Creating family-friendly policies in the Irish Defense Forces is the challenge of its new gender advisor Commandant Jayne Lawlor. Ms. Lawlor is looking “to try to make the defense forces more attractive for people to stay in, particularly women to stay in,” she said.
Ms. Lawlor said these policies wouldn’t be just for women, “it would be for primary caregivers, and it would be probably only available at a certain period in your life and you could maybe only avail it a certain number of times.”
She said it would help retain more women, “instead of women reaching a certain point in their career and deciding that the home life-work balance was too much of a conflict,” she said.
While only 4.8 percent of the Irish Defense Forces serving overseas are women, addressing the numbers issue is complex. “If we’re trying to increase that number—the 4.8 percent of those serving overseas—what’s going to happen is we’re going to put increased pressure on the women who are serving to go overseas.”
She said if that is done, “what we’re actually doing is we’re not taking into consideration the fact that there are periods in a woman’s life when she is not going to be available to go overseas. So, we have to factor this in. If a woman is having children, we have to allow for approximately two years, three years for a pregnancy and a baby before she is then ready to go back overseas again.”
Ms. Lawlor said education on genders issues is crucial to making this work. She said one way is by training on gender perspective and gender awareness when men and women are first inducted, and then also each time they progress in rank. “What we’re trying to do is to keep it progressive in nature, but also to ensure that as people move through their careers, it’s something that’s been regularly brought to their attention, and that its been utilized on career courses,” she said.
Bringing this type of gender perspective is something Ms. Lawlor said needs to be communicated to both genders. “It should be men getting the gender perspective into our operations. It’s not just women who can do this. It must be done by both men and women if it’s going to succeed.”
The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: Today I’m speaking with Commandant Jayne Lawlor, gender advisor of the Irish Defense Forces. Jayne joined the defense forces in 1997, and has served in several UN peacekeeping missions, including in Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
Jayne, you serve as the Gender Equality and Diversity Officer of the Irish Defense Forces. What does that job entail?
Jayne Lawlor: Basically, the Irish Defense Forces had a major reorganization approximately twelve months ago, and out of that, one of the new appointments that was created was that of the gender officer. Previously, we had an equality officer in place, but they decided that, due to the importance of 1325, they would actually amalgamate and make a specific job for gender within the organization.
Since I’ve taken up the job, what I’ve tried to do is come up with basically a plan and a way of implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 into the defense forces at all levels. So, be it into our policy, into our operations, and into our training.
AOS: How far has that plan progressed? What measures has Ireland taken to increase the number of women in peacekeeping and to integrate that gender perspective across the defense forces more broadly?
JL: Okay, I think if I separate that and deal with it in two aspects. Deal with it firstly in what we’ve done to integrate 1325 and integrate a gender perspective.
The first thing we did was a gender advisor trainer course in Sweden. When I was there I had the opportunity to meet people from other nations and other gender advisors and to listen to their experiences and see exactly what their country was doing. And whilst I was on the course, I was sitting, writing notes, thinking of all the things that I had to do when I got back to Ireland and all the initiatives I could take. And my Finnish colleague spoke at one stage about the Finnish Defense Forces action plan. And I thought this was an absolutely excellent idea. It was exactly what I wanted, and what I was looking for.
So, what I did when I came back to Ireland was I approached the general staff through my own directorate, and I looked for permission to do exactly that, which was to write the defense forces action plan. So what that entailed was basically drawing out the tasks we received, that the defense forces received, in the national action plan and putting them down into concrete, identifiable objectives for the defense forces to reach, including indications, objectives, timelines. So, basically, I was leaving no room to maneuver. Units were being given a task and a timeline, and then if they weren’t completing those tasks, they would have to answer back to me why they weren’t doing it. That was the first step.
After that then—I’m only one person, and I’m situated now at headquarters, so the amount of influence that I would have within the brigades and within the units is quite limited—so what I did was I requested permission to form an implementation group, and again the general staff are very, very pro this and they gave me their full backing, and we were allowed to form an implementation group.
