Leading by Example: Women, Peace, Security and NATO
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Georgetown University in Washington DC
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be back at this great academic institution. And I am deeply honoured to receive this distinction.
So let me start by thanking President DeGioia, Melanne Verveer and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
I'm also very pleased that Ambassador Fulton is with us. I clearly remember the conference in Copenhagen that Ambassador Verveer mentioned.
I also want to salute the woman who has given her name to this award – Hillary Clinton.
A powerful voice for peace. For democratic freedoms. And for human rights.
Hillary is an inspiration for us all. She challenges us all to show leadership on the vital issues of women, peace and security. She has consistently encouraged NATO to lead by example. And that’s exactly what we have done.
It is of course a challenging task.
Armed conflict often hits women and children harder than men. They lose access to basic services. To education and economic opportunities. And increasingly, they are subjected to sexual violence. The harsh reality is that, in many conflict areas today, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.
Many conflicts persist because peace talks break down. Because agreements are ignored. And because parties find it easier to fight than to negotiate. Time and again, women find themselves marginalised in these processes. And they don’t get a chance to make their views known.
But if women do not play an active part in making peace, and keeping peace, then the needs and interests of half of the world’s population are not taken into account. So it is vital that we continue to develop our understanding of how women are affected by conflicts. And how they can be a prominent part of their resolution. Not sometimes. But every time. And it is important for me to stress that we should not regard women as victims, but first and foremost as assets.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted almost fourteen years ago. Since then, we have made progress in ensuring that women are able to assume their rightful place in matters of peace and security. Particularly at NATO.
NATO’s 20 years of experience in challenging missions and operations has shaped the way we view the role of women in peace and security. And none more so than our engagement in Afghanistan. Where we have helped Afghan women and girls to exercise their rights. And increasingly also to shape the future of their country.
Female experts, both military and civilian, continue to play an important part in our mission. To ensure that commanders at all levels take women’s perspectives into account. To provide additional lines of communications to local communities which are not open to male soldiers. To help build trust and confidence. And to alert commanders to the specific needs of women and girls, including for basic services and health and education.
Women in uniform lead patrols. They conduct security checks. And they provide medical care to the local populations as well as our own troops. They make a tremendous difference. And they demonstrate our commitment to the values we hold dear. Because customs, traditions, and social norms must be respected. Perhaps even more importantly during conflict.
We have also encouraged Afghan women to join the country’s military and police. Over 2,000 women are now part of the security forces. That may not sound like many. But for a country like Afghanistan, it is a visible change for the better.
Since 2001, the lives of millions of Afghan men, women and children have improved. Life expectancy has gone up. Maternal mortality has gone down. Over 3 million girls now attend school, from almost none under the Taliban. And women make up 27% of the members of parliament. This is more than in any other country in the region. And in fact it is more than in some western countries.
On my many trips to Afghanistan, I have met remarkable women. Women who are activists, entrepreneurs or politicians. They are brave. They are ambitious.
My main message to them is this: play your full part in building a better Afghanistan. And play your full part in this year’s crucial elections. As voters, candidates, observers. And in the forces that will secure the elections. All Afghans now have the chance to decide their own future and develop their own country. It is an opportunity they must seize, to preserve the gains that we have made together.
But of course, NATO’s work to advance women’s roles in peace and security is not limited to crises and conflicts. Nor should it be.
We have also worked hard to integrate the principles of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 into our other activities. We now ensure that gender-related considerations are part of our military planning. As well as the education, training and exercising of our forces.
We work closely with the United Nations and other international organisations. And with over 40 partner countries on five continents. To share experiences and best practices. To learn from each other. And to make sure that we complement and reinforce each other’s efforts.
Last but not least, more women now than ever before are actively shaping NATO’s policies. And putting them into practice. For the first time in NATO’s history, I have appointed several women in senior positions at our Headquarters in Brussels. And I will continue to push for women to take their rightful place in our Alliance.
Eighteen months ago, Mari Skåre, a senior diplomat from Norway, became my Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security. Having someone like Mari in a dedicated permanent position gives a face and a voice to this vital issue. Every day, Mari makes sure that we keep women, peace and security high on our NATO agenda.
Women are in key positions in NATO and taking key decisions. This was very clear to me last month, when I chaired a meeting of Alliance Defence Ministers. I was pleased to see a record number of women sitting around the table. A picture of them together, captioned “Power Women at NATO,” went viral on Twitter. It didn’t get quite as many hits as the “Oscar selfie”, but it was a powerful image of how far we have come.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For well over six decades, NATO has protected our shared security and our common values. By reaching out to our neighbours after the end of the Cold War, we worked tirelessly to advance the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. And we have spread stability across the entire Euro-Atlantic region.
But recent events in Ukraine have shown that we cannot take that security and stability for granted. And that we need to stand up for our values.
We have seen Russia rip up the international rule book. Trying to redraw the map of Europe. And creating in just a few weeks the most serious security crisis since the end of the Cold War.
This sort of behaviour goes against international norms. And it simply has no place in the 21st century.
NATO Allies stand with Ukraine. We stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We stand by the right of every nation to decide its own future. And we will continue to support all constructive efforts for a peaceful solution in accordance with international law.
In this crisis, as in any other, the link between North America and Europe is the foundation of our strength.
This transatlantic bond remains vital for both sides of the Atlantic to deal with the serious challenges we face. That is why NATO matters for America, and for Europe. Because we are stronger within the Alliance than we can ever be alone.
In September, we will hold our next NATO Summit, in Wales in the United Kingdom. This is an important opportunity to take tough decisions in view off the long-term strategic implications of today's crisis. And to shape an Alliance that is fully fit to provide security for your generation, just as it has done for Hillary’s and mine.
We will make clear that our commitment to the security of Allies is unbreakable. We will take decisions about NATO’s operations and capabilities. What more we need to do to prepare for future security challenges. And to offer our partners around the world greater opportunities to consult, decide, and act with us. So that we ensure that NATO remains an anchor of stability in an unpredictable world.
But we will not forget that our greatest asset will always be our people – the courageous, hard-working, smart women and men in our civilian and military ranks. They embody our values and our way of life. They are the true strength of the world’s strongest Alliance.
We want to continue to inspire all those men and women. And we want to continue to inspire and call upon people like you.
Georgetown has an excellent tradition of service. It is a renowned institution on international affairs. And it is a preeminent educator of our next generation of leaders. Young men and women from across this country and around the globe. Young people who are hungry to shape their world. To make a difference. And to make the future better for all of us. I expect you will rise to the challenge.