Meet Lieutenant Colonel Lauranne, an advisor integrating gender perspectives into NATO command’s work

  • 08 Mar. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Mar. 2024 09:16

A soldier of the French Army, Lieutenant Colonel Lauranne now works as the gender advisor for Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, United States, helping commanders and staff integrate gender perspective into all of the NATO command’s work strands and projects. But what does this mean in practice? How did she become a gender advisor in the first place? What are the most rewarding and challenging initiatives she has been involved in and how have they made a difference to gender equality?

A soldier of the French Army, Lieutenant Colonel Lauranne now works as the gender advisor for Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, United States.

Source: Chief of the Defence Staff of France

Lieutenant Colonel Lauranne’s journey to becoming a gender advisor

Lt Col Lauranne knew she wanted to join the military by the time she was six years old. Although she does not come from a military family, growing up in the region of Alsace-Lorraine, today part of the ‘Grand Est’ - an area in the east of France that remains marked by the First World War to this day - cemented her decision to serve her country and help protect its people from the horrors of conflict.

“I remember very well when my parents took us to visit the city of Verdun, the site of a major battle of the First World War, for the first time. Even now, I can recall the feelings that I had while visiting the war museum or looking at the monuments and immense cemeteries. We walked through the surrounding woods that are still marred by the bomb craters and, at that time, we could easily find rifle bullets, grenades or pieces of military equipment on the ground. After seeing all of that, a part of me started to realise that we must do everything we can to avoid war and that I should do my part too.”

However, Lt Col Lauranne’s path to the military was not straightforward. Two obstacles held her back, including problems with her eyesight, and the societal stigma that ‘the military is not for women’. “During my childhood, I wanted to be a fighter jet pilot. My ophthalmologist told me that would never happen because I don’t have perfect vision and because I am a girl,” she recalls. She conceded that due to her eyesight, she would have to give up on her initial childhood dream, but she was not ready to let go of her goal of joining the military. “Being told that I could not do what I wanted because of my gender gave me the will and strength not to accept it and to prove that I can do whatever I decide to do.”

Entering a military environment at the age of 17, Lt Col Lauranne eventually joined the French Army and held various posts in the Ordnance Corps, first as a repair platoon leader, then as a deputy officer and as a maintenance company commander. In 2019, during her deployment in the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) she started working on civil-military cooperation to have closer contact with civilians, which led her to discover the needs of women and girls during conflict and in military operations, and her passion for gender perspectives. “After being nominated as a gender focal point, the gender unit there provided a one-day training session. It was enough to open my eyes and convince me of the importance of integrating gender perspectives, of implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda and of preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict,” explains Lt Col Lauranne. “From that moment, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to ignore what I had learnt; I wanted to know more and to act.”

A role model for the next generation

During her last deployment with UNIFIL in south Lebanon in 2019, Lt Col Lauranne decided to start a basic first aid training programme for women, enabling them to respond to various types of injuries and incidents that they and their families may encounter. “I really wanted to identify a skill that we could help to develop for women in the area, and which would be most useful and interesting for them,” says Lt Col Lauranne. “While analysing the environment, I noticed that although Lebanon generally has very good hospitals, the emergency services in the south were lacking resources and therefore were not quick to arrive in medical emergencies. In the military, we know that first aid is key to saving lives, so this is why I decided to launch this capacity-building programme for women.”

Lt Col Lauranne leading her UNIFIL maintenance company, 2013. ©Chief of the Defence Staff of France

Lt Col Lauranne leading her UNIFIL maintenance company, 2013. ©Chief of the Defence Staff of France

In 2021, Lt Col Lauranne was selected by the French ministry in charge of gender equality, diversity and equal opportunities to receive the “equality medal”. This was part of the French initiative #1000possibles, which aimed to highlight 18 French organisations supporting gender equality projects, as well as 18 women from each region who were role models and ‘everyday heroes’. The initiative also asked more than 80 inspiring women, famous and unknown, to write a letter of hope and encouragement to the girls born on International Women’s Day that year in France. “Writing my letter to the little girls was a great and emotional experience! Although I am sure that many other women also deserved the award I received, I was very proud and glad to be able to share my story and represent women in the armed forces. Working on gender in military operations has made me realise that many women in the world do not have the chance to have their voice heard, so I decided that from now on, I will seize every opportunity to speak up.”

How gender advisors contribute to peace, security and stability

Through her professional tasks and a series of training sessions, such as the NATO Gender Advisor Course organised by the Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations in Sweden, Lt Col Lauranne managed to turn her passion into her daily work. In 2021, she became the Gender Advisor at ACT, NATO’s warfare development command that leads the Alliance’s military adaptation and prepares it for future challenges and operations. Her role as the gender advisor includes ensuring that gender perspectives are considered in all ACT areas of work: this means identifying, taking into account, and integrating the different experiences of women, men, girls and boys in all decision-making and planning processes. She also coordinates the implementation of the WPS agenda, as well as the Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence frameworks, among others. “Integrating gender perspectives into our operations and activities is essential for several reasons,” Lt Col Lauranne explains. “We can better understand the dynamics of conflicts; enhance cultural awareness and engagement with the entire local population; protect civilians and reduce harm, particularly to the most vulnerable; and ensure our commitment to human rights and gender equality. Long-term gender equality contributes to stability and peace.”

Lt Col Lauranne (fourth from the left) during the ACT’s International Women’s Day in 2022. ©Chief of the Defence Staff of France

Lt Col Lauranne (fourth from the left) during the ACT’s International Women’s Day in 2022. ©Chief of the Defence Staff of France

Speaking of a project she is particularly proud of, Lt Col Lauranne describes AzuritOwl - an ongoing innovation initiative linked to the 2023 International Women’s Day theme: ‘Innovation and technology for gender equality’. “With the digital transformation of NATO, the AzuritOwl project aims to use technology to develop a solution that could not only enable but also enhance and augment the gender analysis process and help us to better integrate gender perspectives into all aspects of our military operations. This tool would therefore help us to better understand operational situations, inform the decision-making and the planning of operations, thereby increasing our military effectiveness, with gender mainstreaming in mind.”

Being a leader

As a woman in leadership, Lt Col Lauranne does not shy away from talking about the different perceptions of women and men in the armed forces. “In general, it seems to me that in the military, respect and trust are more naturally given or ‘granted’ to men.  Male peers can also lose trust if they make several small mistakes or one big one, but I always had the feeling that I could lose trust more quickly and easily as a woman, and for different reasons. Moreover, I felt that if I were not always on top of my game, I would risk creating generalisations about a woman’s inability to be a good leader. So, in the end, I constantly put a lot of pressure on myself to always do my best!”

What are the changes that Lt Col Lauranne would like to see when it comes to gender equality? “I wish for it to become a natural part of people’s mindset, something that is automatically considered and that we don’t have to constantly remind people of. It would be great if power and responsibility in societies around the world were more equally shared between women and men, and if everyone was treated equally, free and protected regardless of their gender.”