Keynote speech

by Ambassador Marriët Schuurman, NATO Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security at the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership seminar in Zagreb

  • 13 Mar. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 14 Mar. 2017 10:26

Gender equality isn’t optional. It is fundamental. It allows us to respond better and smarter to the many complex security challenges we face today.

No better summary of why gender equality matters to NATO than this quote from SG Stoltenberg.

Because we have to LIVE the fundamental values we are supposed to defend. Because those values MAKE Europe whole, free and at peace. But also because diversity IS our strength.
Because mixed teams are smarter and perform better. Because diversity of perspectives fosters innovation and creativity. Because we need ALL the creativity our societies have to offer to respond to today’s complex security challenges.
For the Alliance, diversity and inclusion are a matter of credibility AND capability.
A matter of resilience of our societies AND readiness of our forces.
A matter of excellence of our institutions AND effectiveness of our operations.
It is fundamental for what we are, for the world we defend, and hence for the transformation we embarked on in order to be up to the challenges of today. If we want to keep the Alliance relevant, strong and fit for purpose, we have to reinforce the foundation on which we built it: the values we share among Allies AND with our partner Nations. And translate those into how we do our business and how we define our final goals, our measures of success.

How do we make diversity work for doing our job even better?
Not by assimilation BUT by infusion
NOT by boxing people into a mould that actually fits no one, but by encouraging men and women to contribute the talents and qualities that make them unique.
NOT by adding women to the equation and stir: by regarding female soldiers as ‘failed copies of the (white) male model’ - as a Norwegian senior officer summarized her 30 years’ experience.

BUT: by building on diversity as strength. By allowing men and women to use their full potential in their OWN right: by infusion of talent.
THEN promoting diversity and inclusion will fuel change and innovation. Gender equality then becomes a DRIVER of the transformation and modernisation we strive for, and need – in order to be up to the challenge of today’s world.

For NATO, the framework to achieve this transformation is the implementation of UNSCR1325. UNSCR1325 is an agenda for change, for better and lasting peace for all. An agenda for preventing conflict by addressing root causes rather than fighting symptoms. An agenda for sustainable peace and security by being inclusive.

Let me briefly talk you through NATO’s efforts in translating the principles of UNSCR1325 into tangible difference in everyday life: NATO’s 1325 story.
What has been the NATO approach and line of action?
And conclude with the leadership challenge that UNSCR1325 presents and is summarised in this year’s IWD theme: BeBoldForChange.

The NATO journey
The NATO approach and line of action has been: keep it simple, keep it practical, and start at home. Translate principles into practical tools, guidelines, procedures - relevant for everyday tasks. Institutionalise and anchor gender expertise as a core capability.
The 1325 action plan of the Alliance and its Partner Nations (a 1325 alliance consisting of 55 nations in total) follows a two-track approach: to reduce barriers for active and meaningful participation of women in our own structures, in all NATO and national levels; and to integrate gender perspectives in our daily work: gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself, a tick the box exercise, but a strategy: to deliver better on our mandate, to effectively prevent conflict and secure lasting peace for all.

The final goal, the end state of this approach is that gender literacy is a defining aspect of our professionalism; that gender analysis is a basic tool in the toolbox of every security provider and decision maker; that gender capacity is a core capability; that our institutions recruit and promote on the basis of merit, not gender - when we have moved from the ‘first ever’ female commander to female commanders and soldiers as the new normal, and a sign of excellence.

What next?
But, we are not there yet. Also, we live in a rapidly changing world, in a security environment that has drastically changed. The main challenge ahead of us now is to sustain the capacity built.  We have to internalise AND adapt that lens to the security environment of today. If we want to sustain and build on lessons learnt, we have to demonstrate in practice the relevance of applying a gender lens to the complex security challenges of today. Gender perspective has to be part of the more multidimensional, comprehensive approach needed to not only fight the symptoms but address the root causes of today’s complex security threats. The gender perspective will help us to find new, evidence-based, more inclusive and sustainable responses to e.g. the refugee crisis, human trafficking, radicalisation and violent extremism, and hybrid threats, which target precisely the very foundations of equal rights and opportunities and individual liberty on which our free world thrives and stays at peace.

Leadership challenge
As I said, this adaptation requires a change in mindsets, a change in how we define security, far away and at home. A change that requires engaged leadership, top-down, bottom-up AND inside-out.

This is your leadership challenge: today’s world forces us to bring this agenda for inclusive peace and security home.
Because a safer world starts at home.
With equal opportunities for all to contribute to peace and security.
With women and men being recognised and equally valued for using their full potential - to build resilient institutions and societies.
Through an INFUSION of talent that will FUEL change and transformation.


  1. Be a leader for change and resilience
  2. START at home
  3. THINK inclusive
  4. TALK about the world we defend: the values that make us strong
  5. LIVE those values and LEAD by example
  6. DARE to be principled
  7. And: BeBoldForChange