Women, peace and the theory of jam

This article is part of a series on women, peace and security that The Strategist will be publishing over coming weeks in recognition of International Women’s Day 2019.

I often reflect on how privileged I am to carry forth this work and the responsibility of promoting and advancing the WPS agenda, to make it visible.

We all stand on the shoulders of great women—Mary Lee, Mary Colton, Catherine Helen Spence, Vida Goldstein—women who have set in motion the wheels of change.

So in this context I would like to talk to you about women, peace and security—about women’s equality, and the jam!

Lewis Carroll wrote in his magnificent tome, Through the Looking-Glass … the White Queen said to Alice: ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.’

‘It must come sometimes to “jam to-day”,’ Alice objected.

‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.’

And that is the story of gender equality. It’s never jam today.

UN Security Council resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, highlights the disproportionate impact conflict has on women and men and advocates for stronger inclusion of women in all areas of security.

Seven resolutions since then make up the normative framework that has become the WPS agenda. They advance the importance of women’s political participation and the need for enhanced prevention tools and strengthened protection mechanisms for women and girls, especially from sexual violence.

WPS is about making the invisible visible. It’s about opening spaces and dislodging obstacles to women’s participation in the decisions around conflict and peace. WPS has changed the narrative of conflict, to reflect a broader thinking, a more nuanced approach to peace and security.

We know that sustainable peace cannot be achieved without women’s security and equality. We know that the treatment of women in any society is a barometer where we can predict other forms of oppression.

We know that countries where women are empowered are vastly more secure. We measure the rise in violence through the decrease in women’s rights and shrinking spaces for women’s voices.

We know all this and yet we still struggle to implement the very basics of the resolution. We still struggle to translate the essential nature of WPS.

For NATO, the adoption of UNSCR 1325 represented a significant political shift in the understanding that there needs to be a better-balanced approach between horizontal and vertical approaches to security.

In 2007 we developed the first NATO policy and action plan on WPS. Last year we revised and updated this policy and action plan to take into account new developments and changes in the international landscape.

Our new policy reaffirms our commitment to the overarching WPS principles reframed through the lens of integration, inclusiveness and integrity.

Integration brings to life gender equality through the immersion of gender perspectives into all our policy and doctrine—making abstract constructions a reality.

Inclusiveness brings to the forefront the participation of women and the increased number of women as staff and in national forces—in particular, in leadership roles.

We know we have an obligation to turn our words into actions. And leadership is essential if we’re to overcome these challenges. Therefore this is also about making the WPS agenda inclusive so men take responsibility too.

Integrity aims to address head on systematic abuse based on inequality, including through the adoption of standards and codes of conduct, especially on sexual exploitation and abuse and in operational settings.

So, we have robust policies and strong commitment, but commitment is only as good as the actions taken. There are many more actions we must take. It’s time to take advantage of the global attention and to further edge into the closed spaces that have often denied women access and opportunity.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325. This is a good time to take stock, to reflect and assess. It’s time for us, as a global community, to be bold in our assessment and courageous in our vision for the next chapter of this journey.

While there’s greater global awareness on women’s empowerment and gender equality, there’s still a resistance to acceptance that the principles of WPS are central to the security discourse. In high-level policy discussions about significant security challenges and stabilisation efforts, gender considerations often take a back seat to ‘more pressing’ concerns.

Too often gender equality and women’s rights fall victim to political expediency, so we should stand firm on the issues that can move us globally from fragility to stability.

There’s also persistent failure to recognise the ongoing victimisation of women in conflicts and the marginalisation of women in peace-building. Women continue to be excluded from playing a role in defining security and maintaining, restoring and defending stability.

Today’s global threats are complex and multi-faceted. Terrorism, transnational crime, drug trafficking, cyber threats, hybrid warfare, climate change and mass migration have complicated the security environment in unprecedented ways.

But we still do not see the connective tissue that binds WPS to these emerging challenges. The proliferation of divisive mandates has created an architecture of competing priorities that have plagued the WPS agenda and reduced its potency.

WPS has been in lock-down for too long. The steadfast grip of the traditional realm of WPS—women as only peacemakers—has meant rejection of new and emerging areas that are so relevant and important for this agenda.

Everything has a gender perspective, everything is linked to WPS. Countering violent extremism and countering terrorism, cyber security, defence and deterrence, energy security and climate change are all WPS issues. We must recreate the conditions for WPS to be integral to all security and we must refrain from creating silos of competing interests, especially within the WPS community.

The old guard must make way for the new.

We have to revitalise the agenda—which often means letting go of the familiar.

The concentration on gender parity alone has become an impediment to the agenda. We need to recognise that it is not only pushing the boundaries on parity; we need to make sure that we anchor the vision of sustainable peace to the inclusion of women in all our activities.

To genuinely advance gender equality, there’s an urgent need to increase the numbers of women and reverse the longstanding imbalance on gender. But we must recognise that numbers alone can only go so far and we must be vigilant in also promoting the integration of gender perspectives into all our functions and enabling the participation of women and their protection.

Gender parity is so much easier to measure and therefore so much easier to understand. Results on gender parity can be seen directly. Gender parity is actionable and achievable. Gender mainstreaming is the difficult cousin. It is for this reason, within the framework of WPS, that gender parity initiatives gain more support.

But do not assume that gender parity will serve as a surrogate for gender equality and therefore respond in total to WPS requirements. It’s only in balancing the issues of parity and participation that equality can be efficiently and effectively actioned.

Additionally, the fragmentation of the agenda towards protection versus participation is damaging.

The treatment of sexual violence as an issue that requires only protective and preventative solutions is limited and insufficient. Sexual violence, whether or not commissioned as a tactic of war, stems from fundamental gender inequalities.

Sexual violence is a WPS issue.

Achieving gender equality requires a change of mindset. It’s a process of change and transformation, for which we need sharper, more focused tools like mandatory training, partnerships and coalitions and creating accountability to measure effect.

Changing mindsets means we have to dismantle the structure of power that has long marginalised women. We must address the danger that is pervasive patriarchy.

There’s a danger that we are just changing the players and not the game.

However, with all that said, I believe the time is right for change. WPS has demonstrated its potential; now it’s time to put this truly into action.

Change requires bold steps, and courageous decisions, without which nothing will happen.

So as we look towards the future, let’s be bold. Let’s be courageous and let’s make today the day we have jam!