Mon intervention à l’édition 2024 du Women’s Forum à Barcelone

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Jeudi 28 mars, je me suis rendue à Barcelone pour participer à la rencontre annuelle du Forum des femmes (Women’s Forum). Cette année, des conférenciers, chercheurs, médecins ou encore industriels du monde entier étaient réunis pour discuter des moyens de « briser les barrières et façonner l’avenir des femmes ».

Cette rencontre vise à aborder les défis auxquels les femmes sont confrontées dans l’accès aux responsabilités et à promouvoir la diversité et l’égalité des genres aux postes de direction.

En 1995, la « déclaration et le programme d’action de Beijing » étaient adoptés par 189 États-membres. Presque trente ans se sont écoulés depuis et les progrès pour éliminer les discriminations à l’encontre des femmes et des filles ont été excessivement lents et irréguliers dans le monde.

C’est naturellement que j’ai choisi d’axer ma présentation sur le rôle des femmes dans la prise de décision et la résolution des conflits, tant ces deux thèmes sont intrinsèquement liés. En effet, les crises ne font qu’exacerber les schémas de discriminations préexistants fondés sur le genre.

Les femmes représentent pourtant la moitié de la population mondiale et, à ce titre, elles ont toute leur place dans le débat public en temps de paix comme en temps de guerre. Elles font de plus en plus entendre leur voix, en particulier depuis le vaste mouvement de libération de la parole, mais nous sommes en droit de nous demander si elles sont réellement écoutées.

Ce passage à Barcelone m’a également permis, en marge du Forum, de revoir sur place le conseiller des Français de l’étranger Philippe Ogonowski pour faire un point sur les questions consulaires.

Retrouvez le texte de mon intervention ci-dessous (en anglais) :

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The topic I have chosen to present is quite different from your areas of expertise and I want to thank you for sharing us with such talent. I have learned a lot. I hope that my own contribution will be of some use.

I wish to start with a reminder. Women form half the world’s population and it would be logical that they participate in all public debate, in times of peace as in time of war, as obviously they have contribution to make.

Globally, their voices are increasingly being heard, specifically in the Western world, but if they are free to express themselves, is anybody really listing?

 As vice-president of the foreign affairs, defence and armed forces committee in the French Senate, I am invited to attend many conferences on defence and security issues where very often I am the only woman around the table.  

You will easily understand therefore that I have chosen the topic of women’s role in decision-making and conflicts resolution as these two subjects are intrinsically linked. Indeed, conflicts exacerbate pre-existing patterns of discrimination based on sex. 

I do believe that despite the fact that women have a central role to play in the process of decision-making, they are not sufficiently invited to contribute, when they are not denied to do so.


The first point I would like to address is the role of women in the political world and more importantly, at the level of decision-making.

Despite the widespread movement towards democratization in most countries, there are still many barriers to overcome.

These obstacles are largely attributable to deeply entrenched social norms.

Deeply rooted mentally, traditional unequal power relations, socio-economic and cultural barriers, as well as the prevalence sexist language and gender-based violence, continue to limit women’s participation in political and public spheres.

As underlines by an article in the United Nations Development Program, nearly half of the world’s population believe men make better political leaders than women. Moreover, women are confronted with multiple forms of discrimination based on age, disability, ethnicity or social origin.

Politics and decision-making processes continue to be perceiving as being reserved to males who are given the means to prove themselves in public debates and presence in the media.

In its “Gender equality strategy”, the Council of Europe has rightly pointed out that due to an unequal share of responsibilities between women and men in private life, politician’s culture has been shaped around male behavior and life experience, adding difficulties for women.

To break down these barriers, 189 countries unanimously adopted the “Beijing Declaration and plaform for action” at the Conference on women in Beijing in 1995.

