Issues Navigator

Global Challenges

Strategic Regions

Domestic Debates

Tag cloud

See All Tags

March 5, 2010 |  3 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Stefanie  Babst

NATO's Women

Stefanie Babst: Although NATO and women are not two words that typically go together, the organization is taking a number of actions to increase the representation of women both in policy and on the ground. NATO is an active supporter of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.

NATO and women – words that do not necessarily make a natural connection in peoples’ minds. It is either men in uniform or in dark suits, the diplomats’ preferred outfit, that populate NATO’s corridors and committee rooms and, more importantly, take decisions. Still, you must look hard to find women at NATO’s senior political level: the French Ambassador is an exception: being the only woman at the table of the North-Atlantic Council, Mme Andreani can be rather easily spotted. The vast majority of senior posts in NATO’s International Staff, however, are still held by men. Only two of the 19 civilian top posts are currently occupied by women. Up to now, the Alliance has never appointed a senior female envoy or special representative, nor a woman Secretary General or Deputy Secretary General. Given the number of Allies which have women Foreign and Defence Ministers, the latter is somewhat surprising. The governments of Croatia and Iceland and are even run by woman Prime Ministers and Germany has its female Chancellor.

Yet a closer look tells a different, more encouraging story. During the past years more and more women have found their professional way into NATO. Although still a minority, they are doing excellent jobs across NATO’s political and military agenda. They deal with defence policies and procurement issues, they act as political advisors to NATO’s Senior Representative in Kabul and run the Science for Peace and Security Programme. They prepare NATO’s committee meetings, the Secretary General’s checklists and analyses on NATO’s operations. In short, women are adding significantly to NATO’s workforce, both inside Headquarters and in the field.

NATO’s gender and diversity policy, that the Allies adopted in 2002, has certainly helped women to break the ceiling in a field traditionally dominated by men. In the past years the number of women applying for NATO jobs has steadily grown. Meanwhile a NATO Office on Gender Perspective works on the implementation of a specific Action Plan and a NATO Military Committee on Gender Perspectives facilitates the exchange of gender-related policies among NATO and Partner nations.

More importantly, NATO has begun to make a serious effort to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Adopted on 31 October 2000, Resolution 1325 proposes an ambitious, wide-ranging set of actions. It calls upon states and international organisations to actively protect women and children from violence in armed conflicts, prosecute sexual war crimes, mainstream a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations, improve specialised training and support local women’s peace initiatives. In addition, the resolution urges Member States to ensure increased participation of women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, expand the role of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and propose more women candidates to become UN special representatives and envoys.

It is extremely encouraging that the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has decided to commit himself to this issue. Addressing an international gathering of 400 mostly female security professionals in Brussels at the end of January, he acknowledged the important role women can and should play in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations and on the international and national decision-making level. His message was echoed by Margot Wallström, the newly appointed UN Special Representative tasked with combating sexual violence against women and children in conflicts, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Maria Teresa Fernandez la la Vega, Spain’s First Vice-President, in stressing that implementing Resolution 1325 is a matter of necessity rather than choice.

So far the NATO Allies have started to tackle Resolution 1325 primarily from the military end: they approved concrete guidelines for the integration of gender issues into all NATO planning and operations, including a Code of Behaviour for military personnel. They created dedicated posts for gender advisors to support ISAF commanders in Afghanistan and are discussing how to enhance training and co-operation on gender issues in concert with the European Union, UN and other international organisations. In addition, many of the Allies pursue national Action Plans to strengthen the implementation of Resolution 1325. Finally, NATO’s policy on combating human trafficking also helps to protect women, through the definition of guidelines of behaviour and training for civilian and military personnel deployed in NATO operations.

This is all good news but now that the Secretary General has added his personal weight, a more ambitious course of action may be within reach. In Afghanistan and other operational areas NATO could engage local women groups more systematically and support their competencies building. Connecting NATO more closely with global womens’ networks would also be very useful. There are plenty of good initiatives and programmes aimed at empowering women’s participation in peace and security issues. Partnering, for example, with the Club of Madrid, the Hunt Foundation or the Global Women’s Group would certainly be beneficial for the Alliance’s contribution to the Comprehensive Approach. Fostering efforts to raise more interest in transatlantic security issues among the generation of young women, both in Member and Partner countries, is already one of NATO’s top communication priorities for the future. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Public Diplomacy Division invited a group of young female defence specialists to Brussels and there are more outreach programme for women in the pipeline.

Just like their counterparts in the EU, NATO’s female Defence and Foreign Ministers may also want to meet occasionally and discuss how their political influence could help to boost the implementation of Resolution 1325. So could, by the way, the female Ambassadors from Allied and Partner countries in Brussels. Last but not least it would also be an important signal if the Organisation reinforced its efforts to train and mentor NATO’s women more systematically with the aim to have more senior female role models in the near future.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Resolution 1325 later this year there will be many opportunities for governments, international organisations, NGOs and others to reflect upon what more could be done to implement this groundbreaking resolution across the board. Thanks to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, NATO’s contribution to 1325 will remain on top of the Allies’ agenda. This is great news for all, including NATO’s women.

Dr. Stefanie Babst is the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. She is one of NATO’s most senior women in the International Secretariat. The views expressed in this article are solely her personal ones and do not represent an official NATO position.

8 March at 16:00 - Live video discussion on the occasion of International Women’s Day, moderated by Dr. Stefanie Babst, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy.

Panelists: Mr. Terje Hagen, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources, who is responsible for NATO’s gender and diversity policy; Mrs. Laurie Muir, Staff Officer in the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division, who chairs the NATO Task Force on UNSCR 1325; and Brigadier General Jan Peter Spijk, who has been actively involved in this issue at Allied Command Operations.

Related Material from Atlantic Community:

  • 16
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this Article! What's this?

Member deleted

March 3, 2010

  • 3
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
The criminal statistics have invariably shown that men in general harbour more violent tendencies whereas the women display more peaceful ones.

On the bases of this fact I am inclined to assume that greater representation of women in NATO at all levels may have an appreciable contribution to the development of a more peaceful world order, that is, a better global enviroment to live in with greater pleasure.

Unregistered User

March 4, 2010

  • 0
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Congratulations, there is no doubt, that all women are a most important ingredient to a successful military and its operations.
But this is not just to be applied to NATO, it is rather offensive when put in context with the advancement of the women in Afghanistan prior to the West's (NATO) covert activities in support of the Mujahadeen and Taliban.
During the Soviet Period in Afghanistan, Kabul, its rulers and their spouses brought about
remarkable progress for the rights of women, from right to vote, minimum age of marriage,
mandatory education and schooling--- to the first female Army Gneral ( combat ) the female Afghan
Parachutist Katol Mohammadazai at age 38.---------

Tags: | athens/ military |
Salvador Santino F Regilme

March 4, 2010

  • 1
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
It is no doubt that many security conflicts, in which the NATO is involved, have some gender dimension to it, as for instance political violence inflicted against women as the vulnerable minority. As what contemporary management theory would probably dictate, diversity in organizations brings more ideas in the decision-making table. Certainly, increasing the number of women in NATO from the lowest bureaucratic levels up to the top decision-making levels appears to be a desirable option for increasing diversity in the organization leading to organizational effectiveness. The only debatable point then is whether to place special quota for women or simply a proactive role on the part of the NATO to just encourage women from applying.

Commenting has been deactivated in the archive. We appreciate your comments on our more recent articles at


You are in the archive of all articles published on from 2007 to 2012. To read the latest articles from our open think tank and network with community members, please go to our new website