Keynote Address at the International Crisis Group's "In Pursuit of Peace" Award Dinner
Secretary of State
Thank you, Marc, and thanks to all of you for being part of this evening to support such an extraordinary, important organization that is relied upon certainly across the world, and that includes the State Department.
I want to thank Marc and Frank Giustra. I want to thank Louise for her leadership and everyone on the board; the chairman, an old friend, Tom Pickering; Wolf Blitzer, thank you for giving of your time; and all the generous supporters here tonight. Because for more than 15 years, you have helped policy-makers see the world more clearly and respond to conflict more effectively. So I thank you.
I also have a number of colleagues here from the diplomatic corps, two wonderful friends, Kati Marton, as we remember her extraordinary husband and our friend and colleague, and Queen Noor and the work that she’s done around the world.
And I especially want to join in thanking our four honorees, women who inspire us with their courage and their commitment to pursue peace and justice in the face of enormous obstacles.
These four women – Sima and Claudia and Shukri and Sihem – are in and of themselves absolutely the kind of leaders that we want to honor. They also represent millions of women who deserve our support, because they, like the remarkable three women who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last Saturday in Oslo, challenge us to think more deeply about what making peace really requires. They help us see that persuading warring parties to lay down their arms is only part of achieving peace. True peace also takes reconciliation and justice. It requires opportunity and sustainable security for all citizens. Peace without these things is hollow and fleeting – indeed it often turns out to be no peace at all.
And women can be a powerful force for peace across all these dimensions.
Consider what did happen in Liberia in the spring of 2003. Those of you who have seen the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell know this story. Thousands of women from all walks of life – Christians and Muslims together – flooded the streets, marching, singing, and praying. Dressed all in white, they sat in a fish market under the hot sun and a banner that said: “The women of Liberia want peace now.” They built a network of women across the country, even as violence flared all around them.
And when peace talks finally began, they staged a sit-in at the negotiations, linking arms and blocking the doors until the men inside reached an agreement. The peace was signed, the dictator fled, and still they did not rest. They turned their energies to building an enduring peace – a peace that would deliver results for their families and reconciliation for their nation. And in time, a woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was elected and became the first woman ever elected president of an African country. Her election gave new hope to the people of Liberia – men and women alike – and inspired millions of us around the world.
Today, there are dozens of active conflicts across the globe, many of them brutal civil wars, which threaten the lives of millions of men, women, and children, as well as our own interests and values.
These conflicts create space for pirates and terrorists to operate with impunity and send waves of refugees across borders, threatening regional security. They involve non-state actors, from militias to cartels to child soldiers, making them much more complicated to resolve. And they are growing increasingly deadly for civilians, who face abduction, rape, and dislocation on a massive scale. Non-combatants represented 10 percent of the casualties in World War I, 50 percent in World War II, but as high as 90 percent in many recent conflicts in Africa. In these wars, civilians are not collateral damage, they are primary targets.
Over many decades, American leadership helped to build an architecture of institutions and alliances designed to prevent full-scale conflict between the world’s great powers. But traditional peace-making methods are proving less effective at preventing and ending smaller conflicts and civil wars. More than half of all peace agreements fail within 5 years. The recidivism rate for civil war is particularly high. According to the World Bank, 90 percent of the last decade’s civil wars occurred in countries already scarred by conflict.
So there has to be a better way. And we need to work together to forge a new approach to making peace. And I know that in this work, the Crisis Group will be in the lead.
We can start by asking what’s missing from most peace talks and the agreements they produce. One answer to that question is women. (Applause.) In the past 20 years, hundreds of peace treaties have been signed. But a sampling of those treaties shows that less than 8 percent of negotiators were women.
Now, there is a clear moral argument – after all, women do represent half of humanity and they have, we have, a fundamental right to participate in the decisions that shape our lives. But the moral argument has so far failed to change behavior on the front lines, where it matters most.
So we need to move the discussion off the margins and into the center of the global debate, and we frankly have to appeal to the self-interest of all people, men as well as women. Because including more women in peacemaking is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. This is about our own national security and the security of people everywhere.
Tonight I want briefly to examine the growing body of evidence that shows how women contribute to making and keeping peace – and that those contributions lead to better outcomes for entire societies.
