9 March 2001


NEW YORK, 8 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette delivered today at the "Women and Peace" panel at United Nations Headquarters on the occasion of International Women’s Day:

I am delighted to be here. And I warmly congratulate the inter-agency committee organizing this event. Its theme -- women's role in managing conflict and building peace -- is particularly pressing.

It is one of the most lamentable characteristics of modern conflict that women and girls suffer its impact increasingly and disproportionately. They are seldom either the initiators or the prosecutors of conflicts.

And yet they have become specifically targeted as a way to humiliate the adversary and break the morale and resistance of whole societies. Rape, forced pregnancies, sexual slavery and assault are often used as deliberate instruments of warfare.

Steps have been taken to end the culture of impunity surrounding this lamentable practice. We saw a highly promising example of that just a few weeks ago in the landmark ruling of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which defined rape in conflict as a crime against humanity.

But while women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they are now becoming recognized as a key to preventing, managing or resolving it. They can be powerful forces for peace, for the reconciliation of their communities, for bringing war-torn societies back to health.

I am happy to say that this recognition is taking root here in the United Nations. A year ago today, the Security Council issued a statement calling for the full participation and involvement of women in all peacemaking efforts. Last October, the Council held its first open debate on women, peace and security and adopted a resolution which emphasized the need to increase women’s role in peace negotiations and in peace-building.

We in the United Nations know at first hand the invaluable support women can provide to peace processes in many countries -- by forming women’s associations, non-governmental organizations and church groups to ease tensions; by communicating across political affiliations and ethnicity; and by working to persuade men to accept peace.

Take the example of Somalia, where after warlords failed to reach agreement in 12 reconciliation meetings, women challenged civil society to play a more active role for peace. They helped create the Peace and Human Rights Network, which brought together women, media, youth, ex-militia members, sports groups and traditional elders to coordinate a peacemaking strategy. Many of these women crossed the lines demarcated by warring factions to advocate peace.

Their groundwork contributed immensely to the subsequent success of the peace efforts of the President of Djibouti, and was acknowledged in a presidential statement of the Security Council.

Or look at Guatemala, where women played a key role both in the Assembly for Civil Society and at the peace table, to work for an end to the country's 36-year civil war. This cross-party and cross-sectoral coalition of women helped the nascent indigenous women’s movement gain entry to the peace process. It not only gave crucial voice and visibility to the needs of Guatemala’s indigenous population, but also created a number of opportunities for women from all sectors of society.

We must build on these experiences to integrate women more effectively in peace processes worldwide. We are missing the boat if we do not find a way to integrate women's efforts as part of any peace strategy, and capitalize on the beneficial role women can have in both conflict resolution and peace-building. But I think we, the United Nations, will be better at this if we ourselves have enough women in key positions.

Clearly, we must make determined efforts to increase the numbers of women in our own peacekeeping operations, especially at the senior levels. Mrs. King will tell you today about efforts the United Nations Secretariat is making to achieve this. Let me also take this occasion to appeal yet again to Member States: we depend in part on you to present as many qualified women candidates as possible for these positions.

I am glad that these points will be highlighted in your discussions today. But I would also suggest that they are part of a broader change in the international community's understanding of the role of women in general.

This shift is visible across the entire spectrum of the United Nations work -- from armed conflict to globalization and poverty; from illiteracy to HIV/AIDS; from human rights to humanitarian assistance. Indeed, it is now understood that the empowerment of women is essential if we are to achieve our fundamental objectives of freedom from want to freedom from fear, as expressed in the Millennium goals agreed by the world's leaders last September.

No development strategy is likely to work unless it involves women as central players. Their involvement has immediate benefits for nutrition, for health and for savings and reinvestment at the level of the family, the community, and ultimately the whole country. In other words, empowering women is a development policy that works. It is a long-term investment that yields an exceptionally high return.

Equally, no peace strategy is likely to be durable without the involvement of women. If they are given an opportunity to make their voice heard, if they can bring their own perspective to the table, the chances for lasting peace and reconciliation will improve immeasurably.

Friends and colleagues, I look forward to hearing about the outcome of your discussions today. I wish you all a very happy International Women's Day.

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