High–level Meeting on “Building Partnerships for Promoting Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Societies”

25 August 2005, Stockholm, Sweden

Madame State Secretary Soder, Minister Orback, Excellencies, Women leaders from so many parts of the world, Esteemed colleagues and friends,

First, let me extend a warm thank-you to our hosts for this high-level meeting, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, under the inspiring leadership of Minister Leila Freivalds and her team, especially State Secretary Annika Soder and Ambassador Lena Sundh. I also want to thank Minister Orback, who steers the gender equality portfolio in the Ministry of Justice, for his very kind words about UNIFEM and our work. It is so important to be able to partner with a Member State that has dared to take on the issue of gender justice in post-conflict countries and move us forward. I also want to acknowledge our ongoing partnership with the International Legal Assistance Consortium, under the leadership of Executive Director Christian Ahlund.

We are here today because women and girls face a major justice deficit. Wherever I have been in conflict zones I see that the nature of warfare has changed. It is no longer only armies who are affected by conflict; it is also civilians. The nature of the battlefields has changed, so that conflicts now take place in our homes, in our schools, in our communities. And increasingly, the battlefields have become women’s bodies. Violence against women is used as a weapon of war — not just to destroy the spirit of women, but to humiliate the men from the other side, to destroy both the social and the moral fabric of communities, across time and across generations.

Women know the cost of violence, of extremism, of exclusion — the cost of destroyed states and of economies — what it means to be displaced and left vulnerable by the breakdown of infrastructure, and communities forced to adopt survival strategies at the margins of war economies. Women who have survived war have had to live with gross injustices that fill their past and are currently haunting their present. That is why gender justice is so important.

The United Nations has played a major role in upholding the rule of law by helping countries to strengthen the national systems for the administration of justice in accordance with international norms and standards. Five years ago, in 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325, which emphasized the need to mainstream gender justice and gender equality in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building processes and called upon all actors involved in negotiating peace to adopt measures to ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, electoral system, the police and the judiciary.

This means establishing standards of justice and formulating laws that recognize them, but also strengthening the institutions that can implement them, developing the mechanisms to monitor them, and supporting people’s equal access to them. It also means bringing women to the peace-building and recovery and reconstruction processes. For while women are often the unrecognized victims of conflict they are also the unrecognized part of solutions to form a just and sustainable peace. The participation of women in peace making, peacekeeping and peace building ensures that their experiences, their priorities and their solutions contribute to the foundation of stability and of inclusive governments.

Resolution 1325 also highlighted the responsibility of States to put an end to impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those relating to sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. Impunity for crimes against women weakens the foundations of societies emerging from conflict because it makes violence legitimate. In my visits to countries in conflict or post-conflict in many parts of the world I have listened to women who have been raped, who had borne children as a result of being raped, who have been humiliated when they tried to seek justice. In Rwanda, for example, I met many women who were infected with HIV/AIDS and who were raped in very violent ways. They tried to seek justice but they said to me that there was no justice. They said to me, “We did not have any witness support systems nor were we able to get any of the health care given to the accused when we came to the Tribunal in Arusha to testify. We had to give up our livelihoods and we left children behind when we came to the international courts of the United Nations. Nobody cared.” Clearly, even when we set up systems of justice, unless they are shaped by the experience of women survivors they will not be adequate for the women seeking justice.

Rwanda is not alone. We have had a decade and a half of wars and conflicts across the globe — from the DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, to Srebrenica, Kosovo, to Haiti, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, to name just a few. In all of these situations, it is clear that a gender perspective must be integrated within every dimension of justice and the rule of law; with women shaping organizations and institutions in ways in which they can promote women’s human rights, legal equality and inclusiveness. Post-conflict countries offer a unique opportunity to put in place a gender justice agenda based on what can be seen as the three dimensions of justice. These include, first, legal justice — to eliminate laws that discriminate against women, including inheritance law, personal status law and so on. The second is justice to address the violation of human rights in wartime so that people can move beyond their trauma and begin to reconstruct lives for themselves. The third is distributive justice, to address structural and systematic injustices such as the political, economic and social inequalities that are frequently the underlying causes of conflict. Overlooking any of these dimensions of justice can lead to the reoccurrence of conflict and weakening the foundation of peace.

In this context, UNIFEM co-organized the September Conference with ILAC in New York, where we brought together women in key legal and judicial positions from over 12 conflict-affected countries, together with a broad range of international players, to hear what sort of “gender justice” is needed on the ground and whether the objectives of resolution 1325 were being met. They indicated that international initiatives in their countries usually failed to consult with them or other national stakeholders, focused on objectives that did not target their priorities, and often ended up competing with similar aid programmes.

