Sweden has strengthened the voice of women in the United Nations Security Council

Opinion piece by Margot Wallström, published in Dagens Nyheter on 2 January 2018

"After a year on the UN Security Council, we can confirm that Sweden has made its mark. Although 2018 will present major challenges, the Government has its sights set on results. ¬We will continue our efforts to ensure a more secure world and, consequently, a more secure Sweden," writes Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.

Crises and security threats abound in our world. Fulfilling its mandate to maintain international peace and security has perhaps never been more difficult for the UN Security Council.

The United Nations and the Security Council are the bedrock of our rules-based world order, which is increasingly being challenged today by authoritarian leaders and states. Defending this order is of vital interest to Sweden – it is fundamental to our sovereignty and security.

After the Second World War, the world's countries agreed on common rules governing international relations and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The aim was to ensure that humanity would never again experience the horrors of war. Structures – such as the UN and its highest executive body, the Security Council – were necessary to ensure compliance with these rules. In this way, bloodshed on the battlefield could be replaced by patience at the negotiating table.

Maintaining this world order has been far from easy. During the UN's 70-year existence, the world has witnessed countless conflicts and unimaginable human suffering. But a world without a rules-based system – based only on 'might is right' – would have been much less secure.

With this insight, we know that Sweden must continue to do everything it can to defend this rules-based world order. It is a prerequisite for our own security, and for peace and progress in the world.

Sweden is now halfway through its two-year term on the Security Council.

Since taking its seat in January 2017, Sweden has established itself as a credible and influential member. Achieving results requires sensitive and active diplomacy, combined with political courage. We stand up for our values, international law, human rights, gender equality and a humanitarian perspective, while also working hard to avoid political deadlocks.

Sweden has made a significant impact in five areas:

1. Sweden has strengthened the voice of women. The Security Council must move from words to action to ensure that women take part in peace processes, and to prevent women in conflict-affected countries from being subjected to violence. Studies show that peace agreements have a 35 per cent greater chance of lasting when women have a seat at the negotiating table.

Our work is producing results. Women were mentioned in every Security Council statement on emergency situations in 2017 – the corresponding figure in 2016 was 69 per cent. We have introduced stronger wording about women in resolutions, statements and peace operation mandates. We have also succeeded in getting the Security Council to take a clearer stance against sexual and gender-based violence, and sexual abuse, by personnel deployed by the UN.

2. Sweden has put the spotlight on prevention and the new challenges of our time. The Security Council needs to use broader concepts of security that include factors such as climate change and poverty. At Sweden's initiative, the Security Council agreed on a resolution on Lake Chad that, for the first time, clearly outlines the link between climate change and security. Thanks to Sweden's efforts, in August the Security Council was able for the first time to call attention to the link between famine and conflict.

The year's clearest example of conflict prevention was in January. As President of the Security Council, Sweden played a leading role in the Council contributing to a peaceful transition in Gambia. Since armed conflict was avoided, one year on we have almost forgotten that it could easily have gone the other way.

3. Sweden has contributed to the Security Council taking action in the worst crises of our time. The situation in Yemen is one example. Sweden, following several requests for action, directed the Council's focus to the country's humanitarian situation, considered the gravest in the world today: the scene of unimaginable human suffering, with 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Myanmar, and the horrendous persecution of the Rohingya people, is another example. In November, after Sweden's urgent efforts, the Security Council for the first time unanimously condemned the violence and human rights violations. Steps have been taken in the right direction – and now the country's leaders must take responsibility for this crisis.

Thanks to the renewal of resolution 2165, millions of people in Syria can continue to receive humanitarian assistance, such as food, fuel, blankets and protective measures. Sweden, together with Egypt and Japan, led the procedure in the Council to renew the resolution's mandate. This was the only time the Council could agree on a resolution on Syria in 2017.

4. Sweden has worked inclusively – to ensure that peace and security concern everyone. We have made certain that those affected by the Security Council have a voice in the Security Council. During Sweden's Presidency, the foreign ministers of Mali and Somalia, and representatives of the African Union, briefed the Council.

In 2017, there was a pronounced increase in the number of civil society organisations that spoke in the Security Council, which Sweden worked actively to achieve. For instance, seven representatives spoke on the theme of women, peace and security during the year – in 2016, this happened only once. We also have regular meetings with civil society in Sweden. The work of the Security Council has also become more accessible through the active use of social media.

5. We have protected Sweden's security through our work on the Security Council. An effective world order, with the Charter of the United Nations at its core, is essential to our freedom and self-determination. As a member of the Security Council, we have a unique opportunity to defend international law and ensure any violation results in consequences. This is also how we protect our neighbourhood and the foundations of the European Union.

After a year on the Security Council, we can confirm that our work is producing results. We know, however, that many crises will continue, and that divisions in the Council will persist. We cannot ignore the fact that the right to veto was used six times in 2017. Unfortunately, unlike New Year's bells, we cannot 'ring out the old'.

This year, 2018, will present many challenges: the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, the increasingly pronounced effects of climate change – the list could go on. But we will tackle each one. We embark on this new year with determination and with our sights set on results.

As our world becomes less secure, isolating ourselves and withdrawing from the international arena is not the way to go. The Government will continue its international efforts to achieve a more secure world – through more, not less, cooperation. This will also make Sweden more secure. We will continue our fight for sustainable peace and security in a turbulent age.

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs