Weak Institutions, Gender Inequality Creating Environment Ripe for Extremism in Africa, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Security Council
There can be no peace, security or development without the involvement of women at all levels of decision‑making and peace processes, the Security Council heard today during a briefing from senior officials who just returned from a visit to the Sahel region, where women and girls pay a stark cost for conflict.
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary‑General, having visited South Sudan, Niger and Chad, said discussions were held with various local, national, regional and international leaders. Joining her on the visit were Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, and Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, who also briefed the Council.
Ms. Mohammed told the 15‑member organ that in the rural areas of Chad, the impact of Boko Haram has resulted in insecurity, loss of family members and the increased use of female suicide bombers. Women across the region were demanding their voices be heard. In Chad and Niger, they advocated for implementation of legislation on a quota for political participation. Women leaders continue to be a powerful voice against gender inequality and attacks on women’s rights.
Work remains to be done to keep countries experiencing fragility today from becoming the failed States of tomorrow, she continued. “The cost of inaction is high,” she added, warning that poverty, weak institutions and gender inequality are creating an environment ripe for extremism. Investment in development must be transformative. She underscored the need to implement critical international commitments including the Sahel Support Plan, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063 of the African Union.
Ms. Diop said the Sahel region is facing major challenges from extremist groups, which strike indiscriminately. Success in combating Boko Haram in some areas has led to the return of many young men to their homes, where they languish without jobs or opportunities. Meanwhile, poverty across the region has resulted in an uptick in child marriages. States need to play a greater role in providing the population with basic services such as fresh water, whose deprivation is often manipulated by extremist groups in order to wield power over communities.
She appealed to the international community to “step up your aid” to peace and development projects in the Sahel. Everything hinges on prevention, she stressed, including the provision of basic services and support for women and girls. Every woman should be empowered to say no to early marriage, association with extremist groups and a life of poverty. Instead, they must be assisted to become drivers of social change in their countries.
Ms. Wallström, also speaking in her national capacity, recounted several social challenges including inadequate health care and lack of access to education for girls, describing how those issues are closely linked with those of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and development. The United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and its related support plan are key tools to help achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063. The Council must ensure that women’s voices are heard around peace negotiating tables and in its own Chamber, she stressed, adding that all peace operations mandates must include a women, peace and security perspective.
Outlining some of the mission’s meetings with women in Chad and Niger, she said fighting terrorism effectively means adopting 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”.
In the ensuing discussion, the United Kingdom’s delegate said that women’s economic empowerment, political participation and role in their communities should be both cultured and curated. “This is not just a morale issue, it is an economic issue,” she added.
“When women’s voices are silenced […] entire communities suffer, and that suffering leads to conflict,” said the representative of the United States. In the Sahel, where peace and security means empowering women, the United States is empowering women and girls there by focusing on building stronger connections between health, microenterprise, community development and peace and security.
The representative of Equatorial Guinea expressed concern that more than 2 million people in the Sahel remain displaced and live in crowded facilities with limited access to basic services. The results of the crisis are felt most acutely by women and girls, who are often used as suicide bombers, are sexually exploited or are ostracized by their communities after being released by armed groups.
Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate said that support is required from the international community, but equally critical is the full involvement of women across the region, who must be viewed as agents of change and actors in the Sahel’s development. However, multiple crises — including mounting terrorism, climate change and the use of sexual violence by groups such as Boko Haram — still stand in the way of women’s full participation.
“The road ahead is long and strewn with challenges,” said Chad’s representative as he outlined various action plans his Government has taken to address gender‑based violence, child marriage and the wave of refugees and displaced persons. After decades of humanitarian assistance, results in the region fall woefully short of expectations. He called on development policies to transition from conventional humanitarian assistance to pooled efforts for sustainable development.
Also speaking today were representatives of Peru, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Russian Federation, China, Ethiopia, Bolivia, France (also on behalf of Germany), Kuwait and Poland.
The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 12:37 p.m.
AMINA MOHAMMED, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said she just returned from South Sudan, Niger and Chad. She noted that during the joint United Nations‑African Union trip she was joined by various Organization colleagues as well as regional actors, including women’s civil society leaders and community representatives. The purpose of the travel was to highlight issues of women, peace and security and development. Ms. Mohammed said she met with local authorities, senior Government officials and Heads of State to discuss key challenges and opportunities.
