12 May 2020

Women Play Key Role in Crafting Peaceful, Sustainable Future for Papua New Guinea, Deputy Secretary-General Says, Briefing Peacebuilding Commission on Recent Visit

Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s briefing, as prepared for delivery, to the Peacebuilding Commission on the joint mission to Papua New Guinea, in New York today:

Thank you to Canada for inviting me to brief on my recent mission to Papua New Guinea, the fifth I have undertaken focused on women, peace and security, and development.  I was joined by the Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Winnie Byanyima, and the Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake.

The purpose of my mission was to mark International Women’s Day in a very meaningful way, to launch the United Nations-European Union Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and girls, and to discuss the challenges of gender equality alongside building peace, sustainable development and climate change.

I thank Prime Minister James Marape and the Government and people of Papua New Guinea for their warm hospitality during our visit.  And I am pleased to be joined here today by Davis Steven, the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the Minister for Bougainville Affairs and the Minister for Post-referendum Consultations and Dialogue of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

This was the last trip I made before the world changed overnight, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This unprecedented human crisis lends increased urgency to our discussions today.  Unless we act now, Papua New Guinea and countries like it risk losing the gains they have made on sustainable development and peace, with an increased risk of renewed violence and conflict.

Papua New Guinea is in some respects a microcosm of our broader global community.  Most of its people continue to live in rural areas and villages with a traditional way of life, but, in recent decades, the country has experienced both rapid population growth and rapid modernization.  The Prime Minister is the first generation of his family to speak English.

The Minister for Bougainville — and thank you for joining us — told me that, as a child, he walked for hours to see an airplane in Port Moresby, little thinking that he would later fly to New York to brief the Security Council on peace efforts in his country.  He said he “has lived 1,000 years in one lifetime” — a head-spinning rate of change.

This is one of the world’s most diverse countries, home to 800 ethnicities — 800 threads in the social fabric — who speak 12 per cent of the languages of the world.  This diversity can be a challenge, requiring serious investment in communications and infrastructure.  But, diversity is also an enormous strength.  In our interconnected world, Papua New Guinea and countries like it, that embrace different cultural identities while building a sense of the community as a whole, have important lessons for us all.

Last year’s successful referendum on Bougainville’s future status was a significant milestone in the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, and I congratulate all concerned, including Bertie Ahern, Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, who is here with us today.  I also commend the commitment to moving forward with the joint consultation process.  This is peacebuilding in action, and it is inspiring to see.

I was also inspired to hear from women peacebuilders around the country, who once again underlined the critical importance of women’s equal participation.  They shared their experiences around the impacts of tribal conflicts, of displacement, of supporting victims of attacks including the rising numbers of sorcery‑related attacks, and of the proliferation of arms in their communities.

They also spoke of how they are building peace in their communities.  In Bougainville, it was women who pushed their men to lay down their arms.  We must build on and invest in these capacities for peacebuilding.

During our visit to Hela Province, Governor Undialu presented a contribution of some $3 million to support the United Nations new Highlands Joint Programme, which focuses on supporting women and young people in playing greater roles in peacebuilding, strengthening community resilience, supporting the rule of law and delivering inclusive services.  I thank the Governor and assure him we will more than match these resources through the support of bilateral donors, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Spotlight Initiative.

On broader issues of gender equality, Papua New Guinea unfortunately has some of the highest levels of violence against women and girls in the world.  Nearly 2 out of every 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime — double the global average.

We cannot speak of peace and security when so many women and girls live in daily fear of violence.  This global threat is compounded by the restrictions of movement that have been introduced in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, which is why the Secretary-General recently issued his appeal for peace in the home.  It is more important than ever that we increase our investments, support and efforts to end all forms of gender-based violence.

I was honoured to lead a march in Port Moresby on International Women’s Day, and spoke in the central marketplace as we launched the Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and girls.  It was an unforgettable experience.  I was also impressed by the women-only bus that took me to the market, an innovation the Government has made with the support of the United Nations as we work together to protect women.

