Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is tempting to start my intervention this morning with a reflection on contrasts. Between all of us who come to a conference hall in the winter landscape of Oslo – and the millions of women – such an unimaginably long line of individuals – who as we speak are suffering from violence, violations and degradation as armed conflict rages.
The fate of women throughout the DR Congo, Columbia, Darfur, Afghanistan – and many other places and battlefields. The fate of women who strive for survival, dignity, and a say in post-conflict situations.
As we meet to discuss and deliberate on the follow-up of Security Council resolution 1325, let us keep these individuals whose names we do not know in mind. The contrasts could hardly be greater – but all the more reason for all of us to engage fully.
We have among us brave women who have lived through what sisters are suffering as we speak. They can testify and speak out with a special clout. And they will add a true sense of realism to our discussions.
It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to Oslo and Voksenåsen this morning. And let me add – a special honour to welcome Rigoberta Menchú Tum, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work as a leading advocate of the rights of indigenous peoples and of ethno-cultural reconciliation.
As many Nobel Laureates, she has won a special place in the hearts of Norwegians. She has seen and experienced – in her own country Guatemala – why the inclusion of women is vital in any peace and reconciliation process. And how women and girls are victims of armed conflict.
Let me thank FOKUS and Networkers SouthNorth for taking the initiative by organising this conference – “Women in the land of conflict”.
It is a timely initiative. Images from the battlefield in DR Congo have given the world another stark reminder. Thousands of people have fled in panic without food, medicines or protection. Sexual violence is being deliberately combined with regular warfare; it has according to the UN reached epidemic proportions – such an appalling image.
We need to sound yet another clarion call to halt the savagery. This will entail efforts by the political and ethnic groups of the region, inside and outside DR Congo. It will entail efforts by the neighbouring countries. It will entail continued focus on the part of UN Security Council on putting maximum pressure on the parties. And it will entail greater presence of UN forces and increased provision of humanitarian assistance. We all need to consider how we can contribute.
What we see unfolding in the Kivu province is a nightmare in real time. It will also severely hamper the prospects of future peacebuilding and reconciliation.
The use of rape and sexual violence prolongs conflicts, long after active hostilities have ceased. These crimes leave indelible scars on individuals, families and societies. There can be neither peace nor security as long as communities live under the shadow of sexual violence as a tactic of war.
Women and girls are victims of armed conflict all over the world, and we have to join forces to end impunity for such crimes. All countries must do their part in ensuring that individuals suspected of sexual violence are brought to justice.
Governments must be compelled to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, whose statute explicitly states that perpetrators of rape and other forms of gender-based violence can be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
An important step towards preventing sexual violence in conflict was taken in June this year when the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1820 on “Women, peace and security, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict”. The resolution demands increased efforts to protect women and girls. The Security Council recognised sexual violence as a security problem – a problem that requires a systematic security response. The adoption of resolution 1820 has ended — once and for all — the debate on whether or not sexual violence belongs on the Security Council agenda. It does, and it will continue to do so.
Eight years have passed since the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1325. Some may say – and at times I would agree, especially as we see the reports from around Goma – that the text is not worth the paper it is written on. But we cannot think like that. What we have seen are eight years with a growing awareness of the need to include women in peace efforts. The adoption of the two resolutions, 1325 and 1820, are important steps. They offer us stepping stones to move forward, to raise awareness and mobilise for action.
But numerous challenges remain. Women’s perspectives are still too often neglected in peace negotiations. Women’s particular concerns and needs are overlooked – or relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities.
When Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi received the Prize in Oslo in 2003 she said: “Women constitute half of the population of every country. To disregard women and bar them from active participation in political, social, economical and cultural life would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society of half its capability”.
Both women and men must be able to use their creativity and participate in society if we are to achieve equitable and sustainable development. This may sound obvious, but it is something we need to be reminded of.
There is a clear connection between security, democracy and welfare. We need renewed efforts to focus on this connection. Societies where democracy functions and human rights are respected are more secure. Only when the social structures are in place can a country concentrate on the security and welfare of its citizens. And no country can afford to exclude half of its population, as Ms Ebadi reminds us.
There are daunting challenges, but also examples of progress and hope.
First, take Afghanistan. The conflict in Afghanistan is by no means over. But gradually we see increased inclusion of women that gives reason for hope. School attendance has skyrocketed and Afghan girls are back in schools and universities. I attended the opening of a school for girls in the city of Meymanah in October. The Taliban used to use the buildings as stables for their horses. Today the same buildings are filled with happy schoolgirls.
820 000 voters have so far registered to vote in next year’s planned elections. 38% of these are women. And 27% of the representatives in the Afghan national parliament are women. As we are sometimes filled with gloom over Afghanistan, let us not neglect these signs of progress.
Second. South Sudan. Another area plagued by longstanding conflict and misery. In South Sudan there is now a rule that there must be at least 25% female representation at all levels of government. The Norwegian Labour Party, together with Norwegian People’s Aid and local partner organisations, has introduced the “Women Can Do It” programme. This is a regional programme for women’s empowerment. We see numerous results. There is progress.
