17 November 2008 - ARMED FORCES: MALE CHAUVINISM IS LOSING GROUND
In a meeting sponsored by the Dutch Delegation held today, Sunday 16 November, in connection with the 54th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, representatives of the Spanish Ministry of Defence have laid stress on the rapid progress made in Spain in integrating women into the Spanish armed forces.
Vice-Admiral Javier Pery Paredes, Principal Private Secretary to the Spanish Under-Secretary for Defence referred in particular to the steady application of various reforms in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which has led to the presence of women in the Spanish forces being seen as normal. He stated that despite some deeply-rooted misgivings in a sector initially designed for men, this openness to women has been particularly advantageous in integrating military personnel into civil-military organisations, particularly with regard to cooperation with NGOs and civil society.
These statements were supported by Belén Caballud Hernando, an adviser to the Under-Secretary for Defence and coordinator of the Ministry of Defence Research Institute on the position of women in the Spanish Armed Forces, who welcomed the extremely rapid and sustained growth in female military personnel in only fifteen years or so. In her view, the presence of women is now "an established reality" and all appropriate steps have been taken to adapt the sector to take account of their presence.
Thus Spain looks good in Europe in terms of the representation of women in its armed forces, without imposing a quota of women or creating a specific unit or corps. Moreover, and in contrast to the situation in some European countries where a furious debate is in progress, women have access to all posts, whether tactical or operational, without discrimination and with pay equal to that of their male counterparts. However, Mrs Caballud Hernando did make the point that even if the current reforms were extremely encouraging and closely supervised by the Research Institute on the position of women in the armed forces, it would inevitably take some time for them to take final shape. Thus a recent study commissioned by the Institute is said to have found that Spain was not very likely to see its first woman General before 2017.
Lastly, the essential nature of the presence of women in the armed forces was also underlined by Lieutenant-General Karl W. Eikenberry, the American Vice-chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the unexpected guest at this gathering. Drawing on his experience on the difficult ground of Afghanistan, he was able to say that the presence of women officers was a considerable advantage because it reassured the people and was even a source of inspiration in a society in which the place of women is culturally very far from our own standards. So he stated that in his view women have a definite part, not to say an important part, to play on the front line, in ensuring the security of Afghan women which is beyond the scope of male soldiers, but not only that, because most certainly "if we want to make progress in the development of that society, women should be placed in the forefront at all levels in it".