By Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Benita Ferrero-Waldner is European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. On March 6, 2008, she addressed a group of over 50 women, including leaders, foreign ministers, lawmakers, first ladies and top European Union and U.N. officials at the International Women’s Day Conference in Brussels.
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner believes women need to be given a larger role in helping solve global conflicts. In the following speech that Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner shares with Latina Lista readers, she outlines her vision for the future role of women in global security.
We are here to draw the world’s attention to the link between security and women’s empowerment.
Women are often the most vulnerable members of society, subject to discrimination and abuse like harmful traditional practices or punishment by stoning. And they are at disproportionate risk from the security threats facing humanity. That holds true not only for the traditional security threats of poverty, conflict and disease, but also for the ever-expanding range of non-traditional security threats such as climate change, terrorism, religious extremism and international crime.
Violence against women is often a deliberate tactic in conflict. The horrific stories emerging from places like the Congo of systematic rape and families too afraid to send their daughters to school or their women to work in the fields shock us all. And at times of crisis women bear the brunt: as I saw for myself when I visited Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Tsunami or we are currently seeing in the Middle East.
But our focus today is not only on women as victims. Women also display the most extraordinary strength and resilience in conflict and crisis. They hold the social fabric together when other ties fray and have a particular talent as peace builders. They are improving human security through innovative and courageous activities in some of the darkest corners of our planet.
The courage it took for the Kenyan “women-in-white” to surround the hotel where peace talks were being held and vow to remain until the men inside reached a peace settlement is quite remarkable.
Women also have added particular value to peace negotiations; from Aceh to Guatemala to Northern Ireland women successfully advocated for greater attention to key social and economic concerns in peace accords.
These are inspiring examples, and you will doubtless speak of many others. But too often women’s potential as peacemakers, as mediators, as the re-builders of shattered communities, is not harnessed.
All humanity loses out if women are not empowered to play their part in building stability in our insecure world. The challenges to human security cannot be tackled without the contribution women make.
That is where we, as women whose voices count, have a role to play. We must rise to the challenge and push for change – for if we don’t, who will?
There are three main issues on our agenda for today:
1) How should we address the impact on women of the new threats to security we face, from climate change, environmental degradation, international crime, religious fundamentalism and terrorism?
2) What concrete steps can we take to increase women’s contribution to human security at a local level and to expand that contribution to regional, national and international spheres? The glass ceiling is still in place in as we know all too well.
3) How can we do more to tap into women’s contribution to conflict prevention and resolving crisis situations like in Palestine, Iraq and Sierra Leone?
In today’s world good mediators are more vital than ever; we cannot afford to ignore this potential source of expertise. Women should be empowered to make their full contribution at the peace table and in post-conflict reconstruction. And how can we reinvigorate the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325?
I know the collection of brilliant women in this room will be brimming with ideas for how we can address these issues.
Let us not forget the burden of responsibility we hold – to give voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless, to give power to those who would otherwise be powerless, and to protect those who would otherwise be without protection.
And for once we have gender on our side – after all, as one of the EU’s first female Prime Ministers said, “If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”