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):


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. 

After the UN Goal on Women Expires, What Happens to the Quest for Gender Parity?

A child held by her mother at a gathering to celebrate International Women's Day in El Fasher, North Darfur,
Sudan, March 8, 2010. (UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

2015 will bring the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of which focused specifically on promoting gender parity: Goal 3. This week, delegates from the around the world are gathering at UN Headquarters to discuss the challenges and opportunities all eight goals have provided for women and girls—and how they could be addressed post-2015. That is the focus of this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), running from March 10th to 21st. 

Last week, I spoke with Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, about what she thinks the priorities and obstacles are when it comes to empowering women and girls and achieving gender parity. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

Ms. Puri, as the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women gets started, what do you see as the gaps and achievements in implementing the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls? 

This is really the opportunity for the international community to identify how the MDGs worked or did not work for women and girls on the ground; what was in the MDGs for women and girls, even in terms of the targets and indicators; and therefore, what lessons do we take from that. 

If you take the key messages from this inquiry, one is that it pays to have a separate goal on gender equality and women's empowerment, because it focuses your attention—you prioritize it. At the same time, the lesson is that what is in that goal is unfinished business. There is good progress, but there is also mixed progress. 

Illiteracy is still much higher amongst girls than amongst boys. Secondary and tertiary education is still a challenge for girls. Similarly, there is only 20 percent representation of women in parliaments if you take the global average, and only in 30 countries have they exceeded 33 percent. So, it's unfinished business, even if you look at the limited number of targets and indicators that you had in MDG 3 and in other goals. 

So, what does that mean? It means that we must take MDG 3 forward but in a more structurally transformative way, and we must also address the root causes of inequality and structural barriers to equality and discrimination. And that's why we are now looking to use this CSW 58 as a platform for really getting a consensus on what that next generation of gender equality, women's empowerment, and women's rights goal should be.

South Sudan, Back in Crisis, Finds Advocates in Former Child Refugees

South Sudanese woman wait in line for water during a temporary water shortage in a refugee camp in northern Uganda. UNHCR/F.Noy

In this interview, two former child refugees from Sudan discuss how they are working to provide assistance to the South Sudanese displaced by the deadly conflict that began December 15. Both men have joined four others to form an initiative called the Mal Clinic –“mal” means “peace”–which they envision will provide medical assistance during the crisis.

“Half a million people have been displaced. They need medical attention. They need food and shelter. They need places where they can live,” said Manyang Reath, a refugee from age 3-18 who, after finding his way to the United States, founded Humanity Helping Sudan, where he serves as CEO.

Mr. Reath and Ger Duany, a former child solider, are calling on the South Sudanese diaspora to help. “Even though [the diaspora] might be aware by now [of the crisis], they still need to be engaged,” said Mr. Reath. "Many of us here… have contributed a lot to the community—for instance, sending books to schools, shoes, money, and other things that could help.”

Describing the current state of these refugees, Mr. Reath said, “Children are forced [by the conflict] to go to United Nations compounds, live there—women give birth inside UN compounds. This is an unstable situation…you’re placed in one center and become susceptible to diarrhea, cholera, and all diseases that you might not become infected when staying in your own home. It's a mess.” 

As a child, Mr. Reath spent 13 years in a refugee camp on the Sudanese/Ethiopian border. “Living in camps is hard to define because you’re put there to live in one place…The only way you can move is when the UN decides to put you in another camp for security or medical reasons.” He said the camp is also a place where diseases spread easily. “If someone coughs TB, everybody will get sick. And that’s a life in the camp.”

Ger Duany, who was forcefully recruited into being a child soldier before making his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, said that child soldiers are still recruited in South Sudan, adding that, “many kids are being lured into it because they have no choice.” 

“It is not like they have a process of how to recruit people. The entire area becomes subject to violence. It's not safe, and everybody wants to protect themselves and their families. And I think that's the one thing that lured me into being a child soldier, too,” he said. 

Mr. Duany said that international agencies should focus on evacuating South Sudanese refugees all the way to the border, “where they can be safe.” 

The interview was conducted by Waleed Alhariri, Research Assistant in the Middle East program at the International Peace Institute.

Waleed Alhariri: Today, I welcome Manyang Reath and Ger Duany to the Global Observatory. Manyang is a founder and CEO of Humanity Helping Sudan, which provides aid and assistance to the Sudanese diaspora in Ethiopia along the eastern border of South Sudan. Ger is a South Sudanese actor and a model based in the United States. Both Manyang and Ger were refugees for most of their lives, and after coming to the US, they decided to work in providing assistance to refugees, especially those fleeing the current conflict from South Sudan. Thank you for speaking with us today. 

