International Peace and Security: the Contribution of Women
Azzurra Meringolo 23 March 2016

Women in International Security, WIIS, is the premier organization in the world dedicated to advance the leadership and professional development of women in the field of international peace and security. Since its founding in 1987, WIIS (pronounced “wise”) has worked to advance female role in the field of international security. At the beginning, it was just a small group of women in senior positions in the U.S. government and academia trying to respond to the lack of support for women in the male dominated foreign policy and defense environment, but it has grown fast.

With members in more than 47 countries, WIIS is now a network of 7,000 associated experts worldwide, reflecting a broad and diverse range of expertise. Their object is to increase female representation in decision making positions, in order to provide a diverse expertise and perspective that is desperately needed in the field of international security. In fact, even if not all women share the same opinion about how to address the world’s security problem, they often share common experiences and challenges. Academia is full of research demonstrating that women in position of authority often share consultative, inclusive, and collaborative leadership styles, but the contributions that women have made and could potentially make to international peace and security are just beginning to be recognized.

UNSCR 1325, from its implementation do date

Until now the most important victory was the one obtained in October 2000, when the UNSCR 1325 was adopted. It was a response – asked by many women’s groups – to the violent conflict that erupted in the 1990s. UNSCR 1325 recognized the changing face of conflicts in the aftermath of the Cold War and the importance of considering evolving gender dynamics when dealing with international peace and security issues. It also underscored the importance of considering gender equality in all Security Council actions that deal with the maintenance and restoration of peace. Recognizing that gender inequalities impede the establishment of durable and sustainable peace, UNSCR 1325 recommends addressing these imbalances at all levels: political, operational, strategic, and tactical. It also called on member states to recognize gender imbalances and to ensure the full participation of women in peace and post conflict reconstruction efforts.

In  2004 and 2015 the UN Security Council called on UN member states to implement UNSCR 1325 through the development of Regional and National Action Plans. Since 2007, NATO and NATO member states have committed to the implementation of this resolution. But 15 years later, how much progress has been made?

According to the Report Gender Mainstreaming. Indicators for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and Its Related Resolutions, a report by Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Sonja Stjanovic-Gajic, Carolyn Washington and Brooke Stedman, even if there have been important results, at the national level the implementation of these policies has lagged. National implementation of UNSCR 1325 within the armed forces of NATO allies is generally ad hoc and unsystematic and for many soldiers gender perspectives remain a foreign concept. Too many civilians and military personnel remain unfamiliar with the principles underlying the resolution and its follow-on resolutions, most commonly referred to as the Women, Peace and Security agenda. This is one of the reason why WIIS suggests NATO members and partners states to appoint a Gender Advisor (Genad) at the Commander level.

Women in combat and in conflict resolutions

A lot still needs to be done if we think that since the late 1960s, women in liberal western countries have gained equal rights and opportunities in all other areas of public service except the military. As explained by Ellen Haring, today, only a few countries allow women full access to military occupations and units. Those countries that have allowed women in on a completely equal basis, including Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and a few others, were pushed into it by women who challenged their exclusion through political and legal means. In 1992, the last U.S. law limiting women’s military service was eliminated. In 1993, Secretary of Defense directed the Services to open most combat ships and all combat aircrafts to women. On January 26, 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the historic decision to eliminate the ground combat exclusion, saying that any future decision to exclude women will be made as an exception rather than the rule, flipping the paradigm from one of automatic exclusion to one of automatic inclusion.

Thus, it can be conlcuded that efforts have been made, revealing varying levels of commitment with subsequent missteps and corrections. Mixed messages, provided by military senior leaders, and outright challenges to a modified identity, evident in professional journals, do not bode well for a smooth transformation. However, what is needed is a new approach that highlights the needs for soldiers with a much broader range of skills and can help an integration effort embracing the contributions and inclusion of women.

Men, the other half of the sky

In order to achieve a bigger integration, it is not enough to simply bring women to the table and include them in the peace process. Men must also change for peace to have a chance. Turning men into agents of change – especially those fighting in our militaries around the globe – is critical to advance toward peace. In The Piece Missing from Peace, Jannette Gaudry Haynie poses a question: what are the dangers of a male-centerred world? Such a world values hypermasculinity, and the desires of men are reflected through state behaviour, and conflict resolution. And hypermasculinity enables, creates, and furthers violence.

Thanks to statistics, it can be observed that men and women tend to hold different opinions on when force should be used, the nature of that force, and the level of violence or aggression employed when force is used. The inclusion of men in this conversation is critical, and teaching an acceptance of equality across genders is a necessary step towards negotiating peace and avoiding violence. By including the male half of the sky, there is a greater chance of strengthening the ties that bind nations through peace. This is the reason that pushes WIIS Italy to include men in its works.