Speech

on 'Empowering Women in Peace and Security' by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the European Commission

  • Last updated: 27 Jan. 2010 16:26

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have long been an advocate of closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union and so I am very pleased that today’s conference brings us together to develop practical solutions to one of the key security issues of our time.

The ongoing victimisation of women in conflict situations and the marginalisation of women in matters of peace-building have a profound impact on global security. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from conflicts and the lawlessness of post-conflict environments.

At the same time, women are far too often excluded from playing a role in maintaining, restoring, and defending stability. The results  can be seen in rising threats to regional stability, growing violence, and prolonged conflict. I am convinced that we need to confront these issues forcefully and – to the extent possible – jointly, if are to deal successfully with the security challenges of the 21st century.

As we do so, we can build on a solid foundation. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 is a powerful appeal to protect those who are most vulnerable in conflicts and their aftermath, and to enhance the participation of women in building peace and security.

NATO has heard this call. Our military authorities have developed guidelines for the integration of gender issues into all NATO planning and operations. Based on Resolution 1325, we have agreed and we follow a strict Code of Behavior for all NATO military personnel; we have increased significantly the proportion of women in NATO’s political staff; and we have studied carefully the significance of gender issues to the success of our operation in Afghanistan.

These are significant achievements, but our common goal must be to close that gap - and to close it swiftly. And so today, from the perspective of NATO, I would like to suggest three areas for action:

First, we need to make greater use of the potential that women offer to our operations. Over the last few years, NATO forces in Afghanistan have significantly sharpened their focus to gender issues.

High-level gender advisors serve in our Headquarters in Kabul; many Provincial Reconstruction Teams now employ gender experts; and the United States Marine Corps has begun fielding all-women military units in some of the most troubled provinces of Afghanistan– all of this with highly positive results: It has allowed us to improve our mission effectiveness; our protection of the civilian population; and the protection of our own forces. And it has allowed us to reach out more effectively to the entire Afghan population.

But we still lack trained gender specialists, female interpreters, and enough women soldiers. 

This brings me to my second point: We need to not only integrate gender issues into our planning and our operations, but we must work proactively to develop our capabilities in this field. Today, the number of women employed in NATO countries’ armed forces varies greatly.

In some NATO forces, the percentage of women is as high as 18 per cent. In others, it is as low as 3 per cent. And we do not have enough trained gender specialists –male or female - to fulfill all current and potential requirements.

I know that some of these shortfalls are rooted in member countries’ military traditions. And I am well aware that they can only be overcome gradually. But they do need to be consciously tackled.

Military forces provide only part of the answer to today’s security challenges and simply adding more female soldiers will not be enough. In Afghanistanand in other parts of the world, peace-building is as much about civilian aid, economic development, and development of good governance, as it is about hard security. And the great majority of those who will work on the civilian aspect of peace-building will not be fielded by NATO, but by other actors.

This leads me to my final point: we need greater cooperation and coordination among international institutions on issues concerning women, peace, and security. Our conference here today is an important first step. More practical steps should follow. In the area of training, in particular, I see huge potential synergies. Governmental and non-governmental institutions - have much to benefit from cross-training and education. After all, for training and in operations in the field, we will likely be drawing on the same pool of resources.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Greater empowerment and more effective protection of women against the specific dangers they face in armed conflicts is of benefit not only to women, but to all of us. It is, to my mind, a crucial component of a comprehensive approach to the security challenges of the 21st century. One decade on from the Security Council’s groundbreaking Resolution 1325, I am hopeful and confident that we can take the next steps.

And I am very encouraged that we here today begin this important anniversary year with a common platform and – hopefully -  some common proposals for action.

Thank you very much.