with sticks and electric batons, stepping on women, pushing them, and taking them to police stations by force.

Often these women disappear after being detained, and no one defends them for fear of being charged or labeled as a traitor.

Some of their families don’t take them back after they are released, others marry them off or they end up on the street. In extreme cases, some women are killed by their families because of the shame. There are not many NGOs or shelters out there to support these women. Many of them go to Egypt. But what happens afterwards? No jobs, no home and no family. Who is going to support them? This is why we have to work on preventing detention and imprisonment, rather than waiting for it to happen. Otherwise, we won’t be able to find adequate solutions until it’s too late.

What threats do women human rights defenders and activists face? 

There is no guarantee of protection in this work. I’ve gone to prisons and met with prisoners and detainees. It wasn’t easy to do that, especially since I was the only woman going there. Sometimes, I had my team come with me. Or the prison guards would want to come with me and protect me, because the prisoners had not seen a womanin years.

I’ve had gunshots fired at my car and I’ve received death threats. In 2018, during an attempt to release women prisoners, I was detained at the prison. Thank God, in the end we succeeded, and we were all freed. For me, protection came not only from my sociopolitical position, but also from the support of people whose lives I impacted by freeing them from prison. I talked openly about the threats I was receiving, and they would accompany me on the streets and even surround me to protect me from gunshots and attacks.

You’ve faced such severe threats that you’ve had to relocate to Egypt. What drives you to keep fighting for human rights?

When you believe in a case, you feel like you have to continue. At one point, when I was negotiating the release of a group of abducted women, I faced threats from the kidnapping gangs. People in power were also threatening me to stop.

At the same time, there are many stories that encourage me to do more even if it is dangerous for me. For example, one of the girls I helped get released from her kidnappers contacted me last week. She is getting married in Egypt. She told me she will never forget that without my help, she would not be where she is in life today. This makes me want to continue.

What can the international community do to support human rights defenders and further the rights of women around the world?

All parties to conflict care about the opinion of the international community. If women are threatened, media and international organizations can amplify their voices and encourage governments to uphold the law.

Additionally, if we want women to participate, we need to support them with resources through platforms such as the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action.  

When I entered politics, our party was the first to be created and led by a woman, but before that, women were primarily involved in tokenistic positions. Throughout my career, I advocated the inclusion of women in leadership positions. Sadly, since 2015, many of the parties are actively excluding women once again from decision-making roles. 

We also need to increase the diversity and number of women in negotiation and mediation. The international community often focuses on a small group of experts, and although the work of these women is important, we need to expand the circle further. There are many women actively involved in politics, human rights and peacebuilding, who should be included. Additionally, the expertise and lived experience of women is often underappreciated in comparison with academic credentials.

The same tokenization applies to youth. We should reach out to diverse women, men and youth organizations with different expertise, teaching them to work in complicated contexts at the local and international level.

Finally, every time we visit internally displaced person camps, many of the inhabitants tell us to support them with employment and not with humanitarian aid baskets. The international community should concentrate more on economic empowerment projects for women and youth. This will help increase their capacity to participate in peace processes.

If We Truly Want Gender Equality, We Need to Finance It

Between 2018-2019, 43 percent of official development assistance in fragile and conflict-affected contexts targeted gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Yet, of this 20.3 billion USD, local women’s organizations received only one per cent. Additionally, less than five per cent of aid went to programs with gender equality as a principal objective. Research indicates that a lack of funding for gender equality increases security risks and also hinders the development and economic growth of countries. Gender inequality and fragility are inextricably linked.

The Generation Equality Forum, hosted in Paris earlier this year, along with the launch of the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), urged us to take stock of the progress that we’ve made for women and girls. Yet, as the numbers show, we are still far from meeting the goals of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes women as vital partners in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and mediation, as well as ensuring gender equal humanitarian response.

