Women on a mission for peace

A joint United Nations and African Union Solidarity Mission: Women, peace and security for development in the Horn of Africa

Sitting on the floor together is one of my favourite ways to learn things. People have a way of opening up over a cup of tea, seated on a cushion. I could be you and you could be me. This notion of inclusiveness and equality was a central theme throughout the Solidarity Mission that colleagues and I, from the United Nations, took with our counterparts from the African Union.

Together, we learned what peace, security and development means for women in the Horn of Africa — a region anticipating and preparing for a lasting and sustainable peace.

In the face of growing and complex challenges globally, from migration to deepening inequalities and climate change, it is critical that we are using all capabilities and capacities. No bird can fly on one wing. Similarly, no society can function without the equal engagement of all its people. In addition to the need to leverage women’s equal participation, gender equality itself is a proven avenue to grow economies, address inequality, strengthen human rights protection, and achieve sustainable peace and security.

For women to experience real progress — to be engaged and part of the decision-making process when it comes to peace, security and development requires political leadership and buy-in.

This is the reason why our Solidarity Missions over the past three years have been such an important initiative. They have aimed for a mix of discussions around policies, laws, politics and solutions as well as frank conversations about the barriers to peace and prosperity.

This is the briefing I delivered to the United Nations Security Council on the Joint Mission to the Horn of Africa.

Deputy Secretary-General’s briefing to the Security Council on Joint Mission to the Horn of Africa

Madame President,

I would like to congratulate the United Kingdom on assuming the Presidency of the Security Council this month and thank South Africa for their successful Presidency during the month of October.

📷: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Thank you for the invitation to brief the Security Council on my recent joint mission with the African Union to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia.

This is the fourth visit I have undertaken focused on women, peace and security and development, and the third joint solidarity’s mission with the African Union. I am pleased that Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed is here to brief alongside me.

At the request of the Prime Minister, I also travelled with senior United Nations officials to Sudan, to focus on support for the transition, UNAMID, and women’s leadership.

These missions are an opportunity to strengthen implementation of our shared UN-AU frameworks — on peace and security, the 2030 and 2063 Agendas, and on Silencing the Guns.

I would like to commend the leadership of Chairperson Faki as well as the AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop who led the AU delegation.

In each country we met heads of state, ministers, senior women government officials, civil society, the international community and our United Nations country teams and peacekeeping missions.

📷: UN Executive Office of the Secretary General

I left all five countries with a sense of hope and optimism. The chance for peace in this region is real. The international community together with these countries can find lasting solutions to the complex challenges of the region.

Each country is moving at its own pace through a process of reform and transformation. And in all countries, women are playing a critical leadership role in social cohesion, economic revival, and peace.

The leaders of these countries are making concrete efforts to place gender equality and greater representation of women at the heart of reforms in order to reap the benefits of the links between inclusion, stability and peace, and give substance to prevention efforts during complex transitions.

Madame President,

Ethiopia now has its first woman President and half its government ministers are women. Together they hold some of the most significant decision-making portfolios in the country.

📷: UN Office to the African Union

The President is leading efforts at social cohesion, and women serve as Ministers of Peace, Labor and Infrastructure, and are at the helm of the National Election Commission and the Supreme Court. The programme of Government includes far-reaching legal reforms for greater gender equality. All of this was cited by the Nobel Committee when they awarded Prime Minister Abiy the Peace Prize last month.

📷: UN Office to the African Union

I also met with the Mothers for Peace Initiative who are working together across communities to repair the social fabric of the country, and with women who had served in UN peacekeeping given Ethiopia’s role as our largest troop-contributing country.

📷: Government of Somalia

In Somalia, we met the Prime Minister and dynamic female ministers who are introducing reforms to address the challenges of women’s low representation in political life. We heard from women in civil society, on the front lines of preventing the spread of violent extremism. We also met with the head of the National Independent Electoral Commission, who has a challenging task ahead of her. Our efforts in Somalia must prioritize financial support to free, fair and inclusive elections next year, as well as to the national development priorities of the government including debt relief.