And what this does is it draws the SMEs (the subject matter experts) from the branches, our operations branch, our training branch, and also from the United Nations school in Ireland, because they are the key personnel who have the key tasks in the action plan. Between us, the implementation group, what we’re doing is we meet regularly to ensure that the plan is being implemented as it’s supposed to be, in the correct fashion, and that the message is getting down to the brigades and to the units and that it’s permeating through our organization.
The second half of the question then: you asked me what are we doing to increase recruitment and increase the numbers. And that’s something that is very dear to my heart, because I feel it’s a great challenge that we face, and I know from speaking to other nations, they’re facing the same challenge.
Currently at the defense forces, we stand at approximately 6.2 percent. It’s the highest we’ve been; we haven’t gotten any higher than that. But we are stagnating at that figure. So, at the moment we have a few different initiatives going on. One thing we are looking at is how can we look at our retention of personnel.
So, instead of women reaching a certain point in their career and deciding that the home life-work balance was too much of a conflict, that we would try to examine this and come up with family-friendly policies that we could put in place in order to try to make the defense forces more attractive for people to stay in, particularly women to stay in, and to give them an opportunity to stay in if they so wished.
So, in this area, the kind of policies we’re currently examining are having classes on site, which we haven’t had previously. We are also looking at the possibility of job sharing certain appointments in overseas deployments. Currently the majority of our deployments tend to be six months. We’re looking at, are there appointments that we can split so that you do a three-month deployment.
This wouldn’t be just for women; it would be for primary caregivers, and it would be probably only available at a certain period in your life and you could maybe only avail it a certain number of times. But what it would do is it would allow a primary caregivers, be they male or female, to ensure that they have the same opportunities to serve overseas, and therefore be available and be ready and qualified for promotion to higher ranks.
Other areas that we are looking at are the modulization of our career courses. Currently, they are not conducted in modules. So a lot of primary caregivers find it difficult to leave home for an extended period, the longest being our command and staff course, which is a nine-month residential course. These are all in the pipeline. The general staff have set up a working group on which I’m sitting in order to carefully examine all of these initiatives, and hopefully we will see some of these come to fruition in the coming year.
The other side of it, then, is increasing our recruitment. I think this is where we need the most drive, and we need to really think outside the box. I think what we really need to do is actually target females. We’ve done a small bit in this area. The Irish Defense Forces in 2012 used a targeted social media campaign, mainly through Facebook, to try to attract and target suitable females. And how that worked was that if the profile of the person, say on Facebook, indicated that they were a member of a sports club or involved in certain activities which would be generally suited towards military life, that they were then targeted with a pop-up ad advertising a career in the defense forces.
We have a huge array of talented females currently serving at the top of their career in the military fields, but also in sporting fields, and with international athletes across a range of sports. I think we need to utilize them as a recruiting tool in order to find active role models to show younger girls that it is a career that can be so beneficial, it can be very, very rewarding, but also that can be done in conjunction with having a family.
AOS: Could we step back to the gender action plan, and similarly, could you give some examples of the tasks and measures being called for, implementing at all levels.
JL: If we start at our training branch, what we said is that they currently have to examine all the career course syllabi that exists within the defense forces, be it for army, navy and air corps. They have to examine them, look at the current gender training, if there is any, that’s in those courses, and then come up with what should be in it.
Now, I’ve given them the lectures; I’ve told them what each course should have. And what we’ve done is an induction, whether you are inducted into the defense forces as a cadet or as a recruit, you will receive a block of training on gender perspective, gender awareness. And then, as you progress up through your career, every time you hit a career course—so, whether it be a young officers course, whether it be an potential NCO [non-commissioned officer] course, whether you’re going for a promotion to colonel or you are going for promotion to sergeant or sergeant major—that at various stages, you will then receive further gender training that will be aligned with the responsibility of the higher rank that you’re hoping to attain.
What we’re trying to do is to keep it progressive in nature, but also to ensure that as people move through their careers, it’s something that’s been regularly brought to their attention, and that its been utilized on career courses. So say, if you’re on your course and you’re planning an operation, it’s at the forefront of your mind that you need to consider gender in your operations in order to ensure that we are integrating a gender perspective into those plans. That’s one example.