During those discussions, she urged the need to address the stark cost that women and girls pay for conflict. She said that such challenges are particularly evident in South Sudan. In rural areas of Chad, the impact of Boko Haram has resulted in insecurity, loss of family members and the increased use of female suicide bombers. She stressed the need to include women in decision‑making, particularly in affected areas. In South Sudan, women asked that their voices be heard in Juba, Addis Ababa and Khartoum. In Chad and Niger, they advocated for implementation of legislation on a quota for political participation. Women leaders in Chad continue to be a powerful voice against gender inequality and attacks on women’s rights that are such a core part of terrorist groups’ strategy.
There is a clear need to keep countries experiencing fragility today from becoming the failed States of tomorrow, she continued, calling for an increase in the budget to support development in those areas. Investment in development must be transformative. Across the three countries visited, it continued to be increasingly evident that women can be agents of a new and necessary approach. “Now it is time to move from frameworks to action,” she added. Investing in peace now in this region will bring global dividends to all. She underscored the need to implement critical international commitments including the Sahel Support Plan, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Agenda 2063 of the African Union and national plans. “The cost of inaction is high,” she added, warning that poverty, weak institutions and gender inequality are creating an environment ripe for extremism.
BINETA DIOP, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, said the recent mission to the Sahel dovetailed with the goals of the African Women Leaders Network — which spanned all sectors of society and advocated for women across a prosperous continent — and which was supported by both the Union and the United Nations. There can be no peace, security or development without the integral involvement of women, she said, recalling that the mission revealed significant challenges and suffering still being faced by women across the Sahel. The region is facing major challenges from Boko Haram and other extremist groups, which strike indiscriminately. While countries across the region have come together through the G‑5 Sahel force to counter those challenges, funding for it comes at the expense of already small development budgets. Success in combating Boko Haram in some areas has led to the return of many of young men to their homes, where they languish without jobs or opportunities. Meanwhile, poverty across the region has resulted in an uptick in families marrying off girls far too young, which crushes their bodies and spirits and results in stigma.
Turning to broader regional trends, she said women in Niger are using the action plan emanating from Council resolution 1325 (2000) as a tool to have their voices heard. Indeed, the text provides an impetus for them to become agents of change, and is bolstering efforts to provide girls and young women with quality education and employment opportunities. However, States need to play a greater role in providing the population with basic services such as fresh water and food, whose deprivation is often manipulated by extremist groups in order to wield power over communities. Violent extremism leads to deeper exclusion and poverty, she said, underscoring the importance of assisting the countries of the Sahel to meet the needs of the populations while also being able to combat terrorism.
Outlining several important regional and subregional frameworks designed to support the Sahel countries in those efforts, she cited the 2014 African Union Peace and Security Council strategy and another adopted in conjunction with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, more resources are needed. Based on the results of the recent mission, she appealed to the international community to urgently “step up your aid” to peace and development projects in the Sahel. Everything hinges on prevention, she stressed, including the provision of basic services and support for women and girls. Every woman should be empowered to say no to early marriage, association with extremist groups and a life of poverty. Instead, they must be assisted to become drivers of social change in their countries, she concluded.
MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Council President for July, spoke in her national capacity and as part of the recent mission team, declaring: “The countries we visited and the Sahel region are located between hope and despair.” The region is blessed with abundant human, cultural and natural resources, including solar energy, offering tremendous potential for rapid growth. It is also the most youthful region in the world, and hope there is inspired by women and girls who have transitioned from victims and survivors to agents of change. Also citing a vibrant civil society and collaborative regional action through the G‑5 Sahel joint force, she said there is nevertheless despair due to chronic underdevelopment, lack of respect for human rights and the negative impacts of climate change. Some 24 million people require humanitarian assistance and insecurity has worsened vulnerabilities. Recounting several social challenges including inadequate health care and lack of access to education for girls, she described how those issues are closely linked with those of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and development.