There are islands of stability in country that can be built upon. But this will require more central government cooperation with federal member states as well as a road map for transitional justice and social reintegration.

📷: UN Eritrea

In Eritrea, one of the few countries in the world where women fought in significant numbers on the frontlines of the independence movement, gender equality and women’s leadership is seen as an unquestioned reality. We met with young women entrepreneurs and saw the investments in critical infrastructure from multipurpose dams to solar power, and roads which will reintegrate the country with the region.

📷: UN Eritrea

Relations between Eritrea and their neighbors are nascent, but they are making strides, and there is a unique opportunity in this moment for the international community to support greater integration and sustainable peace.

In Djibouti we met with local women who have built community centres to care for children with disabilities and support refugee and migrant women, in a context where many young women are fleeing conflict or migrating seeking a better life only to become victims of human trafficking and horrendous abuse.

📷: UN Djibouti

The country has recently passed legislation that increases maternity leave and provides for greater protection from violence, gender parity in the civil service and private sector, and a quota for women in parliament.

📷: UN Djibouti

In Sudan, I met some of the women who were the engine of the revolution and are now demanding equality and social inclusion across all strata of society.

All of this reinforces the need for us to question our own narrative and mindsets. I region with some of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, with rich natural resources, extraordinary capacity particularly among their youth, and genuine reforms. These are the elements that we need to support, and the narrative we need to share.

Madame President,

The road ahead for the Horn of Africa will not be easy. The foundations have been laid for a transition from peace to sustainable development. But building on these fragile foundations will require unity and cooperation across the region and common ground internationally to accompany these transitions.

This is particularly the case when it comes to the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons, of which there are tens of thousands, many of them vulnerable to trafficking. And equally in finding regional solutions to protection challenges, including sexual violence, in areas where conflict is still ongoing.

It was clear from our travels that this region is cut from the same fabric. Each country is its own shade, but they are interwoven. What happens in one country will impact the others, and so a regional approach and genuine collaboration are paramount. I am encouraged in this regard by signs of the revitalization of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development — IGAD. This platform will be essential to providing the necessary pathways we can all support.

This is also the reason why it was important that this was a joint mission with the African Union. In working together we can achieve so much more. As one government official said to us, the joint mission has changed the nature of the relationship with both the UN and AU, in terms of the quality and content of the dialogue. What is needed now is to maintain and deepen that dialogue and partnership, and to use this to encourage regional solutions and unity.

Madame President,

Finally, turning to Sudan. Last week, you heard from an amazing young woman, Alaa Salah, whose image became synonymous with the protests in Khartoum. I met Alaa, along with three other women’s civil society activists: Huda Shafig, Safaa Adamhere and Samah Mohamed in New York, after talking to their compatriots in Khartoum and El Fashir.

📷: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Thanks to the efforts of these amazing women and thousands more like them, Sudan is seeing a new dawn. We must be ready to support the people and government through a successful transition that lays the foundations for truly inclusive elections and sustained peace.

📷: UN Sudan

I welcome the recent unanimous extension by this Council of UNAMID’s mandate for one more year, and for its decision to include in that mandate support to the peace process and peacebuilding activities. During my visit to El Fashir and meetings with women from local communities, they made it clear that a premature drawdown could leave a security vacuum, exposing them to greater violence and putting at risk progress towards economic stability.

We have just taken part in a whole of system visioning exercise with the Sudanese government that will enable us to respond to the changing context and support Sudan’s priorities over the next three years.

📷: UN Sudan

This exercise establishes a vision for our partnership with the Sudanese people, our support to those leading the transition — the Forces for Freedom and Change, the Sovereignty Council and the Transitional Government — and the national development plan that they have jointly constituted. Our responses will sequence immediate and longer-term activities, in alignment with the priorities set by the government. These priorities include the peace process, economic and social development, economic reforms, the reintegration of internally displaced people, and comprehensive transitional justice and reconciliation.

