Human Security Through Women’s Eyes: Bringing the Local to the Global and the Global to the Local

25 October 2002, Chicago Foundation for Women, Chicago

Dear Friends,

I am honoured to be invited here to Chicago and to have the opportunity to address so many distinguished women, all committed to improving the lives of women and girls. I am reminded that Chicago was the home of Jane Addams, remembered worldwide as a tireless campaigner against poverty and its root causes as well as an ardent peace activist. A founder and first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Addams was not only the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1931, but also one of only ten women so honoured in the 100 years that the prize has been awarded.

I cannot think of a more appropriate reminder today. At this very moment the UN Security Council is debating a new resolution on Iraq. And on Monday the Security Council will meet to discuss the issue of Women, Peace and Security, on the 2nd anniversary of its historic resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, initiated on 24 October 2000. As the nature of warfare has changed, the Security Council must seriously consider the impact of war and armed conflict on women and women’s roles in building peace. Ordinary, local women, whose lives have been affected by war and armed conflict are slowly but surely pervading the global halls of power where decisions about the security of the world’s citizens are made.

The events of September 11, and the war on terrorism that has followed, make clear that we are connected now as never before – that events that happen everywhere in the world affect us all, and that decisions taken in the world’s major capitals will be felt in communities and villages everywhere. The fear and violence that now characterize our world demonstrate that no one country, agency or sector of society can ensure global peace and human security alone. In a global world, our destinies are linked. The common values and ethics that we develop to guide our interactions with each other — whether as states or local communities, organizations or individuals — are the best, and maybe the only, guarantors of human security. In times of global crisis, the United Nations is one of the few spaces remaining where the world community can use dialogue and negotiation to build understanding and hold each other to our commitments.

Over the last decade, at a series of UN Conferences, all countries committed themselves to a core set of norms and values. It is these norms and values that inspired the Millennium Summit in September 2000 – the same year as Security Council resolution 1325 – and the agreement by the nations of the world on a set of 10 development priorities, known as the Millenium Development Goals, based on freedom from want and freedom from fear. They range from halving the number of people living in absolute poverty to combating HIV/AIDS to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Progress on both fronts, global security and human development, demand bold leadership, based on the understanding that both require the commitment of all countries and all people. For it is clear that progress towards each and every one of these goals can be destroyed by war and violence.

Our work to achieve a world free from poverty, violence and inequality is meaningless unless we are building dialogue and mutual support between people in all parts of the world. As a Japanese friend, Yayori Matsui, says – the only answer to globalization is the globalization of solidarity and that is what we are all here for today. Reducing the fear and violence that now define our lives demand that we again unite the local and the global. Because in a globalizing world, where we are connected by cell phones, by wireless devices, by 24-hour news services, and high speed planes and trains, physical distances become insignificant. In a globalizing world, national borders no longer protect us from viruses, conflicts, fundamentalisms or extremisms. In a globalizing world, the vision of Jane Addams and other women who advocated for peace and justice must finally come to the fore as the dominant, rather than the alternative, perspective.

I want to briefly introduce you to the work of UNIFEM and then to talk about 5 ways in which linking local and global issues and action are critical to human development and global security.

UNIFEM is the United Nations’ women’s fund. It was established in 1976 in response to calls to the United Nations from advocates for women’s rights. As such, it is unique in being a fund for women that was established by agreement of nearly every government in the world. UNIFEM’s work is focused on three major areas: strengthening women’s economic security and rights, ensuring that governance and peace-building benefit from women’s leadership; and promoting women’s human rights and eliminating violence against women. I will not describe our programmes in great detail because you can find this information on our website or in our most recent annual report. We work in over 100 countries throughout the developing world, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. But while our work takes place in countries and communities that are very different from the United States, women in these countries share a great deal with all of us. Above all, the desire for a secure world.

If we shut our eyes and imagine a secure global world, what would it look like and how can we in one of the richest countries in the world help to bring it about?

First and foremost, we must redefine global security, focusing on the human dimensions. In the past year especially, the concept of local, national and global security has been almost exclusively defined in military terms, so that human security has become virtually synonymous with military security. Women especially must insist on a broader vision, one which puts human life and human rights at the forefront. One that includes lives free of violence, including violence against women and HIV/AIDS.

It is this realization that has inspired women peace activists to go before the Security Council each year – briefing members on the impact of conflict on women and the need for women’s leadership in peace-building and reconstruction. Last year, with UNIFEM support, a coalition of women’s groups used this anniversary to talk about women’s agenda for rebuilding Afghanistan. This year, their reach is far wider.

