Skip to main content

Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UNIDIR-WIIS CoLab Launch Event Women, International Peace and Disarmament

21 April 2022

Delivered by

Michelle Bachelet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


UNIDIR – Women in International Security Switzerland CoLab Launch event



Dear colleagues,

It is a pleasure to be with you today at this UNIDIR – Women in International Security Switzerland CoLab Launch event.
Initiatives to promote dialogue among women in the field of disarmament and international security are critical at this time of global uncertainty and gravity.

The remarkable progress in every region in combatting gender-based violence, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, decreasing conflict, reducing poverty and expanding access to education and other rights is all in jeopardy. 

The military action by the Russian Federation in Ukraine has created a new threat to the global peace and security that is the basis for sustainable development and all human rights. Unfortunately, this war only compounds the severe consequences that conflicts and tensions around the world continue to have on all, particularly women and girls.

The negative impact of increased militarisation and the associated illicit flow of small arms and light weapons on the human rights of women and girls is well documented. Together, these issues increase vulnerability to violence, including sexual violence and trafficking, restrictions on freedom of movement, on the right to health and the right to education, among others.

And yet, despite more visibility and attention to these concerns at the global level, we still need bolder action and more targeted funding on the ground.

A 2019 study by the International Rescue Committee and VOICE found that actual funds allocated for gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies accounted for only 0.12 per cent of the $41.5 billion spent on humanitarian assistance between 2016 and 2018.

Furthermore, barely 1 per cent of funding in fragile or conflict-affected countries goes to women’s rights organizations. And you might already be familiar with the staggering finding that in 2017, the global feminist movement had the same budget as one F-35 fighter plane (about $110 million).

In 2020, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a reversal in the increase in global military spending to encourage greater investment in social infrastructure and services.

And yet military spending as a share of gross domestic product reached a global average of 2.4 per cent, the largest increase since the global financial crisis in 2009. By 2021, military spending had surpassed investment in pandemic-related health care, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

And new research has found a correlation between higher levels of military spending and lower levels of women’s equality in terms of choice, agency, and participation in decision-making both during and after conflicts.

However, conflict-affected countries can reverse this trend. My Office has taken some steps in this direction. For instance, in Sudan, together with the University of Khartoum, my Office brought together representatives of government, civil society, academia and the donor community to discuss human rights and gender-based public budgeting, as well as prioritisation of social protection and improving cash distribution under the Family Support Programme, which benefits economically marginalized women. A few months later, in its new budget for 2021, the education budget in the Sudan exceeded the defence budget for the first time.

Addressing the negative impact of high military spending on women’s rights and their full participation in peace processes has been a core commitment of the United Nations since its founding. This is reflected in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and reaffirmed more recently at the 2021 Generation Equality Forum; the Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Compact, as well as outlined in the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament.

Thus, stronger efforts are needed to integrate military spending and weapons-related issues into normative frameworks on women, peace and security, at both the national and global levels. For instance, according to UNIDIR’s research, currently less than 40 per cent of national action plans for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 have at least one mention of weapons-related issues. This must be a priority in our support to security sectors reforms, particularly during peace processes and political transitions.

And while the number of peace agreements with gender provisions has started to rise, the percentage is currently only 28.6, well below the 37.1 percent recorded in 2015. None of the ceasefire agreements reached between 2018 and 2020 included gender provisions.

I continue to call for increased consideration and representation of women in security sector reform and in arms control and disarmament processes. In this regard, I welcome the important research and advocacy by UNIDIR’s Gender and Disarmament Programme to reach gender equality in disarmament fora and on-the-ground disarmament processes.

Recently, in Ukraine, there is little evidence that including women in the formal and informal peace processes is a priority, despite women’s contribution to the oversight and implementation of the National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather, this exclusion is reflective of trends in Ukraine-Russia negotiations between 2014–2019, during which no women were sent by Russia and only two were sent from Ukraine out of 12 total delegates.  No women participated in the recent critical talks between Russia and Ukraine.

In the Sudan, despite the national commitment to women’s participation in the Constitutional Declaration of October 2019, women made up only 10 per cent of the negotiators of the Juba Peace Agreement and are underrepresented in the transitional government.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has consistently called for a radical shift in the meaningful participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.

