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Canada’s National Statement at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security

October 21, 2021

Canada’s National Statement delivered by Canada’s Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security on October 21, 2021:

Madam President,

I will now address the Council on behalf of Canada. I sincerely thank Kenya for its efforts to allow non-members to speak, and hope this signals a return to a more open and inclusive Security Council.

This annual debate is an opportunity to reflect on the Secretary General’s report, and many of the experiences of the past year – from our struggle to manage a global pandemic, to the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, to the discovery of unmarked burials at the sites of former residential schools for Indigenous children within our own borders.

More than ever, Canada is determined to reflect, and to proceed with humility. We want to talk about our successes, but are also resolved to share openly our challenges, recognizing that we all have much to learn on this journey to true gender equality.

A major issue that has come into focus for Canadians this year is sexual misconduct in our own Armed Forces. No service and no level has been immune – including some of our most senior leaders. One of the things we know about sexual misconduct is that is not about sex. It is about power and a lack of respect for the dignity of others. We know that to address it meaningfully, as we are determined to do, we must examine every aspect of organizational culture. 

We know that in this challenge, we are not alone. This is one of the many reasons that we are proud to have spearheaded the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations. Core to the spirit of the Elsie Initiative is reaching the numerical targets set out in the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy. And, looking beyond percentage points to ensure workplaces that support women and root out harmful practices and unacceptable behaviours.

No peacekeeper should face sexual harassment or assault. No one should feel unsafe because camp designs are not gender-responsive. Simple considerations can have devastating consequences – such as washrooms and showers often being located far from sleeping quarters with a path that is not well-lit. Nor should any peacekeeper have the added stress of wondering where to seek menstrual products or needed medical care.

We thank Australia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom for their financial contributions, and for the leadership shown by Jordan, Liberia, Mexico, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo as the first Member States to implement activities through the Elsie Fund. Canada is working at home too – we are currently undergoing an independent “barrier assessment” using the Elsie Initiative’s methodology.

We are taking important steps domestically to advance the WPS agenda. Earlier this year, Canada held a special meeting on women, peace and security, bringing together all of the ministers whose departments are partners of our National Action Plan – ten ministers, plus our Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They met to reflect on what we have been doing, renew momentum, and look ahead to the creation of our next plan.

Of course, we began by listening to women peacebuilders themselves – youth, Indigenous and other leaders working in Canada and abroad.

A key takeaway was the importance of continuously supporting the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in all aspects of decision-making related to peace and security – because it is their right, and because it improves outcomes. 

We know that barriers to women’s participation are structural and originate in the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence they face, which is exacerbated in conflict or crisis contexts. Threats and violence against women peacebuilders, both physical and online, are expressions of misogyny and are aimed at preventing them from carrying out their essential work.

On the international front, engaging with women peacebuilders still needs to be fully institutionalized within the UN system. The achieved gender parity in senior management is a welcome step. However, there is still work to do in transforming norms and requiring real accountability from UN global leadership, including from Special Envoys, Special Representatives and other Heads of field operations.

The crisis in Afghanistan, in particular, is a litmus test of all of our commitments to implementing Resolution 1325 and the subsequent resolutions on WPS. The meaningful, direct inclusion of diverse Afghan women in all political and security processes is essential, and it is in all of our interests as it is required for the prevention of terrorism and state collapse, the immediate provision of humanitarian assistance, and the respect of human rights for all.

Each of us has more to do. In Canada, we created a new WPS Awards program, which will see its first women peacebuilder winners announced shortly. Canada also launched the #PeaceByHer advocacy campaign to recognize, support, include and protect women peacebuilders, which has reached over 6 million people on social media, in 12 languages to date. We also created a dedicated funding envelope to support women peacebuilders at the grassroots level.

As co-chair of the WPS Focal Points Network with Uruguay, Canada has worked to ensure greater inclusion of diverse women peacebuilders and their protection on the frontlines; and helped push further implementation of the WPS agenda including beyond armed conflict settings.

As chair of the WPS Chiefs of Defence Network, Canada expanded the network to 56 member nations, published a Network Charter, and developed and distributed training for junior military staff.

Again in the spirit of openly sharing challenges, at the ministerial meeting, ministers also reinforced the relevance of the WPS agenda domestically. Indigenous women, girls, as well as gender and sexually diverse peacebuilders, in particular, still face unacceptable barriers to their full and effective participation in all aspects of decision-making. That is something we are determined to change – always, with humility.

As briefers have said over years to this Council, women do not need to be given a voice. They have voices. We must listen to them.

Thank you.

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