Elliott School Marks International Women’s Day with Discussion on Women and Security

March 20, 2015

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which underscores the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict. Specifically, the resolution calls for the increased participation of women in global peace and security efforts.

“One of the most challenging areas to advance implementation of 1325 is where it is most needed—within military institutions,” said Elliott School faculty member Aisling Swaine.

To address this problem, the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program convened a panel of experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities of integrating women into military operations.

“At international levels, we only have three percent of military in UN missions that are women, and most of those women are deployed as support staff,” said Dr. Swaine in her opening remarks at the February 25 event.

Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, president of Women in International Security, discussed why it is important to incorporate gender into peace and security efforts, saying advocates posit both “rights” arguments—women have a right to participate in military operations—and “effectiveness” arguments.

“We have now a growing body of research that shows that societies where half the population is ignored are inherently more unstable and more violent,” she explained.

One country that has made noticeable progress in incorporating gender into its military institutions is Ireland. Commandant Jayne Lawlor, the Irish Defence Force’s gender, equality, and diversity officer, described how she works to integrate gender into IDF troop training, exercises, and operations.

“I keep it really simple. I explain to them ‘gender perspective’ is only about being able to think about how your operation is going to affect the lives of women and children, as well as men.” Ireland is one of only two UN member states that have a military action plan in relation to a “gender perspective” in its operations. The other country is Finland.

While individual countries have been slow to formally adopt provisions in support of 1325, NATO has taken steps to advance its implementation. This includes the appointment of a gender advisor, Charlotte Isaksson, who also spoke on the panel. Ms. Isaksson discussed the slow and often ad hoc process of integrating a gender perspective into military operations. However, she said, despite the challenges, “There is always a way.” She stressed the particular importance of consistent evaluation of policies and their effectiveness.

The panel—which also included Brenda Oppermann, an advisor to the U.S. military, and Robert Egnell from Georgetown University—discussed the need to recruit and retain more females into the military, as well as the need to deploy women to combat areas. The latter not only leverages a gender perspective in the field, they said, but it also provides female troops with opportunities more likely to lead to career advancement.

The Elliott School’s Global Gender Program (GGP), which sponsored the event, released a working paper in May 2014 that analyzed the National Action Plans in support of UNSCR 1325 and offered an update on implementation of Women, Peace, and Security goals more broadly. The GGP comprises Elliott School faculty, staff, students, alumni, and affiliated professionals who are dedicated to improving the health, education, rights and security (HERS) of women and girls internationally and to reducing gender-based exclusion, violence, and discrimination in these four areas. Founded in 2010, the Global Gender Program pursues its mission through teaching, research, and policy/public engagement.