Dina Kawar: UN Needs More Female Peacekeepers

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The first Arab woman to serve as president of the U.N. Security Council, Dina Kawar talks to Women’s eNews about the U.N.’s role in protecting women in conflict, as well as female Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Dina Kawar
Dina Kawar chairs a Security Council debate on sexual violence in conflict, April 15, 2015.
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe


Bookmark and Share

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS) –Dina Kawar, Jordan’s permanent representative to the United Nations since August 2014, is the first Arab woman to serve as president of the U.N. Security Council, a month-long rotating position she held in April.

She sat down with Women’s eNews to discuss the U.N.’s role in protecting women in conflict, Syrian refugees in Jordan and how she looks back on her month in the presidency.

1. Despite the passage of U.N. resolutions and measures designed to protect women in conflict, so many continue to suffer. What more can the Security Council do?

The Security Council has passed four resolutions dealing with this. These are very important. We’ve come a long way since 2000, but on the ground we are far from being done because implementation is difficult in war zones.

The peacekeepers are the council’s eyes and ears on the ground. We are calling for women peacekeepers because they play an important role by talking to women on the ground more easily than male peacekeepers and highlighting the issues that are affecting women. Accordingly, Jordan has put forward some women as candidates for peacekeepers and called for women’s issues to be introduced into the peacekeeper’s mandate to protect civilians.

During Jordan’s presidency we had a debate on sexual violence in armed conflict with about 70 speakers, which drew a lot of interest and was quite successful. Sexual violence during conflict is more than a series of individual crimes; it is a tactic of war. It is important everyone understands it is a major war crime that can be referred to the International Criminal Court. We in Jordan are very much for that and call for it repeatedly, as do are many other countries.

All these are advancements. I know we are not there, but believe me when it comes to seeing real change on the ground in any area, it takes a lot of time. But we are working on it. Women’s protection and their role in maintaining peace and security have been raised in every single Security Council debate. That should not be discounted.

2. What are your concerns about women in Syria?

As you know there are about 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan, out of which 650,000 are registered as refugees. The Jordanian government has done everything possible to host these refugees in spite of our limited economic resources. It has been a great stress on us and has overstretched our capacities, however we are committed because we feel this is a humanitarian issue.

Over half of the refugees are women and children. We’ve worked very closely with the women to make them aware of certain issues. For instance, there have been cases of early marriage. We want to make sure they understand what that means. And we have helped with other issues, vaccinations and pregnancy. We’ve also handed out pamphlets with information about their rights and how to protect themselves. So in addition to dealing with the overall refugee situation, we have focused on women’s needs.

3. Thousands of female Syrian refugees in Jordan are denied working papers, which makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation for survival. Can you comment on why Jordan won’t grant Syrian female refugees access to the formal job market?

I’m glad you asked this question because it reflects many of the comments we’ve often received from countries that have not opened their borders. Let me put this into perspective. Refugees are now 21 percent of our population and we have lots of economic problems, including unemployment.

I find it amazing how much everybody expects of Jordan while not accepting similar numbers of refugees themselves. Forgive me if I’m being blunt here, but only Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been able to keep their borders open. Of course we’ve had help from the U.S., certain European countries and U.N. agencies, but not enough.

I’d like to see other countries open up their borders to a number of foreigners that amounts to 21 percent of their population.

We have no lessons to take from anybody. If we cannot afford to have so many extra people work, it gets complicated.

Now, the sexual violence is another story. I’m not saying women should be vulnerable to sexual violence or forced out of necessity to revert to whatever sexual practices. Measures are being taken to prevent that. The U.N. has been providing economic assistance to registered refugees, Jordanian families have been very generous in opening their homes and being hospitable even with the limited means they have. The government has offered free health and education. We cannot do any more without more help. We are not using the refugees as a pretext to ask for help for ourselves, we really need it to provide for them, which includes doing more to protect women and children.

4. How do you look back on serving as the president of the U.N. Security Council?

I enjoy diplomacy and I enjoy interacting with people. Of course, as an Arab permanent representative I am directly concerned with many of the issues that are currently before the council. When I first started they told me that 70 percent of the council’s work is on Africa, but in fact if you look at the African files, many of them are in the Arab countries of Africa, including Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and so on . . . What makes diplomacy interesting are the difficulties. If everybody is onboard with everything, there is nothing interesting about it and there is no need for diplomacy.