United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS), adopted in October 2000, put women at the center of the dialogue on peace and security for the first time. The resolution recognized the undervalued and underappreciated contributions women make to conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. It also stressed the importance of women’s equal and full participation in peace and security.
Since 2000, the UN has adopted eight more resolutions, each of which has widened the scope and breadth of gendered peace and security.1 They have changed practitioners’ understanding of the subject and challenged the international community, including NATO, to pay closer attention to it. Together, the resolutions make up the international policy framework for questions related to women, peace, and security and provide guidance to promote and protect the rights of women in conflicts and postconflict situations.
Since the adoption of the resolutions, the issue has gained remarkable traction in many international organizations, including NATO. The resolutions represented a significant political shift for the alliance: they pushed NATO to recognize that women’s experiences and roles in conflict and peacemaking are a matter of international peace and security. There is now widespread agreement that NATO must serve as a role model for the implementation of the rights of women in peace and security across the alliance’s three core tasks: collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management.
The allies have started acting on this recognition. In 2018, the alliance’s heads of state and government revised the NATO Policy on Women, Peace, and Security, developed within the fifty-nation Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, in line with the principles enshrined in the UN Security Council resolutions.2 The new document outlined integration, inclusiveness, and integrity as key principles for allies and partners, drawing on the alliance’s values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Integration is about guaranteeing that gender equality is a core part of all NATO policies, programs, and projects. It promotes gender mainstreaming as a process and seeks to integrate a gender perspective into all of the alliance’s work.
Inclusiveness is about increasing the numbers of women across NATO and in national forces, as well as promoting more women in leadership positions. Greater representation of women is vital to enhancing diversity, which, in turn, improves the effectiveness of NATO policies. This applies in allied countries and in overseas operations, where the strategic context frequently demands local cultural understanding, which flows from organizational diversity.
Finally, integrity means that those deployed on NATO missions and operations need to observe the highest standards of behavior, whatever the circumstances. This improves trust and faith in the alliance. To ensure equal treatment, dignity, and respect for women in war and peace, allies should have zero tolerance of any form of sexual exploitation or abuse, in line with international norms and standards.
While the primary responsibility for implementing these resolutions rests with individual nations, NATO—as a regional military alliance and a security organization—has significant contributions to make. The continuous commitment of NATO allies and partners to the WPS priorities is woven through NATO’s core tasks.
Issues at Stake
By 2016, nearly 41 percent of NATO member states had established policies and laws to integrate gender perspectives into the armed forces. Ninety-six percent of allies have opened positions in the military to women, 81 percent have provided training programs on preventing sexual harassment, and 74 percent have trained gender advisers.3
NATO has successfully integrated gender perspectives into its mission planning and deployed a network of gender advisers to support its crisis management work. The alliance has worked closely with other international organizations that have invested in WPS and has solidified positive relationships with the European Union (EU), the UN, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe through collaboration on a number of initiatives.
The alliance has also made progress by integrating gender into core policy documents, including on topics such as counterterrorism and the use of small arms and light weapons. One of NATO’s most important developments has been the creation of the post of the secretary general’s special representative on women, peace, and security in the alliance’s civilian political structure. This move represents a symbolic commitment by NATO to the WPS agenda.4
Civil society has a crucial role in promoting and mainstreaming the WPS agenda in member states. In 2016, NATO established a Civil Society Advisory Panel to help allies improve women’s outreach and engagement. A 2018 review of the panel identified some challenges to the integration of civil society’s voice into NATO’s work.5 In response, the allies agreed on new terms of reference for the office and established a new panel that places more focus on the voices of women from countries in conflict. The work that NATO has undertaken with members of the panel has allowed women from many countries, including conflict-affected states, to better understand the alliance’s goals.
NATO’s public diplomacy also plays an essential role in mainstreaming the WPS agenda, in civil society and beyond. Staff at the alliance’s headquarters have taken to the task well, organizing conferences and seminars at which experts and people from different backgrounds discuss and share best practices.
The allies understand that reform must be accompanied by training and awareness raising. NATO continues to develop education and training programs and tools to better integrate gender perspectives, led either by individual nations or by NATO as an organization. A network of gender focal points across the alliance is tasked with gender mainstreaming to ensure smoother and more comprehensive integration of gender perspectives into NATO’s daily work.
Overall, NATO as an organization is moving in the right direction on the WPS agenda. The alliance’s related policy and action plans are comprehensive and clear. NATO’s focus on the three I’s of integration, inclusiveness, and integrity has encouraged more women to join military services and can serve as a model for other organizations.
However, there are still challenges and persistent obstacles to guaranteeing that WPS is securely embedded into the alliance’s work. NATO’s long-term goal should be to integrate gender perspectives into all of the alliance’s policy areas by recognizing the topic as part of everyday business. Taking this into account, NATO should consider the following solutions.
NATO’s WPS action plan should specify responsibilities for implementation at different levels. The creation of a separate committee, task force, or other supervisory body to make implementation more effective and controlled could help resolve this issue.
Each ally should adopt a national action plan on WPS, as requested by the UN to support the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325. These action plans could include a budget and a monitoring system to report on member states’ activities and achievements.
NATO should engage more civil society actors, nongovernmental organizations, and international and national bodies in the implementation of the WPS agenda. The alliance should strengthen its cooperation with civil society through regular engagement, bilaterally as well as through the Civil Society Advisory Panel. The latter is an important bridge between NATO and civil society that can help mainstream the WPS agenda. To do this more effectively, the alliance should engage with all genders.
NATO should make greater use of lessons learned and best practices in training and capacity building. Experiences shared by champions and role models are particularly useful in promoting change.
Finally, the alliance needs to regularly research women’s perceptions of defense and security to gain a better, more up-to-date understanding of the subject. The information that emerges from this research should serve as a basis for action plans, policies, and other activities. NATO’s efforts to identify women’s perceptions of peace and security are a good start.6 The alliance should encourage nations to participate in a broad assessment of this and similar initiatives.
The Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association would like to acknowledge the intellectual contribution of Mariita Mattiisen to this chapter.
1 UN Security Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015), and 2467 (2019).
2 “NATO/EAPC Women, Peace and Security Policy and Action Plan 2018,” NATO, 2018, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2018_09/20180920_180920-WPS-Action-Plan-2018.pdf.
3 “Summary of the National Reports of NATO Member and Partner Nations to the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives,” NATO, 2016, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2018_01/1801-2016-Summary-NR-to-NCGP.pdf.
4 Katharine Wright, “NATO’s Adoption of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security: Making the Agenda a Reality,” International Political Science Review 37, no. 3 (2016): 350–361, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0192512116638763.
5 Annex 3 of “Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace and Security: Report of the Second Annual Meeting, Brussels, 1st–3rd October 2017,” NATO, November 17, 2017, https://www.eata.ee/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Report-and-recommendations-of-the-2nd-CSAP-Annual-Meeting.pdf.
6 “Resilience and Resolution: A Compendium of Essays on Women, Peace and Security,” NATO, March 8, 2019, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2019_03/20190307_190308-wps-essays-en.pdf.