Gender inequality and fraglity are inextricably linked

Although there have been advancements over the past two decades, the COVID-19 crisis reversed many hard-won gains on gender equality, particularly for women and girls living in conflict and crisis. According to the United Nations, there were 2,500 verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed in 2020 across 18 countries, mostly against women and girls. The number of real cases is likely much higher, as the pandemic has made it harder for survivors to receive help or justice.

Many women in conflict and crisis also face economic hardship and limited participation in the labour force, which hinders overall development. In the Middle East and North Africa, providing equal economic opportunities for women could increase the annual GDP by up to USD 2.7 trillion (or 47 per cent).

Often, local women’s organizations, which directly address poverty, insecurity and gender-based violence, receive little institutional funding, beyond short term project work. This also curtails their ability to engage with and influence decision-making processes – a concerning consequence since these organizations serve as essential aid providers and accountability watchdogs. Nearly 40 per cent of UN led crisis response planning processes in 2020 had no consultations with local women’s rights organizations.

Furthermore, only 42 per cent of the 3,100 policy measures developed in response to the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 are gender-sensitive. We cannot assume that gender considerations will be integrated into response planning without dedicated resources and funding for sustained expertise, including experienced gender advisors.

To truly accelerate progress on gender equality, we need to make significant, strategic investments to promote women’s economic and political empowerment, reduce gender based violence, and improve conditions for women who often bear the brunt of conflict and crisis, but are also important actors in ensuring the sustainability of peace agreements.

Development co-operation providers, like the members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, together with diaspora that send remittances, provide the biggest chunk of external finance in fragile contexts. Although aid for gender equality has steadily increased over time, it has not been enough to meet the extensive needs and evolving realities on the ground. We clearly need partnerships across all regions and actors, from the highest levels of government, to the private sector, to the local level.

GA74 – Side Event – Promoting young women’s leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

We need to mobilize alternative sources of funding  

Ensuring adequate financing for women and girls in conflict and crisis is a key pillar of the WPS-HA Compact. During the drafting phase of the Compact framework, leaders from across the financing and development sectors formed a working group to advise on more impactful, long-term and strategic funding. These new partnerships underscored opportunities to mobilize alternative sources of funding, including through the private sector.

Additionally, these consultations helped us to identify some of the key challenges we must overcome, in order to ensure that financing truly transforms the lives of women and girls. For example, we recognize we must improve the investment climate of fragile contexts, and ensure more women are brought into the labour force, to make economies more competitive.

We have also assessed existing monitoring mechanisms to help stakeholders better understand how financing is reported and analyzed. These efforts have contributed to the development process of a tailored monitoring mechanism for the Compact financing pillar, which builds on the United Nations Financial Tracking System and the ‘OECD Development Assistance Committee Gender Equality Policy Marker (DAC gender marker)’.

GA74 – Side Event – Gender Equality: from the Biarritz Partnership To the Beijing+25 Generation Equality Forum.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Improved coordination on financing can create lasting change for women and girls

As a Compact Signatory, the OECD has committed to a number of actions which reflect the organization’s core mandate on data provision and analysis, policy dialogue, and standards.

The Compact provided a unique opportunity to mobilize additional funding for the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda. The challenge will now lie in monitoring the evolution of this funding over time and its impact on the ground. OECD databases include information on financing for gender equality (in fragile contexts) that goes back two decades. As more and more actors use the DAC gender marker to report their activities, our database will enable Compact signatories and other actors to make informed decisions about potential investments and understand where more funding is needed.

Improved coordination on  financing humanitarian, development and peace work can contribute to lasting change in the lives of women and girls. Mainstreaming gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected contexts is often complicated as humanitarian, development and peace actors all operate in the same space, but at times with competing priorities. International standards, such as the OECD DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus, provide guidance to stakeholders on improving coordination and ensuring that actors place gender equality at the heart of their operations, along with necessary funding.

