Fifteen years after a landmark UN resolution called for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking and peace building, activists and a top UN official blamed the 193 UN member states on Tuesday for the scarcity of women at negotiating tables.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women, said growing evidence shows "that perhaps the greatest and most under-utilized tool we have for successfully building peace is the meaningful inclusion of women."
She stressed at a high-level UN Security Council meeting that many of the much-needed changes rest with UN member states.
Alaa Murabit, who heads an organization called The Voice of Libyan Women was more blunt, blaming the United Nations and its member states for continuing "to ignore the one tool that has never been more urgent for us to utilize: the participation of women."
"From my own experience in Libya, I know the only reliable requirement for admission to peace talks is a gun," she told the council at the day-long meeting which the UN said had the highest number of speakers ever – 113.
Julienne Lusenge, who heads a coalition of women's organizations in conflict-torn Congo, said women from North Kivu province asked to take part in peace talks with M23 rebels in 2013 but were told there were only two sides to the conflict: the government and the rebels.
"You need to take up arms to be at the peace table," she said.
But Ms. Lusenge warned that "there will never be lasting peace without the participation of women."
NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said the UN passed the resolution in 2000 because of the "brutal fact" that "it is more dangerous to be a woman in a conflict zone than it is to be a soldier."
While NATO has taken steps to implement the resolution, he told the council more must be done. And with the world facing increasing "violent extremism and terrorism," Mr. Vershbow warned, "it will be women, once again, who are most at risk."
UN Women's Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said a recent global study showed that women's participation at peace tables "is still symbolic or low" – and that a lack of political will, financing and accountability, and attitudes toward women continue to be obstacles.
The study also showed that women's leadership and participation at peace tables ensures the inclusion of community needs, improves humanitarian assistance, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks, and enhances economic recovery after conflict, she said.
Libya's Ms. Murabit said the world could learn a lot from the ongoing peace process in Colombia which brought victims and their experiences to the negotiating table – 60 percent of them women.
A British-drafted resolution adopted unanimously by the council on Tuesday calls on member states "to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions" dealing with preventing and resolving conflicts. It also calls for greater council oversight and increased funding.