Four Women Leaders Share Thoughts on Gender and Security

Four Women Leaders Share Thoughts on Gender and Security

Four Women Leaders Share Thoughts on Gender and Security

By James E. Brooks
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, GERMANY (June 5, 2017) - A select group of women parliamentarians from eastern Europe traveled to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies May 22-23, to discuss the vital role women must play in national security and how that contribution can be increased.

Experts from international organizations like Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), USAID Albania, and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces guided a series of discussions to examine how women can play a larger part in their nations’ national security decision making processes.

Marshall Center tailored seminars such as this one on gender and security follow a special protocol called Chatham House rule to encourage the free-flow of opinions and information of the participants while ensuring the anonymity of speakers outside the seminar.

But the discussion of gender and security is important.

Four women leaders from four nations shared their thoughts on gender and security outside the umbrella of Chatham House rule. One is a former president of her nation. One leads an American consulate overseas. Two others are parliamentarians in their respective eastern European nations.

Here are their answers to the questions we asked:


Marshall Center: Why is this seminar on Gender and Security so important? Why should we be discussing this at all?

U.S. Consul General, Munich Jennifer Gavito: I think that tailored seminars on gender security are particularly worthwhile because women are so underrepresented across the national security professions. It ranges from anywhere from 10% to 30% depending on specific specialties that you're looking at. But obviously for a society, for a country, to recognize and achieve its true potential you really--and statistics show this-- you need the full participation of women and that includes women in leadership roles. So bringing successful women together who are breaking those barriers to discuss their experiences and ways to help other women is invaluable.

Former President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga: We have seen many global initiatives, throughout the years, been introduced. But women have been lacking with the implementation of these initiatives.   These type of workshops and seminars will contribute if not only in raising awareness but also creating more opportunities to further ideas with the countries participating for them to find the best way to implement within their own countries and societies.

Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on European Integration and Co-Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Inter-Faction Union Mariia Ionova: The last time when we were here at the Marshall Center and we were talking about security reform in Ukraine, we talked about gender issues and we asked to organize such seminar for Ukraine. We know that in all democratic countries if more women are involved, there is less corruption and it’s a more socially-oriented society. That is course why the gender policy is really a priority in Ukraine. Because of Russian aggression and this military aggression, we are trying to do our best all over Ukraine especially in those regions which are under aggression. This topic on gender security is on a high-level especially in the parliament. A year ago, we have adopted two national action plans by the government but we still have to promote this topic and teach our regional and local administration. We want them to know there are women volunteers in this conflict serving in the military and there are mothers and wives who are sending their sons and fathers to the front lines. They are suffering because their relatives have been hostages for three years. So, their voices are really important to inform the whole world how we can fight the aggressors and to fight for human rights, the rule of law, and for democracy.

Parliament of Georgia Deputy Chairperson of Committee on Education, Culture and Science and member of the Gender Equality Council Guguli Magradze: Most of the countries represented here in this seminar are in the process of transition for authoritarian regime to democracy. So in parallel of this movement, it's necessary to have more women in politics and more women in economics. Human empowerment-- it's very crucial for our country's development. It's very interesting when we have possibility to share our experience, to discuss challenges, to discuss problems, and to share our success stories. This kind of seminar is very important for our development.


Marshall Center: One of the topics discussed was using a quota system to increase women participation. But there is often a conflict between a quota system and the quality of participants because of the lack of experience. What are your thoughts?

Magradze: When I was younger, I thought that a quota system was not necessary. But with my experience now, that for quick results, you need quota system. If you are waiting, you are missing so many things that are necessary because for gender equality takes a lot of time. Quota systems are much more better because political parties will begin to look to find active and prominent women. And when women are at least more than 30 percent of the parliament, they can have influence on decision making processes now.

Marshall Center: Kosovo’s Constitution has a quota system for women in leadership. However, you were in charge of the national police before that initiative became law. What made it work for Kosovo and if you were to look back and change anything, what would you do differently?

Jahjaga: Well there's always that feeling that if I could push the time back, I would do things differently. But in the circumstance, the things that we were facing immediately after the end of the war, I think it was the best way and the best approach. First of all, the role of the women in the security sector, being in the police or being in the military, was something new to our society. I have mentioned several times that during the war, during this time of repression, the police was perceived as a tool of war and tool of the repression. And for us, it was important that immediately after the war, we had to change that mindset and the mentality of how the police organization was viewed. It was supposed to be viewed as a service to the people. The only thing that I would change is that maybe I would’ve been more aggressive in my approach on the implementation (of the quota system).


Marshall Center: What are the largest challenges or obstacles preventing women from participating in national security processes? What can women do to be part of the process?

Gavito: I think it's really a combination of factors that prevent women from full participation particularly in the national security sector. Some of the examples though include, of course, culture. The idea of unconscious bias is one that's being hotly debated right now in the United States. But there are also societal differences. Like women feeling pressure to take time off to raise families and coming out of the workforce. The other one that I find personally interesting, is the idea that women don't put themselves forward as often. They don't possess, in some ways, the same inherent confidence in these areas that men do. A lot of times they hold themselves back. Correct me if I’m wrong, I can understand that women actually have a responsibility to force themselves into this discussion.

Women should follow their own interests. If they have an interest in this, they should find other women that have been successful who can mentor them to move into leadership roles. But they also just need to make sure that their voices are heard. Women sitting around a board table often are much less likely to speak up and share their opinions. So it's really just a matter of kind of getting past our own insecurities and recognize that we do have something to add to the conversation.

Ionova: In our society, people demand more from women as they do from men. But women must just do their job professionally and to be an example of a responsible, patriotic citizen of the country. I think that women and men must come together and to be oriented to solving and discussing very important issues. I think that this combination is much more successful than only just a separate women or separate men decision.


Jahjaga: You have to believe in themselves and to believe in their capacity, in their abilities, and not to be afraid of anything and just to move forward. It is in their hands to make the change for their own society and women shouldn't be afraid of being a part of that positive change no matter where they are.  

Gavito: I think that women often let themselves be defined by what society tells them the appropriate role for them. I took on a particularly stressful job right around the birth of my first child and that really required some kind of inner courage to “tune it out,” as you say. To make a decision that was right for me a decision and that was right for my family and not let societal preconceptions interfere.   I think women and men also need to be very clear about what their red lines are, what their expectations are, and voice those so that they don't get themselves into a situation where they're not able to make it. meet expectations because they haven't made those expectations clear they don't like to say about I think that for women who achieve a level of success in their professions, bring to the table as a mentor or as a sponsor. Madeleine Albright once famously said that “there's a special place in hell for women who don't support women.” In order to move past the 30 percent threshold of women in national security we each have a responsibility to go back to our home countries and mentor these up-and-coming women. Encourage them. Demonstrate to them both in in deed and in word that there is a place for them at the table and that they should feel confident in taking it.

Magradze: Be active and not afraid to be self-confident and try to improve life around you. I think from your activity, society will have a great benefit.   Try to be more active and don't be afraid to become a politician.

Ionova: Pay more attention to the media. Speak more freely about gender policy and equal opportunities, not only with other women but also men who are making the decisions. When we talk about women, we should not only be talking about the quantity of women but the quality of women in the decision making process. Explain to men why they need to pay attention to the discussion of women in security and their opinions.