The United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and its related support plan are key tools to help achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063, she said, calling on Member States to spare no effort — including resources — in supporting their implementation in the Sahel. Outlining some of the mission’s meetings with women in Chad and Niger — including a woman in the Lake Chad region who had lost both legs after being recruited by Boko Haram to carry out a suicide attack, and later became an activist to prevent violent extremism — she said fighting terrorism effectively meant adopting 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”. The Council must ensure that women’s voices are heard around peace negotiating tables and in its own Chamber, she stressed, adding that all peace operations mandates must include a women, peace and security perspective and that gender is systematically included in mission reporting and monitoring. Finally, she said, missions like the one just completed in the Sahel should become annual events.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said the situation in the Sahel is deeply troubling. It is estimated that 1 in every 10 women aged 15 to 49 has been victim of sexual violence in Mali. In Niger, women continue to be displaced as they flee conflict and violence. The involvement of women in political life and decision‑making is essential to their protection. Women’s empowerment can be promoted through education and career opportunity. Those responsible for acts of violence must be held accountable for crimes against women. Meanwhile, victims should never be stigmatized. He underscored the importance of promoting coordination among various women’s organizations. For its part, the Council must collaborate with and promote the work of regional organizations, including ECOWAS. In the process of reforming peacekeeping operations, it makes sense to provide appropriate training to peacekeepers so they can pay particular attention to protecting women.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that conscious efforts must be made to bridge the gap between spoken commitments and actual action. Ensuring a protective environment that will enhance women’s protection and security, and provide access to justice and services for survivors of conflict‑related sexual violence is essential. He emphasized the importance of a gender perspective across all components of the G‑5 Sahel joint force, and stressed that there is an urgent need to focus on the structural drivers of instability and the root causes of conflict that disproportionately affect women. Financing the women, peace and security agenda is a concern, he said, underscoring the need to provide the necessary funds to ensure that peacekeeping and political missions have sufficient gender expertise, authority and capacity.
KAREL J. G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that climate change disproportionately affects women in the Sahel due to its impacts on stability and security, including by increasing the number of livelihoods that are lost from conflict. It reduces women’s access to essential resources such as water, further reinforcing the gendered nature of conflict. Climate change also exacerbates conflicts between farmers and herders in the Lake Chad region and the wider Sahel region, resulting in devastating consequences for women and girls. Widows are evicted from their farmland, while women and girls become even more vulnerable to sexual and economic abuse. In that context, conflicts between farmers and herders are becoming multidimensional threats affecting the entire subregion. There is overwhelming quantitative evidence that women’s empowerment and gender equality are associated with peace and stability, he said, stressing that the meaningful participation of women has the potential to transform societies and build peace.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that women’s economic empowerment and their role in their families and communities should be cultured and curated. “This is not just a morale issue, it is an economic issue,” she added. Women’s participation and the foundation for peace and security are interlinked. More women should be involved in policy planning. She underscored the need to deal with and address the stigma that women face following acts of violence. She noted various ways the United Kingdom is working with partners in the region to fine‑tune adequate measures to empower women. The United Kingdom concentrates on providing sexual reproduction health to refugees and displaced women, including in Chad and Niger. She noted the United Kingdom’s partnership with France to support gender mainstreaming in the Sahel. Millions of children and youth in the Sahel are out of school. Sometimes it is for very basic reasons like schools lacking hygiene facilities.
Mr. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) expressed concern that terrorist groups continue to gain a foothold in the Sahel. He stressed the need to coordinate efforts to combat extremism and counter the proliferation of extremist ideology in the region. National institutions must be strengthened to deal with such challenges. Women can play an immensely positive role in post‑conflict recovery and rebuilding. The Council’s annual debates on women, peace and security serve as an opportunity to stamp out violence against women. The primary role in the protection of women in all stages of conflict falls on national Governments, he reiterated. Meanwhile, the international community can provide support in various forms. With respect to key issues such as gender equality and the advancement of women, he said that specialized United Nations bodies and mechanisms are doing important work in that regard.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said she has long encouraged women to use the power of their voices, inspired by her own mother and daughter. “When women’s voices are silenced […] entire communities suffer, and that suffering leads to conflict,” she said. In the Sahel, peace and security means empowering women, which reduces the need for peacekeepers in the first place. Their involvement means communities and economies flourish and health and education improve, which in turn improve countries’ peace and security. United States international assistance in the region is targeted directly at women working to push through political barriers, female entrepreneurs, goal setters and other leaders. In the Sahel, the United States Agency for International Development works to build stronger connections between health, microenterprise, community development and peace and security. Women business owners in particular create a multiplier effect, she said, and they are more likely to hire other women and invest in their own communities. Meanwhile, traumatized, uneducated young boys are prime targets for radicalization — a fact no one understands more than their mothers — and stability and prosperity can help counter the forces of extremism, she said.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), condemning the deplorable recent terrorist attacks against civil society members as well as those on international and national contingents serving in Mali, said Boko Haram is well into its ninth year ravaging countries of the Sahel region. More than 2 million people there remain displaced and live in crowded facilities with severely limited access to basic services. The results of the crisis are felt most acutely by women and girls, who are often used as suicide bombers, are sexually exploited or are ostracized by their communities after being released by armed groups. Welcoming the recent holding of a summit on women, violence and terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel — hosted jointly by ECOWAS, other regional groups and the United Nations — he expressed hope that its outcomes will help prevent and root out the forces of terrorism and violent extremism. The recent recruitment of a Gender Adviser to the G‑5 Sahel joint force was another critical development, he said, encouraging the African Union’s Special Envoy to continue her efforts to amplify the voices of women and countries of the region in their quest to tackle insurgencies within their borders.
