Full and equal: Achieving Meaningful Participation of Women in Peace Processes
Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo is the first woman to head the UN’s political department. On the occasion of the Security Council’s annual debate on resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, listen to the Under-Secretary-General talk about some of her personal experiences working in the peace and security area, what meaningful participation means for her and what men can do to further the Women, Peace and Security agenda. And read below excerpts from the interview.
What does meaningful participation mean to you?
Rosemary DiCarlo: For me, it means full and equal. That I am considered an equal to the person sitting next to me, male or female; that I am given the floor to speak at an event as much as a man is given the floor to speak; that I am listened to when I speak and not have someone talk over me or ignore my words. So, I think it’s a question of full and meaningful participation, totally engaged in a process or a meeting, whatever we’re talking about, but it also means that I am respected by those I am speaking to.
What are your personal recollections of the moment when Security Council resolution 1325 was adopted in October 2000? I’m curious about your hopes and your ambitions. How did you feel?
I was covering the Western Balkans in the US Department of State at the time and, of course, a lot of the work that we were doing was working with the population on reconciliation after the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Seeing the resolution adopted, I thought, was really promising. I was hopeful that women could be seen as equals at the table, talking about a way forward for the region, particularly in Bosnia Herzegovina, where women were especially impacted by the violence during the conflict. I perhaps was overly optimistic about what it could do.
From your perspective, where does the implementation of resolution 1325 stand now?
I think we’ve made a lot of progress. I don’t think we can deny that. But there’s so much more to be done. I fear that we’ve lost some ground in the last few years, not just on 1325 but on women’s issues at large. I also believe that our goal should be implementation, implementation, implementation. We have the normative structure that we need. What we need is full, meaningful participation of women in peace processes, in political processes, and that’s going to take a lot of implementation. As I said, we’ve got the norms, we have the tools at hand, we just have to keep at it and devote not only the attention but the resources for this to happen.
Reflecting on your time in various leadership positions in the US Department of State and at the UN. What has been challenging in leading diplomatic and peacemaking efforts as a woman? How have things changed over time?
First of all, it is sometimes very difficult to be accepted, given that women approach issues in a different way. Just the demeanor, the sound of the voice, the level of the voice, sometimes is taken as weakness. During my career, I’ve tried sometimes to mimic the male countenance to be able to project more, to appear more authoritative on an issue, only learning that it didn’t work either. I think that what is really challenging though for a woman is the sense that we haven’t experienced the same things that men have and therefore men, who have gone to war, been involved in a whole range of issues, have a lead on women in terms of being able to make war or peace. Over time, I think it’s changed. I don’t sense the same attitude toward women peacemakers today, those who make it to the table, who are able to play a role.
Can you tell us a success story that you’ve come across of the WPS agenda and the opportunities that it has opened up for women in peace and security?
We had different envoys, who’ve been trying to resolve the crisis in Syria, and it was very clear that women were being excluded, so we created a Women’s Advisory Group. Again: No substitute for being at the table, but through this advisory group, we actually now have members of that group sitting at the table at meetings of the Constitutional Committee. We are very thrilled to see that we have been able to slowly but surely get women at the table. So, I think that’s a success story. Success stories are when women are at the table. And I don’t believe that women are more peaceful than men, but when you have women at the table, there are other issues that are brought to the forefront. Issues that impact women, that impact children, a different perspective that needs to be taken into account in order to have a peace process have an impact and last. And the statistics show that it does. Having women at the table means that there’s a greater longevity in a peace process. Now this said, I think we have to also focus on the following: It is not just about having women at the table in peace process, it is having women advance in society at large. One of the reasons that they’re not in many peace processes, is that they’re in very male-dominated societies. And until women can achieve positions throughout, it’s going to be extremely hard for them to have the percentages of women that really should be at the table going forward.
What do you think men could do to push the Women, Peace and Security agenda forward?
It’s absolutely critical that men be engaged. I’ll give you an example: I was working on UN issues in New York when we were trying to devise and establish UN Women. It was because a group of female ambassadors got together and kept pushing this issue, but we really couldn’t take it over the finish line until we engaged a number of men ambassadors to help us do this. And once we did, we were able to get that department established and we were thrilled. Men have to play a role. Our envoys in the field have done their very best to get as many women at the table as possible. And when they couldn’t get them at the table, they were consulting them on the side, which is no substitute, I understand, but at least they were able to get the female perspective on a particular issue. The Secretary-General has played an enormous role in this by putting women in leadership positions. Across the board, he has almost reached parity, women and men, certainly in terms of the Secretariat, Funds and Programmes. In our Special Political Missions, 52% of our senior leadership — that is the Head or Deputy Head of Mission — are female. I think that’s a huge accomplishment. And we’ve worked with partners in regional organizations, who are also very supportive. My counterpart at the African Union is a huge champion of including women in peace processes. When I travel with him, we meet with women’s groups to tell them how important we think their voices are and ask how we can be of more help. With the African Union, we’ve also trained women mediators. I think men can play an enormous role!
What do you think are the new challenges that COVID-19 has posed for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda?
First of all, women have been affected by the socio-economic situation because many of them work in the informal sector. So, their abilities to engage in certain kinds of activities are going to be even more difficult now that they’ve got to look for how they’re going to support themselves and their families. Second, it’s been hard with restrictions on freedom of movement, increased violence, increased hate speech. All of that said, because of our use of digital technologies we’ve been able to reach out to more women now than we had in the past. And we were able to reach women in hard-to-reach areas, in conflict areas, women who wouldn’t normally be able to travel to a workshop or a meeting. That’s the good part of it and that’s what we have to continue post-pandemic.
What developments do you hope to see for the WPS agenda in the future?
I’d like to see it fully embraced. I think there’s a lot of tribute paid to it, but I’m not sure how much is truly tied to the actual implementation of the WPS agenda. I would like to see us be able to have far more women at the table in formal peace processes. We can do a lot with the informal groups, we can do a lot of training, but we really need to have women at the table. So, I’m hoping that we can, by our words, by what we’ve been doing to help nurture women during this period, actually get them at the table and make a real effort with conflict parties that they’ve got to include women.
Listen to her full interview on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6mIesLLvWJlmAaDv0FOrT0