These are tall orders, and while they need to be delivered urgently, expectations must also be managed. I urge the Council, and the international community more broadly, to assist to identify concrete actions which can be delivered in the short term over the next three months, maintaining momentum while addressing the mid and long-term opportunities necessary for lasting peace.

At the same time, the government is committed to addressing root causes. I cannot put it better than the Sudanese Minister who told me: “It’s not peace documents that are missing in Sudan. We have shelves of beautifully worded peace agreements since independence. We need to address the root causes — exclusion, rights, marginalization, underdevelopment. We need a Marshall Plan for areas of our country and the support of the international community to deliver this.”

Responding to the opportunity in Sudan will require putting aside our usual ways of working. Development investment must accompany the transition if it is to take root and flourish. Continuous efforts in a wide range of critical areas — such as delisting and debt relief — will be urgently needed to give Sudan a fresh start. As will creative solutions for domestic resources and external investments, including tax reforms and recovering stolen assets.


While they are moving at different speeds, each country in this region is heading in the right direction. We must seize this opportunity to invest and support peace — towards women’s participation and leadership, education, peace dividends, free and fair elections, and the short-term high-impact projects that reach those who are farthest behind.

Having met with our UN staff in each country I can attest to their courage, sacrifice, commitment, motivation, and willingness to walk this road together in support of the collective goals of national counterparts. From our UNOAU office who are leading our partnership with the African Union on peace and security, to the innovative efforts of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on trafficking in the region, UN Women’s work to mobilize and support women’s demands, UNDP’s role on sustainable development, the Economic Commission for Africa’s efforts at strengthening economies, and all those who serve in our UN Country Teams under the leadership of our Resident Coordinators alongside the critical work of our peacekeeping and political missions.

With the solidarity and support of the international community, these countries can overcome their challenges and become an anchor for growth and stability for the broader region and the African continent.

📷: UN Assistance Mission in Somalia

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to our peacekeepers, and mention in particular our women in peacekeeping. In each country, we visited it was starkly clear the critical importance of women serving in security forces, in the police, military, and in peacekeeping. These women against all odds, strengthen our protection efforts increase the credibility of our efforts, engage in local-level mediation, and make communities feel more at ease. And yet we continue to deploy less than 4% female peacekeepers. Much more can and should be done.

📷: UN Office to the African Union

Women shared their practical challenges with us. Even where they are enrolled in their national security services, they are often not provided the opportunities they need to be deployed — from map reading to specific driving and computer skills. When they are deployed, they often contend with harassment or are asked to serve tea and coffee rather than patrol communities. The kits we provide do not fit the needs of women. In contexts such as Somalia where head covering is needed, this is left to the individual women to secure. And while this may be the first time these words have been said in the Security Council, sanitary pads are a basic necessity for women and yet do not form part of their deployment kits.

As you return to the Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security this afternoon, I hope that these issues will be among those discussed.

I humbly urge this distinguished council to heed the winds of change so that we may continue to strive towards peace in all hearts and nations.


📷: UN Assistance Mission in Somalia

It really does take a village of committed people to make a mission like this possible. Preparations start months in advance and after there is tremendous follow up to ensure we do everything we can to move the vision forward. Thank you.

It also takes a group of committed souls to say, “Yes we want to go!” Thank you for being part of this journey.

In alphabetical order:

Mr Adam Abdelmoula, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia

Ms Minata Samate Cessouma, African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs

Ms Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security

Ms Amira El Fadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union

Ms Anita Kokui Gbeho, Deputy Joint Special Representative, United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur

Mr Fink Haysom, Secretary-General’s Adviser on Sudan

Mr Jeremiah Mamabolo, Joint Special Representative and Head of the African Union-United nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur

Ms Barbara Manzi, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Djibouti

Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director

Ms Fatima Mohammed, African Union Permanent Observer to the United Nations

Ms Susan Ngogi, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Eritrea

Mr Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa

Ms Pramila Patten, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Ms Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa

Mr James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia

Ms Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union

Mr Steven Were Omamo, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Human Coordinator, ai for Ethiopia

Ms Gwi-Yeop Son, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Sudan