Manyang, what is the situation like for civilians in South Sudan? 

Manyang Reath: The situation in South Sudan has escalated to become an ethnic conflict. It did not start like this, and we thought we had enough war. However, as of December 15, we find 15,000 individuals killed and half a million forced to go to bordering countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Children are forced [by the conflict] to go to United Nations compounds, live there—women give birth inside UN compounds. This is an unstable situation…you’re placed in one center and become susceptible to diarrhea, cholera, and all diseases that you might not become infected when staying in your own home. It's a mess.

Aid Workers, More on the Front Lines, Suffer Increased Attacks: Interview with Abby Stoddard

Photo credit: Catalina-Martin Chico/European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr

Aid worker attacks and attacks against civilian aid operations were at their highest levels last year, said Abby Stoddard, senior program adviser for humanitarian action at New York University's Center on International Cooperation and a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research group. Preliminary numbers show 172 major attacks on aid workers in 2013; the previous peak year was 2008, when there were 165 attacks. 

More aid workers in the field is partially responsible for the increase in attacks, which are generally targeted attacks and ambushes. “Before 1990,” Dr. Stoddard observed, “you wouldn't see many aid workers at all in active combat situations. They tended to wait at the borders for refugees.”

But, she cautioned, this is not the only reason for the increase. She noted that in some high-violence environments, aid workers are seen as linked with Western interests. "When you have an internationalized insurgency the way you do in Afghanistan...  you see a greater targeting of aid workers because they are perceived to be associated with the Western agenda."

“The majority of incidents for the past several years have taken place in just a small number of extremely high-violence environments, and for the past at least seven years, those have included Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan (and now South Sudan), and Pakistan. In 2013, Syria joined the top five in terms of the most attacks on aid workers,” she said.

She said there is no strong evidence of a correlation between increased attacks and areas where the United Nations plays a more aggressive role in the conflict, “but you do see anecdotally that it does affect the UN agencies.”

She said the UN uses a protective strategy towards security threats, using armed guards and armed escorts, for example, while NGOs focus on an acceptance approach, which involves reaching out to all parties to the conflict; reaching out to local communities; and actively and continually negotiating their presence. 

“We found in our research that the agencies that were able to do this more effectively and able to invest more in an active acceptance strategy tended to have better success in maintaining secure access,” she said.

She said a recent report by Humanitarian Outcomes, which manages the Aid Workers Security Database, found higher aid workers attacks correlated with areas of armed conflict, but also high levels of state fragility and low levels of rule of law. Surprisingly, she said, they did not find any real significant relationship between aid worker violence and the general crime or murder rates in the country.

“It's important to stress that there's no way to eliminate the risk entirely, no matter what you do or how much money you spend on your security,” she added.

Despite assumptions that humanitarian actors have become more risk averse, she finds the contrary. “I think risk tolerance has actually gone up,” she said.

She noted that in the Central African Republic, “a lot of agencies were claiming security risks as one of the reasons why they couldn't respond better to the emergency there, but I think the issue really had more to do with low capacity than with risk aversion.”

The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Jérémie Labbé: I am here today with Abby Stoddard, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research group on humanitarian issues, and Senior Program Adviser for Humanitarian Action at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. 

Abby has extensively researched and analyzed international humanitarian action for the last 15 years, and is the author of numerous reports and articles, including on the issue of security of aid workers, the focus of today's interview. Of particular relevance to our discussion, Humanitarian Outcomes manages the Aid Workers Security Database, which compiles incidents involving aid workers worldwide and publishes an annual report, the Aid Worker Security Report, providing the latest statistics and highlighting current trends. Abby, thanks for being with us on the Global Observatory. 

A number of security incidents concerning aid workers were reported in recent months in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Somalia, and Mali. For that matter, two recent incidents happened in Mali. Five ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] staff were abducted in early February, and just this week, two staff from Doctors of the World (MDM) had a security incident with an explosive improvised device. So, is there an increase overall in the number of security incidents concerning aid workers?

Abby Stoddard: Yes, there is overall, and particularly this year. We've seen the numbers both of aid worker victims and the number of major attacks against civilian aid operations go up this year. They're at their highest levels since 2008, which was the prior peak in violence.

