UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Increasingly vast military expenditures and “the extreme marginalization and exclusion” of women from peace negotiations are risking renewed conflicts instead of promoting peace and stability, the head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality warned Thursday.
Sima Bahous told the U.N. Security Council that curbing military spending has been a strategic objective of the women’s movement for peace for many decades. But even in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and the global economy was shrinking, worldwide military expenditures increased by 2.6% to nearly $2 trillion, she said.
“The evidence clearly shows that high levels of military spending in post-conflict setting increase the risk of renewed conflict," Bahous said. “It also shows that investing in gender equality has a high return in peace dividends.”
“Yet, we continue to overspend in the former and under-invest in the latter," the executive director of UN Women said.
Bahous said the resolution adopted by the Security Council 21 years ago demanding equal participation of women in peace processes has only resulted in “a glimmer of light.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also criticized the absence of women from rooms where decisions are made, saying, “We can no longer exclude one half of humanity from international peace and security.”
He reiterated his warning to world leaders last month that the world faces “the greatest cascade of crises in generations,” including a return of military coups, a new arms race, the risk of use of nuclear weapons “at its highest level in almost four decades” and the largest annual increase in military spending as a share of GDP last year since 2009.
“There is a direct relationship between greater investment in weapons and greater insecurity and inequality for women,” Guterres said.
The U.N. chief called the power imbalance between men and women “the most stubborn and persistent of all inequalities,” pointing to rising rates of violence and misogyny that women and girls face in every society and “the extreme underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions.”
He cited the exclusion of women from the political process by the warring parties in Yemen, the closing space for women’s rights after two coups in nine months in Mali, the rapid reversal of women’s rights in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, “chilling reports of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war” in Ethiopia, and a large number of women’s organizations in Myanmar that have long been a force for peace moving underground after the Feb. 2 military takeover.
UN Women’s Bahous noted that the rapid tak