EU, NATO officials call for gender equality

January 28, 2010

By Sangeeta Shastry

European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

European Union and NATO officials have joined forces in calling
for new efforts to ensure women are more involved in peacekeeping
and conflict resolution. But differences remain on how to do so, and
on whether gender quotas are the solution.

Officials told a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that women
were not represented sufficiently in policymaking and that impunity
for crimes against women remained a problem, despite United Nations
resolutions that are supposed to address such issues.

One of these, 10-year-old Resolution 1325, is intended to
protect women and enhance their participation in peacekeeping.
The other, Resolution 1888, was passed last year and
addresses sexual violence during periods of conflict.    

Panellists said women were disproportionately victimised in
conflicts and marginalised in peace efforts, and that this had a
serious impact on global security and stability.

“This is not a women’s issue, but it’s a human rights
issue,” said Margot Wallstrom, vice president of the European
Union executive, the European Commission. “And I’ve come to
realise that the security of a nation is best measured by the
security of its women.”

Spain has made tackling violence against women a priority
for its six-month EU presidency, and European Commission
President Jose Manuel Barroso called repeatedly for women to be
strongly represented when member states were choosing their
candidates to be part of his new executive.

But the European Women’s Lobby said there was “a lack of
true political will and commitment to include women and gender
equality issues into all the stages and all the levels.”

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la
Vega said individual countries and international organisations
should make binding legal commitments to women.

“Peace is not just the absence of war,” she said. “It promotes
cohesion, progress, personal development and family and
community development.”

But there was no consensus when Wallstrom raised the idea of
introducing quotas for women to help bring political gender
parity.  NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen proposed
gender targets as an alternative.

“Speaking as the secretary general of a military alliance, I
don’t think it’s realistic to have quotas…taking into
consideration different traditions in countries,” Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

“But having said that, let me add that we set targets for
weaponry capabilities, so why couldn’t we and why shouldn’t we
set targets for participation of women in our military forces?”

Madeleine Albright, a former US Secretary of State who is head of an
international panel that is working to update NATO’s mission statement
agreed.  “All the qualities that women have make them good gender
advisors because they understand the difficulties of what it’s
like to try to balance all those different issues,” she said.

Gender Field Advisor Linda Johansson of the Swedish armed
forces cited personal experience communicating with female
citizens in conflict zones.   

“We need more female troops to participate in work,” she
said. “It can be done in a military force, and we just need to
start doing it.”

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