Eight reflections on ‘mainstreaming’ gender and women, peace and security into the military
25 Nov 2016|
Staff Officer Gender Advisor, Commander Jennifer Wittwer. *** Local Caption *** Mid Caption: Australian Defence Force personnel deployed as part of Operation Slipper celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. Prominent women in operational positions were selected and interviewed to mark the event. Commander Jennifer Wittwer, the Staff Officer Gender Advisor in Kabul, Wing Commander Lee de Winton, the Base Commander at Multinational Base Tarin Kot, Ms Julie McKay, Executive Director UN Women Australia, Colonel Robin Kimmelman (USAF), Legal Mentor to Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at 205 Hero Corps, Major Deborah Elmy, Mentor to Corps G6 at 205 Hero Corps and Warrant Officer Class One Kim Felmingham, the Regimental Sergeant Major of Joint Task Force 633.

In her address to the United Nations Security Council Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) held in New York in October, Ambassador Marriët Schuurman, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative on WPS said:

‘Gender equality is not optional. It is essential. Why? Because it allows us to respond better—and smarter—to the many complex security challenges that we face today. She went on to add that Gender equality is about credibility and capability…the readiness of our forces and the effectiveness of our operations.’

Ambassador Schuurman succinctly captured what NATO had learned after 15 years of implementing UNSCR 1325 on WPS. There’s no argument that NATO, and its allies and partners, have made tangible progress to advance the WPS agenda in its operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo over the past few years. Certainly, NATO recognises that its core tasks of collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security can’t be realised if women don’t participate feely in all aspects of conflict prevention, management and resolution, or if their rights aren’t respected.

The Australian Defence Force has been a key contributor to the development and implementation of NATO’s action plan on UNSCR 1325, aligning its implementation of the Australian National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS with NATO’s key WPS principles, and making significant progress on mainstreaming gender perspective into its core business.

As a result, we’ve strengthened the nexus between Defence’s efforts to increase women’s participation and opportunities for leadership, and the importance of a gender perspective and women’s enhanced role in peacebuilding as a major component of achieving sustainable peace and security.

However, challenges to implementing UNSCR 1325 remain. Here are eight reflections that I believe will enhance Australia’s WPS efforts and lead to change in the long term:

 1. While women’s equality and empowerment in conflict are WPS principles, they’re also national concerns. We should strive to address and develop public policies on inequalities and barriers for women, and set standards and role-model workplace behaviour that supports those ideals. That will put us in a position to support and enact global commitments on equality and empowerment for women.

2. The principles of UNSCR 1325—protection, prevention, participation and gender perspectivecan be applied in non-conflict environments. To do so allows us to tackle inequality, promote women’s participation and leadership, and prevent sexual and gender-based violence. Gender perspective is about identifying the different needs and concerns of men and women and developing appropriate responses. Equality doesn’t mean being the same.

3. Senior leadership commitment to mainstreaming gender perspective is essential for buy-in and implementation. That means senior leaders and commanders must demonstrate their commitment through public policy, corporate plans, cultural reform and resourcing. The ADF has been exemplary in its leadership on, and international engagement with, NATO and other armed forces on strategies to increase women’s participation, and to embed gender considerations in operations, missions, training and military exercises.

4. A network of Gender Advisors is necessary to embed gender perspective into the core business. They should be a senior appointment, with appropriate experience, skills and training, with direct access to senior leaders. They should attend all key committee meetings to ensure that gender perspective is seen as a cross-functional theme across divisions and lines of operations and to raise the profile of the mandate. And one person can’t do it all: a network of Gender Advisors and gender focal points is essential to the effective mainstreaming of gender perspective. (Defence’s network has grown from just me in 2013 to nine formal positions in 2016, and many more less-formal gender focal points.)

5. A program or plan with specific goals and strategies, developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders, and agreed by senior leadership, is essential to drive the agenda. This ensures that issues, gaps, and challenges are identified, that specific and targeted initiatives are developed and implemented, and that the program is resourced.

6. Cross-pollination of ideas and initiatives with other relevant agencies helps to promote national approaches to mainstreaming gender perspective. One of the successful elements of Defence’s NAP strategy has been the formation of a working group of ADF and Defence representatives to progress NAP implementation. Enhancing that group with representatives from civil society and academia provides new perspectives and encourages collaboration.

7. Education, training and communication are essential to deliver gender perspective outcomes. Regardless of their gender, the Gender Advisor requires in depth knowledge of WPS, an understanding of operational and planning processes, and experience in gender issues. And they must also be able to communicate effectively across ranks and divisions. This may be in relation to explaining their purpose, the UN mandates and how they apply in the broader global context, or indeed, the operational benefit derived from analysis of gender issues.

8. It’s essential to build strong and resilient relationships with key people and stakeholders. This results in information sharing, opportunities to include gender considerations in the planning and execution of operations and ensuring that the implementation of UNSCR 1325 isn’t overlooked. Defence’s strong and trusted partnership with NATO has increased its standing in the international community and enabled a streamlined approach to implementation of WPS into military business.

The key theme arising from both NATO and the ADF’s work in this area is how women’s participation and gender perspective impacts the operational strategy to effect security, stability, governance and reconstruction in conflict areas. Women’s equality and empowerment remains an imperative to their inclusion and participation in those processes. I firmly agree with Ambassador Schuurman’s assessment that ‘…equal participation is not a favor to women. It is a hard core security requirement. It is essential….to the effectiveness of our forces…..But, above all, it is fundamental to achieving lasting peace’.