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National statements

Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security: Displaced Women and Girls – Leaders and Survivors

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Iraq
  • Justice
  • Peace and Security
  • Peacebuilding
  • Peacekeeping
  • Syria
  • Women


Statement by Ms Natasha Stott Despoja AM, Ambassador for Women and Girls

Thank you Madam President.

Australia thanks Argentina for convening this open debate on women, peace and security, and for bringing the Council's attention to the specific risks and challenges faced by some of the most vulnerable members of society – displaced women and girls.

We thank the Secretary-General, the Executive Director of UN Women, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, for their commitment in implementing the Council's women, peace and security agenda.

We also thank the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and to Suaad Allami, for sharing with us the extraordinarily harsh realities facing refugee and internally displaced women and girls in conflict.

We commend today's adoption by this Council of a Presidential Statement focused on these issues.

Madam President

As we've heard, the world is facing more simultaneous, major crises than at any time since World War II. Civilians are direct targets in military strategies that aim to wipe out entire populations and to terrorise civilians. Critical civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, are being deliberately targeted.

More people are being displaced, and more humanitarian workers are being targeted than ever before.

In this terrifying reality, it is women and girls who are disproportionately affected and harmed. As we've heard, of the more than 51 million displaced people around the world, the majority are women and girls. As they flee, many face risk of violence, human rights violations and abuses, as well as discrimination and deprivation. They face rising risks of preventable disease as basic services fail under the strain of displacement and crisis. And women's existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated: child, early and forced marriages increase; economic opportunities are undermined, which increases their exposure to sex or labor trafficking; and girls' education is disrupted at a higher rate than boys, affecting their opportunities over their lifetimes.

We must ensure that our responses address women's and girls' specific vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence. We must focus on improving prevention and response efforts, supporting the efforts of civil society and other human rights defenders, strengthening accountability and access to justice, and ensuring access to a full range of services: medical, legal, psychosocial and health services, including sexual and reproductive health.

Australia recognises this is a significant issue and more practical support on the ground is needed. Since 2013 Australia has provided $3 million to the UNHCR to support delivery of the 'Action against Sexual and Gender-based Violence Strategy'. This Strategy coordinates actors operating on the ground, and supports civil society to implement prevention and response strategies. We have also provided $4 million to strengthening the International Committee of the Red Cross's response to sexual violence.

Increased exposure to sexual violence also exposes women and girls to dire health risks. Services that enable the safe termination of pregnancies from conflict-related rape, and access to HIV testing and counselling services, are fundamental to helping survivors of sexual violence restore their lives.

Madam President

In 2007, Australia supported the establishment of the 'Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in Crisis and Post Crisis Settings'– known as the SPRINT initiative – and has provided $10.2 million to fund the initiative.

Only last month, Australia provided $2 million to the United Nations Population Fund to support hundreds of thousands of women and girls affected by the ongoing violence in Iraq. We have also provided emergency obstetric supplies for 780,000 women in Syria, as well as 57,000 'dignity kits' and reproductive health services.

Displaced women and girls are not merely victims. Their leadership and participation in preventing and resolving conflict, as well as reconstructing post-conflict societies, must be harnessed. This includes in refugee camps and displacement settings where women must play a central role in the design and delivery of gender-sensitive programs.

Over the period 2012-2016, Australia is providing $12 million to the UN Peacebuilding Fund. There needs to be more projects focusing on women in peacebuilding, particularly women's participation in political processes and post-conflict planning. We are still a long way from achieving the target of spending 15 per cent of overall funds on gender equality.

More must also be done to ensure displaced women and girls have legal protections and that they can legally remove themselves from situations of vulnerability. Citizenship rights must enable nationality to pass from a mother to her children, and women and girls must be provided access to identity documents.

To help relocate women and girls from danger, the Australian Government provides specific resettlement avenues through the 'Woman at Risk' program. Since 1989, Australia has resettled more than 14,500 refugee women through this program.

A lack of data on displacement, including sex and age-disaggregated data, affects our prevention and response efforts. As Australia suggested during the Council's Arria formula meeting on the protection of internally displaced persons, that Australia convened with Chile in May, peacekeeping and other UN missions should be required to monitor and report on displacement-related developments.

Madam President, in conclusion,

Next year, as we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325, Australia looks forward to the High-Level Review which will enable us all to reflect on the progress made, as well as the ongoing challenges in implementing the Council's women, peace and security agenda. We welcome the appointment of Radhika Commaraswarmy and look forward to working with her as the author of the Global Study and, of course, with the high-level advisory team, in further embedding the Council's work on the women, peace and security agenda.

Thank you, Madam President.

(As delivered)

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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