It is also vital to bring  together various communities of experts that do not usually sit at the same table, in order to improve coordination on gender-sensitive financing. Gender specialists, financing experts, humanitarian actors, peacebuilders and many other stakeholders all brought their unique views and expertise into the design of the WPS-HA Compact. In support of these efforts, the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality (GENDERNET) and the DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), will continue to convene gender advisors and conflict experts, and provide spaces for the exchange of good practices on gender equality in fragile contexts.

The efforts of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate join those of more than 150 signatories and counting, determined to implement the ambitious agenda of the WPS-HA Compact. The full rights and equality of women and girls cannot be realized by one stakeholder alone. But, with the right data and resources, we may be able to achieve it together.

Lisa Williams, Team Lead, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

Charlotte Goemans, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

From Victims to Leaders: Ending Gender-based Violence in the Lake Chad Basin

Aissa Doumara Ngatansou was 15 years old when she was forced into marriage.

Nearly 30 per cent of girls in Ngatansou’s home in North Cameroon are married before the age of 18, facing loss of education, high rates of maternal mortality, and increased risk of gender-based violence. Many others suffer sexual violence at the hands of Boko Haram militants, who have terrorized the region for over a decade.

Today, at 49, Ngatansou is working to change the narrative for women and girls in the Lake Chad Basin – an area encompassing Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Her organization, the Association for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, gives women decision-making power over their daily lives and offers a way out of crisis and disaster. Her latest project is sponsored by UN Women, with the support of Japan and Spain, which are signatories of the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humantarian Action (WPS-HA).

At a time when many local women’s organizations are scaling down disaster resilience initiatives or closing their doors due to lack of funding, Ngatansou’s project has had remarkable reach and success.

In the first half of 2020, her organization provided psychological support to over 420 women and 290 girls affected by conflict, crisis and disaster, as well as gender-based violence. In addition, over 500 girls received support to stay in school, giving them an alternative to child marriage.

Ngantansou also engaged 200 community leaders, including survivors of sexual violence, teaching them to address trauma and mediate conflict.  

“When they first come to us we enroll them in programmes to strengthen their skills and self esteem,” Ngantansou said. “By the end of this process they become leaders of their own associations and are trained to solve community conflicts.”

Women giving hope to women

Ngantansou struggles to hold back tears as she speaks about the progress made in the fight for gender equality in Cameroon – an effort which garnered her the first Simone Veil Prize for courage in advancing women’s rights, awarded by the French Government in 2019.

“The example set by the women we support gives hope to others and shows us how violence against women and girls affects all of society,” she said. “It doesn’t only target the victim, but also her family and children, her community and the whole country. Fighting against it is the key to enhancing human rights and promoting development.”

Ngantansou is proud to have helped remove the taboo from discussions about gender-based violence, giving survivors the courage to seek trauma counseling and demand change in the halls of government. “Now I even hear female politicians publicly reveal that they too were victims of violence. I am glad I could live to witness this change, and to know I have contributed to it.”

Supporting women at all stages of crisis

For UN Women, the partnership with Ngantansou is part of a two-year project in the Lake Chad Basin, which promotes women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response, and provides opportunities for their voices to be heard by policymakers.

According to UN Women programme manager Toshihisa Nakamura, these efforts fall under the organization’s broader Women’s Resilience to Disasters programming, which gives women and girls the tools to survive and thrive during all stages of disaster.

Disasters often displace women and girls, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and gender-based violence. They also fuel conflict over natural resources, which trigger refugee crises. Sexual abuse cases in internally displaced person camps often go unreported but are estimated to be in the thousands.

While conflict must be addressed at its source, humanitarian response also needs to provide women and girls with a way out of crisis – from counseling and sexual and reproductive health services, to education and economic empowerment – which is known as a humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach.

Instability, according to Nakamura, also presents operational challenges for crisis response, as disasters destroy infrastructure and generate high security risks for people working or living in the area.

