THE HON. SENATOR DATO’ SRI SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL
MINISTER OF WOMEN, FAMILY & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
NIEW INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR THE HEALTH & WELLBEING OF DISPLACED WOMEN
29 & 30 NOVEMBER 2010
Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Her Excellency Sarah Sayifwanda,
Minister for Gender and Women’s Development, Zambia
Datuk (Dr) Rafiah Salim, Director of the NAM Institute for the Empowerment of Women
Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP
Mrs Elisabeth Rasmusson, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council
Distinguished Speakers and Moderators
Members of the Diplomatic Community
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Giving a voice to women in crisis has never been more urgent. The number of displaced women around the world is at an all time high – almost equal to the entire population of this country – and many live in conditions that are unimaginable to most of us.
It is the need to address precisely this problem that has brought us together at this conference here today. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the NIEW International Conference on the Health and Wellbeing of Displaced Women. I am delighted that so many of you have been able to come to this important meeting of hearts and minds, on a topic that is of immense concern to women and their families all over the world.
Before I go on, I would like to commend the NAM Institute for the Empowerment of Women (or better known as NIEW), for selecting this topic, as it is one that shines a light on those who are among the most invisible. More importantly, through this conference, all of us here, are hoping to give them a voice, a means by which to sustain their visibility.
And so, to all our participants I say thank you for coming. To all our international guests, I bid you a warm welcome and ‘Selamat Datang’ to Malaysia. I do hope you find the time to see a little bit of our country while you are here.
I am especially grateful to our distinguished speakers and moderators, who have come from Thailand, Norway, Pakistan, the United States, Africa, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia. I know how deeply immersed you are in your work, particularly and this time of the year, and I thank you for making the time to come and share your stories, your knowledge and your expertise.
We are honoured to have with us Elisabeth Rasmusson, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has done wonderful work to promote and protect the rights of displaced people across the world. Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, I am delighted that you have been able to take a little time away from your very hectic schedule at UN-ESCAP to spend these two days with us. Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, welcome home, even it’s just for a few days! Dr Jemilah is well-known for the work she did with Mercy Malaysia, and she is now in New York with the United Nations Family and Population Fund.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I feel sad that we are now well into the 21st century, yet we are still having to talk about how best to ensure the health and wellbeing of women. It is unacceptable that in this day and age, with all the advantages of hindsight and a world being transformed by amazing developments in technology and medicine, there are hundreds of millions of women and girls whose lives are being brutally torn apart by violence and abuse. It is unacceptable that there are still places in the world where even the most basic of women’s rights cannot be taken for granted.
Every woman has the inalienable right to live in dignity, without the threat of fear, coercion, violence and discrimination. Sadly, hundreds of millions of girls and women worldwide continue to be denied this right. And this is unacceptable. In the words of our Honourable Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, this does not just matter for women, it matters to everyone; it is a matter of social justice that concerns us all.
I couldn’t agree more.
For most women here in Malaysia, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose everything; to be uprooted from your home, your livelihood, your friends and even your family; to be forced to walk in poverty and fear; to be forced to look for refuge in a strange land, not knowing whether you would ever be able to find your way back to your homeland. War and internal conflict devastate the lives of women, leaving them in horrific situations, often stripped of everything but their courage and determination to ensure their own survival and that of their families.
Natural disasters wreak similar havoc. It is estimated that 50 million people are displaced every year due to earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, cyclones and storms. In Malaysia, we are all too familiar with the aftermath of the torrential rains that visit us annually. In 2007, more than 90,000 people were displaced by floods in Johor, while this year alone saw more than 40,000 people displaced in the northern states of Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan.
There are also millions who are forced to leave their homes and communities to make way for development projects. Others voluntarily leave their villages and move to urban areas in search of survival needs. Many of these people find themselves unable to cope with their circumstances. In their isolation and frustration they become easy prey for drug traffickers and many youth turn to drugs, alcohol and a life of crime.
In all of these situations, women and children are the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. One of the most devastating consequences of displacement for them is the lack of access to healthcare, particularly reproductive healthcare. The result is unnecessary deaths from easily preventable and curable diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria, as well as malnutrition and neo-natal problems.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We cannot talk about women’s health and wellbeing, without talking about the need to prevent violence and abuse against women. I believe all of you will agree that one way of eliminating this violence is to put women at the heart of all peace-keeping and peace-building efforts. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and one that we must address urgently if we are to effectively protect women and their families in the long-term.
As Donald Steinberg, Deputy President of the International Crisis Group has pointed out: “We can no longer afford to exclude the talents and insights of half the population in the pursuit of peace or to treat them as mere victims, because the stakes of the game have risen dramatically. Failure to consolidate peace and stability no longer impacts just the people of that country, but opens the door to training camps for global terrorists; new routes for trafficking of persons, arms and illegal drugs; flood of refugees across borders and even oceans; incubation of pandemic disease: and even piracy.”
If women are not involved in implementing peace agreements, the resulting silencing of women’s voices means that issues such as sexual violence, human trafficking, reproductive health care and education generally get ignored.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The fact is that for the most part, women see peaceful resolutions to war and conflict as the only way forward to lasting peace and security in their lives. They have been at the heart of non-governmental agencies and citizen-empowering movements dedicated to promoting peace keeping and peace building.
