Captain Jennifer Wittwer has recently returned from a 7 month deployment to Afghanistan as Gender Advisor. Her role was to assist the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command to implement UNSCR 1325 at the operational and tactical level.
Captain Wittwer has a longstanding career in the Royal Australian Navy and she contributed to Stepping Up prior to her deployment. Below she outlines the importance of gender perspective on achieving peace, security and reconstruction.
Appreciating 'gender perspective' is when both men and women count
Thinking about gender perspective requires a different mindset to the one most people usually deferred to when talking about gender – as leaders we need to look at how to address the impact of any action taken by our organisation on women AND men.
Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs.
While different principles may apply to gender equity issues in Australia, gender perspective is essential in fragile, conflict or post-conflict areas, such as Afghanistan, or Kosovo. This is because here, women and girls, and men and boys experiences and needs are vastly different, although the focus is on women and girls due to their vulnerability and disadvantaged position in many communities.It is this philosophy which underpins efforts by the international military and civil society community to implement the principles of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325), which was adopted in 2000 and has since become the focus of National Action Plans (NAP) by many countries around the globe. This includes Australia, which released its NAP in 2012 to support the United Nations women, peace and security agenda both domestically and overseas.
In this regard, gender mainstreaming is at the core of security, and building solid foundations for peace and reintegration in communities that have suffered conflict. UNSCR 1325 recognises the impact of conflict differs between the genders, and underlines the essential role of women in conflict prevention, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. It also promotes the equal participation of women in decision-making forums, and the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence against men, women and children.
While these are issues not normally faced by men and women in Australia, they are major considerations when defining what activities are required to assist in the process of reconstruction for conflict-impacted communities.
An example of this is the efforts by the international military forces in Afghanistan to help the Afghan Government recruit, build and sustain its national security forces. Given the cultural sensitivities relating to men and women in Afghanistan, women have become an important asset in the operational effectiveness of the Afghan security forces.
Women are employed in the Special Forces, Army and Police to assist with raids on homes; the searching of female occupants; the handling of complaints of sexual and other violence against women and girls; the protection of women and children; and they also fill dedicated positions in family response units. They could not meet their security obligations without these women, who every day, risk their lives doing so: sometimes by merely working, sometimes by being in a police uniform.
The international military has an obligation under UNSCR 1325 to consider these gender issues while supporting the Afghan Government’s efforts to build a sustainable security force, and implement their own gender equality and women’s empowerment policies.
Captain Wittwer with women police officers at Kabul City Police Station, July 2013.
To truly understand the challenges faced by Afghan women, one must meet them. In late June 2013, I was fortunate to meet with around 20 young and older female police officers. Some had traveled discreetly in civilian clothing from areas outside of Kabul and then changed into their uniform to see me.
These women take certain measures to protect themselves daily, from potential suicide bombers to sexual harassment, or worse, from their colleagues. Some were young, with children: there was one women with six children under the age of 10, who had recently lost her police officer husband in a suicide attack. Others were older, who had served the police for over 30 years and remained to mentor others.
Many of them face the same challenges as any working mother in a Western nation; challenges like childcare, working hours, insufficient leave, etc. But all of them exhibited a strength, resilience and defiance that reflects their ambitions for Afghanistan.
This is a picture that defines clearly the reason why UNSCR 1325 is so important, and underpins why and how gender perspective is required to achieve optimal peace, security and reconstruction.
Captain Jennifer Wittwer, CSM, RAN is the Director National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in the Australian Defence Force. She was deployed to Afghanistan from January to August 2013 as a Gender Advisor, assisting the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command to implement UNSCR 1325 at the operational and tactical level.
You can read about the ADF's National Action Plan here