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I would like to congratulate you on the 10th anniversary of the Women PeaceMakers Program and your commitment to empowering international women leaders who are on the frontlines of peacemaking processes around the world. I so admire the work of all of the co-convening partners and participants taking part in this conference—your efforts around the world on women, peace, and security has had a powerful impact in supporting women to become equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace.
Today women are on the frontlines of change around the globe, and they are changing the world by taking on the hardest issues – including those of war and peace – in the hardest environments. A woman in Afghanistan who pleaded one night in a conversation with me in Kabul said, “don't look at us as victims, but look at us as the leaders that we are.” The statement affected me profoundly. She was quite right, of course. Women are too often viewed as victims, not as the powerful agents of change that they are. It is true of women all over the world from Sri Lanka to Colombia; and it is without question true of all of you. You are leaders and you are doing the hardest work of peacebuilding. We are committed to working together to address the barriers you face in doing so, from inequitable legal systems and threats to your security to exclusion from negotiations and other important deliberations.
Despite the historic passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the efforts of many, including many in this room, women are still largely shut out of the negotiations that seek to end conflict and the decision-making processes that shape post-conflict reconstruction. In the past 20 years, hundreds of peace treaties have been signed. But a sampling of those treaties shows that less than eight percent of negotiators were women. At the same time, more than half of all peace agreements fail within five years.
Women's voices are just as vital in matters of international peace and security as men’s. Including women is the right thing to do and the smart thing. Including women and the experiences, talents and perspectives they bring to conflict prevention, the promotion of just and sustainable peace, the protection of civilian populations and more is absolutely essential to international peace, security and stability. That is why in December 2011, President Obama launched the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which lays out a comprehensive roadmap to accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the United States Government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. This National Action Plan represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development support to women in areas of conflict — by ensuring that women’s perspectives and considerations of gender are always part of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.
We are seeking to better engage, empower, and ensure the protection of women and girls across the world. And we recognize, as you do, that rule of law is essential to these efforts. Promoting an independent judiciary, bringing perpetrators to justice, and establishing the rule of law in so many other ways are critical components if gender-based violence is to be addressed and peace processes are to succeed.
Take Guatemala—a post-conflict country where many laws are in place—laws against femicide and domestic violence, for example. And yet, these very laws—more often than not—go unenforced and femicide continues to pose a very serious challenge. Impunity cannot be tolerated. Fortunately, there is an impressive network of NGOs in Guatemala that are working together, with the Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, for whom tackling violence against women is a top priority.
Whether in Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal or any other country, governments must carry out judicial and security sector reform. Citizens must be assured that perpetrators will be prosecuted and the rule of law will govern. Otherwise, the violence will continue to breed violence.
Women also have a critical role to play in political transitions. Women were on the frontlines of the Arab Spring. Yet in some post revolutionary countries today, they are being shoved aside, their rights threatened and their progress threatened. In other countries -- Tunisia, for example, the major political parties have pledged to uphold women's rights. The parties agreed to a zipper system in the electoral process that paved the way for 30 percent of the constituent assembly to be comprised of women. Four of the six committees drafting the new constitution are headed by women. Yet even in this environment, women are fearful that they may lose ground and have asked for the support of the international community.
Our sisters in Afghanistan fear that the progress they have made over the last decade will be reversed. Today over four million girls are attending schools. Over 25 percent of seats in Parliament are held by women and others have been appointed to government ministries and serve as diplomats. And life expectancy for women has risen from 44 years in 2001 to 64 years today. Afghan women want to see an end to the conflict that has racked their country--no one has suffered more in Afghanistan than they have. They want to be, and need to be, fully engaged in the peace and reconciliation process. They know and we know that if they are silenced or marginalized, any potential for peace will be subverted. That is why we—and other countries—have been working to support Afghan women's inclusion in all discussions about Afghanistan's future: the loya jirga, international conferences and the High Peace Council. We have called for implementation of the elimination of violence against women law, for women's appointments to the Supreme Court, women's economic participation, and more. The role of Afghanistan's women will be critical during this transition and will say much about Afghanistan's future.
Women's full participation in peacebuilding, in economic participation, in growing democracies and promoting the rule of law is indispensible. We are making progress on this road, but our journey is far from over. You are the changemakers. You are women making a difference. We owe you a debt of gratitude, and we are inspired by your courage and commitment. And we will do all we can to support you in the hard work of securing just, peaceful and prosperous societies.
Godspeed to each and every one of you in your work, for blessed, indeed, are the peacemakers.