Now, this is not a “men are from Mars, and women are from Venus” argument. Most men are not war-mongers. And all over the world there are talented, courageous men – many in this room – pursuing peace with integrity and skill. I happen to be married to one of them. (Applause.)
And powerful women leaders like Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher have led their nations in war. And if it is still rare to see women carrying arms in conflict, it is not uncommon to find them supporting the men who do.
Women who win acclaim as peacemakers, however, like the Liberians in that fish market, are motivated not just by altruism, but by a very practical understanding of the costs of conflict and the benefits of stability. They are looking out for their own interests, as much as any man.
Remember the statistics that I mentioned earlier, how often peace agreements fail, how frequently civil wars recur. Now, there is no silver bullet, to use a mixed metaphor. But there is a silver lining when men and women work together as equal partners.
The question of how women contribute to peace and security deserves far more quantitative research and rigorous study than it has received to date.
But long experience suggests at least four mutually reinforcing ways in which women influence peace processes, both inside and outside the negotiating room.
The first, according to research conducted by the International Crisis Group in Sudan, Congo, Uganda, and by observers in other conflicts, is that women who participate in peace talks often raise issues like human rights, citizen security, justice, employment, health care, which may otherwise be ignored.
Some of these concerns – especially stopping mass rapes – are too often thought of as “women’s issues.” But that is wrong. Addressing these issues helps entire societies reconcile, rebuild, and achieve a just and lasting peace.
It’s true that forcing negotiators to grapple with hard questions might delay an agreement in some cases. But it can ultimately create a stronger peace that has broader popular support.
In Northern Ireland, for example, women activists secured commitments in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to involve young people and victims of violence in reconciliation; to accelerate the release and the reintegration of political prisoners; and to ensure an integrated education system and mixed housing. That made the agreement more relevant to people’s day-to-day lives and the peace more durable.
Why do women raise these issues? Well, I don’t think it’s about being the “softer sex.” It’s about knowing what’s actually happening where people live and work, and understanding what average citizens are concerned about.
In many conflict areas, while women are denied access to traditional power structures like ministries or militaries, they do create extensive community networks. And this is especially true in sprawling refugee camps, like the one I visited in the eastern Congo two years ago, where there are far more women than men. These networks serve as a kind of grassroots intelligence-gathering organization. In Darfur, for example, when male negotiators deadlocked over control of a particular river during the seventh round of the 2006 negotiations, local women pointed out that the river had already dried up. (Laughter.) I love that story. (Laughter.)
Just as they benefit from a wide range of civilian issues, peace talks also are strengthened by a wide range of citizen voices. In many conflicts, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as civil society leaders, are excluded along with women. And this perpetuates divisions that can lead to future conflict and it silences important perspectives.
This brings me to a second way that women help achieve just and lasting peace: They speak on behalf of other marginalized groups and across cultural and sectarian divides.
At Afghanistan’s constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003, for example, women accounted for 20 percent of the delegates and they successfully advocated for equal rights for all Afghan citizens. Many women also came together to support Uzbek efforts to gain official status for their language.
And let me add that as the process of reconciliation and transition moves forward in Afghanistan, we cannot and we will not ignore the contributions of Afghan women. The United States will continue pushing the Afghan Government to include women, civil society, and ethnic minorities at all levels of the reconciliation process. (Applause.) And we will not waver in our requirement that in order to rejoin Afghanistan’s political life, insurgents must not only renounce al-Qaida and violence, they must also pledge to respect the laws and constitution of Afghanistan – including the rights of women. (Applause.) That means allowing women and girls to go to school, participate in government and business, and live and work free from violence.
From the first days after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, I argued that an Afghanistan “where women’s rights are respected is much less likely to harbor terrorists in the future,” because “a society that values all its members, including women, is also likely to put a higher premium on life, opportunity, and freedom.” Well, that is just as true today.
In Afghanistan and elsewhere, including women at the peace table helps give a voice to everyone that conflict and culture relegate to the sidelines. You don’t need to have played a role on the battlefield to have a stake in a peaceful future.
Related to that, here is a third way that women contribute in peace processes: They can often be facilitators or honest brokers – and produce results.
Most participants in peace talks are the combatants in a conflict. After all, they are the ones who ultimately have to agree to stop fighting. But they need help from credible mediators – people who don’t have blood on their hands and who can build consensus.
Field research has found that when women participate in negotiations, especially in large numbers, men behave less aggressively and are more willing to compromise.
