Promoting the Role of Women in Defence & Security, Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam

30 March 2020

The NATO PA community proudly promotes the role of women in defence & security and works hard to mainstream gender in the Assembly’s activities and policies.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, the NATO PA discussed these issues with Senator  
Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam (France), Chairperson of the Assembly’s Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security (CDS). She tells us why it is important to apply a gender perspective to peace & security and why the key to ending gender inequality is the inclusion of women in decision-making processes?

1.    2020 marks the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. What needs to change in the next 10 years?

When the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security on 31 October 2000, the decision proved genuinely revolutionary. For the very first time, women were granted the right to be considered not simply as victims of armed conflict but as active actors of peace and security. 

Although significant progress has been made in the last ten years, much remains to be done. I feel that two things must imperatively change over the next decade: mentalities, i.e., the way in which women are perceived – including by women themselves – and secondly, the support that women receive for their empowerment in different parts of the world, which is a crucial concern for peace and security. 

On the one hand, mentalities must be changed, particularly the way women are still perceived today. It must never again come as a surprise that a woman holds a position of responsibility or command. Parity and quotas have to disappear as they will no longer be necessary, and women must no longer be suspected of obtaining a position of authority because of parity or quotas. It must be acknowledged that they reached their position through their skills and personality. 

On the other hand, it is crucial to strengthen our efforts in the development and education of girls throughout the world. First of all, women must be protected against forced marriages (alarmingly, there are still 12 million a year) and sexual violence. Here, access to education is the best tool. Today, 132 million girls across the world are still deprived of schooling. We must do everything possible to ensure that they can go to school, which will bolster their empowerment process. This is done through gendered budget guidelines in all development aid plans. This is the price we have to pay to raise  hope for peace, because an educated woman will be more capable to claim equal rights, to defend herself and others, to spread values of peace and to be a bulwark against terrorism and extremism. 

2.    It is more important than ever that women hold leadership positions. How can we break down the barriers for women to access leadership roles, and what are the efforts needed to promote gender mainstreaming in peace and security?

Gender equality must be the norm everywhere, including in the area of international peace and security. The glass ceiling is no myth. For example, in political life, parity makes it a little less difficult for women to gain access to governmental positions, but they are often side-lined from leadership roles in political groups or internal executive bodies. The same is true in corporations. I was the rapporteur to the French Senate of the law proposal aiming at ensuring a minimum proportion of women on boards of directors. Although it was originally difficult to accept, it is now proving hugely successful because – just like parity in politics – it encouraged women to move forward by showing them that there are real opportunities. Moreover, companies realised how much they could gain from the presence of women at the highest level of the decision-making process in terms of efficiency, working methods, organisation and hence… turnover. 

We must adopt the same approach for peace and security. We must give women a more prominent role through rigorous measures and indicators. Women have a different perspective, analysis and behaviour that very usefully complements that of men. It is in the interest of States to promote their involvement. But it is essential to have a precise, methodical and concrete tracking of their presence in our armed forces, in decision-making bodies and in NGOs dealing with peace and security. During various trips in difficult countries (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, etc.), I was shocked to realise that virtually all NGOs or international organisations representatives were men. I specifically remember a UN official in the Zaatari refugee camp (Jordan) who explained to us the importance of working with the women in the camp but who seemed to have difficulties understanding my disbelief that there were no women in his team. 

3.    What is the most important challenge facing women in defence today?

Unquestionably, the most difficult challenge is facing up to the preconception that women are not capable of carrying out defence functions and that their presence would be a hindrance, although it is clearly an asset. Consequently, women tend to be relegated to subordinate functions or to more auxiliary, less operational areas. 

Therefore, awareness-raising programmes aimed at men are indispensable. Men must understand the many contributions of women in the defence sector, which is one of the last strongholds of male power. Gender diversity must be the rule everywhere, including in environments where women were normally never permitted, such as in submarines.

We must also act on the specificity of recruiting conditions for young women, so that they can experience motherhood and bring up their children without being hindered or blocked in their professional careers.

Today, this fear that family and professional life are not compatible in the Armed Forces remains a deadlock and a restriction for many young women who would like to join our armed forces.

In the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – particularly in the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security (CDS), which I have the honour of chairing – we are particularly attentive to the place of women in our Armed Forces, in our governing bodies and in areas related to peace and security. In 2018, we worked on a comparative report on the involvement of national parliaments as for the place of women in the defence, peace and security sectors, and the general rapporteur of our Committee, Ulla Schmidt (Germany), is currently working on another report on this subject. One proposal that I would like to make to the Bureau of our Assembly is the creation of an award that would highlight a person having achieved significant results in this field and who could serve as a model for the younger generation.

4.    What advice would you give to young women today?

I would tell these young women to acknowledge their intrinsic value, to never let themselves be intimidated, never believe that they are not up to the task, and above all, to DARE. Dare to be themselves, dare to speak up, dare to speak out, dare to claim their rights. They should network with other women and encourage each other. And may they never forget the Latin proverb "Audaces fortuna juvat" (Fortune favours the bold) and may they dare to think that they will reach their goals if they use all their determination and diligence. Today, more and more women have succeeded in positions traditionally reserved for men, such as Minister of Defence. In fact, there are several former Defence Ministers in our NATO Parliamentary Assembly.  The sky is the limit…

This year, the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security (CDS) is working on a draft General Report titled Advancing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda by Rapporteur Ulla SCHMIDT (Germany), which will be discussed at the next NATO PA Session. 

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