The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the differentiated impacts that COVID-19 is having on women, including new obstacles to their meaningful participation in peace processes.
At a virtual roundtable discussion on Thursday, the Peace Operations chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, stressed the importance of continuing to prioritize the UN’s Action for Peacekeeping’s (A4P) Women, Peace and Security (WPS) commitments during the pandemic.
A real chance at lasting peace is not possible without full, equal & meaningful participation of women in peace & political processes. Gender Advisers throughout our missions work tirelessly to ensure the voices of women & girls are heard. #PKday #womeninpeacekeeping #WPSin2020 pic.twitter.com/WTV21p2ngB— UN Peacekeeping (@UNPeacekeeping) May 29, 2020
Against the backdrop that missions have, over the past few years, significantly strengthened their partnerships with women’s local and national organizations and networks, Mr. Lacroix called coronavirus-based disruption to this growth, “one of the pandemic’s thorns”.
“It also disrupted their direct engagement with policymakers, political leaders and each other”, he said.
But, pointing to “a rose in this story”, he maintained that the missions’ close relationships with women’s organizations have allowed them to “quickly and creatively continue to work” through UN assets – such as via radio, phone links and community alert systems – as well as by leveraging women-led structures, including women protection networks, early warning networks and gender working groups.
Mr. Lacroix credited the tools deployed by the mission as helping women and communities to fight against the coronavirus.
“This is making a difference and we can use these tools to sensitize on C19 [COVID-19] and preventative measures supplemented by concrete actions in support of communities”, he said.
Citing May elections in Mali, he elaborated on the political efforts underway to increase women’s participation.
“We supported the role of women voters and candidates – as a result of these efforts we have a number of women in Mali parliament that has increased three-fold”, elaborated the head of Peace Operations.
However, he also flagged the need for some structural challenges, such as for more systemic and pronounced engagement of women.
“We’ve gone beyond organizing meetings, but we need to move further”, he acknowledged.
And pointing out that women are suffering disproportionately with the virus, including sexual and gender-based violence, he said that while the missions were trying to contain it, it remains “one of our major concerns”.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, explained, “we are deliberating the impact of COVID in conflict areas where women battle the infection and insecurity”.
UN peace and security actors had taken immediate measures to ensure that Action for Peacekeeping (A4P)’s WPS commitments have continued, and help inform COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that with women already largely excluded from mediation at all levels, the compounding impacts of the virus – including increased caregiving burdens, economic insecurity, and diversion of funding away from women’s civil society organizations – risk “further alienating women from peace processes”.
“COVID could also impact peace agreements, delaying implementation and affecting the stability of specific areas in conflict or post-conflict countries”, she continued.
Adding that challenges associated with human mobility are increasing tensions in border areas, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka warned that the result could be “attacks on human rights defenders, stigmatization, xenophobia and discrimination, and above all, a rise in all forms of violence against women and girls”.
And finally, she spotlighted that the COVID-19 response offers “a transformative opportunity” to build back better, into a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable world.
“Women’s participation and leadership are the keys to unlocking that future”, concluded the UN Women chief.
Action areas to overcome WPS obstacles
- Promote gender inclusive peace processes and negotiations with more women around the table.
- Strengthen the protection of and engagement with women’s human rights defenders and women’s civil society organizations and activists.
- Increase the numbers and proportion of women in uniformed services in peacekeeping missions, and national security services.
- Provide predictable, adequate and targeted financing for women peacebuilders, especially while adapting to the new realities of COVID-19.
- Promote women’s economic security and access to resources and decision-making related to peacebuilding, post conflict planning and economic recovery.
- Standardize gender-responsive conflict analysis and planning.