With the upcoming holiday season and the beginning of a new year fast approaching, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past year and look ahead to 2016. What struck me the most when looking back on this year are the challenges we are facing globally, and the fact that now, more than ever, it is so important that we figure out how to overcome these challenges.
Reaching political agreements in conflict areas is an important part of Norway’s international agenda. It has been a priority for many, many years. Norway has been a leader and pioneer in facilitating dialogues in Colombia, Afghanistan, Syria and some countries in Africa. Stabilizing countries requires political dialogues.
The Colombia Peace Process is the most promising one as we draw closer to the New Year. If successful, the Columbian government and FARC could reach a final political settlement in early 2016. Norway will stay committed to this process until a final agreement is agreed upon.
As I see it, we also need to speed up the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and to do so successfully we need to include women and civil society.
Together with the Afghan government, Norway is organizing a Women Conference in Kabul next year. This will be the third such conference since 2013. We are aiming for high participation on all fronts in order to strengthen women’s voices and positions in political life.
In Syria, the talks are also progressing. Let’s hope they will be successful sooner rather than later. Only a political dialogue can achieve the solution we seek. The longer this process takes, the worse the situation in Syria will get. The millions of refugees and the millions of internally displaced persons need a solution; we must end the suffering.
Many of you may have read my first post about the importance of girls’ education. We really need to step up our efforts and ensure that girls in difficult conflict situations get the help they need, that they are safe on their way to school, at school, and in their communities. We must do everything we can to stop the perpetrators that threaten, kidnap and even kill girls and women – only because they want to learn and seek knowledge.
Education is the key to a better life for women and girls. As we know, educated women are also the key to reduced poverty. The long-term result of educating young girls is that they are more able to take care of themselves, their families and their communities. Educated women and girls can fight for their rights, avoid abuse and be economically independent. Last but not the least: fewer girls will become mothers when they are only a child.
But. Education cannot stop after elementary school. Yes, basic reading, writing and math is important for girls and young women. (As it is for boys!) However, it is the possibility to participate on equal terms in the economic and political decisions that affect women’s own lives that really matters. For that reason, all girls must have access also to secondary and higher education. Women should be empowered to take part in business, in political processes, in peace processes and in governance. In these areas, Norway has made significant strides.
“Y” International Cooperation?
When the international community unites in addressing international crises, we succeed. How we managed and defeated the Ebola epidemic is a good example. Several countries came together, provided humanitarian aid and worked very concrete and targeted. A huge effort was made by many countries. Together, we ended the catastrophe and we stopped the epidemic from becoming a global pandemic.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is another example. The agreement is a milestone. Now, we need to focus on implementation and concrete results. Paris is not the end; it is only the beginning. Now, it is important that we continue to fight together for sustainable development for all, and that we take our responsibility seriously by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases according to the agreement we agreed on. Our children will watch us.
I hope that in 2016 we will also take the additional steps necessary to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to cut down the number of nuclear arsenals. We managed to ship the last chemical weapons out of Syria in 2014. That was a huge achievement!
The Iran deal is also a huge achievement, after many years of uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear program. With the implementation of the agreement, Iran will no longer have the capacity to acquire nuclear weapons. For the Iranian people, the implementation will mean easing and lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iran, which hopefully will bring about economic growth and increased welfare.
I hope that the agreement will lead to a more comprehensive political dialogue between Iran and the international community. Norway and Iran have already had a strong dialogue for quite some time.
We must not give up. We must keep up the good work to ensure a peaceful future New Year and beyond. We need to keep talking to each other. So many tools are at our disposal these days that allow us to communicate with people in all corners of the earth. Let’s use them!
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, god jul, and a joyous New Year!