In the Highlands, I sat on the grass with women survivors of violence who told me about the poverty and insecurity that lie behind abuse and violence.  In too many places, the ties of family and community have loosened, and alcohol and substance abuse are rampant.

But, while these factors drive violence globally, it is clear that violence against women is first and foremost about gender inequality.  I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s recommitment to implementing constitutional provisions on reserved seats for women in Parliament.  Women’s full and equal participation in all spheres is the goal, and every journey begins with a single step.  We stand ready to support Papua New Guinea in all its efforts to build gender equality and end discrimination and violence against women.

I was deeply impressed by the capacities and potential of the extraordinary young people we met, who are eager to play a role in shaping their country, but often lack opportunities to do so.  Fifty-eight per cent of the population of Papua New Guinea is under 25 years old, one of the highest proportions in the Pacific.  This demographic presents a unique opportunity to achieve sustainable peace and development in the span of one generation.

But, slow progress on development and peace has fed a mistrust between young people and formal institutions.  The solution lies in access to quality education, decent employment and opportunities for political and civic participation, and I welcome the Government’s efforts towards these goals.  The creation of an institutional structure to represent and mainstream the views of young people would be another important way of supporting the contributions of young women and men.

As an island nation in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea is on the front lines of the climate crisis and home to the world’s first climate refugees.  Climate disruption is not a future threat, but a clear and present danger, affecting coastal communities in particular.  In the Highlands, the changing climate patterns and recurrent droughts risk exacerbating the tensions that can lead to violence.

I commend the Government for its ambition and commitment to increase its nationally determined commitment, and I was pleased to hear that the Sustainable Development Goal 13 Road Map is the cornerstone of the country’s climate action response.  Despite its small land area, Papua New Guinea is estimated to contain between 5 and 10 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, with a significant proportion of the world’s rainforests.  The United Nations is working with local and indigenous communities around the country to advance sustainable development solutions that work for people and for nature.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Nature Park in Port Moresby and discussed the Sustainable Development Goal 13 Road Map and Papua New Guinea’s vulnerability to climate disruptions with Environment Minister Wera Mori.  Conservation and climate have clear implications for peace, security and sustainable development.

When agricultural patterns are disrupted, increased competition for resources can drive violence in an area that is already prone to conflict.  This can be devastating in places that practice subsistence farming, where there is little access to basic services.  Conservation and restoration of forests, wetlands, agricultural lands and mangroves, to ensure water security, food security and sustainable livelihoods are key to the Sustainable Development Goals.  Papua New Guinea has pioneered successful solutions that can provide lessons for the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing terrible suffering around the world.  The restrictions that are essential to contain it are threatening to cause the most serious global depression in living memory.  We urgently need to protect and support the most vulnerable, who will be hardest hit and who have the fewest resources to cope.

Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is more important than ever, if we are to get through this pandemic together and build back stronger.  I commend efforts by the Government of Papua New Guinea and hope that their quick and comprehensive response will mitigate its worst impacts.  The prior challenges the country faced make the impact of the pandemic even worse than it might be.

The recovery must therefore aim to address the vulnerability of developing countries including Papua New Guinea to external shocks.  That will require unprecedented international solidarity.  I urge your strong support to the Government to achieve their goals of building resilience by diversifying the economy, away from resources and towards sustainable fisheries, agrobusiness and green tourism.

In addition to the current request for peacebuilding funds, it is essential that Member States, multilateral organizations and international financial institutions invest in sustainable development so that we meet our commitment to leave no one behind.  This is an opportunity for investment in women’s political participation and leadership; in ending violence in all forms; and in high-impact projects that reach those who are farthest behind, creating lasting conditions for development and peace.

The Resident Coordinator and entire United Nations country team in Papua New Guinea stand ready to support the Government in getting through the COVID-19 pandemic and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for all.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.