Leadership at all levels is needed to ensure that good intentions and policy commitments to gender inclusiveness in the security forces translate into concrete changes for women serving in, or interacting with, the military and police.
That was one key conclusion from Thursday’s online event in partnership with Friends of Europe, WIIS and EUROMIL which brought together policymakers, members of the security forces and other stakeholders to look at how to promote greater diversity and inclusion.
“We need political will from the highest level to change things, because we have so many action plans, we have so many declarations, we have so many strategies … but we really need to make this a priority at the top,” (7:57) said Hannah Neumann, Member of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Security and Defence.
According to the #SHEcurity Index, women make up only 11% of military staff and 25% of police forces in EU and G20 countries. That’s despite commitments under the UN Security Council’s 2000 resolution on Women, Peace and Security and the 2018 NATO-EU Joint Declaration pledging to ‘aim for swift and demonstrable progress in … promoting the women peace and security agenda.’
Turning such policies into action is the ‘million-dollar question’ said Alan Sneddon, Police Sergeant at Police Scotland. Policies need to be realistic, achievable, measurable and with defined outcomes to be effective on the ground, he said. There also needs to be a cultural change. “Although the police service is a much newer institution than, say, the military, historically that has been a very masculine and heterosexual, white organisation,” Sneddon told the meeting. “You have a culture that has developed over many decades, or centuries, which needs to be rethought and needs to be challenged at times.” (17:25)
Among the practical ideas to bring about change, Neumann urged greater use of quotas and training to ‘upskill those who are used to privilege.’ Flexible working plans are needed to take account of ‘peoples’ lived-live experiences,’ suggested Sneddon. He also advocated ‘reverse mentoring’ to generate understanding of different gender perspectives. There was broad agreement on the need to form an alliance between women, the LGBTIQ+ community and ethnic minorities to achieve progress together, rather than allowing competing agendas to develop.
Marie Meigård, Sergeant Major in the Swedish Armed Forces, said measures to prevent ‘unwelcome behavior’ in the security services are needed more than ever. She too underscored the importance of leadership to overcome the negative cultural legacy and make the armed forces an attractive place for women and minorities to work. “The successful integration of women into combat units depends on the beliefs of the commanders,” she said. “If the commanders believe women can be successful soldiers and that women are just as capable as men, then the units will also become more accepting of female soldiers. I believe this applies to other minorities.”(37:16)
Meigård was among several participants who cautioned against assigning service members specific tasks based on their gender. “You are trained as a solider and you have that training. It’s not important if you are a woman or a man, you have a mission to solve,” she explained. “It should be based on my abilities as a human being, not my gender. (52:24)
Looking at the numbers and role of women and minorities in the forces should not obscure the need for a wider reassessment of security priorities, argued Paul Kirby, Co-Director of the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “There is a real danger … that the work on inclusion in existing institutions detracts from, or even replaces, a more comprehensive transformation of what security means and who it is for,” (46:03) he said. Kirby pointed to the EU’s FRONTEX border agency, nuclear disarmament, and peace-making policy as examples where there is a need for a broader rethink.
Fernando Aguiar, BIC Strategic Advisor on Conflict and EU Politics presented the BIC’s work on gender and security, more specifically on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. “We as an organization are committed to developing solutions to address the cyclical drivers of conflict, including gender inequalities. We place gender equality and women’s empowerment at the very center of our work on conflict resolution”.