NATO, Women, Peace and Security - An interview with Mari Skaare30.05.2014 | 00:08
Approximately 65 years ago 12 foreign ministers gathered to sign the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. 65 years later NATO has yet to see a female Secretary General, with Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to be the first woman to serve in one of the assistant secretary-general positions.
At this present moment eight of NATO's member states have at least one woman representing the country's security and foreign policy priorities in Brussels or even serving in the position of defence minister. It's also worth noting that over half of its members have had a female head of government.
Of course, whether a woman is Secretary - General at NATO or not, can be seen as a minor concern in the present state of affairs. It is undoubtedly a problem but one that is currently hiding behind the russian elephant in the room.
Nevertheless it is precisely because of these events that NATO needs to pay closer attention to this minor concern as recent research has found that women bring a diversity of perspective and problem- solving techniques. This certainly means that more diversity at the top of the hierarchy may offer unexpected solutions to an array of problems.
These problems are not merely internal problems of gender imbalance. The female factor in NATO lead missions and operations abroad is also a matter of great importance as women in conflict zones are often affected more than men.
In the last of a three part feature on "Women in NATO" Mari Skaare the first Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security talks to us about the development of policies to the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the aim for more female leaders; as well as the role which her position plays and she is quite frank when she clarifies that the existence of "such a position is a clear signal that NATO is taking the Women, Peace and Security agenda very seriously".
On March 28th Jans Stoltenberg was designated as the next Secretary General. 65 years on NATO has yet to have a female Secretary General. Why do you believe this is?
Firstly, let me take this opportunity to congratulate Jans Stoltenberg on his appointment. Your point that NATO has never had a female Secretary General, is indeed a valid one. I am convinced that there are plenty of qualified women that could hold this position. But this is not the case of NATO only. The barriers for women to rise to the top in institutions and businesses in all sectors of our societies are complex and difficult to dismantle. Discrimination and negative attitudes against women is holding us back. So is the enduring difficulty, for both men and women, to challenge traditional thinking when making carrier choices. All this is preventing us from benefitting from the skills and competencies that women can provide, particularly in leadership positions.
A better gender balance in NATO structures and bodies is a goal in itself, and it is also a means to improve performance. We are aware of the challenges ahead and we are making progress! We are leaning forward on developing good policies and concrete contributions to the Women, Peace and Security agenda, we are aiming for more female leaders. I have high expectations for the future.
NATO’s own composition seems to reflect the percentage of women recruited for NATO military operations. Is something being done to change this and how do you propose this might change?
There is no direct link between the composition of NATO structures and bodies and the composition of NATO-led operations. NATO does not have its own standing forces. Contributions to NATO’s operations are made by individual nations against the specific force requirements identified by our military commanders. The provision of female troops and officers to NATO-led operations is depending on national decisions.
In my view, the composition of the security institutions and national armed forces needs to reflect the composition of the populations. If we are to ensure that we have the right people in place, we need to tap into the female human resource base as much as into the male one. The armed forces most valuable assets are not the equipment – but the human brain power. Women deployed in crisis management operations, allows us also to do our job better. Inclusion of women at all levels in NATO-led operations should not remain an exception, but become a matter of routine. We need to be smarter and learn from our own experience. To this end, NATO is facilitating exchanges of best practices and support national training efforts.
You are NATO’s first Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security. Firstly what does this job role entail? When did the need arise for such a position and why now?
The fact that NATO has such a position is a clear signal that NATO is taking the Women, Peace and Security agenda very seriously. I am NATO’s focal point for matters on Women, Peace and Security and my role is both to raise awareness and to facilitate coordination and consistency in NATO’s policies and activities and assist the organization in delivering better results. I also enjoy very much reaching out to partner nations, other international organisations and civil society building a stronger commitment and leadership and paving the way for practical collaboration and measures.
How women are rising or not in the ranks, seems to be making headlines more and more do you think that ‘being a woman’ in security should be a headline?
Female leaders both in the military and in other sectors of our society should be the norm. We are, however, not there yet. Women are still very much under-represented in the defence and security sector. Female role models could raise further awareness on the importance, and at the same time the normality, of women participating on equal footing with men. Having the spotlights on some of these women that have ventured to think ‘outside the box’ and made untraditional carrier choices and that are leading the way could support a change in traditional mind sets.
