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Leading the culture of peace

27 August 2018
For Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, the culture of peace has been more than his life’s work. It is integral to human existence.
As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017, we had the honour of hosting Ambassador Anwarul K Chowdhury as keynote speaker for our Gala Luncheon. His full speech is now available to watch or read.

Keynote address by Ambassador Chowdhury

It is a distinct honour to be invited as the keynote speaker for the culminating event of the 50th anniversary celebrations of International House at the prestigious University of Sydney. I am particularly delighted as this International House – and for that matter all I-Houses in other universities – is a place where students can learn to relate to other people from other parts of the world, as well as respectfully debate differences in values and cultures, learn more about world issues, and really begin to become true global citizens.

It is fascinating to know that your residents hail from every continent, and that 22% of the world’s countries are represented in the house. I am very impressed by International House’s program of activities, which includes its global leadership program, social and cultural events, peer learning and support, roundtable discussions, and its scholarships and grants programs, which includes the remarkable Davis Projects for Peace initiative.

Let me emphasise that anniversaries are meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. I am happy to see that your vision for the future is to expand the house to offer more places, which will provide students with the opportunity to participate in and obtain a truly unique IH experience. To achieve this, your aim is to develop a large state-of-the-art facility for 500+ residents on campus. You have my sincere best wishes for that.

My own life has been shaped over the last half-century by various realities, particularly my challenges, struggles and difficulties.

Throughout, my family has been my greatest strength. Defying all obstacles as a young Pakistani diplomat, I was inspired to join the liberation war for Bangladesh, and engaged as a freedom-fighter to mobilise global support for our sovereign existence as a nation. I was deeply humbled by the opportunity to represent my country at the United Nations, thereafter becoming the first Under-Secretary General from Bangladesh at the UN  headquarters.

My life’s experience has taught me to value peace and equality as the essential components of our existence. They unleash positive forces of good that are so needed for human progress. My initiatives at the UN General Assembly on the culture of peace, in the Security Council on equality of women’s participation, and in leading the UN’s prioritisation of the needs of the world’s most vulnerable countries, all show that when head and heart join to do something big and worthwhile for humanity, no obstacle is insurmountable.

Peace is integral to human existence: in everything we do, in everything we say, and in every thought we have – there is a place for peace. We should not isolate peace as something separate. We should know how to relate to one another without being unpleasant, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice. Once we can do that, we will be able to take the next step in building the culture of peace. We need to focus on empowering the individual so that each of us individually becomes an agent of peace and nonviolence.

In everything we do, in everything we say, and in every thought we have – there is a place for peace.
Ambassador Chowdhury giving speech behind podium

The essence of the culture of peace is its message of self-transformation and its message of inclusiveness, of global solidarity, of the oneness of humanity. These elements – individual and global, individual to global – constitute the culture of peace. Everybody can talk about and create the culture of peace because it lives in our communities and in each of us. We do not have to become peace studies experts or street protesters to make a difference. We just have to leave our own mark on this world as peaceful individuals.

The United Nations was born in 1945 out of World War II. The UN Declaration and Program of Action on the Culture of Peace was born in 1999 in the aftermath of the Cold War. I was distinctly honoured to chair the nine-month long negotiations that produced this declaration. For the last two decades, my focus has been on advancing the culture of peace.

The Declaration and Program of Action on the Culture of Peace is a unanimously adopted document explaining, outlining, and defining everything that the international community has agreed on as the focus of the culture of peace. One soul-stirring inspiration that I have experienced from my work for the culture of peace is that we should never forget that when women – half of the world’s seven billion people – are marginalised, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense. It is my strong belief that unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace at equal levels and at all times with men, sustainable peace will continue to elude us.

Group of students and University officials talking in front of world flags

Left to right: Jessica Carroll (IH Director), Sayan Mitra (Senior Resident), Steve Mark (Chair, IH Council), Stephen Sanders (2017 IHMA Chairperson), Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, and IH resident Nusrat Zeba.

Women bring a new breadth, quality and balance of vision to a common effort of moving away from the cult of war towards the culture of peace. Women’s equality makes our planet safe and secure.

Two most significant developments since the 1995 fourth-world conferences on women have been: the adoption of the UN Security Council’s history-making resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security”; and agreement on the inclusion of an autonomous, self-standing goal for women’s equality and empowerment in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – that is Goal 5, on women.

