Efforts to develop a gender perspective in NATO-led operations get mixed review
A searching independent review finds that NATO and its operational partners have made ‘significant progress’ in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo – but says there is ‘ample room for improvement’.
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The Review of the Practical Implications of UNSCR 1325 for the Conduct of NATO-led Operations and Missions was commissioned by Allied leaders at the 2012 Chicago Summit. The aim was to take stock of efforts to integrate a gender perspective in the planning, conduct and assessment of operations, and to develop recommendations for strengthening future work in this area.
“NATO is one of the first international organisations to conduct such a review,” says NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Stephen Evans. “Crucially, the Review was enlisted to an independent body which could be relied upon to assess critically progress and achievements so far.”
The Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations, based within the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre, was identified as the natural partner to take on this task. It has recognised expertise and knowledge in this field and is familiar with NATO structures, processes and operations.
The Nordic Centre agreed to conduct the Review in close cooperation with the Swedish Defence Research Agency. It put together an international team, consisting of experienced analysts and researchers with a background in defence analysis, research on military efforts, assessments, gender research, NATO-led operations and UNSCR 1325 expertise. Some of the team members have also served with NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and have a deep understanding of military efforts and operations at the operational and tactical levels.
Conduct of the Review
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The Review Team made field trips to both Afghanistan and Kosovo, where NATO-led troops are deployed. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Kosovo Force (KFOR) have different security mandates, different yet evolving security situations, and each has distinct cultural and social norms shaping gender roles and relations – so the two missions provide a good sample to study the implementation of UNSCR 1325.
“We tried to get a broad overview of the NATO operations, their effect and impact in the local communities,” says Helené Lackenbauer, the leader of the Review Team. “In Kosovo, we went to the north (Mitrovica), the south (Prizren) and the capital, Pristina. We wanted to cover regions with different conflict patterns and ethnic make-up. In Afghanistan we faced a serious security situation, and were only able to visit Kabul and a couple of provinces in the north (Regional Command North).”
The team conducted about 145 interviews and met with almost 300 people. These included international military staff (KFOR and ISAF) in as many branches, functions and units as possible; national security forces (Kosovo Security Force and the Afghan National Security Forces); different international police missions; local police forces; government representatives and international advisors; representatives from international organisations; representatives from embassies; international and local non-governmental organisations; local civil society organisations and local people, including women, men and children.
The wider impact of operations
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“We were especially interested in meeting with local women and men, to get their take on the impact of KFOR/ISAF on their lives and the security situation,” she adds. “Meetings with the civil society were particularly important, since they provide valuable assistance and services to the population in both Afghanistan and Kosovo, and have situational awareness.”
Ms Lackenbauer underlines that both locals and civil society stress that ISAF and KFOR have contributed to an improved security situation, which has enabled public services to assist the population, especially women and girls. However, she is concerned that in Afghanistan these fragile gains may be lost and also stresses the importance of taking protection measures for women particularly in provinces where the insurgency is still present and exerts influence over the local population.
“My heart goes out to the women of Afghanistan, they are nervous about the future. Since 2001, their rights have been strengthened and their situation has improved, with regard to health, education, freedom of movement and participation in public life. I am really concerned that this might be lost post-2014,” she warns.
“The international community needs to ensure that they stay committed to the improvement of women’s rights. Women themselves claim that the international community is their best support, since it can pressure the Afghan government,” she adds.
Assessing implementation of UNSCR 1325
Reflecting on the findings of the Review, Ambassador Evans emphasises that “there is no doubt that gender issues are relevant to any military operation – it must take into consideration the different security needs of men, women, boys and girls. This is key to its effectiveness.”
“It is noteworthy that the operation in Afghanistan has contributed to the troops’ enhanced awareness on gender issues and their importance to military operations,” points out Ms Lackenbauer. “ISAF paid more attention to gender/women’s situation than KFOR. My understanding is that it is due to the extremely stratified gender relations in Afghanistan, and their impact on ISAF’s force protection and ability to carry out operations.”
Ambassador Evans welcomes the fact that the Review recognises the ‘significant progress’ that has been made in adopting the necessary policy frameworks and mechanisms, and in integrating a gender perspective in NATO-led operations and missions. “But we are not there yet,” he acknowledges. “The focus should turn to practical issues. We must ensure that the gender perspective is integrated as a cross-cutting theme to all phases of our operations – from planning and conducting operations to assessing their progress,” he adds. “This starts with providing our forces at all levels with sufficient training and awareness on the gender perspective, so that they are thus better equipped to apply it to their daily activities and planning of the missions.”
“However, our role should be limited to advancing gender and the UNSCR 1325 agenda in the security sector. Outside of that, others in the international community are better placed to make the running.”
Ms Lackenbauer echoes the point about the need for further training: “Gender mainstreaming is still questioned by some military officers despite everything we have learned about the impact of armed conflict on women, men, boys and girls. The gender perspective is not an integrated element in the staff planning cycle, but rather an ad hoc element that pops up when there are gender-aware individuals around. One way of addressing this dilemma is through training and exercises.”
NATO has already taken steps to address the shortcomings identified in the Review. The NATO Military Authorities have developed a robust implementation plan, which identifies the specific ways in which the military intends to take forward the Review’s recommendations. This plan was endorsed by defence ministers on 23 October 2013.
“There is no doubt that the findings of the Review and the ways we address them, both as an organisation and through individual nations, will impact on the planning and conduct of any future NATO operation,” concludes Ambassador Evans.