March 30, 2020 by Jenaina Irani and Katrina Leclerc
With the outbreak of the global pandemic of COVID-19, civil society-led Beijing+25 WPS-YPS Action Coalition strategized and mobilized. The pandemic did not stop their global advocacy: on March 17, 2020, they hosted an online event “Beijing+25: Where are the Women and Youth Peacebuilders?”, originally planned during the now-cancelled United Nations’ 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
As the situation continued to evolve – the CSW first postponed, then cancelled; gatherings in New York limited to maximum 10 people, then strongly discouraged altogether – women and youth peacebuilders who comprise the Action Coalition strategized and revised the modality of the event. Their determination and the success of the online discussion send a clear message: “Our resolve will not be stifled by the COVID-19. Our voices will not be silenced!”
Ultimately, the event took the form of a virtual roundtable discussion, which brought together 180 participants representing the civil society, Member States, and UN entities. They engaged in a strategic discussion on the necessary actions for the implementation of the WPS and YPS agendas and their intentional and meaningful inclusion in the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) process and outcomes, in order to prevent the weakening of agreed-upon language in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Women, Peace and Security and Youth, Peace and Security resolutions.
“There cannot be empowerment without peace, and there cannot be peace without gender equality,” said Mallika Iyer, GNWP’s Program Officer, as she introduced the Advocacy Paper developed by the Beijing +25 WPS-YPS Action Coalition identifying and coordinating messaging on key recommendations from civil society within the Beijing+25/GEF process. The key messages and recommendations of the paper were presented by participating organizations of the civil society-led Action Coalition from Afghanistan, Latin America, Iraq, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Ukraine, and Canada. Their message was echoed by many of the other high-level speakers and grassroots activists who took the floor during the discussion.
Keynote speakers included Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and initiator of UNSCR 1325, Dr. Patricia Licuanan, former Chair of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Ms. Bandana Rana, Vice-Chair of the CEDAW Committee, Ms. Paivi Kannisto, Chief, Women, Peace, and Security and Humanitarian Action Section at UN Women, Ambassador Jacqueline O’Neill, Canada’s Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security, Ms. Cecile Mazzacurati, Head of the Secretariat of the Global Coalition on Youth, Peace, and Security at UNFPA and Ms. Shannon Kowalski, from the International Women’s Health Coalition and the civil society representative to the GEF Core Group and Dr. Lina Abirafeh, Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University. All of them have agreed that the GEF offers an important opportunity to step up the commitment and action for gender equality. As Ambassador Chowdhury put it, “The year 2020 gives us the opportunity to put renewed energy to roll back the dual scourges of patriarchy and misogyny” – but only if WPS and YPS are meaningfully integrated into all discussions and outcomes.
In an encouraging development for women and youth peacebuilders around the world, keynote speaker Ms. Sarah Hendricks, Director, Policy, Program, and Intergovernmental Division at UN Women announced that GEF’s core group set up a task force to identify specific actions that can strengthen WPS and YPS integration into the GEF process. The task force identified four possible modalities for WPS and YPS integration and conducted consultations with the civil society, from which two options emerged as the most viable:
1) a stand-alone Action Coalition, or
2) a “hybrid” mechanism, which, for now, has been termed a WPS compact
Ms. Hendricks explained that the compact approach has some strong level of support, as it would build on existing normative frameworks of both the WPS and YPS agendas, while remaining grounded in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Discussions on the potential compact will continue to be shaped based on consultations with civil society, Member States, and the core group of the GEF process.
The welcome announcement came as a result of persistent civil society advocacy over the past months. The strong and enthusiastic participation of peacebuilding organizations from around the world in the virtual discussion shows that women and youth peacebuilders are ready to continue the advocacy for their meaningful inclusion in GEF progress and outcomes. As Ms. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, CEO and founder of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders emphasized in her closing remarks, “COVID-19 will not stop women and youth peacebuilders from our advocacy to make our voices heard!”
Want to know more about the Beijing+25 Action Coalition on WPS-YPS? Click here.
For full recording of the March 17th event: Click here.