This has included ensuring that women are fully involved as equal partners in peace and from the earliest stages in every peace and political process that the UN supports. Thus, women were included as delegates in 3 out of 4 United Nations (co)-led peace processes in 2020. But women represented only 23 per cent of delegates from parties to conflicts in these processes.1

And we know some efforts can yield positive results: The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria consistently called for women’s direct and meaningful participation in the political process. This led to women making up nearly 30 per cent of the 150 members of the Constitutional Committee of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions prioritised the inclusion of women in the framework for the Discussions in 2021.

Meaningful, free and equal participation is the key that can unlock support for the whole range of women and girls' human rights that may be violated during conflict and insecurity. These include their equal rights to life, personal integrity and security, bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive and health and rights, right to land and an adequate standard of living, and protection from gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

In this regard, I wish to recall that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other fundamental human rights agreements are the bedrock of the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.


No discussion of security, weapons related issues and militarisation in general – particularly their impact on women - would be complete or relevant without consideration of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to drive innovation and help people and societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times.

Yet, as the military uses of AI increase, the nature and scope of their impact on human rights, including women’s rights, are still unclear. If designed and used without sufficient regard to how they affect human rights, AI technologies can have catastrophic effects.

So I urge us to ensure that human rights law and standards are our guide.

My report last September to the Human Rights Council on the impact of AI on the right to privacy is our most recent effort to address the human rights dimensions of the use of AI and formulates a series of key messages and recommendations.

The report emphasizes that the risk of discrimination linked to AI-based decisions is all too real, and stresses that only a comprehensive human rights-based approach can ensure sustainable solutions to the benefit of all.

The risk of gender discrimination linked to AI-based systems and measures is pervasive and apparent in the various discriminatory outcomes for women affected by AI-powered systems, which often already contain built-in biases. Examples include systems used for policing and the administration of justice, and in other areas such as employment or access to services. These risks are most acute for women and marginalized groups.

Therefore, bolder action is needed now to put human rights guardrails on the use of AI in general, including its military uses.  This includes systematic assessment and monitoring of the effects of AI systems to identify and mitigate human rights risks. The requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality must be consistently applied to AI technologies.

More specifically, this means that States and businesses should ensure that comprehensive human rights due diligence is conducted when AI systems are designed, developed, deployed and operated, as well as before big data held about individuals are shared or used. This process, which should be conducted through the entire life cycle of an AI system, involves assessing its impact on human rights, with particular attention to be paid to the rights of marginalised or excluded people. AI applications that cannot be operated in compliance with international human rights law should be banned, and moratoriums should be imposed on the sale and use of AI systems that carry a high risk for the enjoyment of human rights, unless and until adequate safeguards to protect human rights are in place.

Companies and States should also be more transparent in how they are developing and using AI. The complexity of the data environment, models and algorithms, as well as the secrecy of government and private actors in this area make it difficult for the public to fully grasp  the effects of AI systems on human rights and society. This is especially true in situations where international security is at stake.

In this regard, I welcome and support UNIDIR’s call for transparency in how the development of military applications of AI integrate related human rights risks and gender bias. I also appreciate UNIDIR’s recommendation that gender-based reviews of military applications of AI should make explicit how the system represents and responds to gender and how harmful effects have been mitigated.

And here too, we must reach greater representation of women in research and AI development and application, and their links to peace and security - fields that have been traditionally dominated by men. If this happens, it will be an important step in addressing the gender dimensions of the use of AI.

Human oversight and accountability for any use of AI is of course crucial in all situations. But this is even more so the case in the development and use of military applications of AI, where the results may be deadly. The United Nations Secretary-General continues to call for a global prohibition on lethal autonomous weapon systems, stressing that ‘machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law.”  This is an appeal we all must support. And I echo UNIDIR’s calls for moratoria or outright bans on military applications of AI that have the potential to continue or exacerbate gender-based harms.

Colleagues, friends

The military use of AI-systems is growing at remarkable speed, and we need to be alert, reactive and proactive as these systems carry numerous gender-related and human rights risks.

The most powerful tool we own to guide our response is human rights.

I am convinced that through our joint commitment, we can amplify the voices of women and help shift power towards equality and justice. 


1/  S/2021/827.