It is considered to be the most comprehensive global policy framework for the rights of women. It recognizes women’s rights as human rights and sets out a comprehensive roadmap for achieving equality between women and men, with concrete measures and measurable outcomes. These outcomes are divided into 12 areas where a need for urgent action was identified such as poverty, education, health care, violence, armed conflict, economic empowerment, power and decision-making or mechanisms to promote advancement of women…

25 years after the adoption of this declaration, in 2020 the European Parliament presented a progress report still very far from the objectives set.

On a European scale, indicators show that:

  • In economic terms, women are still more at risk of poverty than man and women’s gross hourly earnings are on average 14,8% below those of men. This means that for every 100€ men earn, women earn 85,2€.

Yet, financial autonomy is one of the conditions for taking and holding on to power, thus not allowing women to move up to positions of responsibility

  • In terms of qualifications, while there are more and more women graduates from third level education, they represent the majority of workers in the fields of education, health, and welfare, very rarely to be found in top positions.  

This shows that women are still assigned to certain jobs by social norms, that they struggle to break through the glass ceiling and unfortunately also continue to lack confidence to apply to the top jobs.  

A key indicator of women’s participation in decision-making is their representation in the political sphere.

In 2003, the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation in which governments of the member-states committed themselves to achieve a minimum representation of 40% of women in political and public life through legislative, administrative and supportive measures.

20 years later, worldwide, women are still underrepresented in national parliaments, governments and local assemblies.

As of 2023:

  • Just 26,5% of members of parliamentary houses were women ;
  • The proportion of women ministers stands at 21%;
  • We saw a slight increase in representation as Head of State or governments, from 26 countries in 2021 to 31 in 2022, still far from achieving gender parity.

But the last two decades saw slow progress.

For example, at the EU level, the percentage of female members of the European Parliament rose continuously after each election (from 16,6% in the first directly elected legislature in 1979 to 41% following the 2019 election).

In 2019, the first ever female President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, set a goal of constituting a gender-balanced College of commissioners.

Nevertheless, the European Institute for gender equality (EIGE) found significant gender differences in the portfolios held by senior ministers in national governments: men are most often assigned high profile portfolios such as foreign affairs, defence, justice, finance, industry, while women are likely to be offered socio-cultural portfolios such as health, education, or social affairs.

Yet, arguments for gender balance in decision-making are numerous:

  • First, it is a sign of a functioning democracy in which every part of the population is equally represented and a key indicator of gender equality, all fully enjoying the same rights.
  • Second, it increases the general level of effectiveness in a country and diversifies the pool of talents.
  • Third, the presence of women in position of leadership can greatly reduce the likelihood of violent conflict emerging and improve the prospects for the peaceful resolution of existing conflicts.


I am now coming to second point that of women and conflict.

Women are in a paradoxical situation.

On the one hand, women account for the vast majority of victims of gender-based violence during conflicts and post-conflicts, noted Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in their study entitled “Women, War, Peace: the independent expert’s assessment on the impact of armed conflict on women and women’s role in peace-building”.

The Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women recognized that “wars, armed conflicts and the occupation of territories often lead to increased prostitution, human trafficking and sexual assault of women”.

Until the 1990s, wartime sexual violence was not prosecuted as an international crime, despite being prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Both the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda have stated in different landmark decisions that wartime rape and sexual violence can be considered as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Women are the main civilian victims of conflicts: approximately 80% of civilian casualties are women and 80% of all refugees and internally displaced people worldwide are women and children.

Violence against women both during conflict and post-conflict can be seen as a continuum of the discrimination women experience in peacetime.

The underlying causes of violence both in peace and in conflict are the same: historically unequal power relations between men and women, systemic or cultural causes such as gender-based discrimination and a patriarchal value system.

On the other hand, women are often excluded from negotiations and confined to a marginal role in the post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.

About 7 out of every 10 peace processes still did not include women mediators or women signatories, as was the case in peace talks in Kosovo, the Southern Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Yemen.

According to the United Nations Entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, women constituted just 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators and 6% of signatories in major peace processes around the world between 1992 and 2019.

