Gender lines fading in peace and security

October marks the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a milestone document which for the first time recognised the impact of war and conflict on women and children and highlighted the fact that historically those groups have been left out of peace processes and stabilisation efforts. However, it also highlights that women are not only victims, but also enablers in peace and security. In a key moment such as this two projects on implementing gender perspective within armed forces supported by NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme were presented on October 29.

“Women are not only victims, but play an active role in peace and security”, assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges division, Sorin Ducaru said in his opening speech. Although it has been 15 years since the adoption of the resolution on women in peace and security, much work needs to be done to improve the implementation of the resolution. Resolution 1325 is an agenda for change. “It requires us to change the way we perceive security and to find practical tools to translate that awareness and principles of equal rights and opportunities. It requires us to change our perception on how we understand security and how we act,” NATO’s secretary general special representative for women, peace and security, Marriet Schuurman said.

The implementation of gender principles outlined in resolutions on women in peace and security is as important, as adopting those resolutions. Therefore, key organisations on gender analysis in conflicts, supported by the SPS programme, have taken the initiative to propose recommendations which could improve implementation of gender equality within armed forces.

Gender related complaints in armed forces

A project initiated by the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Parliamentary Ombudsman of the Norwegian armed forces provided findings and recommendations on gender-related complaints in both national and multinational armed forces. This tool can assess and improve complaint mechanism within armed forces with an aim to equal opportunities.

In order to increase the participation of women in peacekeeping and armed forces, the project recommended that NATO member and partner countries must strengthen complaint mechanisms. This is because preventing sexual abuse and harassment is key in recruiting new soldiers. Unfortunately, victims of sexual harassment and abuse, both women and men, feel reluctant to come forward with complaints. For instance, in the UK, 40 % of female in armed forces are victims of sexual harassment, but only 3% made a formal written complaint, meaning that more than 90% of the victims go unreported. “This cannot be accepted,” Nicola Williams, service complaints commissioner for the armed forces in the UK declared.

One of the authors of the project, Megan Bastick, stated that “if there are no complaints that means something is wrong with the complaint system.” Sexual harassment and abuse cannot go unheard, and victims are supposed to be encouraged to come out with their stories. The aim of the project is to explain these issues and provide recommendations in order to improve the complaint mechanism, both on national level and in the multinational forces, including NATO member states and their partners. NATO is a good implementation ground for the projects as such abuses are particularly challenging in multinational forces. In order to prevent abuses on gender based issues, NATO has to have a strong structure in place.

1325 Scoreboard

A second project supported by NATO’s SPS programme was presented by a leading women’s organisation, Women in International Security (WIIS), and by Serbia’s oldest independent research organisation, Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP). The two organisations presented 1325 Scorecard, a tool to evaluate how well the principles of the Resolution 1325 are implemented within the armed forces of NATO Allies. Furthermore, the tool provides recommendations on how to improve the implementation.

Ever since the adoption of the resolution, much progress has been made with regard to the adoption of policy frameworks within NATO. Unfortunately, at the national level the implementation of these policies are lagging behind. According to the research of these two organisations, the implementation of ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda within the armed forces of NATo allies is generally ad-hoc and is not systematic.

Many soldiers within the command forces are unfamiliar with principles underlined in the UNSC resolution on ‘Women, Peace and Security’. Therefore, raising awareness is key to better implementation. True integration of gender perspectives in conflict analyses has still not become the norm in many NATO member and partner states, therefore the scorecard outlines four main recommendations, which could improve and better implement the principles. This includes appointing a gender advisor at the commander level, making sure that soldiers are provided with gender training and education, incorporating gender analyses in all aspects in military operations and finally, for individual states to publicize their efforts in what they are doing to improve gender equality within the military.

Leadership, partnership and accountability

The reason why these projects are promoted within NATO member and partner states military operations, is because NATO sets standards when it comes to defence. In order to integrate gender perspectives in military activities and promote gender equality (more women) in military, “leadership, partnership and accountability/transparency are key aspects in better implementation,” Marriet Schuurman emphasised.

“It is our ambition to continue to lead by example, to translate principles into practice and reality on the ground,” she added. Integration of gender perspective within the military should be promoted and encouraged by senior officials in command.

“We have gone very far in setting normative frameworks, but not so far in implementation. Better protection, prevention and increasing equal participation of men and women in armed conflict is essential.”

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