While there is increasing awareness of this among the global community, there is still much to be done to give women a real voice in peace processes. It has been 10 years since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was introduced to promote the participation of women in decision-making and peace processes, to integrate gender perspectives and training in peace-keeping, to protect women in armed conflict and to mainstream gender issues in UN reporting systems and programmes related to conflict and peace-building.
With this resolution, there have been some important strides forward. But there is still a huge gap between intent and practice.
- Women and girls continue to experience immense suffering in areas of war and conflict.
- Rape and sexual violence are still the norm in many conflict-affected countries.
- According to UNIFEM, between 2000 and 2008, women made up less than 8 percent of people at peace tables.
- Not a single woman has been appointed as the chief or lead peace negotiator in UN-sponsored peace talks.
- Only 19 nations have developed national action plans for the implementation of resolution 1325.
During the past two years, we have seen some promising developments. In 2008, Resolution 1820 identified sexual violence as a strategy of war and a matter of international peace and security requiring specialized military and police responses.
The following year saw the introduction of Resolution 1888 which has been described as “an unequivocal call to action” by UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon. The resolution provides for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and UN coordination to respond to sexual violence. Margot Wallstrom of Sweden was appointed to the post earlier this year.
In July this year, UN Women was set up, offering hope for greater progress and tangible results. Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General for UN Women, recently called for determined leadership….all of us working together…to tackle the implementation of Resolution 1325. She promised that UN Women will support existing and new efforts to improve the protection environment for women during and after conflict, to engage women in conflict prevention and to ensure that peace-building processes are guided by women’s perspectives and address their needs.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is in this environment of hope and positive developments, that we see all of you here as part of the solution. Each of you has much to contribute. Some of you come with long and extensive records of involvement in dealing with the issues and challenges related to displacement and women’s empowerment in peace processes. Others may not have been directly involved in dealing with conflict and disaster, but have the potential to play an important role. In an increasingly globalised world, nobody can afford to remain detached.
Malaysians have always responded generously to the needs of displaced communities both as individuals as well as through organizations. In September this year, several Malaysians scaled the rugged Himalayan Mountains to bring hope to families and orphaned children in remote Ladakh which had been affected by a recent cloud burst. While they took supplies and rations that answered immediate needs, it is essential that the longer term self-sustainability of the communities is also addressed.
I am delighted to note the special role Malaysians are playing in Afghanistan. Malaysia sends female Islamic doctors to Afghanistan, who not only deliver much-needed health care services but also provide training and encouragement that will empower more women in the area of heath care. This will strengthen the work carried out by our armed forces personnel as part of an Interim National Support and Assistance operation mission, to work alongside the Provincial Reconstruction Team from New Zealand.
With Australia, Malaysia has been partnering in a master teacher program that is training people from Afghanistan to be master teachers who can go back and train more teachers. The number of children in school in Afghanistan is growing. The number of girls in school is growing. And that’s a good thing for the future of the country. Australia and Malaysia will continue to collaborate on that training, which has already seen 60 master teachers trained, including women.
Our humanitarian outreach extends also to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Under this programme, which began in July 2010, Malaysia is providing technical assistance, and helping those with business acumen launch small enterprises. The emphasis here is on capacity building. We must move to replicate this.
Malaysian is among the many aid activists in Gaza trying to bring relief to displaced persons there. I look forward to seeing much more collaborative efforts to address health and education needs by building on the skills and confidence of displaced women.
Nevertheless, despite these breakthroughs, in Malaysia, as I suspect in many other countries too, the idea of helping communities by empowering women has still not taken root in many relief efforts. What we need to do is advocate for a change in mindset and behaviour: we need to engage women from the affected communities, and involve them in making the decisions that will affect their own lives. And I believe that we are able do so.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Events such as today’s aim to bring together individuals who have the ability to influence the agendas of today in favour of a brighter and sustainable tomorrow. Present here we have community leaders and policy makers; private sector individuals and public servants; experts and grassroots activists. Everybody is a leader, and everybody has a role to play.
Given the number of displaced women and their families, there is considerable and urgent work to be done in this area. The sooner we can see a resolution for the challenges faced by displaced women, the more effective will be our war against poverty, ill-health and suffering.
How can we build on what has been achieved so far? How can we ensure that women, particularly displaced women, are not excluded from the mainstream of decision-making? How can we begin to build a strategic framework for more effective programmes for the health, safety and wellbeing of displaced women?
Conferences come and go, and nothing can mark the passage of time well spent better than an achievement in the form of stability and peace. In Malaysia, under the rule of the present Government, we have been blessed with this gift. InsyaAllah, through consistent initiatives such as these, where we learn to improve and step up our efforts to engage those who are the most marginalised, we will continue to prosper.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I look forward to the presentations and discussions. I am excited about the possibility of developing new ideas and approaches that will ensure that women’s voices are heard loud and clear. I wish you all a successful and meaningful conference.
I would like to end my speech by recording my thanks once again to all of you for committing your time and energies to attending. I hope that you have and will all find your time in Kuala Lumpur an enjoyable and productive experience.
On that note, thank you once again, Wassalammualikum wrm wbt.