More often than not women are the easy victims in conflicts. How is Resolution 1325 being implemented by NATO?
All conflicts have a detrimental impact on societies and on the civilian populations. The best way to manage conflict is to prevent them from happening. When they do occur, however, we need to analyze and understand them also with a gender perspective. In NATO, we recognize that conflict may affect men and women differently due to their different social roles and status, and often women and girls are harder hit than men. We need to ensure that we have the appropriate tools to protect women in areas of conflict for instance against conflict-related sexual violence. At the same time, we must not see women only as victims, as passive recipients of aid and protection. Empowerment of women will make us less vulnerable. Therefore ensuring women’s active and meaningful participation in decision making and in all sectors of our societies, including defense and security, is key.
NATO is leaning forward. Together with partner nations we have just revised the NATO Policy on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related Resolutions which outline our commitment deliver on the Women, Peace and Security agenda. We are contributing to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the related Resolutions through practical cooperation with partners, for instance on training on gender issues. Also, when we are assisting in crisis management we are conscious of the need to integrate a gender perspective in planning and execution of operations. That is why we are also seeing the value of deploying Gender Advisors in NATO-led missions and operations. We also continue to highlight the importance to engage with women in areas where NATO is active in order to give them a voice and to strengthen their role.
Is more focus needed on women in war torn areas and what does the future hold for the women in Afghanistan after NATO pulls out?
The security situation for women and girls, their needs and interests, are too often overlooked in conflict and post-conflict situations, and, yes, more focus on this is needed from actors within the international community as well as national actors.
In Afghanistan significant gains in living conditions and women’s participation have been made in the last twelve years. This is the result of the relentless strive by Afghan men and women for a better future, supported by NATO and other actors in the International Community. During the Taliban era women were basically left out of public life. Nowadays, women are again extensively present in the political, economic and social sphere. Also the enormous increase in access to schools and healthcare for women and girls today is another indicator of the further rehabilitation of women in Afghan society. Of course many challenges remain but let us not forget what has been build so far.
NATO, through the ISAF mission, has been supporting the Afghan government in its effort to increase women’s role as part of the Afghan security forces. The ISAF mission will be completed at the end of 2014. NATO stands ready to continue support the further professionalization of these forces, including with regard to the recruitment of women and gender training, after 2014.
Resolution 1325 seeks to implement important changes both for the protection of women as well as the participation of women. Has it been a challenge to try and implement these and if so why?
The persistent barriers for the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 require concerted actions on a broad front. Nations, international organisations and civil society need to cooperate. Success can only be achieved if we work together.
In my opinion two key challenges we face are continued lack of awareness and competence, plus the fact that efforts implementing this agenda tend to be marginalised and not a core part of our everyday business. NATO is committed to showing leadership dismantle existing barriers. I am proud to represent a Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was recently honored with the Hillary Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security. Training and education are also important tools for raising awareness. Both men and women need to been enabled to integrate a gender perspective in their daily work. That is why we in NATO, have been strengthening our training on gender. Making Women, Peace and Security priorities an integral part of our everyday business requires that we make proper planning and streamline efforts, monitor how we are doing and hold our institutions accountable for achievements.
My observations are that the awareness is on the rise, that it is better understood that mainstreaming gender in the broader security context and including women will strengthen our ability to meet today’s security challenges. We are progressing!
NATO is an important player in global peace and security, what role do values play in taking the Women, Peace and Security agenda forward?
NATO’s overall purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means, but we are not defined by the threats we face, we are defined by the values we share. We are united by the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and rule of law.
We do not have individual liberty, if women cannot decide for themselves; we do not have democracy, if women cannot participate; we do not respect human rights, if women’s rights are not respected; and there is no rule of law if women do not have access to justice. Our work on Women, Peace and Security is fundamental for the realization of our common values and therefore at the core of our business.
You may also want to read:
Women, Counter Terrorism and NATO - An interview with Juliette Bird
Women in NATO - An interview with Dr Stefanie Babst
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