“We need to deliver programmes in a way that really addresses these challenges,” Nakamura said. “We need to work with local partners, including women’s organizations, as well as have a plan B, C and even D, and keep learning every day.”

An inclusive global movement for gender equality

Since the project’s launch in April 2020, UN Women has partnered with over 100 stakeholders and local women’s organizations, connecting them with funding and resources and multiplying their efforts.

“It really takes a lot of partners with different expertise – whether that’s governments who provide funding and political support, organizations like UN Women, which contribute expertise in gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives, or local women’s organizations who have the trust of their communities and can advise on what’s most needed,” Nakamura said.

“As a signatory of the newly launched WPS-HA Compact, and as part of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Climate Justice, UN Women believes that we have the chance to scale up these efforts and truly catalyze a global movement for gender equality.”

Compact Commemorates Anniversary of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security

On the sidelines of the annual Security Council Open Debate, signatories for the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action urged increased cooperation from the highest levels of policymaking to the grassroots, to ensure full protection and participation for women and girls in conflict and crisis.  

Held on October 27, and welcoming 240 participants, the Compact’s side event marked the 21st anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes the vital role of women in international peace and security. It was hosted by the Permanent Missions of Sierra Leone, Norway and Mexico to the UN, the African Union–Permanent Observer Mission to the UN, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), and UN Women.

Reflecting the Compact’s multistakeholder and global nature, the event featured regionally focused discussions with representatives from Member States, regional organizations, the United Nations, Compact Board and Catalytic members, practitioners in the fields of women, peace and security (WPS) and humanitarian action, as well as women and youth peacebuilders working on the frontlines of conflict and humanitarian emergencies.

As part of a five-year push for gender equality, the Compact intends to reshape peace and security and humanitarian action processes to systematically include women and girls in the decisions that impact their lives. More than 150 signatories have joined the Compact since its launch in July at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, France.

Women and girls face mounting crisis

In her opening remarks, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous urged the international community to sign onto the Compact and tackle mounting challenges to gender-equality. “We can no longer wait to implement the WPS agenda and gender responsive humanitarian action. Over the last 15 years, the number of protracted crises has more than doubled with over one billion people directly affected, 51 per cent of whom are women and girls,” she said.

Panel discussions during the event heard from regions across the world including Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the wider international community.

Many of the participants noted the invisibility of women and girls in the design and implementation of peacekeeping operations, as well as emergency response plans.

“We are working to transform the humanitarian system into one that is accessible and accountable to women and marginalized groups. For too long, we, as humanitarians and women’s rights organizations, have been ignored and excluded by the humanitarian system,” said Mimidoo Achakpa, Steering Committee Member of the Feminist Humanitarian Network and National Coordinator of the Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative Network.

Women must determine their economic and development needs

The Compact side event also heard from young women peacebuilders including Thinzar Shunlei Yi, member of Young Women Leaders for Peace Myanmar who spoke of the Compact’s importance for women on the frontlines of conflict and crisis.

“There is a human rights and a peace and security crisis in Myanmar. If the Compact doesn’t work for our country, I don’t know what will. It gives us the opportunity to amplify the voices of women and girls on the ground to take effective action, and to talk directly to policymakers in the international sphere,” she said.

Speaking from Yemen, where women are facing a complex war and humanitarian crisis, Najiba Al Naggar from the SOS Center for Youth Capabilities Development echoed these sentiments: “It is a must that women be the ones who determine their economic and development needs. Political leadership must provide them with the funds to do so and encourage their participation.”

Many of the speakers also shared resources and tools which they hope will address the concerns raised by women peacebuilders and human rights defenders during the event. Lisa Williams, Senior Analyst on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the OECD, announced the organization’s efforts on data analysis and tracking of women, peace and security agendas which will support Compact signatories on strategic financial investment. Mavic Cabrera Balleza of GNWP shared a series of case studies examining the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

The shared expertise of signatories is a unique feature of the Compact’s design, which recognizes that after 21 years of mostly siloed efforts from the international community, commitments on women, peace and security and humanitarian action are still far from being met. The Compact Framework, which was created by diverse stakeholders from governments, regional and international organizations, UN entities, academia, women’s and youth organizations, and the private sector, intends to unite efforts, scale up data and resources, and improve monitoring and accountability.

