My Lords, at the outset, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I look forward to working with her on our shared interest in international development. I also want to pay tribute to the contribution made over many years by the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, to our understanding of the strength and determination shown by women who have been widowed. They need and deserve our deep respect and support. We have heard that in a number of contributions this afternoon.
Too often, women are described as victims, but I would say that they are fighters, survivors and protectors. Recently, women’s groups in Nigeria were able to reach a compromise with oil companies that benefited the whole community. In Afghanistan, I have met women who have shown enormous courage and leadership in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. Women have a finger on the pulse of what their communities need and deserve, and it is women who can and will bring peace and stability to their communities. In every respect, women have a vested interest in the critical objectives of peace, security and reconciliation.
As we have just heard, UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security specifies that women must be part of seeking and managing all peace processes, but it remains the case that too often they struggle to secure their right to this role. Can the Minister reassure the House that, as the NGO Saferworld has said, more attention will be given to the conflict prevention aspects of the women, peace and security agenda, including by understanding how gender relates to the underlying drivers of conflict and violence? Regrettably, the fine words that we hear have not often been translated into real and tangible change. Women are too often portrayed as victims instead of being offered the opportunity to be fully integrated into both formal and informal peace processes to actually prevent violent conflict and sustain fragile states.
The fact is that there are examples of fine words that have been translated into real change. In Northern Ireland, South Africa and Rwanda, we can see the difference that engagement with women makes to governance and peace. Women’s engagement is not, as some might claim, with stereotypical soft issues. On the contrary, women can add skills, understanding and experience to the issues, but tragically they often struggle to hold on to their place on the political agenda.
Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that UN Resolution 1325 mandates that all states must ensure women’s full participation in all peace processes? What is the Minister’s assessment of the effectiveness of that mandate so far? Is it not the case that even after the passing of many national and international frameworks, endemic discrimination and gender-based violence remain significant barriers to achieving the 1325 goals? Increasingly, we recognise that such violence against women and girls is a defining characteristic of modern warfare and that women are being targeted as a way for male combatants to humiliate and undermine other male combatants. In many conflicts, rape is used as a weapon of war to humiliate and dominate, and to disrupt social ties. The proof of this is that we have seen 39 active conflicts over the past 10 years, but very few women have been a part of any peace negotiations.
When I see a picture of a large table of people deliberating on how to deal with conflict, I know without looking very hard that it is unlikely that women, who actually are the peacemakers and the activists, will be in that picture. They are generally ignored and will not be sitting at the table. The reality is that this neglects a rich source of skills, insight and energy, and we neglect it at our peril. A shocking statistic is that out of 585 peace treaties drafted in the past two decades, only 16% included any specific reference to women.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to see the work of women activists, and I can vouch for their ability to negotiate fairly and effectively. However, women need to be involved not only in post-settlement decision-making but in the nitty-gritty of negotiations aimed at resolving the root causes of conflict. Can the Minister confirm that this is a clear priority for the Government? Simply reiterating the arguments for dealing with violence will not do. It is time that we saw concerted efforts to deal with the underlying causes, which include power imbalances, systemic inequality and the effects of discriminatory social norms, to which other noble Lords have referred.
Finally, a vital element of the discussions currently taking place in New York on a post-2015 development agenda agreement must—unequivocally—include a commitment to eliminate all forms of violence, including sexual violence, by the date the delegates have set themselves of 2030.