Remarks at Collaborate Approaches to Global Security

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
October 15, 2015

As prepared

We’re here this afternoon to answer some important questions. Where do we stand today on making our peace and security efforts more inclusive? And, going forward, how can we better collaborate with women leaders to tackle challenges around the world? Consider two recent events that give these questions some context.

The first was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded last week to four civil society organizations in Tunisia. The National Dialogue Quartet helped keep their country on the path to democracy, even in the face of violence and real adversity. The sole woman of the group described the Quartet’s goals during their first meeting — “We have to do something for our country, we have to avoid violence and we have to be together.”

To me, her words say something important about why we’re here today. Inclusive approaches to peace and security aren’t just about collaboration. They’re about the common sense notion that we are stronger if we work together.

Which brings me to the second event, a little less historic but, in many ways, just as telling. Elle magazine released a video this week showing actual photos of groups of powerful leaders with the men photo-shopped out of the photo. No surprise, once the men were removed, the photos were virtually empty.

For example, there’s a photo of 30 heads of state meeting with the Queen of England. After the men are photoshopped out, there are just two other women besides the queen – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

This video graphically demonstrates how the promise of inclusion hasn’t always translated to progress—not in politics, not in peace processes, and not in militaries and police forces. And the perceptions of women and girls remain stubbornly one-dimensional. People still tend to look at them as victims, instead of influencers and leaders.

Today we are privileged to hear from so many women who prove these perceptions wrong. I’d like to offer three simple ideas for how we can support these women and countless others like them.

First, women don’t have time to wait. How often have we heard that, of course, women should participate. But first we need to get the combatants to the table. Or first we need deal with difficult military challenges. Then women can have a seat at the table or then women can join the conversation.

We all know this answer is not good enough. No surprise to anyone here, a study released just this week found that peace processes with women participating had more successful agreements than peace processes with just men.

So let’s end this concept of “First, Then,” and replace it with “First Women.” Let’s embrace the truth that at every step along the way, women have unique, valuable contributions to make. And their participation will make our efforts stronger and more successful.

Second, we have to build the pipeline for women at all levels in the peace and security sectors. If women aren’t on the local police force or the local council, they aren’t developing the expertise and leadership that will help them enter and influence the national conversation.

Women starting their careers in government, women learning the ropes as civil society activists, women joining the security sector—they’re our future partners. If they aren’t in the pipeline now, we can’t expect them to be leaders at the top in 20 years.

Finally, simply being there is not enough. Women aren’t just window dressings in peace and security. Their presence can’t simply check a box. Women need to be prepared to be at the table, and their contributions need to be heard and valued.

As we look to the future, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of challenges that threaten peace and security. We know that women are key to addressing those challenges.

That’s why, earlier this week, Ambassador Power announced a series of commitments by the United States totaling more than $31 million at the UN Security Council.

This investment is part of our ongoing commitment to women as equal partners in peace and security. And that commitment comes from the top—from President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Carter. Because what’s true for peace and security is also true for progress—it takes a group effort.

And that’s why we’re so grateful to Ambassador Hunt and Inclusive Security for co-hosting this event, and we’re grateful to all of you for being here and for the work you do every day.

Today is about the cutting edge of collaboration in peace and security. But before we look forward, we have a video that looks back at progress made over the past twenty years.