Two days ago I spoke at such a meeting, joined by local women peace activists from Burundi, Israel and Uganda, international NGOs and two widely respected Independent Experts commissioned by UNIFEM to examine first hand the impact of war on women and women’s role in peace-building. The speakers described how local women activists have kept the ideal of justice and peace alive in conflict zones around the world. They remind us that war is no longer fought only between armies: in World War I, 14 per cent of the deaths were civilians, today it is estimated that over 75 per cent are civilians, the majority of them women and children. Women make up 80 per cent of refugees and displaced persons; they are targets of rape and sexual violence; they are robbed of resources to feed their families or care for the ill and dying – a task that has grown exponentially with the scourge of HIV/AIDS. But, as these women also told the Council, women are also creative and committed negotiators for peace. When they sit at the negotiating table, they are prepared to remain there longer, offering innovative ways to avoid military conflict.

These women recognize that the world cannot be secure until the economic and social needs of all people are addressed. It is often argued that it would cost too much to overcome world poverty. According to the Worldwatch Institute, approximately 800 million people worldwide are malnourished and 16 million are dying from starvation; nearly 1 billion people lack health care. Yet just one B-2 bomber costs $590 million. Military expenditure worldwide is estimated at $839 billion, four times what it would cost for all nations to provide decent housing, health and education to their citizens.

So what can you do here in Chicago? How can you encourage more people to embrace a vision of human security that is built on mutual understanding and respect – that is, as the UN Secretary-General told the General Assembly on September 12, truly multilateral? In accepting the challenge to respond to terrorism worldwide, he reminded us that the UN’s founders had learned from the bitter experience of two world wars that “international security is not a zero-sum game. Peace, security and freedom are not finite commodities–like land, oil or gold–which one State can acquire at another’s expense. On the contrary, the more peace, security and freedom any one State has, the more its neighbours are likely to have.”

I know that many of you are already active in your neighbourhoods and communities. But I want to talk about five actions that are crucial to human security that link the local to the global and that need to be shaped by women’s interests, creativity and concerns.

  1. Shape globalization to be equitable for men and women, rich and poor, those who have and those who are in need. Globalization has both winners and losers, and therefore both supporters and detractors. But even its detractors acknowledge that it is a reality, and that to make it an opportunity instead of another dead end, women especially need to engage. To borrow from the late Audre Lorde, since we cannot destroy the master’s house, we must redesign it. Which means that we must also use ‘the master’s tools’ — the internet, the opening of borders, the access to diverse cultures — to mobilize and organize.

There is no country in the world where women do not work. But in most countries, if not all, women’s work is undercounted and undervalued. In South Asia, however, work with statistical departments has led policymakers to see the need to incorporate a realistic picture of women’s economic contributions into census data. The gender budget initiatives taking place in all regions are demonstrating that every country in the world has the capacity to analyze national and local budgets from a gender perspective and reallocate resources in ways that will advance the lives of women and girls. Why not follow up on the work begun by the Women’s International league for Peace and Freedom years ago, when they asked us to imagine a world where women would have millions of dollars for a playground while the military had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber. In 1997, 99,000 women signed their names to the Women’s Peace Petition, which called for at least 5 per cent of national militaryexpenditure each year over five years to be redirected towards health, education and employment programmes.

  1. Add your voices and perspectives — and those of women worldwide — into the global peace and security agenda. Women have paid in blood and ruined lives for the right to participate in councils to end wars as well as operations to keep the peace.

Last year, an Afghan woman named Jamila spoke to the Security Council about the need to rebuild women’s lives and communities in her country. Afghanistan is generally regarded as the test case of the ability to implement resolution 1325. A year later she has opened an office to assist women refugees in Kabul with plans for another in Jalalabad and is working with Afghan communities in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although she clearly identified funding as a priority need, a year later Afghan women are still asking donors to fulfil their funding promises to improve the lives of Afghan women.

The plight of and potential new future for women in Afghanistan have reached people’s minds and hearts here and worldwide. In March, I celebrated International Women’s Day with Afghan women in Kabul. Let me share with you the dreams of some of the women I met and how we have been able to respond. UNIFEM’s programme for Afghanistan focuses on: 1) strengthening women’s economic security and rights to enjoy secure livelihoods through skills training, employment and access to markets; 2) ensuring women’s participation in national decision-making and supporting legal and constitutional reforms; 3) supporting internally displaced and refugee women to reintegrate into their communities; 4) supporting civil society and the media to raise awareness of women’s needs; and 5) supporting the establishment of regional women’s centres, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, to train service providers and women’s groups in a range of legal and social services. To the corporate executives in this room, propose to your boards that you adopt a local women’s centre in a rural area, or adopt a women’s dormitory, so that women can attend universities outside of Kabul.