Dispatch to Brazil: Give Peace a Chance in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

In a favela in Rio de Janeiro, the artist JR drew attention to the plight of residents by postering giant faces on some of the buildings, 2011. (Thiago Trajano/Flickr)

Brazilian diplomats often like to remind their counterparts that their country hasn't picked a fight in its neighborhood for almost 150 years. Brazil very reluctantly joined the Second World War in 1944, but played an important role in helping reconstruct Europe in its aftermath. They are justifiably proud of their historical commitment to peace; it is a legacy worth preserving. Yet there are signs that Brazil’s forward momentum in promoting safety, security, justice, and governance is lagging. Since hosting the Rio+20 conference in 2012, Brazil has been coy about the place of these issues in the post-2015 development agenda. During recent negotiations in New York over future sustainable development goals (SDGs), Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs appeared to be taking them off the table entirely.

At an open-ended working group meeting on the shape and content of the SDGs last month, Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, started out in familiar enough territory. In his statement to the United Nations, he made it clear that his government believes “stability and peace are essential for development.” The veteran civil servant went on to say that sustained peace could only be achieved if governments and civil societies collectively tackled the root causes of conflict. There was nothing especially novel about his opening remarks. The ambassador was echoing a number of his compatriots who, over the past few years, have spoken on the interdependence of security and development.

After One Year of China’s New Leadership, Signs of a Different Approach

China's leader Xi Jinping,
September 19, 2012. (credit: US DoD)

The second session of the new Chinese Parliament begins today, March 5, in Beijing, marking a year since the fifth generation of leaders took power in China. While a year is a short span of time to evaluate its achievements, there are nevertheless some new elements in this leadership’s approach. Here are four of them:

1. A New Paramount Leader?

It is widely acknowledged that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not a cohesive monolith, and that China is not ruled by one paramount leader, as it was in the eras of Mao and Deng. The decision-making process is more and more based on reaching consensus and a “collective leadership,” especially noticeable during 2002-2012 under Hu Jintao. 

Yet in observing the current administration, there are some doubts that “collective leadership” is still valid. President Xi Jinping seems to be more visible and active than other leaders, especially Prime Minister Li Keiqiang and other Standing Committee members. It seems apparent that he is going to monopolize China’s political scene, highlighting his strength and power of influence. For example, apart from being CCP secretary-general and head of state, he became (contrary to predictions) chief of the Central Military Commission, which commands the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in the first Central Committee plenum. Other recent examples are found in the two institutions established in the third plenum: the National Security Commission and the Leading Group for Deepening Reforms. Xi was anointed leader of both, despite speculations that the Leading Group would be chaired by Li Keqiang. 

This approach might indicate that Xi has solidified his authority and would like to be seen as a paramount leader. On the other hand, it may suggest that the internal tug-of-war is still underway and Xi is now focused on overcoming conservative resistance and exerting pressure on all party members into conducting reforms. Regardless of this internal situation, both cases elevate Xi to a top position.

2. Be Assertive 

Before the fifth generation took power, some voiced opinions that China would become more assertive in the region due to Xi Jinping’s close relations with the army and the fact that he is a representative of a princeling caucus inside the party. Moreover, it was rather clear that Xi is not entirely convinced of the value of Deng’s “keep a low profile” strategy and might feel that China’s strong economic and military position in the region predestines the PRC to show off its power. 

Once an Afterthought, Solution to Child Soldiers Becomes More Proactive: Interview With Roméo Dallaire

Former child soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (L. Rose/Wikipedia)

“Child soldiers are not a socio-economic problem in itself that you pick up after [a conflict],” said Roméo Dallaire, a former UN force commander in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and now a Canadian senator and outspoken advocate. “It is a core security problem in a nation that is imploding, and it's got to be looked at that way.” It is estimated that tens of thousands of children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed opposition groups worldwide.

“That means you’ve got to bring in the security side actors—the police, the military from missions, the national capabilities, even the nonstate actors—and walk them through scenarios in which we educate them in what child soldiers actually do, what they can't do, and ultimately their limitations,” he said in this interview.

According to Dallaire, if you stop treating child soldiers as an afterthought, you can start to look at how they're being used, and who can influence that use—“which means, how can you prevent them from being recruited in the first place? And then, how do you make them a liability for people who want to use them?” 

Mr. Dallaire said that the human trafficking component of this problem is extensive. “When I was in Sierra Leone, we were discovering Sierra Leone kids who had been demobilized, ending up in Côte d'Ivoire because the bad guys had picked them up outside the demobilization centers or the rehabilitation centers and simply abducted them and taken them to another conflict and sold them off to at a very high price.”