As one former finance minister in Somalia said, women “have influence because they are not direct parties to the conflict and marry across clans so they can serve as a bridge between rival clans… when men are not willing to negotiate, more often the women will pressure the men toward peace.”
The Ugandan mediator Betty Bigombe has described how government and rebel negotiators accorded her the special status of “Mother.” This, she said, and I quote, “enabled me to assume an almost parental tone of authority with them—one which was both reprimanding and hard-lined, and yet not perceived as threatening. As a result, I could be bold in what I said, which proved very strategically useful.”
At the same time women activists play critical roles inside the talks, they also mobilize outside pressure to encourage progress. And that is the fourth contribution.
Of course, mass movements include both men and women. But when large numbers of women turn out, especially in places where cultural taboos discourage their participation, it is particularly noteworthy.
The success of the Liberian women is perhaps the most familiar example, but it is hardly the only one.
In Cote d’Ivoire this past year, hundreds of women marched arm-in-arm to protest a stolen election. Security forces fired into the crowd, and at least six women were killed. But the protestors returned to the streets with signs that said, “Don’t shoot us, we give life,” and they kept right on marching. They galvanized outrage at home and around the world. And today, there is democracy once more in Cote d’Ivoire.
In Colombia, women’s groups played an important role in pressing the government and the FARC rebels to enter peace negotiations in 1999. Then, after the collapse of the talks in 2002, Colombian women participated in a mass movement that acted as a national conscience reminding both sides of the human costs of war.
When Somali peace talks began in 2000, the male leaders of the country’s five feuding clans largely excluded women. Calling themselves the Sixth Clan, Somali women marched to the site of negotiations and insisted on full participation. The men eventually backed down and the women took their place at the table. Did they achieve lasting peace in Somalia? No. But they did help produce an agreement that at least on paper guaranteed political participation for women and protected the rights of others as well. They continue to work toward the day when those human rights become a human reality for everyone in Somalia.
These are four ways that I have described in which women contribute to peace processes. But what about after an agreement is signed? What about keeping the peace and ensuring lasting security and stability?
We’ve already discussed how addressing the issues that women raise in peace talks, like reconciliation and reconstruction, helps societies get back on their feet.
Experience also shows that women activists are well-positioned to extend peace from formal signing ceremonies down to the neighborhoods and villages where people actually live.
After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, women from every ethnic group and political party began working together to help rebuild the country – the wives of perpetrators side-by-side with the widows of victims. They provided trauma counseling, created programs for housing, health care, employment, and education. They also helped former fighters transition to civilian life. And when extremists began carrying out new attacks, their own wives and mothers threatened to turn them in – helping the violence to wane.
As societies move forward and put conflicts behind them, women’s economic and political participation has ripple effects that benefit everyone.
In a speech in San Francisco this September, I explained how women’s participation in the economy leads to greater prosperity for all. In a post-conflict society, economic growth is crucial. People need to see that peace is more profitable than war. Former soldiers need jobs so they aren’t tempted to return to violence. New governments need to deliver results that matter to people’s lives, or they will lose credibility and instability will return.
And multiple studies have shown that women spend more of their personal income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling for themselves and their children than men. Research also shows that when women participate in local governments, they push their communities to invest in similar priorities. In fact, one study in India found that villages led by women have more drinking water and child immunizations, a lower gender gap in school attendance, and less bribery.
So when it comes to building a more prosperous economy, identifying new leaders to expand the circle of freedom and democracy, or forging the bonds of a lasting peace in strife-torn lands, please remember this: Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.
Whether they are homemakers, breadwinners, or lawmakers, women have so much more to contribute. They’re waiting for the opportunity to do so.
These lessons are particularly relevant as countries across the Middle East and North Africa begin building their new democracies. Across the region, women are organizing, advocating, speaking up for themselves and for their fellow citizens. They are facing some obstacles and even some threats to their new rights.
At a conference organized by women activists in Tripoli last month, the leaders of the transition acknowledged that Libyan women had played a vital role in the revolution and promised they would be full and equal participants in a new Libya. Well, so far, out of 30 new government ministers, two are women.
And in Yemen, where violence has raged for months, women like Tawakkul Karman, the Nobel Prize winner, who were literally on the front lines of the movement for democratic change, is waiting to be sure that their engagement and empowerment will be respected and nurtured. They are in such a good position to bridge political divides and help hold the country together and focus attention on Yemen’s critical development needs – but only if they have full and equal access to the political process.
