Sweden speaks on peace and security in Africa

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström

National statement delivered by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Margot Wallström on behalf of Sweden at the United Nations Security Council Briefing on Peace and Security in Africa, 10 July 2018, New York.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Yesterday morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, and I arrived in New York from Niger. It was my privilege to join Amina and Binta on the AU-UN joint high-level mission focused on Women, Peace and Security in the Sahel. It is now my pleasure to welcome my travel companions to today’s meeting.

As others have done already, I would like to thank the Governments of Niger and Chad for their generous hospitality, and the inspiring women and men we met during our mission for sharing their stories with us.

I would like to make three points following our mission.

Firstly, on the overall challenges in the region; secondly, how we address the interrelated nature of these challenges; and thirdly, that all of this is not a women’s issue – it is a peace and security issue.

Dear colleagues,

First, the countries we visited and the Sahel region are located between hope and despair.

HOPE, because the Sahel is blessed with abundant human, cultural and natural resources, for example solar energy, offering tremendous capital for rapid growth. It is also the most youthful region of the world with 64,5 percent of the population aged less than 25 years.

Hope was inspired also by the women and girls we met, who had moved from victims to survivors to agents of change. By youth, who look at their futures with confidence, despite their difficult circumstances.

And, by the vibrant and determined civil society organisations working to improve the lives of men, women, girls and boys across the region. We also heard from the governments of Chad and Niger about their efforts, together with other countries in the region, to promote regional stability and combat terrorism, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force and the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

But also DESPAIR, because of chronic underdevelopment, terrorism and violent extremism, a lack of respect for human rights, and the negative effects of climate change. 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the growing insecurity has worsened vulnerabilities. Today the national budgets are used to finance security concerns, as we already heard; with less money available for education and health. These challenges affect women and men, boys and girls, differently. Women often bear a disproportionate burden.

In the Lake Chad region, where people are already facing a food and nutrition crisis, we heard how the shrinking of the lake and growing insecurity have had severe consequences for people who traditionally have sustained themselves by fishing activities. However, now, women are learning to fish – the said before the fish were big and the men did the fishing, now they are small and we can do the fishing. The fisher women we met in Bol told us that they wished for only three things: bigger boats, better nets – and to not get raped. This simple request illustrates the conditions under which they live, marked by poverty as well as by sexual and gender-based violence.

In both Chad and Niger, we met with civil society representatives who described challenges such as a lack of female candidates for public offices, inadequate health care and difficulties in ensuring education for girls. In Niger, we heard that three out of four girls will be married before turning 18, with devastating consequences, as Ms Diop has already said. We met with women religious leaders and discussed efforts to prevent radicalization and end the practice of child marriage. And we were encouraged to see that in both countries, women were coming together in networks to address the challenges they face, including sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to basic social services.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Secondly, this joint mission encompassed all aspects of the United Nations work – peace and security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and development. And, it was once again clear to me, during our mission, how these areas of work overlap.

The many challenges in the Sahel cannot be dealt with separately, but rather require joined up political strategies and integrated responses. The United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and its support plan are key tools at our disposal to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the AU’s Agenda 2063. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of the strategy’s five key priorities.

We must spare no effort in ensuring implementation. We need to expand the choices and opportunities available for women, from an early age. This means ensuring education for girls, addressing restricting traditional and related social norms and fighting poverty. It means going back to basics, starting where we can make a difference.

Yet, the resources needed to fully address the challenges in the region are woefully inadequate. We need to step up our efforts to mobilize support and strengthen national capacities to respond to inequalities, fight impunity, create sustainable livelihoods, and empower and educate women and girls. Aid needs to be gender-sensitive, taking into account the different situations of women and men and promoting equality.

Thirdly, our visit also underlined that all of this taken together is not solely a women’s issue – it is a peace and security issue.

In the Lac region of Chad, we were deeply moved by Halima, who had been married away as a 15-year-old child and then trained by Boko Haram to be a suicide bomber. She lost both her legs when the suicide vests of some of the girls who had been trained with her exploded as they entered a busy market. Today, Halima is a paralegal and actively engaged in the prevention of violent extremism, as well as a powerful symbol of the many roles of women in peace and security.

The increased use of female suicide bombers – two-thirds of suicide attacks in 2017 were carried out by women or girls – illustrates the cruel way in which terrorists seek to exploit the perceived “goodness” of women to maximize harm – in terms of victims of suicide bombings, but also for communities and families.

This is disastrous given women’s role as pillars of families, societies and communities. Societies could collapse. But women are fighting on. We have to empower and educate girls and women, and we have to end child marriages.

To fight terrorism, there is no doubt that we need to adopt a gender-sensitive and human rights based approach – whether we are talking about the prevention of radicalization, counter-terrorism operations or providing support to victims.

Finally, let me end by answering the question of why this is a matter for you around this table – a matter for the UN Security Council. Essentially because their destiny is also our destiny.

So what can and must we do. In two years, Security Council Resolution 1325 will be 20 years old.

I want to put the following challenge to the UN system and all Member States: By 2020, ensure that UN peacekeeping and political missions fully deliver on the women, peace and security agenda.

The Security Council has a critical role to play. This includes by ensuring:
– that women’s voices are heard around peace negotiation tables,
– that women’s voices are heard in this chamber,
– that mission mandates include a women, peace and security perspective,
– that gender posts in missions continue to be funded, and women, peace and security taskings adequately resourced and prioritized,
– that gender is systematically included in mission reporting and monitoring.
We must all set the same challenge for ourselves. And, you can count on Sweden to do its part to support this effort. To start, we will continue to ensure that civil society perspectives are heard in this chamber.

For the annual 1325 debate, we commit to host a civil society forum. We also commit to supporting the Secretariat to build capacity for enhanced gender responsive reporting. Only then will we gain a full understanding of the challenges and the most effective responses.

Let us continue and intensify our efforts to support the countries in the Sahel on the issues we have discussed today. I commend the African Union and the UN for joining forces and deepening their partnership on women, peace and security.

Missions like the one undertaken last week should become annual events, and every Security Council meeting should consider the women, peace and security perspective as an essential part of our work to end conflicts. I have no doubt that, if we were to do so, our motto of more women, more peace would become a reality.

Thank you.

Swedish Government