Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
Caribbean Women, Peace and Security Conference
August 30, 2022
First Lady of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Her Excellency Arya Ali,
Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Honorable Yonette Cummings-Edwards,
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George
Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Godfrey Bess,
Commander of U.S. Southern Command, General Laura Richardson,
Ambassador Jean Manes, Deputy Civilian Commander of U.S. Southern Command,
Chief of Defence Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force, Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman,
Commander of the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force, Lieutenant Colonel J. Anthony Comrie,
Distinguished members of respective Defense Forces,
Distinguished members of the Guyanese Government and Opposition,
Members of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here at the 2022 Caribbean Women, Peace, and Security Conference! Welcome to all the participants from the Guyana Defense Force and partner nations across the Caribbean. This conference is a milestone in our relationship and the culmination of nearly a year of hard work.
Last year, the Guyana Defence Force and the Florida National Guard held a bilateral Women, Peace, and Security workshop — the first ever in Guyana. During that workshop, participants discussed the need for greater gender perspectives and integration within defense and security institutions and the greater global Women, Peace, and Security (or WPS) effort. At the end of the workshop, Brigadier Godfrey Bess, kindly and very proactively offered to host a regional WPS conference for Caribbean partners. And, here we are today! Thank you, Brigadier Bess!
And, congratulations to you, General Richardson and all of organizers from the Guyana Defense Force, Florida National Guard, SOUTHCOM, and the U.S. Embassy’s Military Liaison Office. I also extend my gratitude to Lieutenant Colonel Natasha Standford and Lieutenant Colonel Lorraine Foster of the Guyana Defence Force for their role in coordinating this event.
Today and tomorrow, all of you here — an accomplished and diverse group of participants — from fourteen nations will advance the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. This conference will foster greater networks among experts, advocates, and stakeholders across the Caribbean. Just as General Richardson emphasized the importance of mentorship, I want to underscore the critical role of inclusive networks to overcome challenges and advance the tremendous opportunities offered by WPS frameworks, policies, and mindsets. As General Richardson noted, we all have a role to play. Men and women alike. Everyone benefits from greater inclusion and gender equity. Our institutions and nations are richer when we ALL have a voice, so I encourage you to build your networks wide and strong.
Matters of security have long been viewed through a military-centric and traditionally male lens. Historically, while their contributions may have been largely unrecognized, women have always been critical in all security issues and across all sectors – playing key roles in conflict – as combatants and non-combatants — and creating the conditions for enduring peace, protection, and prevention of conflict. For flexible, responsive, and agile security forces to succeed, women and diverse members of communities must be significantly and meaningfully included. For example, at the U.S. Embassy right here in Georgetown, many of our local guards are brave and accomplished women, keeping our staff and facilities safe on a daily basis.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us that national security threats extend far beyond the battlefield. Also, over the past few years, forcible displacement due to conflict, humanitarian crises, persecution, and human rights violations has risen to over 82 million people. Never has a broader understanding of security and inclusive decision making been needed.
Conference discussions this week will not only focus on gender integration requirements for security and military forces, sexual harassment, and discrimination but also on the need for a gender perspective and mainstreaming within a larger context, such as Disaster Relief Operations and migration. Women are often disproportionately impacted by disasters and so their perspectives need to be heard.
The Women, Peace, and Security Agenda was created to better respond to these security challenges by being more inclusive and listening to more voices. This is so important considering these stark reminders from the United Nations Security Council 2021 Report on Women, Peace and Security:
-Women represent only 23 per cent of delegates in peace processes led or co-led by the United Nations;
-Only five per cent of military troops in peace operations are women;
-And, in the United States, according to Department of Defense statistics in 2021, the percentage of women active-duty Service Members was 21% in the Air Force; 15% in the Army; 9% in the Marines; and 20% in the Navy.
There certainly has been progress over the years, but clearly more needs to be done to attract women to the military and promote them to positions of leadership. Through the passage of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, the United States became the first country in the world with a comprehensive law on WPS. The U.S. Government also released the 2019 U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, which established an interagency approach with integrated metrics to measure progress. Subsequently, the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency for International Development designed and released WPS implementation plans thereby increasing women’s meaningful participation in these institutions; encouraging the same in partner nations; and emphasizing the importance of the protection of women and girls across the globe.
SOUTHCOM has been a leader in WPS Programming, recognizing the diverse roles women play as agents of change in preventing and resolving conflict, countering terrorism and violent extremism, and building post-conflict peace and stability in our Hemisphere.
I am sure that you are all familiar with and likely participated in Tradewinds 2021 in Guyana. Tradewinds is SOUTHCOM’s Caribbean security-based exercise. It now incorporates WPS into its scenarios. Notably, in next year’s Tradewinds, to be held here in Guyana again, gender considerations will be central to the scenarios so as to accurately prepare for real-world events – like flooding – and address the security needs of all people.
Thank you, Brigadier Bess for prioritizing WPS. I applaud the Guyana Defence Force for its integration of women in border security and emphasis on education opportunities.
Thank you, General Richardson for consistently highlighting the importance of Women, Peace, and Security efforts. And, First Lady, Arya Ali, your focus on issues impacting women and girls in Guyana is well known, and I know your work in those areas will continue. And, after all you all learn at this conference this week, I hope that participating partner nations will consider increasing the number of women nominated for Joint Professional Military Education programs at U.S. service schools so as to increase the female military leaders of tomorrow across this region that we share.
Clearly a lot has been done to be more inclusive of women in the military as well as other institutions, but we have a lot more work to do. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” So true, I think you would all agree!
I wish everyone a fruitful two days of thoughtful discussion, insightful dialogue, and new friendships. I hope that you return home with new insights and renewed commitment to the promotion of Women, Peace, and Security policies within your organizations.
Thank you very much, and congratulations to all the participants.