Again, from a training perspective, we’ve looked all our overseas predeployment training, and actually what we found is that we’re actually doing a lot of this. We’re doing a lot of the gender training, but we weren’t calling it gender training or we weren’t calling it 1325 training. What we were looking at is human rights training, and then we dealt with human rights of women. So, what we’ve done is we’ve formalized a lot of what we have in place, and we’ve come up with a set standard predeployment training module—gendered—that every person going overseas, regardless of their, rank will receive.
And what it does is it covers basics: What is gender, gender perspectives, gender awareness. Then we talk a about gender analysis—so, why we need to be aware of women and why we need to get data. Then we move on to looking at gender-based violence, looking at the UN blue card—the code of conduct for soldiers; we call it our soldier’s card. And what we’ve done is we’ve taken the UN blue card, and we’ve made an Irish version of it, so, it’s basically the same thing, it’s a code of conduct, but we’ve actually strengthened it, we’ve made it even stronger than the UN recommends to ensure zero-tolerance policy.
And we’ve tried to empower the soldiers. We’ve come up with reporting mechanisms. So, when they travel overseas, they know exactly—if they feel that there’s something askew, or they encounter gender-based violence, or we’ve told them what they need to look out for sexual exploitation, for human trafficking, this kind of thing—that they know there’s someone there they can talk to and report it to, and then hopefully remedial action is taken.
Also what we’ve done is the Irish Defense Forces now when they deploy a large mission overseas—so generally infantry company plus up to a battalion—that the chief of staff of that unit will be a gender advisor—basically they’re the second-in-command of the unit, and they are now holding that appointment. We try to send them over to Sweden to do the gender field advisor course so they are then operating at the highest level within our leadership overseas, and they have gender perspective.
And also what we’ve done is we’ve ensured that we hold gender focal point training and we make sure that there is a person from each of the tactical units who is qualified as a gender focal point. Because at the end of the day, they’re the people conducting the operations. We’re hoping that by having a gender focal point embedded at the lowest tactical level, but having a gender advisor or a gender field advisor at the highest chief of staff level, that we can get the message to come from the top down, but also from the bottom up as well.
AOS: Both the gender focal points as well as the gender advisors, would you say there are men as well as women taking on those roles in Irish peacekeeping?
JL: Absolutely. We only stand, as I said, 6.2 percent are women. So, invariably, there are a lot more men in those positions. Normally, I would find that the chief of staff—purely by virtue of the fact that we don’t have as many women in the higher ranks because women [have only been]in our defense forces for thirty years—so generally, the gender advisors traveling overseas in those divisions will be men at the moment, but that will change obviously, as more women pass up through the chain of command. But the gender focal points—absolutely, that should be a total mix. And if anything I would push that it should be a male as opposed to a female, because the last thing we want is females getting pigeonholed and put into certain jobs just purely because of their sex.
AOS: Finally, just to return to the numbers question. Women make up now around ten percent of UN police and three percent of uniform peacekeepers. A number of people have pointed out that achieving greater gender equality is not just about the numbers; we’ve talked a lot today, I think, about all of the other factors that are at play. What do you think are the key obstacles that remain to getting those numbers up and increasing the deployment of women in UN peace operations.
JL: First of all we have to get our numbers up at home. And that’s across the board, all the organizations, because I know the UN wants greater numbers. And that’s perfect. However, we currently have, as I said, 6 percent of females. We have 4.8 percent of females serving overseas. If we’re trying to increase that number—the 4.8 percent of those serving overseas—what’s going to happen is we’re going to put increased pressure on the women who are serving to go overseas.
And I said this to you before, if we do that, what we’re actually doing is we’re not taking into consideration the fact that there are periods in a woman’s life when she is not going to be available to go overseas. So, we have to factor this in. If a woman is having children, we have to allow for approximately two years, three years for a pregnancy and a baby before she is then ready to go back overseas again.
So, what can we do to change this? One is, we can—well, we have to—increase the number of women in our defense forces, first of all. But the other thing is I don’t necessarily feel we need to have women just to get a gender perspective across. It should be men getting the gender perspective into our operations. It’s not just women who can do this. It must be done by both men and women if it’s going to succeed.
AOS: Jayne, thank you so much for sharing these perspectives with us today.