Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins’ Remarks on Women’s Perspectives at the Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Conference on Disarmament
March 8, 2022
UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS: Thank you, Madame President, for your remarkable leadership of the CD and for moving forward with this incredibly important issue of women’s perspectives on the substantive work of the Conference.
Thank you also to Argentina and Chile’s tireless work in the last two years for convening plenary sessions on gender issues and the CD, and the participation of women and their role in international security.
It is an honor to be speaking to the CD today on this issue, which is near and dear to my heart. I wish I could be there in person as I was last week.
Today I would like to address you not only as the first African American woman to serve as a U.S. Under Secretary of State but also as someone who has dedicated her entire career to working in the fields of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons non-proliferation and disarmament.
I have witnessed and been part of U.S. delegations to negotiations, review conferences, implementation bodies, and treaty ratification processes from positions both in and outside of government. And there has been at least one constant throughout those years: the very small representation of women, especially women of color, in professional roles.
I firmly believe that global security challenges are best approached from diverse perspectives. I have seen and experienced the impact of diverse representation, and the lack thereof, on peace and security issues. That is why I consistently advocate for women’s representation and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
I welcome the opportunity Ambassador Alicia Victoria Arango Olmos of Colombia has spearheaded today to continuously emphasize the importance of including women’s perspectives in the substantive discussions of this Conference.
When we look at the issues in disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control, it is increasingly clear that the challenges we face today are more complex and wide-reaching than they’ve ever been before. For example, the long-established hard security fields, such as security cooperation, arms control, and nuclear security, are becoming more global and complex. In addition, newer areas of security, especially in the technology fora, are emerging. These include artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and the peaceful applications of nuclear technology for civilian use.
Yet we continue to approach the issues from a traditional framework and a traditional mindset, which systemically excludes women. Women have simply not been at the table enough and led these discussions. Consequently, women have not been able to shape the frameworks of disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control that consider diverse perspectives and experiences. We have made progress, as exemplified by many of the American diplomats who are women and who have spoken to the CD before me. But it is not enough.
We are living in the 21st-century with 21st-century problems. I hope you agree with me when I say that the inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives is long overdue. It was needed yesterday.
So what can we do, now, at this moment?
We can lead by example.
Right here, in Geneva, there are many incredible diversity initiatives. Unfortunately, many of them were interrupted by COVID-19. But we are getting back to regular work, and the United States was thrilled to host the International Gender Champions Annual Meeting just last night. Moreover, we hope to see the International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group reconvene soon as an excellent forum to implement concrete actions.
There is something that we, here at the CD, can do together. We can finally agree to update the Rules of Procedure and make them gender-neutral. As many of you may recall, our efforts to make this technical update last year failed. The task at hand was reasonably straightforward: a simple update to the word “he,” which, as currently stated, refers to every officer of this Conference no matter the gender.
Our efforts were met with resistance back then, impeding our shared objective to strengthen women’s participation in all fora of our work. We join our colleagues, as we have done in 2020, 2021, and today, in calling for the technical update of the Rules of Procedure to the Conference on Disarmament to reflect the equality of women and men.
I cannot underscore how important it is to identify and remove systemic barriers, often based on cultural or societal norms, so the CD emerges as a leader when it comes to women’s participation.
Achieving peace and security takes more than casting a vote or taking a position. It requires leveraging everyone’s interest, knowledge, and experiences to craft sustainable solutions and policies. It requires active and meaningful participation from all of us.
So let’s do it together.
The global security challenges we face are significant, but so too are the opportunities to chart a new way forward on arms control and non-proliferation. My team and I are looking forward to digging into this work with all of you, and we are dedicated to coming up with tangible actions. We welcome your partnership.
Thank you very much.