The same is true in Syria, where the Asad regime’s violent crackdown targeting men, women, and children continues. When I met with Syrian opposition leaders last week in Geneva, they told me how hard they’re working to unify the country’s diverse religious and ethnic groups and overcome Asad’s “divide and conquer” strategy. Women will be crucial to resisting the efforts to tear communities apart.
Now, thankfully, neither Egypt nor Tunisia saw violence on this scale. But even in these transitions, women are finding challenges.
In Egypt, women have been largely excluded from the transition process and even harassed on the street. The best-organized political parties supported few women candidates in the recent elections. And the positions of these parties thus far on women’s rights remain ambiguous at best. We hope they recognize that Egypt’s revolution was won by men and women working together, and its democracy will only thrive by men and women working together. (Applause.)
In Tunisia, women strongly reacted to suggestions that the personal status code might be amended to roll back their rights. And they were joined by many men. In the elections, transitional authorities required political parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates. And women won about a quarter of the seats in the new Constituent Assembly, assuring themselves a strong voice as the transition moves forward.
We are working closely with these countries undergoing these transitions to democracy because we know they’re fraught with challenges. We saw what happened in Iran in 1979, how a revolution was derailed by new autocrats. And from the Balkans to Iraq, we’ve also seen how old divisions can sow new violence. A major challenge will be working, with your help in the Crisis Group, to prevent this from happening. And let me be very clear: Democracy will not flourish in the Middle East or anywhere if half the population is left out.
So let us pledge ourselves to the proposition that women must be equal citizens and equal partners with men, recognizing that the changes we seek and the aspirations of the people that we support will not be realized overnight. That’s true around the world; it’s true even in our own country.
Many of us have been working on these issue for decades. And I remember very well being in Belfast in 1995 with a group of Catholic and Protestant women who had lost sons and brothers and husbands in the Troubles. They attended different churches on Sunday, seven days a week they were separated in housing and usually employment. But they all were saying silent prayers for the safe return of a child from school or a husband from work at night. Seven days a week their families struggled with the same fears and burdens. And finally, those women were able to see past their differences and focus on what they both shared – and they therefore created vibrant cross-community organizations that became instrumental in the peace process.
And as Marc Lasry said at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, we included a section on “Women and Armed Conflict” in the Platform for Action.
Then, in 2000, the international community took a major step by adopting UN Security Council Resolution 1325, recognizing that women are not just victims of conflict, they are agents of peace. So let us move beyond women being seen as spoils of war, to making sure for the first time that the world is looking at women as actors, not victims; as leaders, not followers.
The United States proudly supported 1325 and four follow-up resolutions. And we’re pleased that the UN, NATO, and many other nations and institutions have made important strides in implementing these ideas.
But the promise remains largely unfulfilled because legal and structural barriers in too many places prevent women from participating. Cultural norms – real or imagined – often create physical threats that prevent them from attaining a formal role.
Well, we can’t wait any longer.
So on Monday, the Obama Administration will launch a comprehensive new roadmap that will be accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the U.S. Government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. In a speech on Monday at Georgetown University, I will explain how our troops, our diplomats, and our development experts will all work together to take our commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to the next level and make it a priority for American foreign policy. (Applause.)
So finally, let me close where I began: with Liberia.
After the protests and the peace talks, after Liberians finally went to the polls and elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, she stood before her nation to deliver the inaugural address. In it, she spoke directly to the women of Liberia and to their sisters across Africa and around the world.
“Until a few decades ago,” she said, “Liberian women endured the injustice of being treated as second-class citizens. During the years of our civil war, they bore the brunt of inhumanity and terror. They were conscripted into war, gang raped at will, forced into domestic slavery… It is the women who labored and advocated for peace throughout the region.” And now, she said, “The future belongs to us because we have taken charge of it.”
It is time for all of us to take charge of the future, to change how the world thinks about conflict and how we stop it and prevent it; about security and how we provide it; about peace and how we realize it. And as we do so, it is past time for women to take their rightful place, side-by-side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided, in the negotiations to make peace and in the institutions to keep it.
And I am very grateful that all of you who are here tonight supporting the Crisis Group understand and are committed to these goals. Let us work together to achieve them. Thank you very much. (Applause.)