I have the example of a wonderful women, Mrs Fawzia Koofi, who was the only women in the Doha negotiations between the Talibans and the Americans and who now lives in London as she was forced to flee her country to save her herself and her two daughters.

Not including women in those delegations results in ceasefires and peace agreements that rarely address the perspectives, needs and concerns of women and other vulnerable groups, and a subsequent lack of planning for those needs in post-conflict recovery. 

However, a growing body of research and case studies of current and past peace processes reveal how women’s participation – whether in official negotiating role or through grassroot efforts – contributes to reaching lasting peace agreements.

According to the Council on foreign relations, women’s participation increases by 35% the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years, when it would have lasted for a much shorter period.

  • First, women often take a collaborative approach to peacemaking and organize across cultural and sectarian divides. Such an approach – which incorporates the concerns of diverse demographics (religious, ethnic, and cultural groups) affected by a conflict and with an interest in its resolution – increases the prospects of long-term stability and reduces the likelihood of state failure, conflict onset and poverty.

For example, Israeli and Palestinian women have long built coalitions across national, ethnic, and religious lines to lead nonviolent efforts to promote security and access to basic services.

  • Second, because women often operate outside existing power structures and generally do not control fighting forces, they are more widely perceived to be politically impartial mediators in peace negotiations, compared to men.

I would like to give you an example of a conflict that particularly marked my life, as I spend part of my life in Ireland : women from Northern Ireland were respected as “honest brokers” who represented both communities, which allowed them to lead back-channel conversations with opposing parties, which maybe explains that the Sinn Feinn party leader is today a woman as is the Head of the Parliament in Belfast.

  • Third, women are often dynamic leaders of change. Women’s groups successfully stage mass actions and mobilize public opinion campaigns in many countries to encourage progress in peace talks.

Women in Sudan were at the forefront of protests in 2019 that led to the overthrow of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in a coup, making up 70% of protestors.

They again stepped up to protest forcefully after military leaders staged a second coup in 2021.

  • Fourth, women are more likely to raise social issues in negotiations, beyond military action, power-sharing arrangements, and territorial gains, that help societies reconcile and recover, such as political and legal reforms, social and economic priorities, and transitional justice concerns.

In Colombia – which I visited in July 2022 when the long-awaited report of the “Truth Committee” was presented to the people – women successfully facilitated the inclusion of provisions in the final agreement in the rights of women and girls, access to property for rural and indigenous communities, women’s political participation, gender-based violence, and post-conflict accountability for sexual violence.

  • In addition, women are also more likely to direct post-conflict resources to the reconstruction of public institutions and provision of critical services to long-term stability, including schools, healthcare services or a strong justice.

Despite the challenges that the post-conflict vacuum poses for women’s rights, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to change the societal structures and norms in place before the conflict which contributed to the violence against women in the first place.

I agree with the Office of the United Nation high commissioner for human rights’ recommendation to take into account women’s various roles and diverse experiences of conflicts, not only as victims, but as combatants, as part of organized civil society and as human rights defenders, as members of resistance movements (such as the Kurds) and as active agents in both formal and informal peace processes.

Let’s take, for example. While Ukrainian men bear most of the burden of fighting at the frontline, many Ukrainian women are active in the army or provide relief to those affected by the war. Some, as members of the Ukrainian civil society, have continued their hard work in reforming their country and preparing it for EU membership, even though their political representation remains low.

Now that the war has entered in its second year, it is worth remembering the decisive role women have played in peace-making in recent history. This applies also to the ongoing war between the Hamas and Israel and the negotiations in Doha in which women are absent.

As a conclusion, I would like to say that I am convinced that meetings – such as the one we are holding today – are crucial to collectively find inclusive solutions to the issues we face together.

Let’s not be afraid to look at where we come from and what has been achieved, so together we can look forward to a better future for women. A lot done, a lot more to do.

I would like to thank the organizers of the Women’s Forum for having me and you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for listening to me.

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