by Irene Fellin on her first months as the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security
The past months have presented us with particular and compounding challenges, and have impacted our lives and security posture permanently. But through these difficult times – of COVID-19 and global conflict – we have proven our resilience.
The unprovoked war and atrocities waged by Russia against the Ukrainian population have shaken us all. In the midst of these crises, we are compelled to learn and reflect critically about long-term solutions. And today, the Alliance stands more united than ever before. We are faced with opportunities to apply our policies, defend hard-fought freedom, and achieve inclusive and sustainable peace. No matter what the crisis, we have seen that women take crucial roles in fighting for peace and security. Therefore, especially in these moments, we must remember that the participation of women in decision-making processes and at all levels is indispensable. I am dedicated to ensuring that this happens within the Alliance.
The circumstances make me even more determined to fulfil my mission and uphold NATO's overall goal: promoting the security of all men and women across the Alliance and its partners. Gender Equality and Human Security are part of the common values of the Alliance. Because Women, Peace and Security and Human Security are not just what NATO does, it's who we are.
These values are also reflected in the decision-making positions of Allies - never before have there been so many female defence and foreign ministers. To seize this opportunity, I invited them to a meeting at the margin of the 2022 NATO Madrid Summit to discuss women's perspectives on current security issues and their relevance to NATO. I recognize that these meeting cannot be the regular practice, since it would risk becoming an echo chamber. However, Germany Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, was one of many that emphasized the importance of women’s networking. “As long as we have not reached [gender] parity, this connection is imperative.”
The 2022 NATO Madrid Summit has been of particular importance as both the Human Security and the Women Peace and Security Agendas have now been included in the new Strategic Concept, for the very first time in NATO’s history. As stated in the Strategic Concept, “Human security, including the protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation, is central to our approach to crisis prevention and management.” Furthermore, the Strategic Concept emphasises the fact that Human Security and Women, Peace and Security will be integrated in all of NATO’s core tasks, meaning that it will be mainstreamed throughout all of NATO’s areas of work.
To drive change globally, we must first start at home. I am eager to build on achievements and promote this transformation even more. One tool that we have at our disposal is NATO’s manual for gender-inclusive language. Language forms our everyday lives, it frames our interactions with each other and influences how we structure our thoughts and actions. Thus, it is important that our institutional language contributes to more gender equity and reflects on what we have achieved together.
The beginning of my mandate truly brings me full circle. Almost ten years ago, I joined NATO as an advisor on Women, Peace and Security, then transitioned to civil society to advocate for women's participation in mediation and peacebuilding. That is why it is particularly important to me to involve civil society in our work. With the Civil Society Advisory Panel (CSAP), we have created an entry-point for civil society organisations from Allies and partner countries to engage with NATO. For us, it’s an opportunity to gain valuable insights from the ground. We are now renewing the mandate of the Civil Society Advisory Panel and I will be delighted to welcome new members to support us in our work.
In 2016, I founded Women in International Security (WIIS) Italy, a global network dedicated to promoting women's leadership and professional development in the field of international peace and security. In parallel, I coordinated the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network (MWMN) aimed at promoting the role of women in peace mediation and peacebuilding efforts. I am dedicated to a 360 degrees approach throughout my mandate, but am especially eager to leverage my knowledge and connections to support women in the Mediterranean region. Therefore, it was an honour to co-host my first in-person event in Brussels: Women Mediators and Peacebuilders in the MENA Region: Leveraging Leadership, organised with the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division in March 2022. On that occasion, women shared their experiences, reported on best practices, and gave constructive feedback to NATO on what we can do to support the work of these women in the field.
To kick off my engagement with youth, it was a great honour to be a speaker at the NATO Youth Summit. I am dedicated to build on this foundation and advocate for further involvement of youth in all work strands, especially those relating to WPS and Human Security. I am convinced that the meaningful participation of both women and youth is required in solving the problems of our time. Without their important impetus, peace solutions are neither representative nor sustainable. We need to change that, listen to their voices and provide them with platforms to engage.
And finally, it is a great pleasure for me to see how effectively we are already cooperating with NATO's International Military Staff to jointly implement the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in the Alliance. We are committed to further aligning our work and are convinced that we can even achieve more working in close coordination.
The overall aim of the Alliance is to ensure a safe and secure environment for the whole of our populations – women, girls, men and boys – and I am honoured to be able to work towards this aim. I am determined to combine my knowledge and passion for gender equality with my commitment to the security of the Alliance. I am very much looking forward to collaborating with all the dedicated colleagues inside and outside of NATO Headquarters in the years to come. The Alliance has the power to make a difference – let’s take that opportunity.