“Women face significant risks and adversity because of the work in their communities to prevent violence, address conflict, and as first responders and unpaid caregivers at home,” said Manty Tarawalli, Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone. “The Compact Framework provides us with a roadmap to ensure that our girls and women globally are protected in line with Resolution 1325.” Watch the Compact Side Event on Resolution 1325.

More than 100 signatories launch Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action at the Generation Equality Forum

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at opening session of the Generation Equality Forum, held in Paris, France on 30 June 2021. Photo: UN Women/Fabrice Gentile

More than 100 governments, United Nations entities, regional and civil society organizations, academic institutions and private sector groups today announced their signatory status to the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, during a launch event at the Generational Equality Forum in Paris.

As part of a five-year push for gender equality, the Compact intends to reshape peace and security and humanitarian action processes to systematically include women and girls in the decisions that impact their lives.

More than 25 years since the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and more than 20 years after the adoption on UN Security Council resolution 1325, public rhetoric on women’s rights has not been matched by concrete action and investment. Currently, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality.

This fact is starkly evident in the peace, security and humanitarian sectors where women are woefully underrepresented.

“Since 1992, about 70 per cent of all peace processes did not include women signatories or mediators. This isn’t just shameful, it’s ignorant. It makes our world more dangerous,” said Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, underscoring the White House’s commitment to the Compact.

Additionally, half a billion women in 31 countries and territories live in protracted crisis and are at increased risk of human rights violations. Research shows that humanitarian programmes targeted at women and girls are chronically underfunded.

“As we continue to grapple with a global pandemic, we are seeing women-led civil society organizations, and programmes that support women peacebuilders, at risk of disappearing at the very moment they are needed most…We call on all countries to become signatories to this Compact and to demonstrate their commitment to bridging the gap between aspiration and action,” said Simon Coveney, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“My government stands in solidarity with the numerous global gender champions in this call to action to do more for our women and girls globally, said Julius Maada Bio, president of Sierra Leone. “Transformative actions across [the Compact’s] thematic areas can only be achieved with sustained political will and commitment.”

By joining the Compact, signatories pledge to take concrete action on existing commitments for women and girls in five key areas: increased financing for Women, Peace and Security and gender equality in humanitarian programming; meaningful participation in peace processes; economic security and access to resources; leadership and agency; protection of women’s rights in conflict and crisis.

The Compact will support these actions through an improved monitoring and accountability process.

The Compact is open to governments, regional and civil society organizations, UN entities, academic institutions and the private sector.

Current signatories to the Compact include: Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sierra Leone, State of Palestine, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States, African Union Commission Office of the Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, ASEAN, ECCAS, OHCHR, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, OECD, OSCE, United Nations Department of Peace Operations, UNDP, UNHCR, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, UN Women, as well as more than 65 civil society organizations.

Four Ways To Advance Gender Equality and Peace and Security

As the international community celebrates Peace Day, countries around the world will seek to end conflict and crisis, uphold women’s rights and shape communities that are more equitable, just and inclusive.

This year the stakes have never been higher, and in some parts of the world, progress on gender equality has never looked so bleak.

In Afghanistan, the relationship between the need for women’s participation in all decision-making and the protection of women’s rights is devastatingly clear. In Tigray, rape and other forms of gender-based violence have been leveraged as weapons of war. In Haiti, a series of devastating earthquakes which have left thousands homeless, coupled with political instability and a deteriorating security situation, have placed women and girls at severe risk for human rights violations – exacerbating the already low numbers of women in decision making roles.

