Deep Dive Recap: Indo-Pacific and the Gender Perspective

  • 05 Oct. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 26 Oct. 2023 11:34

On 5 October 2023, the NATO International Military Staff (IMS) Office of the Gender Advisor convened its second regional Deep Dive session on the Indo-Pacific and the Gender Perspective. The discussion focused on the integration of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda into Australia and Japan's respective initiatives, highlighting best practices in terms of their broader regional relations. It also explored how NATO works with its regional partners to promote the Gender Perspective.

On 5 October 2023, the NATO International Military Staff (IMS) Office of the Gender Advisor convened its second regional Deep Dive session on the Indo-Pacific and the Gender Perspective.

Subject matter expertise was provided by Lieutenant Colonel Françoise Verbanck, Staff Officer for the IMS’ Cooperative Security Division, Ms Natalie Bowman, Learning and Development Manager for Gender, Peace and Security in the Australian Department of Defence, and Ms Tomoko Matsuzawa, Director for International Cooperation on Women, Peace, and Security in the Japanese Ministry of Defence.

Lieutenant Colonel Verbanck opened the session by explaining how NATO has strengthened its dialogue and collaboration with its Indo-Pacific partners on WPS, which include Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. She stated that the Individually Tailored Partnership Programmes (ITPPs) develop an overall framework for practical cooperation within NATO partnerships, promoting communication and engagement to address crosscutting security concerns such as WPS. Lieutenant Colonel Verbanck underscored how she incorporates the Gender Perspective across ITPPs through various courses and working platforms, among other things.  The IMS Cooperative Security Division continues to strengthen and advance the Gender Perspective with Indo-Pacific countries through these mechanisms.  

Speaking next, Ms Bowman presented a map depicting the many interpretations and boundaries of the Indo-Pacific. She emphasised that, while interpretations differ, one consistent theme is the region's enormous size and diversity of nationalities and states. She noted that this is why Australia “takes a customised approach to regional participation, acknowledging that different countries in the region have different priorities”. While the region's size can be a challenge, it also provides numerous opportunities and avenues for cooperation, especially with their ‘Gender, Peace, and Security’ (GPS) Agenda. Ms Bowman stated that their first National Action Plan (NAP) for GPS in 2012 contained 24 actions, of which the Department of Defence was responsible for 17. She highlighted that all tasks under this plan were completed, illustrating Australia’s progress in GPS. When their second NAP was released in 2021 under the leadership of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, contributing departments were required to outline how they planned to achieve their goals over the next ten years. Furthermore, Australia has also just become a partner nation of the Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations, demonstrating its commitment to integrating the Gender Perspective in Military organisations and operations.

Ms Bowman outlined Australia's GPS mandate, which articulates six lines of effort that have been incorporated into the second Australian National Action Plan and the advancement of UNSCR 1325: 

  • Policy and Doctrine
  • Education and Training
  • Personnel
  • Mission Readiness
  • International Engagement 
  • Governance and Reporting

Concerning international participation, she noted that the Indo-Pacific region accounts for a significant proportion of their entire international engagement, as they work on a variety of initiatives and seek new ways to cooperate and implement UNSCR 1325. Climate change and climate security are topics of particular concern to their Indo-Pacific partners. With this in mind, she noted Australia’s work towards the inclusion of Gender Advisors and other specialist gender personnel in operations, exercises and planning activities.

In addition, trained Australian Gender Advisors or Gender Focal Points are deployed in Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). For example, in Mongolia, the GPS capability training was warmly received. Ms Bowman concluded her presentation by mentioning Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE), which aims to strengthen relationships and government partnerships in the region. The IPE 2023 will take place in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean, and will include joint training activities for Gender in Military Operations, Women’s participation in peacekeeping operations, and GPS adventure training, among other areas. 

To close off the session, Ms Matsuzawa stated that the Japanese Ministry of Defence (MOD) had established the Headquarters for WPS Promotion in the MOD. This is a steering body led by a Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defence, which seeks to advance WPS through the entire ministry. She then gave an overview of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), a venue for ASEAN and its eight Partners to deepen security and defence cooperation in the region for peace, security, and development. It focuses on seven key areas of practical cooperation, with Experts’ Working Groups (EWG) formed to help initiatives move forward. She explained that Japan is now Co-Chairing the PKO-EWG, which has identified WPS as one of primary objectives of the current cycle. They created a WPS Platform, hosted WPS Seminars with eminent experts from the UN Headquarters and field offices, and carried out the 'Competency Evaluation Programme for Prospective UN Peacekeepers' event, which integrated WPS into lectures and scenario-based activities to validate coordination procedures such as how UN Military Observers should engage with the community.  

Ms Matsuzawa then discussed instances in which Japan assisted with WPS trainings with Indo-Pacific allies. For the last two years, Japan, in collaboration with multinational instructors in Malaysia and Indonesia, has deployed an instructor to gender training in multilateral PKO exercises. 

In addition, she noted Japan’s Capacity Building Programmes, which focus on developing skills in areas such as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR), PKO, air rescue,  underwater UXO clearance, and aviation medicine. Ms Matsuzawa further pointed out that Japan’s capacity building activities are designed to meet the needs of partner countries while respecting diverse national contexts. As a result, they conduct co-ordination meetings and survey with partners ahead of time to ensure that training is tailored and context-specific. 

The Deep Dive Session concluded with a Q&A. The audience's first question was about how beneficial WPS is as a vehicle for engaging with the different nations in the Indo-Pacific region. Ms Matsuzawa noted that the WPS agenda might be embraced as a source of capacity building because completely integrating WPS into institutional capacity and military operations is a challenge for any country. She emphasised the significance of cooperation and collaboration with partner countries like Australia, Canada, and the US in order to de-conflict respective capacity-building efforts in the Indo-Pacific region.  She also stressed that Japan’s approach to capacity building is based on a deep understanding of partner countries’ needs, skills, and values, as well as an enhanced relationship of cooperation, rather than a trainer-recipient one. Ms Bowman elaborated on this, stating that Australia aims to maintain a balance between neither overpowering certain nations nor diluting the WPS goal. She added that it is critical to seek out specific areas of WPS in which a country wishes to collaborate in order to further drive curiosity and open minds.

NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners are making significant strides towards advancing WPS in the region. Australia and Japan’s work has pushed and continues to push the Gender Perspective in their partnerships with Indo-Pacific countries. This broadens and expands collaborative capacity-building opportunities in areas such as disaster relief, PKOs, humanitarian assistance, air rescue, and military medicine. In addition, the significance of context-specific and customised activities remain a priority, as both Ms Matsuzawa and Ms Bowman underlined. NATO continues to communicate and engage with countries in the Indo-Pacific region in order to address crosscutting security issues while integrating the Gender Perspective.