UNSG`s Special Representative in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, stressed on Wednesday the importance of women getting engaged into the process for a Cyprus settlement, noting that “often women shine the most when things look the most dire.”
Spehar was speaking during an event in Nicosia, organized under the auspices of the diplomatic missions of Australia, Norway and Canada in Cyprus under the title “Women in Peace and Security. The Leadership Trio of UNFICYP – a Global First”. The UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is the first mission in the 71-year history of UN peacekeeping to have a woman as the Head of Mission, as well as female leadership in both uniformed components. Spehar, who comes from Canada, serves as the Head of Mission, while the police component is led by Senior Police Adviser Ann-Kristin Kvilekval who comes from Norway, and the military component by Force Commander, Major General Cheryl Pearce, from Australia.
Referring to the role that women can play with regard to the Cyprus peace process, Spehar said in her speech that the UN mission to Cyprus is really investing in this. I am still not satisfied with the results I am seeing but we are not giving up, she added.
She noted that there are several challenges. “First of all we don’t have negotiations right now. That has led to a lot of disappointment and disenchantment not only by women but men as well. It means that a lot of people have, kind of, dropped out of the race, civil society actors that are just losing their steam,” she noted.
Moreover she said that there is a challenge of going beyond the well-meaning usual suspects who have been militating for change and for a deal, for a solution for so many decades and haven’t gotten it. We have to go beyond this well-meaning group of people and get more people involved, she said, adding that “there is an incredible group of dynamic Cypriot women from both sides of the divide who haven’t given up and who could really make things change.”
“With all due respect to certain individuals, there is a certain dearth of leadership on the Cyprus issue right now. I think that women can fill that vacuum and we have been trying to push the concept of women as the vanguard of the peace process. I think it is doable,” Spehar stressed
She said that there needs to be a broader process, more inclusion, generationally, geographically and also listen to people who might have different points of view and try to understand their concerns. “We know that women are among are the most conservative on the island with respect to actually getting a peace deal and reuniting the island,” the UN diplomat noted.
She said that the untapped potential of women in peace processes and of women in our societies as a whole is one of the key issues of our time, “and I really would like to keep working to basically unleash that potential here on the island.”
Spehar, Kvilekval and Pearce spoke during their event about the challenges and difficulties they faced in their careers and how they coped with them, stressing the need for women`s involvement in peacekeeping operations and peacemaking processes.
Spehar said there are 7682 female peacekeepers, both uniformed and civilian, out of close to 103,000, which amounts to 13%.
Between 1957 and 1989, only 20 uniformed women served in UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. In 1993, 1 per cent of all uniformed peacekeeping personnel were female. In 2014, the number had only risen to 3 per cent.
Moreover Spehar stressed that the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 was a landmark moment for women`s contribution in peace and security and referred to the UNSG Antonio Guterres` efforts since 2017 to promote gender parity in the UN.
The High Commissioner of Australia Sam Beever and the Ambassador of Norway Jorn Gjelstad delivered welcome remarks at the event, stressing the importance of women`s participation in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict resolution.