As their first joint conference, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Executive Board of UN-Women held a high-level meeting on 18 November entitled “Integrating women into economic recovery.”
Opening the event, Uche Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN and Member of UN-Women’s Executive Board, emphasized that gender equality is and should be an integral part of all development, especially in post-conflict situations. Women must be ensured access to economic opportunities, she continued, quoting former President of Tanzania Julius K. Nyerere who said “no man can run fast on one foot.” Heralding Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2010 report on the tenth anniversary of UNSCR 1325, Ms. Ogwu underscored the pivotal position of women in peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery. Empowering women makes good sense, she concluded, as gender equality is central to economic development.
Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN and Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), pointed out the disproportionate effects of war on women, particularly in Africa. Therefore, the PBC supports the fight against gender-based violence, along with concrete initiatives to ensure women’s participation in post-conflict reconstruction: through employment, education, service, security, and political leadership. Advocating for specific resources to fund women’s participation, Mr. Gasana highlighted the 15% funding target introduced by the Secretary-General’s report. He also referred to the African Development Bank’s project to showcase Rwanda’s successes in post-conflict recovery.
In her address, Executive Director of UN-Women, Michelle Bachelet, also commended the goal of earmarking 15% of post-conflict funding for women’s empowerment (as actual numbers make up only 5-6% currently). Ms. Bachelet asserted that it is necessary to advance “the equal participation and full involvement of women in all efforts for peace and security.” Investing in women equates progress towards accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ms. Bachelet continued, because women tend to spend money on the health, education, and food security of their families. Ms. Bachelet referenced the Secretary-General’s statement that today’s fastest-growing economies incorporated women into their post-conflict recovery, while an annual $89 billion is lost in South Asia alone through a failure to invest in women’s potential.
UN-Women is partnering with the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to create targeted support for the economic empowerment of rural women. Ms. Bachelet outlined three suggestions to generate greater progress for the integration of women into economic recovery: a PBC commitment to targeting gender equality; PBC/UN-Women biannual country-specific configuration discussions; and UN-Women-facilitated meetings with women’s groups in each PBC country.
Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Judy Cheng-Hopkins, asserted that though “often the ultimate victims of conflict, women are also the ultimate agents of change.” Citing the opportunity of post-conflict situations to “build back better,” she argued that women’s empowerment should be at the centre of peacebuilding initiatives in support of sustainable peace. The Peacebuilding Fund allocates a quarter of its funds to economic recovery, Ms. Cheng-Hopkins illustrated, a third of which target women as beneficiaries.
The final panellist, Patricia Justino of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), shared the results of a joint research project carried out by IDS and UN-Women on the role of women in post-conflict economic recovery. This research indicated that 40-60% of women become widows during conflict, which contributes to the temporary repositioning of women as income generators. Ms. Justino cited two discouraging statements regarding the longer-term effects of this change. First, according to International Alert, women’s participation in State structures does not reflect their increased influence in social or household affairs; secondly, a post-conflict increase in women’s electoral participation does not indicate a corresponding increase in decision-making.
Additionally, the post-conflict rise in women’s unemployment contributes to a corresponding increase in their participation in the informal sector, with its low wages, lack of regulation, and high exploitation. Violence against women increases in post-conflict situations, Ms. Justino continued, necessitating attention towards women’s capacity-building and local knowledge, with context-specific focus.
Other recommendations from the IDS research included programming that targets both women and men, and support for political will (and funding) towards institutional and societal change during and post-conflict. Employment and training programmes for women and the promotion of their land and inheritance rights results in dramatic improvement, Ms. Justino stated. Though evidence of women’s inclusion is not sufficient to mark the success of peacebuilding interventions, Ms. Justino concluded that an increase in women’s income and control will lead to faster economic recovery and growth, as well as improvements in health, education, food security, and sustainable peace.
Several countries shared their good practices of including women in post-conflict situations. Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic countries, suggested that agricultural livelihood assistance contributes to social stability and economic security, while incentivizing education, gender-responsive rule of law, and implementation. Sweden advocated temporary special provisions for women to compensate for their historical exclusion, to engage women in civilian capacities in post-conflict situations and to finance women’s participation in post-conflict recovery.
In closing, Ms. Bachelet stressed the commitments reflected in the recommendations, and the relevance of the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan along with Rio+20 and the 2012 Commission on the Status of Women. Ms. Cheng-Hopkins stated that programming is not yet sufficiently gender-sensitive, and that this event revealed evidence of the consequences of this gap. Ms. Ogwu closed the meeting by reiterating the responsibility of all UN actors to see this revolution of women to fruition.