Following are UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Group of Friends on Preventing Violent Extremism, in New York today:
Thank you for your membership in this important Group of Friends. Since September 2017, when it was established by Jordan and Norway, the Group has served as a useful forum for exploring lessons learned and best practices.
Today our focus is on how to defend the rights of women, place their voices and expertise at the centre of our strategies, and work together with them to limit and prevent violent extremism.
Groups like Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Boko Haram and others have systematically subjugated hundreds of thousands of women to slavery, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, trafficking and other horrific ordeals. What is common to these and many other groups that spread terror is the specific targeting of women’s rights.
It is no surprise, then, that a sudden and extreme pushback on women’s rights is often among the earliest warning signs of the spread of violent extremism. It is similarly no surprise that women are often in the front lines of prevention.
This is not a simple equation, however. In many instances, women have been coerced or persuaded to join violent extremist groups and to engage in combat and suicide bombings.
Given the multitude of roles that women play, it is critical to ensure that our efforts to prevent violent extremism include women’s voices and experiences.
I was pleased to meet recently in Addis Ababa with members of FemWise, one of the networks and groups of mediators that are making invaluable contributions in advancing women’s role in peace processes and negotiations.
The United Nations work in Asia and Africa has shown that women are more likely than men to work on prevention. We also know that recruiting more women to serve in law enforcement can result in earlier access to crucial information, better policing styles and reduced escalations of violence. However, women continue to be seriously underrepresented in law enforcement and security agencies in the vast majority of countries.
Our efforts must also address structural challenges that prevent women from gaining equally from economic opportunities, social services, access to justice and dialogue on national policies. These barriers perpetuate the inequality and gender dynamics that can be exploited by violent extremist groups.
This is why, in 2015, the Security Council recognized the importance of a women, peace and security approach in all efforts to counter and prevent terrorism. Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions are our guide.
We must also promote access to education, as well as the core values of equality, tolerance, justice and peace. And we must offer a viable alternative vision to what is promoted by violent extremist groups. Building critical thinking within communities can make them more resilient and less vulnerable to hate speech, which has fuelled many atrocities.
Given the growing magnitude of the threat posed by hate speech and hate crimes, I have tasked my Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together a United Nations team to scale up our response, define a system-wide strategy and present a global plan of action. A critical part of this work will be to integrate a gender lens and identify hate speech that specifically targets women.
Alongside our prevention efforts, there must be accountability. That means defending the rights of victims and survivors of terror, and providing the justice they deserve and the support they need to rebuild their lives.
We must do more to provide the platforms they need to be heard, at home and abroad. The voices of women and girls can be the most decisive narrative against the brutality and perverted ideology perpetuated by violent extremism.
We also need to do more to support those women who join violent extremist groups to disengage and reintegrate into society in a way that is dignified and sustainable. This means doing more than just providing material opportunities. Violent extremist groups tend to exploit the need for identity, purpose and meaning in life. If we are to address the push factors of misogyny, injustice and a deficit in dignity that many women and girls experience in their societies, our approach must offer an equally appealing sense of purpose and fulfilment.
Many United Nations entities are integrating gender dynamics into their responses. In Nigeria, the United Nations has helped establish a gender desk as part of national counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism efforts, which recruited additional female investigators. In North Africa, the United Nations is supporting national institutions to research the gender specific dimensions of violent extremism. And in the next few months, the United Nations will launch a handbook on the Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism, to help countries develop gender-sensitive security measures.
Funding for gender-responsive approaches will be crucial. I reaffirm the commitment to allocating a minimum of 15 per cent of funding in this area to initiatives that promote gender equality.
The scale of the challenge and the rights that are at risk make it critical for us to work holistically to integrate women’s needs and experiences into our interventions. This Group has a key role to play. Thank you for your engagement.
Source: United Nations