Would the world be a safer, happier place if women made more of the big decisions? Here in Geneva we are surrounded by aid agencies and non-governmental organisations, nearly all of which claim to work hard to promote equal representation of women and to factor gender into their work.This content was published on August 9, 2022 - 17:00
But what about when key security policy is being made, such as defence strategies, disarmament negotiations or conflict resolution? Where are the women then? And how much are women’s concerns factored into the decision-making process? Former United Nations peacekeeper Major General Patrick Cammaert famously saidExternal link that in modern conflict, it’s “more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier”. All the more reason then, to include women in the conversation about peace and security.
That’s what we’re discussing in the latest episodeExternal link of our Inside Geneva podcast (see teaser below). I’m joined by three amazing women: Julia Hofstetter, president of Women in Security Switzerland, Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, head of the gender and disarmament programme at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and Maria Butler, executive director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
All of them make it their business, as Maria puts it, to ask “where are the women?”, and, as Julia adds, to try to ensure their “meaningful participation”.
That of course means much more than ensuring women are present at the table. It means ensuring their voices are heard and that their points of view are taken seriously. If we take the example of the UN, we see some progress – women have led the UN Refugee Agency, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF. But we still haven’t had a female UN Secretary General or a woman as NATO Secretary General.
Jobs for the boys?
As Renata Hessmann Dalaqua tells Inside Geneva, there are areas where the “leadership trays are associated with masculine traits”, so that in disarmament, 70% of the people negotiating arms control are men; just 30% are women.
Research done by Renata and her colleagues at UNIDIR shows that if things continue at their present pace, women will have equal representation in disarmament negotiations in around 20 years. But that’s not the full picture: to get equal representation at head of delegation level will take until 2065. Leading the discussions on how to reduce the numbers of weapons which kill primarily civilians, many of them women and children, seems to remain a job for the boys.
Things are often similar in conflict resolution negotiations. The former UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, insisted on including women in the painstakingly slow - and now paused - negotiations towards a new constitution. But the teams from the Syrian government and opposition are predominantly male.
In Ukraine today, 80% of those displaced are women. The rebuilding of destroyed schools and hospitals is a matter at least as important to them as it is to the men fighting. But when Switzerland hosted the Ukraine Recovery Conference last month, it was, complains Maria Butler “a total man show… where were the women experts, from civil society, working day and night across Ukraine saving lives?”
Not just any women
But will getting more women into the decision-making process necessarily improve things? Julia, Renat, and Maria are not naïve; they are well aware that the simple fact of being a woman does not necessarily mean you are more likely to want peace, or to argue for arms control.
Julia offers a useful, if perhaps over-optimistic, analogy. There are eight men in the world whose combined wealth is equal to that of one-half – the poorest half – of the world’s total population.
“We don’t want four women to replace the four men. We want the wealth spread around more equally,” she says.
In practice she believes a key factor to make sure women’s priorities in security are heard is for those “inside the room” to connect with women “outside the room”. That means consulting as often as possible with women directly affected by conflict and insecurity.
Another challenge however is the common practice of telling women to be patient and that, while their concerns are important, the real crisis needs to be dealt with first before other issues are addressed.
“Women’s issues are often framed as secondary, part of a social agenda rather than a security agenda,” says Julia. They are seen as “luxuries for prosperity times”, adds Renata.
In fact, our Inside Geneva experts agree, women’s concerns, and indeed their proposed solutions to peace and security issues, should be part of crisis response from the very first moment of that crisis.
“We need to make it clear,” says Julia. Without peace and security for everyone “we do not have peace and security at all.”
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