The General Debate of the 68th session of the General Assembly was held on 24 September – 2 October 2013. During the General Debate, the General- Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the President of the General Assembly, John W. Ashe, and representatives from 195 member states and observers put forth their concerns, positions and priorities to the Assembly under the theme “Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage”.
As part of WILPF’s engagement with the General Assembly, PeaceWomen and our sister program Reaching Critical Will worked together to monitor the debate for gender and disarmament issues.
Out of a total of 196 analyzed statements, 95 contained general statements on women and gender issues. Out of these statements around 44 countries made specific reference to women in terms of participation, human rights, peace processes, and other specific thematic issues. During the debate most of the member states highlighted the importance of increasing women’s participation in all areas of decision-making. They recognized the significance of empowering women in order to improve governance, development, and justice. For instance, Sweden claimed, “…by ensuring gender equality you also improve a country’s productivity, economy, and rule of law”. Likewise, Belgium stated that member states are obligated to uphold women’s rights: “Law should guarantee individuals freedom. Freedom, it is also the right of young women to study, to choose themselves their partner or to remain single. Freedom, it is also the right for women to move into the public space as they want.”
During this session, there was a sharp increase in the number of delegates that referred to women in the context of conflict. As opposed to 5 countries in the previous year, 18 member states expressed concerns over the use of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict. However, with the exception of few countries (Japan, Liechtenstein, Sweden), most states treated women as victims of war rather than active agents of peace and security. State members called for greater initiatives to eradicate sexual violence in war and to facilitate access to justice and improved provision of services to victims. The United Kingdom, Liechtenstein, and Korea supported the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiatives (PSVI), which aims to strengthen international efforts to respond to sexual violence in conflict including through capacity-building and through efforts to end impunity for survivors. Consistent with the Security Council Resolution 1325, Denmark, Croatia, and Sweden vowed to strengthen women’s equal and full participation in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace-building missions. Montenegro, Serbia, and Netherlands explicitly mentioned the Security Council Resolution 1325 and pledged to fully implement it.
It should also be pointed out that the number of female speakers during the general debate was diminishingly low. Out of 196 statements, 14 were delivered by female representatives (Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malawi, Maldives, Trinidad and Tobago). Eight of them referred to women or gender issues in general terms, and two specifically spoke about women in the context of peace and security. No member state spoke of women in connection to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), arms trade more generally, disarmament, or nonproliferation.