YAO SHAOJUN (China), noting that the Sahel faces multiple challenges including violent extremism and terrorism, cross‑border organized crime and a grave humanitarian situation, underlined the importance of settling “hotspot” security issues through political means and in line with the principles of national sovereignty and independence. Relevant political solutions should draw upon the views of women and civilians more broadly, he said, also warning against possible spillover effects of conflict in the region’s countries. The United Nations and the international community should provide targeted technology, training and logistical support to Sahel countries, and build synergies between the region’s counter‑terrorism efforts and the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel. Welcoming the launch of a United Nations support plan in that regard, he also called for stronger cooperation with regional and subregional organizations. Expressing support for the deployment of the G‑5 Sahel joint force — which the Council had mandated the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to support — he encouraged the international community to fully support Africa’s leadership on its own matters, while providing funding and assistance as needed.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) recalled that many African countries took concrete steps and developed national action plans following the adoption of Council resolution 1325 (2000). Nevertheless, women and girls still bear the brunt of the devastating and dehumanizing impacts of conflict in Africa. Climate change exacerbates the security environment in the Sahel, including through conflicts and the displacement of people. Fighting terrorism and violent extremism as well as comprehensively addressing the impacts of climate change is critical. Cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations will enable the integration of a regional approach into the broader discussion on women, peace and security. Such collaboration could focus on ensuring the active participation of women and women’s groups in peace processes, conflict prevention and resolution, and peacebuilding activities as well as the promotion and protection of their human rights in conflict and post‑conflict situations.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) said the United Nations has spearheaded major measures to effectively integrate a gender perspective into peace processes. Challenges remain, requiring the joint efforts of States, regional organizations and the international community. Regime change policies have long‑term effects and egregious results for women and girls. The embedding of an integrated and gender‑sensitive approach still seems something of a pipe dream. Rape and sexual violence must never go unchecked and unpunished. She hailed international efforts and national action plans aimed at combating Boko Haram. Bolivia will refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign States. She reiterated that women and girls must be part of peace processes. Efforts must be stepped up to guarantee that women can play their full part in mediation and decision‑making processes. “Sexual violence in conflict is a war crime,” she said, stressing the need to bring perpetrators to justice.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), also speaking on behalf of Germany, said only integrated action at the security, political, development and human rights level can foster lasting reconciliation in the Sahel. France’s commitment above all is political. At the security level, it delivers support to the G‑5 Sahel aimed at improving the situation of women. Germany is also committed to peace in the Sahel as demonstrated in its humanitarian contributions. He expressed concern that women are being increasingly targeted by groups carrying out terrorist attacks. Boko Haram continues to pose a grave threat to civilians, particularly young women and girls. He condemned the “absolutely unbearable” use of sexual violence as a tactic of war. On sustainable development, he said Germany and France are acting together, including in fighting climate change. He also said that women’s participation in regional peace processes is instrumental but unfortunately remains insufficient. Women should be involved in Government both at the parliament and local level.
