by Irene Fellin, Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security at the NATO Summit’s WPS Reception

  • 09 Jul. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 09 Jul. 2024 19:29

(As delivered)

Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, dear friends, it is a true honour and an utmost pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address you today on the occasion of the Women, Peace, and Security Reception.

My special thank you goes to you, Secretary Blinken, for hosting us here at the State Department and for being on the front line for the implementation of this important agenda. I'm truly impressed by the remarkable initiatives that you just described as part of the US WPS Strategy. You are leading by example.

In its 75 years of history, NATO has demonstrated to be an incredibly adaptive Alliance, capable of transforming itself whenever needed, while sticking to its core values. Our attachment to the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda is a distinctive feature of the Transatlantic Alliance. Standing up for, and helping advance, the rights and participation of women in defence and security is very much at the heart of who we are and what we do as individuals, nations, and collectively as an Alliance.

We know the setbacks in global peace and security go hand in hand with setbacks in gender equality. Globally, women increasingly face threats to their political and social rights and their personal security, as well as barriers to their full participation in peace and security processes. As an Alliance based on democratic values, this matters for NATO. As Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine continues with devastating impact on civilians, as we just saw yesterday, our work to understand the gender dimension of this conflict is of vital importance to inform us how we can better support Ukraine.

It is clear that the principles of UNSCR adopted almost 25 years ago, are not only yet to be fully implemented but are indeed increasingly challenged. In line with this recognition, at the 2023 Vilnius Summit, NATO Allies resolved to update the NATO WPS Policy, and after a year of work, this new policy is now ready to be endorsed tomorrow by Heads of State and Government at this Washington Summit.

Let me now share with you some reflections on this new policy. It's an important part of the implementation of NATO's 2022 Strategic Concept. Within the context of deterrence and defence, for example, NATO commits for the first time to advance work on challenges and threats like gender disinformation and technology-facilitated gender-based violence. This can include cyber harassment, hate speech, or video- and image-based abuse. They carry not only health and safety consequences, but also political consequences as they silence women in online spaces, ultimately diminishing their engagement in public life and democratic processes. When we look at the opportunities and challenges of technologies, from drone related warfare, cyber-attacks and generative AI, we will ensure that we are looking at how this impacts diverse segments of the population. And we focus on our efforts on mitigating any exacerbation of gender inequality in the work we do.

While the Women, Peace, and Security agenda is relevant to deterrence and defence, it is also an essential partnership tool. In fact, to be successful in integrating WPS in all that we do, collaboration and engagement with diverse actors as part of NATO's cooperative security efforts is key. We will continue to work closely with our partners, some of whom are with us here today. NATO partnerships represent a privileged mechanism through which we can learn from one another, and this is particularly relevant when it comes to Ukraine defending itself against Russia's war of aggression.

In this context, as Secretary Blinken just mentioned, an unprecedented number of women join the armed forces of Ukraine in order to defend their own country, challenging societal norms and stereotypes. And in fact, the service women found themselves fighting on different fronts—some more obvious than others. And one of them is the lack of appropriate equipment, namely body armour and uniforms fit for them.

So I would like to join the announcement just made by Secretary Blinken that through NATO's comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine, we will fund this initial production of body armour, winter uniform and combat boots for service women of the armed forces of Ukraine. And allow me to personally thank you, Mr. Secretary, for strongly supporting our project, as well as our Allies Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia and Norway for their important financial contribution. Just before we joined the reception, other Allies came to me to say they wanted to join this initiative and fund more support for Ukraine. I'm sure that we will have other projects and continue to support the service women of Ukraine.

Partnership is not only among nations, it is with civil society organisations as well. And I recognise many civil society representatives present in this room today. I want to reassure you the strength and engagement with women civil society actors, including throughout the NATO civil society advisory panel, is and will remain a priority as it helps us stay connected to the foundations of the WPS agenda.

Distinguished guests, the road ahead requires unwavering commitment and collective efforts at all levels. It demands that we, from the political and military leaders to the civilian and military staff, continue to champion gender equality in every sphere. As part of this new policy, I strongly advocate for a more gender responsive and accountable leadership. This means that leaders—men and women alike—are called to lead by example and commit to fully advance the Women, Peace, and Security agenda at NATO and beyond. I therefore call on you today to be part of the cultural change that is still needed.

Together, we can create a future where every individual regardless of their gender, can contribute to, and benefit from, peace and security.

Thank you.