Deep Dive Recap: Intelligence and the Gender Perspective

  • 16 May. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 02 Jun. 2023 15:55

On the 16th of May 2023, the NATO International Military Staff Office of the Gender Advisor hosted its eleventh Deep Dive Session focused on the integration of the gender perspective and Women, Peace and Security themes into the different cycles of intelligence gathering. Ms Laura Coy, the Gender Focal Point (GFP) for J2 in U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and Mr Christopher Case, Hybrid Threats Analyst for J2 in SHAPE, provided subject matter expertise on these topics.

NATO International Military Staff Office of the Gender Advisor - eleventh Deep Dive Session

Ms Coy opened the Deep Dive session discussing the current organisation of the GFPs within the Intelligence Directorate at AFRICOM and provided the framework that allowed her office to operate the way it does.  The WPS Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-68) codified the United States Government's decades-long, sustained commitment to the principles of the WPS Agenda and allowed for the Department of Defence to execute the task of integrating a Gender Advisor into each command structure, functional commands, and military service headquarters. Ms Coy noted that as a GFP, her job is dual hatted with her day job as an intelligence officer while keeping an eye out for gender issues.  With that position, she mentioned how she integrates the gender perspective into her work internally and externally.  Internally, there is an emphasis on the gender perspective in operations, plans and activities for AFRICOM.  When producing documents for senior leadership, she assists in including wording on human security through the lens of WPS and Youth, Peace and Security.  As well, she mentions how AFRICOM leads by example when working with Partner Nations by sending women from their teams to different training events and exercises. Externally, she assists Partner Nations on integrating the gender perspective with Education and Trainings while also integrating more women into their forces in a meaningful way.  Their office also assists in helping with the more sensitive subjects such as conflict related sexual violence or conducting a gender needs based analysis for disaster relief.  Finally, the office also engages with institutional capacity building experts to insure that their work reaches the troops at the bottom all the ways to the institutions and structures at the top.

Within the J2 Branch, she works to connect the dots between intelligence and what matters with the gender perspective by “taking it to where it needs to go and who needs to use it”.  For example, she mentioned how when she started her new position, she came across information that would have been incredibly useful in her previous position as a GENAD.  Therefore, she strives to get the intelligence outside of the smaller community and spread the right reports to the right people to help it get to the right command.  For the analytic team, she assists in understanding what WPS is and how it can add value to research. She said, “it’s not necessarily about creating new resources and creating a new gender team but helping the current analysts apply that gender lens”.  She encourages analysts to ask questions such as: 

  • Where are the women during a crisis?
  • What challenges are they facing?
  • Are those challenges different from what the men are facing?
  • What about what children are facing?

By asking these types of questions, the reports produced will not only be more holistic but one can also understand their adversaries better as well. With the intelligence production, she highlights stories of women’s roles in security forces by adversaries in operations and “back of house” work to understand how they can integrate gender mainstreaming as well. To conclude, she mentioned an area of growth for integrating WPS into intelligence is to find a way to formalise reporting better.  This would help the intelligence community not only understand the basics of WPS but also how to serialise and standardise reporting to help various teams ask similar questions that take a gender lens, allowing for formal responses that could be accessibly by a wider range of analysts. 

NATO International Military Staff Office of the Gender Advisor - eleventh Deep Dive Session

Following Ms Coy, Mr Case discussed the importance of not only gender diversity but also overall diversity in intelligence gathering.  He noted one of the problems following the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks was the fact the majority of the intelligence community was mostly middle-aged white men, limiting the ability to put the piece together quicker in order to protect the American homeland as well as NATO as this event was the only time Article 5 has been triggered.  The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 in the United States reshaped the intelligence community to attempt to be a better workplace for diversity in order to be better at analysing different threats. This reform promoted creativity to ensure fresh ideas from typically marginalised groups and mitigated “mirror imaging”, or when a person or a group is viewed through the lens of the analyst's own environment and experiences, to better understand what an adversary might be doing.   

In the context of NATO, this was crucial for the operation in Afghanistan where this diversity helped to demystify different cultures, contribute with the correct subject matter expertise, and collect better intelligence.  He mentioned, “Analysts can only provide good output when they have good input”.  An example of this was when troops went into understand what infrastructure and general safety the local Afghanistan population might need, the female soldiers were typically not engaged by the government officials while male soldiers were.  Therefore, the female soldiers approached a different population that helped the forces to understand the movements in the area, how things were being financed, and thus provided a better and holistic intelligence assessment. Mr Case talked about the “Petticoat Panel” which was a group of women within the CIA who conducted a study to understand the roles of women working within the organisation.  Their analysis helped guide the understanding of what barriers extended for the advancement of women within the CIA, and unfortunately, some of those barriers still exist.  Mr Case noted that NATO has many struggles with diversity, in SHAPE J2 most military personnel are men and within the civilian staff only 1/3 are women.  He discussed the “Frozen Middle” where senior leaders have made it a priority to integrate gender perspectives, and action officers are eager to implement, however middle managers are not able to move priorities around.  

Then Mr Case discussed battlefield impacts of integrating a gender perspective in intelligence.  For example, in the case of Russia, he argues that one of the reasons their military is not progressing could be due to the lack of gender diversity.  There have been identified cases of “mobile field wives” which occurs when women from medical or support facilities are reassigned to the field as a wife to a commander that usually includes sexual service and traditional gender roles of a wife and are usually degraded therefore they do not stay in the armed forces.  When the Russian Military and Government believe that women cannot be involved in certain roles due to their gender, they lose the benefits highlighted above and do not possess the strategic advantage.  

Finally, in the question and answers, both speakers mentioned that one reason they have been successful is that their leadership has prioritised this work.  They both urge divisions and communities to think beyond just gender integration in armed forces and to consider the impact gender perspectives have on operations, for intelligence, and for cooperation.  Change is slow and steady, but progress remains despite some challenges.