NATO Moves Forward on Implementing Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Interview with Mari Skåre

Mari Skåre, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. (Photo credit: NATO HQ)

The key to including more women at the table in defense and security matters at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “is recognizing that women have a rightful place there,” said Mari Skåre, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security. 

“And to achieve such recognition, leadership is everything,” she said. “So, I am very pleased that I have a very strong backing from the Secretary-General of NATO, showing his leadership on this issue, and it is key to continue to raise awareness among the leadership of the organization in NATO.”

Ms. Skåre said her role as special representative—created in 2012, though NATO has had a policy on women, peace, and security since 2007—is to push for implementation. 

“Gender integration—or mainstreaming of gender into our everyday business—is indeed the core aim, I would say, of our policy on women, peace and security, and we see today a much stronger degree of integration of this perspective into, for instance, our operational planning,” she said. Operational planning is one of three areas targeted for implementation, she said; the other areas are defense planning and cooperation with partners. 

“I see great opportunities working with our partners,” she said. “My experience is that I am met with open doors and a real commitment, a real understanding that if we are going to meet the security challenges of this century, we do need to understand the gender dimension of them, and we need to have women on board.”

When asked about lessons learned for NATO from an independent study on the impact of women in peace and security on operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, she said, “This review documents, in a sense, what we already knew. It documents that we need to have the competence—within our troops, within the leadership of the missions and operations—on gender. It documents that we would benefit greatly from having expertise on gender matters deployed. It documents that we really would benefit from a stronger engagement with the local population, with women—that we would be better able to understand the situation in the area where we operate if we also engage with female activists and female leaders.” 

She said her ambition is to influence how NATO is conducting its work. “If I can, when I finish this position, look back and say I managed to make a difference, if only for a miniscule part, I will be really happy because this is a really complex and vast agenda to move.”

The interview was conducted by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript

Maureen Quinn: Good morning, welcome to the Global Observatory. I am Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute, and I’m very pleased to have with us today Mari Skåre, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security. Mari, welcome to the Global Observatory and thank you so much for being here. 

We here at the International Peace Institute have a program of research and convening on women, peace, and security, and we’re very pleased to have you in your groundbreaking role at NATO to speak to us today on the Global Observatory

My first question is: Since 2007, NATO has a policy on women, peace, and security and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, but you assumed this roll in 2012. What obstacles to meeting the NATO goals for full and equal participation of women did you find when you took the position, and what strategies are you pursuing to overcome those obstacles?

Mari Skåre: Thank you, Maureen, and thank you for having me here at IPI. It’s my pleasure to be here. You’re asking good questions. 

It’s correct that we’ve had a policy, together with our partners, in place since 2007, and the political momentum has really been growing over the past years. The intention by having a Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security is really to push for implementation. When it comes to reaching the objectives of including women more at the table when defense and security matters are being discussed and decided on—and include women also in the execution of these tasks—I think that the key is really to raise awareness, recognizing that women have a rightful place at the table when we are deciding on these matters. And to achieve such recognition, leadership is everything. 

So, I am very pleased that I have a very strong backing from the Secretary-General of NATO, showing his leadership on this issue, and it is key to continue to raise awareness among the leadership of the organization in NATO. 

MQ: I’m glad to hear about your focus on the leadership, and certainly integrating a gender perspective starts at the strategy level, way before the missions, pre-mission, pre-operation. What is NATO leadership doing to integrate the gender perspective at the strategic level?

MS: Gender integration—or mainstreaming of gender into our everyday business—is indeed the core aim, I would say, of our policy on Women, Peace and Security, and we see today a much stronger degree of integration of this perspective into, for instance, our operational planning. The generic planning documents directing how we are going to do planning when we are preparing for a mission or an operation are now integrating a gender perspective and guidance on how to do this. Also in the context of the specific operational planning, we are, to a much greater degree now than before, integrating gender. 

Operational planning is not all of what we do, and it’s important for me to emphasize that NATO is not only a military alliance; we are also a security policy organization. So to integrate gender—or the Women, Peace and Security agenda—into our cooperation with partners has also been extremely important for me. We see now that the frameworks that we have with various partner nations to a larger and larger degree integrate objectives of Women, Peace and Security. This is also extremely important. 

The third sort of category or processes that I would emphasize that is very important to integrate a gender perspective into is NATO defense planning. When we are looking at what capabilities, what capacities, and what competences we need to meet future security challenges, we need to integrate our understanding that we need both competence on gender and we need women to take part in the solutions.

MQ: You mentioned your partners, and NATO has partner countries all over the world. What are your greatest challenges in working with your partners on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325?

MS: I see great opportunities working with our partners. As I mentioned earlier, our policy has indeed been developed with our partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and it has to a very large degree been partner driven. We benefit greatly from the competences and the political sort of energy and impetus that our partners give to this agenda. In my job, I have enjoyed very much visiting a number of partner countries and discussing with their political leadership how we can bring this agenda to the fore of our collaboration. My experience is that I am met with open doors and a real commitment, a real understanding of that if we are going to meet the security challenges of this century, we do need to understand the gender dimension of them, and we need to have women on board. 

MS: Last fall, NATO received the results of an independent study on the impact of women in peace and security—directive and policy—on operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. What are the lessons learned for NATO on the integration of the gender lens from these operations and the studies?

MQ: Well, we are learning a lot from our current operations, and I would say that our sources that we draw on from these lessons learned are many. Commanders, troops, civil personnel deployed in operations, such as the ISAF operation that we have in Afghanistan, all bring back very important personal experiences. But in order for us to make a proper institutional learning, we wanted to have an independent review of our experiences. This review documents, in a sense, what we already knew. It documents that we need to have the competence—within our troops, within the leadership of the missions and operations—on gender. It documents that we would benefit greatly from having expertise on gender matters deployed. It documents that we really would benefit from a stronger engagement with the local population, with women—that we would be better able to understand the situation in the area where we operate if we also engage with female activists and female leaders. 

We have taken these lessons learned, and we have discussed them internally in NATO, and we are taking them forward with a separate implementation plan for the military authorities.

MQ: My last question is a looking-ahead question. You have the next NATO summit—and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 will hit its 15-year mark—in 2015. What’s the one accomplishment that you would want to be able to speak about and achieve with these upcoming events and, I’ll call them, mile markers on the road of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325?

MS: Thank you very much for that question. My position was initiated by Norway in 2012, and it was felt that we need to focus more on implementation. So my immodest ambition is to really influence how NATO is conducting its work. If I can, when I finish this position, look back and say I managed to make a difference, if only for a miniscule part, I will be really happy because this is a really complex and vast agenda to move. 

The one specific achievement that I would like to see is that the work that I have been embarking on continues, even after I leave my position; that we continue to institutionalize this work, that the Alliance properly reflects in its institutional setup that the Women, Peace and Security policy is truly a joint policy priority for the Alliance. 

MQ: Thank you for joining us on the Global Observatory.

MS: Thank you so much for having me.