UNSCR 1325 is very close to my intellectual existence, and my very small contribution to a better world for each one of us. On International Women’s Day in 2000, as the President of the Security Council, and following extensive stonewalling, I was able to issue an agreed statement that formally brought to global attention the role and contribution women have been making towards the prevention of conflict, and the building of peace, which had remained unrecognised, underutilised and undervalued by the Security Council since its existence.

Adoption of 1325 opened a much awaited door of opportunity for women, who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interests of society in mind.

We recall that in choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

The Nobel Committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” 1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in any citation of the Nobel Prize.

Much, nevertheless, remains to be done.

The driving force behind 1325 is “participation”. The main question is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables. Women need to be involved in decision making to ensure real and faithful implementation of 1325.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations by the United Nations. A no tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN and regional peacekeepers. The UN is welcomed in countries as the protectors – they cannot afford to become the perpetrators!

I am proud to be a feminist. All of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place for all. We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable. Without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.

I also believe that the historic and operational value of the resolution, as the first international policy mechanism to explicitly recognize the gendered nature of war and peace processes, has been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation, particularly for lack of national level commitments. We are astounded by the complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarised inter-state security arrangements. I am referring to the concept of security based on traditional, outmoded strategic power structures, rather than on human security, which highlights the security of the people.

I believe strongly that we would not have to be worrying about countering extremism if women have equality in decision making, enabling them to take measures which would prevent such extremism.

It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy-making table in comparison to their male counterparts.

Here I pay tribute to the role that Australian women’s leadership played in the creation of the UN and in its formal recognition, from the outset, of women’s rights. As an Australian delegate to the 1945 San Francisco conference, Jessie Street participated directly in negotiating the UN Charter, which is the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. The advocacy of Street and “the small band of women from other delegations” resulted in explicit references to equality between men and women in the Charter’s Preamble and various other articles, as well as the inclusion of Article 8 asserting the unrestricted eligibility of both men and women to work for the UN itself. This is Jessie Street’s contribution to the articulation of one of the basic principles of the United Nations.

Patriarchy and misogyny are humanity’s dual scourges, pulling us all back from our aspirations for a better world. We need not waste time digging into the statistical labyrinth to show that women are unequal. Gender inequality is an established, proven and undisputed reality. It is all-pervasive. It is a real threat to human progress!

Unless we confront these vicious and obstinate negative forces with all our energy, determination and persistence, our planet will never be a desired abode for one and all. I will emphasize in that connection that none of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will make headway in any real sense, until we make progress in realising the objective of women’s equality and empowerment. Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy, and social justice. It is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security.

Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

We are experiencing around the globe an organised, determined rollback of the gains made, as well as new attacks on women’s equality and empowerment – yes, in all parts of the world and in all countries, without exception. As underscored by the architect of feminist foreign policy, Foreign Minster Margot Wallström of Sweden: “No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights.”

Globally only one in five parliamentarians is a woman, and there are nearly 40 countries in which women account for less than ten percent of parliamentarians. This marginalisation of women from the political sphere is unfortunate and unacceptable. As I always strongly emphasise, empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. I underscore often that when women join politics, they want to do something; when men join politics, they want to be something.

I humbly join my voice to Foreign Minister Wallström’s assertion on the eve of this year’s International Women’s Day that “Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.”

I am proud to be a feminist. All of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place for all. We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable. Without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.

Before I conclude, I would to like to address the students of International House directly. I would ask you the students to look into yourselves. In a world where material pursuits seem the be-all and end-all of human endeavour, find a real space for spirituality in your life. In your eagerness to get something quickly, never ever sell your soul. I am confident that you will make every effort to rid yourselves and your fellow men and women of the evils of intolerance and prejudice, ignorance and selfishness, which compel us to repeat the cycle of discrimination, prejudice and violence.

Your positive goals for yourself should not be pursued at the expense of other people. Recognise and value the positive in others. Recognise your mistakes and take responsibility for those. Do not find a scapegoat for your own failures.

Confidence is essential, but it should not be misplaced. Do not be dogmatic to stagnate. Be flexible to move ahead.

I am always inspired by the human spirit and its resilience and capacity to overcome any adversity. You are all aware that the hardest problems on the planet will not have singular solutions, nor will they be resolved with singular attempts. Those must be worked on – diligently, collaboratively, with perseverance, and with patience.

Let me end by repeating Mahatma’s eternal words: “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations from 1996-2001, and has served as President of the UN Security Council, President of the UNICEF Board, and as UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative from 2002-2007. He is a recipient of the U Thant Peace Award and the UNESCO Gandhi Gold Medal for Culture of Peace. He delivered this keynote address in the Wool Room at International House on 2 December 2017.