Opening address - Global women mediators network

This week Norway hosted a conference for a global women mediators network. The Minister of Foreign Affairs opened the gathering.

'Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.'

These were the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message on International Women's Day earlier this month.

While much progress has been made over the years in advancing the women, peace and security agenda, the UN Secretary-General's recent report described several worrying trends:

  • a decrease in women's participation in mediation – after years of steady progress;
  • a decline in requests for, and in the inclusion of, gender expertise; and
  • a decline in the number of gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements.

Women continue to be underrepresented among mediators and in delegations to peace processes.

Women continue to be sidelined and denied the opportunity to act as negotiators for parties to conflicts.

And women continue to struggle to get their voices heard by negotiating parties and by mediators in countries affected by conflict.

This is despite the now 17-year-old Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Despite broad political consensus that women's participation and influence in peace processes is important.

And despite a range of normative and empirical evidence that shows the importance of having women at the table.

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We can continue to read discouraging reports, or we can do something about the problem.

This is why Norway, together with our Nordic neighbours, has taken the initiative to bring together the regional women mediators networks here in Oslo this week.

This is the first step in a process that we hope will lead to the establishment of a global network of women mediators in 2019.

Inspired by a South African initiative, the Nordic countries established a Nordic network of women mediators in 2015, here in Oslo.

The African Union launched its network of women mediators – FemWise-Africa – in 2016.

And the Mediterranean countries followed suit the year after.

Together, around 80 countries are represented in these networks.

It is our hope that other regions – Asia, the Americas, and other European countries –- will be inspired to join this movement.

The women in these networks are former presidents, they are politicians, they are diplomats, they are civil society leaders, and they are mediators.

They have vast experience in the fields of conflict resolution and peace and reconciliation. The amount of practical experience in this room alone is huge.

One of the first goals of this global initiative is to draw attention to the many highly competent women in this field.

To make it impossible to claim that it was too difficult to find qualified women.

Do women mediators do a better job than men?

We don't know. But that's not the point.

The point is simple maths. If you double the number of candidates, you increase the chances of finding the best person for the job.

But this initiative does not limit itself to increasing the number of women mediators or the number of women participating in mediation teams.

The overarching goal of the global network should be to promote women's participation and influence in peace processes and conflict resolution in general, as well as securing stronger gender outcomes in peace agreements.

This is no easy task, as I am fully aware.

But if anybody can do it, I believe these women can.

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Colombia

It has been said that no peace agreement has placed as much emphasis on women's participation and gender equality as the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Farc guerrilla group.

As an official facilitator in the peace process, together with Cuba, Norway strongly advocated the inclusion of women and the gender perspective from the start.

Why was this particular peace process so successful in this respect?

Well, there was a growing realisation throughout the talks that the gender aspect was vital to the legitimacy of the process.

This was in large part due to the mobilisation of women in Colombia, who organised a peace summit to promote the participation of women in peacebuilding efforts and provide input to the peace negotiations.

In September 2014, the parties established a gender commission to ensure that the voices of women were heard and that the gender perspective was integrated into the peace agreement.

The commission was made up of representatives of the parties themselves.

This was a historic development. An unprecedented step that can hopefully inspire others.

The gender commission invited several delegations of women to Havana.

The parties also invited several delegations of victims of the conflict to the table, the majority of whom were women.

The direct participation of both victims and women had an important impact.

They shared their experience of how the armed conflict had affected them.

And they also brought concrete proposals to the table.

One of the tangible results of the gender commission's work is the agreement on the rights of the victims.

The mandate for the truth commission stated that a gender perspective should be fully integrated into the work of the truth commission and that a special working group would be established within the commission.

Furthermore, the peace agreement states that there would be no amnesty for sexual violence.

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Women, peace and security is a priority area in Norway's peace facilitation efforts.

We fund and support women's organisations in all countries where we are involved, to try to increase their influence in the peace processes.

And, in all peace processes where Norway plays a role, we encourage the parties to include more women in their delegations and to integrate a gender perspective.

In doing so, our own credibility is vital.

We need to ensure gender balance in our own delegations. And I could mention here that Norway's facilitation efforts both in the Colombian and the Philippine peace processes are led by women.

Including women is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.

As research from the Graduate Institute Geneva has shown:

participation of women is essential not only to the legitimacy of peace processes, but we are also more likely to achieve lasting peace when women are included.

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But why is it still often so difficult to ensure women's meaningful participation and to integrate the gender dimension in practice?

The obstacles are both structural and cultural.

Institutional and individual mindsets are hard to change.

To break out of old patterns, and to advance this agenda, leadership is all important.

That is why I want to applaud the leadership shown by the regional networks I mentioned and by Secretary-General Guterres.

The Secretary-General recently established a High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, which will provide him with advice on mediation initiatives around the world.

The Board is composed of 18 current and former global leaders, senior officials and renowned experts, 9 of them women.

We are lucky to have two of them here with us today – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee and former Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer – championing this initiative towards a global network of women mediators.

I am proud to open this event together with Under-Secretary-General Menendez, who is mandated by the Secretary-General to promote gender parity and strengthen links with civil society.

It is my hope that this initiative will contribute to progress in this field, and that the next reports of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security will show an increase in women's participation in mediation, and an increase in women's influence in peace processes.

Thank you.

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