NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

30 Jun. 2011

Women on transatlantic security

Over 100 young women working and studying in the international security arena participated in a competition aimed at encouraging women to add their voices to the debate on transatlantic security issues.

The competition celebrated the 10th year of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which recognises the disproportionate effect of war and conflict on women and children. It received 106 entrants from 34 countries.

“The articles were very interesting and discussed many non-traditional security topics, such as the arms trade, climate change, cultural diplomacy, cyber security, immigration, gender issues, and the interconnectedness of development and sustainability with security,” says Joerg Wolf, Editor-in-Chief of the atlantic-community.org, the online think tank which organized the competition with the co-sponsorhip of NATO and the United States Mission to NATO.

All three of the winners, who were announced in May, work in or study international security. Wolf says he was surprised by the overall standard of entrants and pleased to note that the competition saw the number of female members of the Atlantic Communty grow by almost 400 between last October and March.

Beyond UNSCR 1325 itself, the topics discussed by participants ranged from small arms through the Arab uprisings and the future of Afghanistan, to energy and resource management.

Giving women a voice

For winner Rebecca Gerome, 24, the competition offered her a chance to publish her work on small arms and light weapons and their effects on women, a topic she works on for the women’s network of the International Action Network on Small Arms.

“Gender is too often ignored by the disarmament community,” she says. “It should be taken into consideration in discussions on the Arms Trade Treaty, as both the use and impact of arms are a gendered phenomenon. In particular, arms should not be transferred if there is a substantial risk that they will facilitate gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence."

While acknowledging that men too can be subject to gun violence, Gerome adds that women are disproportionately affected by the proliferation of small arms, even though they rarely use guns themselves,. “As they are affected, they too should be part of the discussions,” she says, adding that these women, and those who have already raised their voices against the violence, have key experiences to share, and are not yet adequately represented in discussions.

Natasha Lamoreux, who came second in the competition, agrees.” Shutting women out of all stages of peace processes – from early prevention strategizing to conflict resolution to reconciliation – [means] a unique and valuable perspective is lost,” she says.

For Lamoreux, 35, a postgraduate student at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, the competition struck a chord. Inspired by hearing a United Nations staff member speak about women, peace and security, she began using the Atlantic Community forum to further research the topic and saw the competition advertised there.

Generating political will through participation

Writing about UNSCR 1325, Lamoreux believes that not enough has been achieved due to lack of political will and is convinced that increasing the participation of women in security would help. She sets out reasons why she believes international organizations should enact quota-systems to make sure more women are involved in the conflict-resolution process.

“By involving women at the international level, as UN peacekeepers and NATO personnel, vulnerable women who are already devastated and displaced by fighting can truly begin to feel safer. […]Where there is the political will, there will be the way,” she says.

While acknowledging that NATO does not have its own armed forces, she sees no reason that this should “preclude NATO itself from enacting a quota system in terms of minimum percentage of female forces…More women would choose to enlist if they understood the impact they could have in the lives of local women.”

“NATO could serve as a catalyst to create the kind of political will that will lead Heads of State [and Governments] to work towards implementing UNSCR 1325 and subsequent UN resolutions on the ground,” she adds.

Rachel Posner is a bit more upbeat about the participation of women in international relations. She works at the United States Department of Defense and came third in the competition with an essay focused on helping to promote stability and security in Afghanistan through collaborative work on energy and resource management.

“This is an exciting time to be a woman in international security,” says Posner. There are more women in senior-ranking positions than ever before, and these female leaders are providing guidance and mentorship to the next generation.