He added that one of the really dangerous dimensions is the child soldier who has been re-recruited into a different conflict, or even the same conflict. “A re-recruited child often ends up in a leadership role, and in so doing with his experience or her experience is able to sustain the efforts of the other kids, and in so doing makes the force effective,” he said.

Mr. Dallaire and his organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, have developed a handbook for the security sector, providing them, he said, “with new tools to handle child soldiers so that they can be effective, and also make the child soldiers less of a security problem without having to kill them all.” This approach has been accepted by UNITAR, the UN Institute for Training and Research, and made available through e-learning. 

The United Nations has been doing a lot in the area of child soldiers, he said, but “it has not necessarily affected fundamentally the numbers nor the interest of countries and nonstate actors from using kids.” 

Mr. Dallaire is also outspoken about genocide prevention and the lack of global leadership on the issue in the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. “We are in an era where there is a dearth of statesmanship,” he said, adding that the prevention tools are out there, “but we don't seem to want to operationalize them. So my thrust is: Why are we not operationalizing the tools that have taken hundreds of thousands of people to die to create, and yet they’re sitting there on the shelf?”

The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Warren Hoge: We are pleased to have as our guest in the Global Observatory today, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire of Canada, who as the force commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1994 earned the world’s regard for his efforts to prevent the genocidal attacks there that killed more than 800,000 Rwandans. 

General Dallaire is today a member of the Canadian Senate, an outspoken advocate for human rights, genocide prevention, mental health, and war-affected children. And in this last connection he is the founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and it is there that I want to start.

General, the Dallaire initiative provides training to security sector personnel on preventing the use and recruitment of children by armed groups. How do you do that?

Roméo Dallaire: We have introduced an angle to the problem of child soldiers that has not been touched upon by anybody else before. As so many have been engaged in what you do once you have been able to extract them and rehabilitation and so on, no one has been looking at how they're being used and who can in fact influence that use—which means, how can you prevent them from being recruited in the first place? And then, how do you make them a liability for people who want to use them? 

Key Global Events to Watch in March

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



Peace & Security

      • March 5: NATO, Russia Hold Talks over Ukraine
        An extraordinary meeting between NATO and Russia will discuss Russia’s intervention in Crimea. The US-European military alliance has declared Russia’s actions a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and considers the developments in Ukraine a threat to neighboring allied countries, with implications for security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia has defended its actions on humanitarian grounds and says that it reserves the right to protect its citizens in eastern Ukraine. While the US and Europe appear divided over whether to impose sanctions on Russia, and Security Council action remains handicapped by Russia’s permanent seat, some hope the NATO meeting could provide a forum for a joint diplomatic effort with the former Cold War foe.
      • March 15: 3rd Anniversary of Civil War in Syria
        The uprising against the Assad government reaches the third-year mark with over 100,000 dead and more than 2.4 million displaced outside Syria’s borders. A week after this tragic anniversary, around March 22, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon releases the first report on humanitarian access in Syria, following the adoption last month of resolution 2139. The UN Security Council measure, aimed to increase humanitarian assistance, calls on “all parties to immediately cease attacks on civilians and lift the siege of populated areas.”
      • March 17: Iran Nuclear Deal Talks Resume, Vienna
        In February, six world powers and Iran started negotiations towards a final settlement on Tehran’s nuclear program. They outlined an agenda for further talks, hoping to reach an agreement by July 2014. Negotiations will be very complex and will likely take longer than six months. Although the agreed agenda is not public, likely items on the table include: 1) the termination of the construction of the new heavy-water reactor in Arak ; 2) the reduction of the current capacity of other nuclear facilities; 3) the reduction of the number of centrifuges in Iran, in particular the new generation ones, which can enrich uranium from civilian to military-grade faster; and 4) the dilusion or transformation of the existing stockpile already enriched close to military-use level.
      • March 17: UN Considers Report on North Korea, New York
        UN Human Rights Council considers a Commission of Inquiry report on crimes against humanity in North Korea. The report’s findings, released February 16, detail crimes including mass starvation, torture, enslavement, rape, and forced abortion, among other crimes. The report suggests the Security Council refer North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court. However, it’s widely believed that China, North Korea’s biggest ally, would block any such Security Council action against North Korea.
      • March 24: Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague
        Launched by President Obama in 2010, the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) aims to foster cooperation among its 57 member states to, among other nonproliferation goals, secure all nuclear material by 2014. Chief among the agenda items in the third of this biennial meeting are specific steps to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment programs and how to address the issue of hard-to-reach spent fuel rods at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. March 11 marks the third anniversary of the Fukushima plant meltdown, triggered by a tsunami.

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