State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Leymah Gbowee Addresses United Nations General Assembly

By Kristen Rucki

In late September, Leymah Gbowee, executive director of the Women, Peace and Security program at Columbia University, shared her expertise with world leaders, dignitaries, entrepreneurs, and activists gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly and related events. Her reflections about sustainable development, peace and security, and social change emphasized the importance of partnerships with and among women, as well as the need for a broader, more holistic understanding of peace and security. These themes are at the heart of the Women, Peace and Security program’s approach to research, education, and public service.

In addition to delivering the General Assembly’s “SDG Moment,” Gbowee was a featured speaker at the UN Private Sector Forum, as well as the 2018 Social Good Summit—an honor she shared with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, actor and activist Uzo Aduba, and other influential voices. In her talk, titled, “Why Partnership for Peace Must Start with Women,” Gbowee offered this assessment of the state of the world:

“There is absolutely no way we can do anything in our world without peace and security. And there is no way that we can have peace and security without adequate partnerships with women.”

Gbowee went on to emphasize that peace and security are not just related to militarism and war; she identified homelessness, economic justice, the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter also as issues of peace and security.

leymah gbowee
Gbowee discussing the importance of investing in people for peace at the UN Private Sector Forum. Photo: U.N. Global Compact

As a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, Gbowee addressed the 73rd United Nations General Assembly about the promise of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together with other SDG Advocates, she also participated in an annual meeting with the UN Secretary-General about the state of the SDGs. A central tenet of the 2030 Agenda is ensuring that no one is left behind in the fight against poverty, inequality, and climate change. In an SDG Media Zone discussion called “Leaving No One Behind,” Gbowee highlighted the ways in which complex interconnected webs of social conditions can impede the successful implementation of the SDGs. When talking about quality education, for example, she mentioned that reproductive rights and poverty need to be considered.

Since its launch in 2017, the Women, Peace and Security program at Columbia’s Earth Institute has been committed to advancing women’s partnerships for peace, amplifying the expertise of grassroots women activists, and broadening conceptualizations of peace and security to include vital themes of racial justice, reproductive rights, environmental sustainability, economic justice, and more. Most recently, to promote partnerships and knowledge exchange among women peacebuilders, the WPS program, in collaboration with the Columbia University Nairobi Global Center and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has made a call for applications for the first iteration of its Peace and Social Change Fellowship Program. More information can be found here.

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