I started as the Ambassador to the UN in Geneva in 2012. That year the international community collectively missed a chance to bring a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria. When I left Geneva in 2015 it was on the back of attempts to get the Women of Syria into the UN political process. We held many events for them at the British Residence; they met the then Foreign Secretary at the Geneva II conference in Montreux. On International Women’s Day in 2015 we persuaded the Geneva Canton to turn the iconic Jet d’Eau pink in their honour. On International Women’s Day three years later, I would like once more to shine a spotlight on the impact the war is having on women in Syria.
The conflict in Syria has been raging for almost seven years. That’s longer than the Second World War. We are continually confronted with evidence that, even before Truth, Women are the first casualty of War. It is even worse for girls.
According to UNESCO girls are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school in a conflict zone. Prior to the war, Syria was one of the earliest countries in the Arab world to achieve nearly equal gender parity in universities. This should not change because of the conflict.
I believe that just as individuals we should ensure the ladder is in place for those who come next, so as countries we need to ensure we empower the women of the future. The young girls caught up in the Syrian conflict need to be given the opportunity to receive an education, for their own future and for the sake of the future of Syria as a whole. This is something that the UK recognises and is actively supporting. In 2016/17, the UK assisted in providingformal primary and secondary education to over 700,000 children.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has made this one of his personal priorities.
In January he declared that ensuring that “every girl benefits from 12 years of quality education, would be the single most powerful spur to development and progress”. By providing women in Syria with an education, we are equipping them with the tools needed to take a seat at the table. Women have a right to political representation and it is our duty to help achieve this. Evidence shows that when women are meaningfully involved in peace negotiations, an agreement is 50% more likely to be reached and 35% more likely to last for at least 15 years. Personally, it’s an inspiring reason to come to work. Professionally, it’s why UK is one of the three co-chairs on the issue of Women, Peace and Security at the United Nations.
To support Syrian women, the UK has given almost £10 million to specific projects since the start of the crisis. And, just last week, we announced that we will be making a further £1.5million available to support the empowerment of Syrian women at local, national and international level.
At the end of this month, I will take up my position as the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations. It’s an honour to represent a country that strives to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls both around the world and at home. Unlike the women caught up in the conflict in Syria, my voice will be heard. And I will use it to make sure theirs are too.
Karen Pierce is the Director General, Political at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and will shortly take up the role of UK Representative to the UN