Just a couple of weeks ago, WILPF monitored the UN General Assembly’s 71st Session General Debate, this year under the theme ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform Our World.’

One of the best statements to come out of the event was by the outgoing UN Secretary General: “I am proud to call myself a feminist. Women hold up half the sky and are essential to meeting all our goals,” said Ban Ki-Moon at the very beginning of the debate.

WILPF welcomes this affirmation of the need for feminist action and calls for action to move forward a feminist peace agenda.

Our quick take-away is that there is certainly much work that needs to be done to build adequate political will and commitment to gender equality and holistic understanding and implementation of the commitments on peace, disarmament, and gender equality.

General overview

The General Assembly General Debate provided an opportunity to evaluate progress one year on from adoption of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals within the context of other milestones including the three 2015 peace and security reviews. Spotlighting examples of persistent inequality around the globe and highlighting failures to move the Sustainable Development Agenda forward, world leaders participating in the general debate nevertheless expressed optimism that efforts to promote equitable growth, peace and prosperity would prevail. The speakers focused on the promotion and protection of human rights and the urgent need for concerted efforts to resolve conflicts and eradicate terrorism.

Other important topics included climate change, situations in the Middle East and Africa and in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and the conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and Gaza. A considerable number of leaders also acknowledged the close link between peace and sustainable development and invited all stakeholders to create a variety of partnership to move the post-2015 agenda forward.

Where did we find gender?

Out of a total of one hundred and seven (197) statements, one hundred and nine (109) statements (56 per cent) contained references to women and gender. Many of these were focused on gender equality and women’s rights since these issues are at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted just last year.

Specific gendered references were included only in thirty-seven (37) statements (18.88 percent). In this regard, the representative of Mali noted that “the employment of youth and women’s empowerment” is one of the best ways “to ensure the implementation of the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals.”

Only a few speakers highlighted the need to ensure greater gender balance in all disarmament discussions. The representative of Guinea, for example, said that “substantial investments in empowerment for women and youth are all the more necessary in the face of the scourges of terrorism, extremism and intolerance, and the illicit traffic of arms and drugs.”

Where did we miss gender?

WILPF did not locate an in-depth discussion specifically aimed at the women, peace and security agenda. Even though some countries, including Sweden and Croatia, have highlighted the necessity of including women in peace processes, their voices were in the minority. The need to increase women’s participation for a stronger implementation of the SDGs also remained under-prioritised, especially in the context of stand-alone goals on gender equality (Goal 5) and peace (Goal 16).


Download the full WILPF UNGA71 Monitoring Report written by WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security programme, also known as PeaceWomen.

Get more WILPF analysis and highlights from the UNGA71 at PeaceWomen’s UNGA71 page.

Also you can read Reaching Critical Will’s Editorial: #UNGA71 First Committee on Disarmament.