ILAHIRI ALCIDE DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire) said the joint visit to the Sahel reflects momentum in the United Nations work and collaboration with actors across that region. In particular, it sought to expand efforts to improve and build on women’s participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. However, multiple crises and obstacles — including mounting terrorism, climate change and the use of sexual violence by groups such as Boko Haram — still stand in the way of women’s full participation. The Council has repeatedly underscored the importance of tackling the root causes of crises in the Sahel region, including poverty and the depletion of natural resources, lack of revenue and poor governance. Support is required from the international community, he stressed, but equally critical is the full involvement of women across the region — who must be viewed as agents of change and actors in the Sahel’s development. Calling for a more inclusive approach to involving women in peace processes in particular, he hailed the Deputy Secretary‑General’s leadership in that regard, especially against the backdrop of the Sahel’s sensitive and complex security environment. Women’s involvement in peace processes renders them more lasting and inclusive, he said, pledging Côte d’Ivoire’s continued support and spotlighting its involvement in the National Network of African Female Leaders.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), recalling that one of the Secretary‑General’s top priorities is gender inclusion, expressed support for the enhanced involvement of women in peace processes as well as in official positions such as United Nations Blue Helmets. Noting that women and girls — especially in Africa — are highly vulnerable to the impacts of violent extremism, he said various Council resolutions have underlined the importance of applying the women, peace and security agenda to international counterterrorism efforts. Women must be allowed and encouraged to take part in political processes, both as voters and candidates, and to make their voices heard as part of national and regional action plans. Underscoring the need for “African solutions to African problems” — in line with the critical principle of national ownership — he said the international community has an important role to play, but primarily as a partner to countries in the region. Cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations must be based on negotiations, consultations and joint decisions, he added, emphasizing that such cooperation must be fully transparent.
PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) expressed concern that unrest, insurgencies, unemployment, increased tensions between farmers, food insecurity and terrorism are having dramatic consequences, particularly among women and girls. Not only are women and girls victims of terrorist attacks, but they are also being radicalized by terrorists, with some 56 per cent of Boko Haram suicide attacks being carried out by women and girls. Stressing the need to implement the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, he said that the Council and the whole of the United Nations must promote women’s positive role as agents of change. Poland fully supports the initiatives aimed at increasing women’s participation in democratic elections, decision‑making and peace and development processes.
ALI ALIFEI MOUSTAPHA (Chad) said crises and conflicts around his region have spawned a wave of refugees, many of them women and children. Refugees and displaced persons share resources with host populations, exerting pressure on those host countries. Given the role and the status of women in the process of development and conflict management, Chad has taken on an initiative to eliminate all gender‑based violence. Granting microcredits helps improve living standards. Meanwhile, girl’s education and literacy has become a priority for the Government. There is also a 30 per cent quota for women in the Chad Government. Marriage under the age of 18 is now prohibited. Faith leaders and civil society organizations have contributed to the fight against early marriage. The joint efforts of national authorities and United Nations agencies are vital. “The road ahead is long and strewn with challenges,” he said, noting with concern mounting terrorist threats and resource scarcity. He called on development policies to transition from conventional humanitarian assistance to pooled efforts for sustainable development. After decades of humanitarian assistance, results in the region fall woefully short of expectations. Chad intends to assess initiatives and development policies with concrete data which can be measured.
Ms. MOHAMMED, responding to several comments and questions, agreed with speakers that a recalibrated United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel is critical, and is being facilitated by strong collaboration among partners as well as their crucial fulfilment of funding commitments. Action is urgently needed in a region grappling with the “very real concern” of State failure. Noting that the recent mission should have included visits to classrooms — which would have better reflected its focus on prevention through women’s education — she expressed concern over the lack of fiscal space for education initiatives, as States spend their limited resources handling returning refugees and combating terrorist groups.
Warning that Boko Haram and similar groups are becoming better organized — a dangerous threat that must be countered — she underscored the importance of considering such dynamics as urbanization and population growth, as well as their impacts on poverty, development and security. Hailing such strategies as the Lake Chad Basin Authority’s plan to tackle the impacts of climate change, she also underlined the urgent need for more funding and stronger coordination. The United Nations‑African Union framework for peace, security and development — and its Sahel strategy — are solid steps forward, she said, as is the African Women Leaders Network. The latter’s current focus on female fund managers will go beyond microloans to help leverage funds and bolster communities, she said.
Ms. DIOP, welcoming Council members’ comments and expressions of support, voiced concern about the situation of women in Sudan and South Sudan, where the mission team also visited. Women in those countries are asking the international community to help restore their dignity, as well as to include them in their countries’ peace process. “They want to be part of the future” and the fight against impunity, she said. While her office has already put in place 22 national action plans, it aims to do even more, she said, emphasizing the need to go beyond plans to ensure concrete monitoring and evaluation. In that regard, she pledged to submit annual reports to the Council on progress made.