  1. Raise awareness in your networks and communities that HIV/AIDS is a gender issue as well as a health issue–and one of the greatest threats to women’s lives and security in our history. A young South African woman whom UNIFEM supported to build a global youth network to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, explains that in a global world, as people cross borders in search of jobs or a better life, AIDS goes with them, or waits for them on arrival: “This is because the virus follows vulnerability, crosses borders with ease, finds itself at home where there is conflict, hunger and poverty.” Today, in Southern Africa alone, women constitute 58 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Globally, women and men are infected in equal numbers while among youth between the ages of 15 and 24, 62 per cent are female – rising to over 67 per cent in southern Africa.

To understand the true cost of AIDS, we need to consider the phenomenon of what we call ‘care’–the day to day survival and coping of millions of people infected and affected by the virus. Slowly the world is realizing that responsibility for care falls almost exclusively to women and girls. Until now, owing to the failure to recognize or value women’s work, the growing weight of their care burden went unnoticed, and no urgency was assigned to lifting it from their shoulders.

Care in the parts of the world most beset by HIV/AIDS is a story of women sacrificing their lives to fill the gap left by governments and the global community by this gender blindness. It is as if a massive natural disaster had erupted decades ago, and while local and international rescue teams were being mobilized to respond, women and girls were pulled from the lives and jobs and classrooms to search for survivors, tend to the wounded, nurse the dying, comfort the bereaved and bury the dead. But the rescue teams never arrived, and there was no one to care for the wives and daughters and grandmothers managing the disaster. I was in Rwanda recently, where I met with hundreds of women living with HIV/AIDS as a result of the genocide. All they wanted was treatment and health care–and someone to care for the ones they would leave behind.

On the global level, Millennium Goals grow ever more elusive: absolute poverty cannot be halved, and universal girls education cannot be achieved, if development for women is forever postponed to meet the world’s need for their unpaid toil.

  1. Explore innovative ways to end violence against women that work in your own neighbourhoods and communities and share them around the world. As a follow up to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the General Assembly established in UNIFEM a Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against Women. Since 1997, we have provided more than $5 million to over 80 local initiatives worldwide. We have used new technologies in innovative ways to link learning and leverage resources to end violence. We used videoconferencing to bring the voices of brave activists and survivors from 5 countries into the General Assembly to tell governments about the potentials and urgency of ending violence against women. We have run electronic working groups that have linked more than 2,500 end-violence activists, more than 30 per cent from developing countries, in daily exchange of information about strategies and obstacles. But this is not enough. Our message is that we know how to end violence against women but we lack the political will and the resources to do so. Our Trust Fund grantees ARE meaningfully reducing violence in their communities. But last year we received $17 million in requests with only $1 million to distribute.

Women in the United States can forcefully address the issue of violence in women’s lives worldwide, at home, in public, and in conflict situations, by making a difference through their actions, their voices, and their pocketbooks. I hope you will support the work of the Chicago Foundation for Women in your communities. I also hope that we can start a global network of businesses for peace, to help women in post-conflict countries start their own businesses.

  1. Protest war everywhere, but especially pre-emptive war. At a recent meeting of women’s rights activists from nearly 100 countries, a well-known activist from Pakistan made an impassioned plea to women from the United States to take action against continuing violence and destruction. She asked us “to fight for the survival and then nurture and expand the spaces for the peoples of the world to shape their own lives, define their collective identities and govern their societies” and to not allow our ideas, our music, our poetry, our dances or our dreams to be boxed into the false equations of us vs. them, or good vs. evil.

Two years ago, on the occasion of the five year review of progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, I told the General Assembly that we need to ACT:

“We need to ensure accountability to agreements in the Platform for Action, the Millennium Development Goals, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — now ratified by 170 countries — by strengthening monitoring and reporting mechanisms. We need to demonstrate commitment through the resources that we make available, the laws that we enact, and through design of policies and programmes that support gender equality. We need to promote transformation, through ensuring that the perspectives, interests and contributions of women and girls shape our world, in accord with international human rights conventions and the development targets reached at various UN conferences. When we gather together at the next assessment opportunity, we will be judged not by our words but by our actions.

“The stakes for women are high. Women want a world in which inequality based on gender, class, caste and ethnicity is absent from every country and from the relationships among countries. Women want a world where fulfillment of basic needs becomes basic rights and where poverty and all forms of violence are eliminated. Where women’s unpaid work of nurturing, caring and weaving the fabric of community will be valued and shared equally by men. Where each person will have the opportunity to develop her or his full potential and creativity. Where progress for women is recognized as progress for all. To such a world I pray, let the twenty-first century awake.”