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Director-General Moller: Remarks at the Power of Empowered Women Event
June 23, 2015

Opening remarks by Mr. Michael Møller

United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General a.i. of the United Nations Office at Geneva

“The power of empowered women 2015: women’s leadership in peace and security.”
Human Rights Council Side Event
Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Assembly Hall, Palais des Nations

Ms. Fakhry,
Distinguished panellists,
Ladies and gentlemen:

Power generates unease for many. Many negative connotations are associated with power: greed, arrogance, selfishness and corruption, to name but a few. And far too often, our image of a powerful individual is still that of a man at a mature age. Today’s event is going to challenge that perception. The women you are about to hear from, have not only empowered themselves through their dedicated work, but have empowered countless men and women as well. They are true examples of the power of empowered women and I am honoured to welcome them and you all to the Palais des Nations for this event.

Empowering women is not a concession in the pursuit of the universality of human rights.  Nor is it beneficial just for women. Enabling women to unfold their full potential provides a major boost to society as a whole.
From a purely economic point of view, vast potential is wasted when women are excluded from the workforce.  It has been estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions, score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Turning to the topic of today’s event, it is only too obvious that  a peace process where half of the population is not consulted, can never claim to be ‘inclusive’.  Yet, inclusiveness is widely considered a key to success. I have said it at numerous events before but it bears repeating: there will be no peace, nor sustainable development, without the active participation of women at all levels of society.

The potential of women as a force for peace has manifested itself in different contexts. Many of us remember how, in 2003, a group of women blocked male negotiators huddling in a hotel, pushing them to forge a peace agreement helping to end the war in Liberia.  Through courageous, determined and non-violent protest, these women allowed reason to prevail in the search for a solution. This concerted and firm action changed the dynamics of the negotiations, leading to an agreement.

The example of Liberia does not stand alone. Research [Desirée Nilsson (2012)*] shows for example that between 1989 and 2004, peace accords that included civil society actors such as women’s groups were at least fifty percent more likely to endure than those that were less inclusive. As we speak, women’s groups in Mali, Syria and the vast majority of other conflicts, are continuing to pursue peace – be it through local initiatives or at the national level. Often, these groups work in extremely difficult situations. They continue their struggle for peace despite looming threats including sexual violence, which is increasingly used as a tool of oppression. They need our support. And we need theirs.

The United Nations and its Member States have recognized the importance of addressing the role of women in peace and security in Security Council Resolution 1325, which is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year. Steps have since been taken across the organization, to mainstream gender sensitive approaches and to have more senior women in leadership positions. The Department of Political Affairs, for example, recently put the focus on its women-mediators and their impressive and valuable experiences in negotiation processes.

But there is still much work left to do. In our peacekeeping missions, only about 12% of police personnel and only about 3% of troops are female. Leading women in peacekeeping, including the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General in six peacekeeping operations, are showing daily that women bring extremely valuable abilities to these missions. Their numbers must grow. And I am glad that Major General Lund is with us today to share her experiences about the obstacles and opportunities she has faced in this environment.

It is clear that more needs to be done to access the benefits of increased gender equality.  International Geneva provides a unique platform for gender action. As we are moving to the implementation of a new post 2015 development agenda as well as agreements on disaster risk reduction and climate change, there’s a window of opportunity to expand our common impact through the full empowerment of women. And we need to use this window.

With this in mind, I am launching, together with Ambassador Hamamoto and “The Future She Deserves” initiative, a new leadership network of International Geneva Gender Champions. The network is intended to generate momentum at the highest level for greater gender equality through public advocacy and concrete actions that lead to genuine change in the workplace and in programming. All members of the network will commit to specific activities that will bring greater gender equality in their work and they will share their results. I hope that all my fellow heads of organizations will join for a truly global Geneva impact.

One of my personal concrete contributions to this initiative will be to no longer speak on panels that have no female panellists. Only in a genuine and inclusive exchange that breaks down gender barriers will we find the solutions needed to address increasingly difficult global challenges. And I will continue to push for greater gender parity in our senior appointments here at UNOG.

Today’s event continues this very important series of discussions and offers a great opportunity to draw attention to the power of empowered women. I would like to thank the organizers and I am looking forward to an inspiring discussion.

Thank you very much.

*Desirée Nilsson (2012) , ‘Anchoring the Peace: Civil Society Actors in Peace Accords and Durable Peace’, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, 38:2, 243-266.