For too long, the work of governments, regional and civil society organizations, academic institutions and private sector donors has been siloed, hindering the full achievement of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and other landmark commitments to women, peace and security. Recognizing that we achieve more when we work together, here are four ways we can simultaneously advance gender equality and global peace and security:

1. Inclusive Approaches to Peacebuilding Ensure Sustainable Peace

From Libya to Colombia, evidence shows that women’s meaningful inclusion in peace processes leads to lasting, positive peace. However, parties to formal peace talks remain resistant to the inclusion of women.

Between 1992 and 2019, only 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators, and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes worldwide were women. About seven out of every ten peace processes did not include women mediators or women signatories.

To advance women’s rights and foster sustainable peace, governments can appoint gender-balanced delegations to peace processes, and United Nations entities can support women’s full, meaningful, and direct participation in UN-led processes. Civil society organizations can promote the inclusion of gender-related provisions in all ceasefire and peace agreements, as well as humanitarian action plans. Private sector organizations can commit to ensuring protection of information and privacy of women human rights defenders, peacebuilders and activists.

2. Participation And Protection Are Inextricably Linked

In 2019, the UN documented 2,838 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, of which 96 per cent targeted women and girls. Additionally, the UN verified 102 killings of women human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists between 2015 to 2019 – a likely undercount.

In 2020, during the Libyan peace negotiations women delegates reported death threats and intimidating messages on social media. In Afghanistan, women have faced numerous risks to their safety, including targeted attacks against peacebuilders and human rights defenders.

Gender-based threats, coupled with inadequate protection measures silence women and prevent their full participation in political spaces. Often the lack of protection measures is structural, ranging from economic insecurity, lack of access to justice and legal protection, trauma services, etc.

Proper protection for women peacebuilders, human rights defenders and those facing conflict and crisis is desperately needed, such as through physical accompaniment, political advocacy and security arrangements for women leaders under threat, as well as financial support for women human right defenders and peacebuilders who face reprisals.

To learn more about actions signatories can take to support women peacebuilders, download the WPS-HA Compact Framework

3. Building Women’s Resilience to Crisis Promotes Stability

In 2020, displacement rose to nearly 82.4 million people, and close to one in every ninety-five people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.

Women often bear the brunt of conflict and crisis and are the most vulnerable to poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, health and climate crises.

Putting an end to violence is nearly impossible in the face of these challenges. Likewise, sustainable development, economic growth and durable solutions to displacement are not possible without peace. The humanitarian-development-peace nexus addresses the systemic causes of conflict and fosters women’s resilience to economic, climate and security shocks.

Governments can partner with multilateral development banks and humanitarian cash providers to implement adaptive social protection systems for crisis and conflict affected women. Regional organizations can encourage host countries to develop policies on women’s economic empowerment, and civil society organizations can support women by facilitating access to networks, services and information on economic opportunities and rights.

4. Intersectional Peace Processes Protect the Marginalized

In conflict and crisis, identity factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, class, disability and economic status can be sources of both oppression and resilience.

Women and girls with disabilities, as well as LGBTIQA+ individuals, experience higher rates of gender-based and other forms of violence, and are often invisible in peacebuilding processes.

Young women, refugees and stateless women are often excluded from post-conflict recovery and are viewed as passive victims, without leadership and agency.

Including all women in their full diversity in peace processes ensures that the most marginalized groups are protected from human rights violations which threaten security.

To ensure the needs of all affected women and girls are addressed, governments can advocate inclusive consultations, as well as the use of sex, age, and disability disaggregated data to better design response/recovery plans. Additionally, United Nations entities can conduct gender-age-and disability responsive conflict analysis to better inform political strategies and strategic planning processes, and civil society organizations can advocate the removal of structural barriers which bar refugees and stateless women from full inclusion in post-conflict recovery.

To learn more about joining an inclusive movement for bold action on gender equality download the WPS-HA Compact Framework