In both Afghanistan and South Sudan, education for girls is a priority for Norway’s development cooperation.
Third. In Nepal there is a strong network of local women’s organisations whose aim is to strengthen women’s political participation – the “Women’s Alliance for Peace, Power, Democracy and the Constituent Assembly”. Norway supports this network, and over the last two years the network’s members have promoted women’s rights and strengthened local organisations’ capacity to organise contributions to the elections and to the peace process.
Let me also mention the Palestine Territory and Israel. Norway has supported the creation of an International Women’s Commission to promote peace. I have met with this Commission several times. Their work and perspectives impress me. The group gathers Israeli and Palestinian woman on an equal footing. The debates are active and intense, honest and purposive.
Sometimes, after having met with all the male leaders on both sides, only to hear once more how far apart they stand, I am tempted to think that the Women’s Commission could have done far better.
Many of the resources the international community employs in conflict situations are not effective enough. Peace processes frequently break down, and all too often post-conflict reconstruction is a difficult task. In many of today’s conflicts women are excluded from conflict management and from managing peace and reconciliation processes.
This is a serious handicap for these processes. Women’s experience, knowledge, networks, their contributions to welfare and development and to dialogue and reconciliation, their alternative approaches – all of this would provide a better basis for managing conflicts and peace processes.
When Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was taking office in 2006, Time Magazine asked her if there was something extra she would bring to the job as a woman. She answered, “Sensitivity to human needs”. And she continued: “Maybe that comes from being a mother and interacting with other women, many of whom carry the biggest burden in times of both war and peace”.
Our mission should be clear: We need to develop efficient tools and resources that can make countries, institutions and organisations, as well as people, accountable for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325.
We need to create mechanisms for measuring the implementation of the resolution and the results achieved. Such mechanisms should include not only quantitative indicators, but also qualitative ones. We need to see concrete examples of how women participate in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction processes, and at what levels.
The main responsibility for the implementation of resolution 1325 remains with the individual UN member states. Accordingly, we need to hold states accountable. The development of national action plans is a good way of initiating strategic action, identifying priorities and resources and determining responsibilities and time frames for monitoring implementation efforts.
Norway adopted a national action plan in 2006, detailing both targets and working methods. This has proven to be an efficient tool in the process of implementing the resolution. I am pleased to note that the action plan has inspired similar processes among our partners. And I am encouraged to see women taking their rightful place in some of the peace processes we have had the honour to support, such as in Sudan and Nepal.
This spring, my Government presented a white paper to the Norwegian Parliament on women’s rights and gender equality in international development policy. And recently we presented a new strategy on Norway’s international humanitarian policy to protect and assist individuals in distress, whether due to war, conflict or natural disaster.
Women and children have a special need for protection in humanitarian crises. Furthermore, women must be given far greater influence in all processes related to humanitarian activities. So far, the humanitarian system has not managed to achieve this. Consequently, Norway gives special priority to promoting more balanced, needs-based activities where all affected groups are consulted.
As part of the action plan to follow up resolution 1325, we have supported the production of a Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action, which has now been adopted by the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). We require our partners to ensure that the needs of girls and women are taken into account in all humanitarian activities, on a par with the needs of boys and men.
To illustrate this policy, let me use the example of the major problem posed by lack of security in and outside refugee camps.
Women and girls who are refugees or internally displaced are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and sexual violence because of the conditions of dependency that are often created in camps. The distribution of food, the need to fetch water and fuel outside the camp area and poor sanitary conditions are all factors that contribute to this vulnerability.
We need practical answers to this challenge. It is key that both women and men are involved in all levels of planning, organisation and management of refugee camps. Women must be systematically registered and treated as individuals rather than solely as members of a man’s family. Camps need to be organised so that single women and single men are housed in separate areas.
I have high hopes for this conference – for the forthcoming deliberations and sharing of experience by so many dedicated people.
Women, like men, do not constitute a homogeneous group. In all societies, both women and men belong to a variety of groups and networks and have different religious, social and ethnic backgrounds.
To ensure broad, inclusive participation it is crucial to identify the different needs of these groups, and to give them all an opportunity to be heard.
The diversity of women does not alter this: Gender equality is key to human development and human security.
Norway will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to protect and assist women in armed conflict.
We will continue to promote gender equality as an integrated part of our international and domestic policies.
And we will use our modest voice to speak out at all appropriate occasions.
It is only by mobilising our combined strengths – governments, NGOs, academics and others, inside countries and among countries – that we will be able to make a difference. We must continue to look for solutions rather than obstacles.
And if we need a single source of inspiration, let us come back to the contrasts that I referred to at the outset – the millions of individuals who suffer violence and violations – crimes against women – crimes that cannot go unpunished.
We – the international community – cannot let these girls and women down. Not in DR Congo and not in all those other conflicts where brute violence targets girls and women.