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Women's Rights: A Matter of Peace and Stability

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On this International Women's Day, it is fitting that we reflect upon United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted almost ten years ago. With this resolution, the United Nations recognized that conflict disproportionately impacts civilians, and particularly women. It remains a powerful call to protect those who are most vulnerable in conflicts and their aftermath, and to enhance the participation of women in building peace and security.

Unfortunately, women and girls still suffer excessively from conflicts and the lawlessness of post-conflict environments. At the same time, women are far too often excluded from playing a role in maintaining, restoring, and defending stability.

NATO understands this dilemma. Our military authorities have developed guidelines for the integration of gender issues into NATO planning and operations. We also have increased the proportion of women on NATO's political staff, and we have studied carefully the significance of gender issues in Afghanistan.

I suggest three courses of action.

First, we need to become more attentive to women's concerns in our areas of operations. High-level gender advisors already serve in our Headquarters in Kabul, and many Provincial Reconstruction Teams now employ gender experts. The United States Marine Corps has even begun fielding all-women military units in some of the most troubled Afghan provinces. All the same, we still lack sufficient numbers of trained gender specialists, female interpreters, and women soldiers.

Secondly, we must incorporate more women into our forces. NATO countries are not perfect when it comes to gender equality, and we have our own progress to make. Today, the number of women employed in Allied armed forces varies greatly. In some NATO armies, the percentage of women is as high as 18 per cent. In others, it is as low as 3 per cent.

Finally, we need greater cooperation and coordination among international institutions on issues concerning women, peace, and security. Governmental and non-governmental institutions have much to benefit from cross-training and education. After all, for training and operations in the field, we will likely draw on the same pool of resources.

There is a deeper issue here.

Many of the world's longest and deadliest conflicts - in Congo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and elsewhere - occur in regions where women's rights are often infringed. As the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has recently written, "[C]ountries that marginalize women often end up unstable."

If this is true, then the empowerment of women in unstable countries benefits not only them, but all of us. It is, to my mind, a crucial component of a comprehensive approach to the security challenges of the 21st century. During this International Women's Day, we should remember that allowing all women to exercise their full rights is not only an obvious moral imperative. It may have far-reaching geopolitical consequences as well.

Would a world in which women enjoyed rights equal to those of men be safer and more stable? It is difficult to say, but ultimately a lasting peace in many of the world's most troubled areas may depend upon the answer.

On that note, I hope you enjoy the video below, and please feel free to visit my blog.