Opening Statement at “Oslo Pax 2020"

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's opening statement at the conference “Oslo Pax 2020: Diversity Matters – Gender and Inclusion in Peace and War».

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Women are not observers of conflict. Why should they be observers of conflict resolution?

This question, raised by the strong peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah  Gbowee has always spoken to me.

It is, of course, a rhetorical question: Women should not be mere observers of conflict resolution any more than men should.

Women and men both have the right to take part in decisions that concern their past and shape their future. This is no less true in times of conflict than in times of peace.

This brings me to the theme of today: ‘Diversity matters – gender and inclusion in peace and war’.

‘Diversity Matters’. I really could not agree more.

It matters who carves out the agenda for peace talks.

It matters which companies get to take part in economic reconstruction and who they employ.

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Why and how does it matter? (This is not a rhetorical question by the way – I intend to try to provide some answers).

First,
if we are to find solutions to increasingly complex conflicts, we must draw on the resources of the whole of society: men and women, young and old.

In order to correctly identify and heal all the wounds after a conflict, women must take part in the same processes as men: in political decision-making, in humanitarian response and in the rebuilding of society. We often see attempts to limit women’s participation to “softer” topics. But if adequate solutions are to be found, crucial issues like security or weapons – to mention some – cannot be left to men alone. And why should they?

Second
, diversity matters because inclusive processes can strengthen the credibility and legitimacy of a peace agreement. Inclusive processes often add another level of complexity. But at the same time, they increase the probability that an agreement will be implemented. In other words, inclusive processes can help prepare the ground for lasting peace.

Third,
as peace is restored to a society, there is a window of opportunity for women’s rights, building on women’s agency during conflict. However, there are usually also strong forces that seek to return women to ‘their proper place’. We often see that women who have played a leading role in humanitarian response or conflict mediation are not considered relevant for employment afterwards.

This is not only deeply unjust; it also generates frustration and potential unrest. Even more importantly: it represents a colossal loss of opportunity for the societies in question.

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For all these reasons, the inclusion of women and the Women, Peace and Security agenda will be one of Norway’s four main priorities when we take up our seat on the Security Council in January. We have committed to involving women and promoting women’s rights and inclusion in every phase of peacemaking and peacebuilding. How are we doing this in practice?

  • We work with parties on inclusion from the earliest stages, often long before formal negotiations start.
  • We provide technical support in various processes to ensure that inclusion actually works
  • We work with networks of women mediators to amplify their voices
  • We work to increase the security of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders
  • We support women’s political and economic empowerment, also after a conflict has ended

In other words: we work to ensure that women are part of the whole process – including implementation, which is always the most difficult part. Our goal may be straightforward. But in this work, we encounter dilemmas daily – I have alluded to some. The longer and more systematically women have been repressed and excluded, the more challenging it is to achieve meaningful participation.

This makes it even more important for Norway to partner with many of you:

  • With civil society organisations that enable women to take on leading roles, even where formal structures and cultural bias favour men.
  • With academic institutions that document women’s leadership and challenge the reigning narrative.
  • With private sector representatives that recognise that every time a business is set up – employing people, generating income – it alters power relations.

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Diversity matters, and therefore our inclusion efforts matter as well.

Thank you.