Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a special pleasure for me to be here today with all of you, and I would like to thank the Danish and US government for hosting this gathering. Both countries have made the protection and empowerment of women in global security issues a key element of their national foreign policies. The commitment of nations around the world is critical to the implementation of United Nations Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. But the commitment of international organisations, such as NATO, is vital too.
We are here because we face a global, fundamental challenge. Armed conflict and post-conflict lawlessness hit women and children hardest. They lose access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities. They are the biggest proportion of refugees and internally displaced persons. And they are increasingly subject to sexual violence by combatants and armed elements, sometimes as a direct weapon of war.
But women are not just victims of conflict. They must also be part of the solution. If women are not active participants in peace building and reconciliation, the views, needs and interests of half of the population in a conflict area are not properly represented. That is simply wrong. It can also undermine the peace.
For all these reasons, Resolution 1325 is such a landmark resolution. Because it not only recognises the impact of conflict on women; it also recognises the important role that women can play – and indeed must play – in preventing and resolving conflict, and in building peace.
At NATO, we are looking at the role of women in conflict resolution and peace-building in a comprehensive way.
We have produced our own directive for guiding the implementation of UNSCR 1325 throughout NATO’s military structure. This directive is founded upon three “p's” – prevention, protection and participation. We want to prevent armed conflict from having a disproportionate impact on women and children; we want to protect women and children; and we want women to participate in all aspects of operations and at all levels of command.
So what does this means in practice? It means, first of all, that we are mainstreaming gender-related education and training, especially for those forces that are about to be deployed on operations. This is aimed in particular at developing a better awareness and understanding of the culture, role and influence of women in local communities, and how their security concerns can be different from those of the men in those communities.
This means that not just our senior leadership, but also more and more of our operational forces are educated on gender issues. And we are beginning to see the benefits of this awareness and understanding where it matters – in the communities where our soldiers are deployed.
In Afghanistan, for example, in our ISAF headquarters, gender advisors ensure that commanders at all levels take women’s perspectives into account when they formulate their operational strategies.
Many of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams across the country also employ gender experts. These experts open additional lines of communications to local communities which are not open to male soldiers. They help to build trust and confidence in ISAF. And they alert commanders to the specific needs of women in local communities, including for basic services and health and education.
In addition to specific gender advisors, ISAF nations are deploying an increasing number of female soldiers to Afghanistan. And they make a real difference. In most countries, women don’t want to be searched at check points by men. In some cultures, it is unacceptable. Female soldiers can conduct searches without causing offence, which enhances our own security in a way that fits with the culture. That’s to everyone’s benefit.
Female military medical staff run clinics where local women are happy to go and be treated. And with the increased access that female soldiers are able to gain to local women, we can promote the mutual trust that is essential in countering an insurgency. Not least because of the influential roles that women play in their families and their communities.
Female personnel deployed in Afghanistan have also played a key role in encouraging Afghan women to join the country’s security forces. The first 29 Afghan women officers graduated last month.
And several female Afghan instructors are now fully engaged in this effort, including General Khatool Mohammadzai, the country’s first ever female paratrooper. Anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan realises what an historic step that is. It is a real indication of the change for the better we are seeing in Afghanistan.
Let me also mention a pioneer on the ISAF side -- UK police constable Amanda Henderson, who set up a basic police and firearms training programme for women in Helmand province. She made sure that the female police officers were given suitable uniforms – a little thing, but something the men around her overlooked. And crucially, once the word got around that there were female police officers, more and more women came to them with their problems.
Our operational experience in Afghanistan demonstrates the enormous value of well trained, female military personnel and gender specialists. But at the moment, we do not have nearly enough of those key assets in our NATO ranks.
The percentage of female military personnel in NATO’s nation’s armed forces varies between 3% and 18%. I firmly believe these figures are too low. And that far too often, we focus on more traditional types of military capability, and we overlook the tremendous force multiplier effect of employing women in our armed forces.
I believe Allies in general should increase their effort to recruit, retain and deploy female military personnel. Denmark is an example. Through targeted recruitment and retention efforts, Denmark has increased the number of women in the armed forces by 20 % over the last year. And the number of female soldiers deployed to the Helmand province in Afghanistan has increased from 14 in 2006 to 68 in 2010. While the numbers are still small – the trend is positive.
Another possibility is to establish distinct female units within the military. An example is the United States. The US Marine Corps has established a Female Engagement team. They operate in the south of Afghanistan, and they undertake a remarkable work.
Resolution 1325 also makes it clear that supporting the fullest possible role for women in political life, including in peace resolution, is essential. I fully agree. And we are acting on it. For example, together with the Hunt Foundation, NATO has already trained Afghan female members of parliament in negotiating, drafting and media skills. I see scope for building on this success with other civilian agencies and NGOs.
But it goes beyond that. As many of you know, the Afghan Government is trying hard to engage with those Taliban who are willing to stop fighting. My position, and the position of all the Allies, is very clear: we will never support any political deal that sacrifices the rights that Afghan women now have enshrined in the constitution. Which is why it is a good sign that there are a number of women on the council set up to manage the reconciliation process. In a country as deeply conservative as Afghanistan, that is real progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In implementing United Nations Resolution 1325, NATO has already achieved a great deal, and this is especially visible in Afghanistan. I have visited the country many times since ISAF was established there, both as Prime Minister of Denmark, and as NATO Secretary General. And the progress is unmistakable.
Women’s rights are now enshrined in the constitution. There are more and more girls in schools. More women in parliament. More women are setting up and running their business. More women are joining the country’s police and security sectors. More women have access to health care. Women are also building networks that play a key role in the development of governance and social and economic development. And all this shows -- in very concrete terms -- the progress in Afghanistan for women’s rights.
We want to build on that success, and to reinforce it. The women of Afghanistan have already made great strides in moving forward and in creating better conditions for themselves and for their country. We will ensure they are able to keep on moving forward -- and that they are able to continue making their own, unique contribution to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. That is Resolution 1325 in action where it really matters most.