Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to represent NATO here today and I would like to thank the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association for organising this important event. I am delighted to see how many colleagues from across the world and in particular from Afghanistan are gathering here today.
I guess we all agree that our meeting could not be more timely. Ten years ago the UN Security Council put the resolution on Women, Peace and Security into place. 1325 was the first resolution recognizing that the major security, economic and governance challenges of our time cannot be solved without the protection and participation of women at all levels of our society.
Reality makes this imperative, in particular because 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.
Additionally and sadly, women remain chronically under-represented at all political levels. They represent half of the world’s population, yet they hold less than 1/5 of the positions in national governments. And far too often women are excluded from the negotiating table where conflicts are to be resolved, although they experiences and actions are critical for building and sustaining peace.
Afghanistan is certainly a case in point. As a result of decades of war, millions of women and children have lost their families, their homes and their futures. But, there, as anywhere, women must not only be seen as victims – they must also be seen as part of the answer.
UNSCR 325 has certainly helped to change this picture to the better. In the past few years both national governments and international organizations have tried hard to make a difference.
Under her excellent leadership of Michelle Bachelet the new UN Office on Women will help governments and other international organizations, including the Alliance, to better co-ordinate their efforts in implementing 1325.
And looking at the EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, I think that the EU’s Strategy on Women, Peace and Security must be seen as a major step forward to address the needs of 1325 in a comprehensive fashion.
But there clearly is a role for NATO too.
In my experience, the NATO-led, UN-mandated ISAF mission in Afghanistan has acted as a catalyst for NATO’s approach to implementing 1325.
As a result of our engagement in Afghanistan, we have moved from an organization talking about how to deliver 1325, to one that is actually implementing it.
So what have we done? Let me give you a few concrete examples.
First, in 2009 we introduced a directive for implementing the resolution throughout our military structure. This directive is based on 3 principles: prevention, protection and participation.
We want to: prevent armed conflict from having a disproportionate impact on women and children; protect women and children; and increase the participation of women in our operations and in our decision making at all levels.
This approach has already had a significant impact on how we conduct our operations, particularly in Afghanistan. We now provide gender awareness training to the civilian and military teams before they deploy on operations. This provides them, for example, with an understanding why it matters to take a different approach when searching an Afghan woman or an Afghan man, or why male ISAF personnel should avoid looking an Afghan woman in the face. NATO’s training makes sure they understand.
Second, we have now gender experts working in ISAF Headquarters in Kabul and in several of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams spread throughout the country.
These experts can advise commanders of what women in local communities need when it comes to providing access to aid and basic services like health and education. Some NATO nations, like the US and UK, now deploy with ‘Female Engagement Teams’ in southern Afghanistan, with some positive experience when interacting with Afghan women. The so-called FETs provide many opportunities to open up dialogue with local women that previously would not have taken place.
But they can do more. Female soldiers can conduct searches on Afghan women at checkpoints, without causing offence. Female military doctors and nurses can run clinics where women will more easily go for treatment.
We hope that over time these measures help to build up trust and confidence between local communities and ISAF.
Third, NATO-led forces have reinforced their efforts to help train women police and security officers. They trained the first 28 Afghan women Army officers, who graduated at the end of September. 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 realizes what an historic step that is. It is a real indication of the change for the better we are seeing in Afghanistan.
Across Afghanistan, increased security and the development of political governance allows change to happen. Women’s rights are now enshrined in the constitution. There are more and more girls in schools. More and more women are setting up and running their businesses. More women have access to health care. And all this shows -- in very concrete terms -- the progress in Afghanistan for women’s rights.
On the political level, however, it remains much harder for Afghan women to make their voice heard. With 68 women in the Afghan parliament they are doing better than many Western nations but we also know that many obstacles prevent women to take their rightful place across Afghan society.
One thing should be very clear. As Afghanistan – with our help – strives for stability, reconciliation and political stability, NATO will not support any process that takes place at the expense of women, their rights, and their security.
The women of Afghanistan have already made great strides in moving forward and in creating better conditions for themselves and for their country.
NATO 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 UNSCR 1325 in action where it really matters most.