UNIFEM’s work on peace and security is based on our experience in 20 conflict-affected countries around the world. Our programme framework is based on five elements of an integrated approach: 1) bringing women to the peace table; 2) building new constitutional and legal frameworks; 3) investing in women’s leadership in the development of new institutions, including gender-sensitive judicial and law enforcement agencies; 4) building partnerships to generate and support national gender justice movements advocating to integrate women into national peace, security, development and rights agendas; and 5) support for women’s participation in elections and political decision-making. What have we learned from this work?

First, gender justice can no longer be bargained away as a soft chip for realizing other political and operational gains. It has to be featured as an integral and achievable part of any UN strategic plan of assistance. Many of the needs can be met without political risks and would be relatively easy to address if the international community were serious about working to deal with them. For example, legal training of judges and lawyers, witness protection, medical and psychological support services, and access to justice and access to services. These are all achievable if we are serious about ensuring justice for women and girls.

Another lesson is that justice for women does not come cheap. We must not determine the sequencing of action based on what I call the “scale of convenience.” That is, action that entails the least resources based on what funding is available from donors; that is the most operationally convenient to undertake; and that will show quick wins and results in the shortest time. The focus should be on the most pressing needs of women in the countries based on their perspective — women who are widowed, victims of war, women who are ex-combatants. It is not enough that this kind of work depends on extra budgetary resources. We need to dedicate core resources for this work.

A third lesson is that although hostilities may have ended in a country, the conditions that leave women vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation do not go away. Moreover, there is no “quick fix” to these conditions, which include extreme poverty and loss of economic independence; risks heightened by conditions in refugee and internally displaced camps where vast numbers of women remain; and the fact that the institutional structures that need to address gender-based violence, such as the police and justice system, remain weak in their capacity to deal with gender-based violence

What will it take to move forward on these lessons? The main conclusion that has come out of the Beijing +10 review process that took place in March of this year is that there is a crisis of implementation and accountability that leads to a crisis of trust. What we have seen is that we are very good in making laws and having the right policies and at producing the right rhetoric, but implementation is still weak. Gender biases pervade legal frameworks, economic policies, and social expectations. Customary and religious laws often have more legitimacy than formal legal systems. And women and women’s groups lack the capacity to demand justice.

Implementation of justice in countries recovering from conflict first demands that the human rights violations women and girls have experienced are seen as, and treated by the justice system as crimes. Second, implementation depends on bringing formal and customary legal systems into alignment. Gender justice must not be relegated into the realm of family and religious courts, as is threatened by the current proposed constitution in Iraq.

If we are to create a gender justice program, it is important that we don’t just focus on the high politics of the state, but also on the spaces where the most profound injustices rest, in the deep politics of society, the social and psychological barriers that prevent women from accessing justice. This demands we get rid of humiliating laws and procedures for collecting evidence, insufficient witness protection, the kind of poverty that allows women not to take the risks and neither the time nor the resources to access justice even when a justice system exists.

In closing, I would like to say that there are those who say it will take many generations to bring about justice for women. However, it need not be so. Again, Rwanda is a very good example. Today for the first time 49 per cent of the seats in Rwanda’s parliament are held by women. A woman is now President of the Supreme Court, and another is Minister of Justice. A woman coordinates the local, gacaca courts, and many women are lay judges in these courts. Women also hold about 35 percent of the judgeships in the conventional courts. Further, the Vice-President of the High Court is a woman; four out of the 12 presidents of the courts of the provinces and the City of Kigali are women; and three of the 11 prosecutors at the national level are women. These figures show the significant role that women are playing in the process of justice and what Rwandan justice will be like in the future.

What is needed is increased collective effort, with international support. We have to ensure that women are not marginalized in critical institutions and in decision making processes. I know that this has been a long speech but I just want to end with the words of two Secretaries-General of the UN that have inspired me. In the opening of the General Assembly last year Kofi Annan said today the rule of law is at risk around the world. Throughout the world, he said, the victims of violence and injustice are waiting for us to keep our word. Turning words into action is our only hope for a common future. Our only hope of realizing what another Secretary-General from Sweden, Dag Hammarskjöld, called living in peace under the laws of justice. I know that with the kind of leadership that is present in this room today, the kind of wisdom that is there, we will have the right guidance and the right recommendations to move us forward. We are determined to make a difference, but it is only through your wisdom and through your help that we can do so.

Thank you.