Opening statement by Ine Eriksen Søreide at the 15-year Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in Norway

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this opening statement at the 15-year Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in Norway, Military Hospital, November 19.

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Distinguished guests, dear friends, ladies – and especially – gentlemen,

Peace and stability is one common cause. It requires the contributions of more than one – we need the efforts of many.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (I will refer to it as “1325” for the rest of my remarks) is an effort of many; it is an effort by the entire international community.

It was a milestone when adopted 15 years ago. We committed ourselves to a political agenda addressing gender equality, human rights and the empowerment of women. We did so to promote not only peace and stability, but also political legitimacy, social stability and economic efficiency for society at large.

This commitment has not lost its relevance. On the contrary. We must continue to deliver on our commitments in a world that is becoming increasingly unstable and complex.

Today, human rights are being challenged in a number of areas by forces aiming to destabilize the world and to undermine human dignity. As we gather here today we are still in a state of shock and sorrow following the terrible attacks in Paris last Friday. We mourn with those hardest hit and we reaffirm our deepest compassion with the French people.

And a few days ago, a mass grave of 80 women was discovered in Iraq. These women were targeted simply for being women, and for belonging to the Yazidi minority. Eye witnesses have reported that while older women were shot by ISIL troops, younger women were taken as sex slaves.

In a world that sometimes feel adrift, we need something firm to hold on to:

The value of human dignity, and the postulation that human rights extend to women is the bedrock of UNSCR 1325. Human right are universal rights, to which all nations have signed up. Women’s rights are human rights, not something else, something in a different basket – something less.

I have been working with this issue for six years – only a fraction of the time most of you have put down. But I’ve gathered some lessons that can be summed up in four points regarding women, peace and security:

First, even the most modest goals will not be reached unless we engage men. Women can go on preaching to the converted, but we need male agents of change. Women, peace and security is not only the responsibility of women.

Second, women are not solely victims – we are actors and participants and our actions and participation can change the course and outcome of a conflict.

Third, the women, peace and security agenda is no “side event”. It has to be fully integrated in the main event, be it a peace process or a military operation, to succeed.

Fourth, Norway’s previous experience with gender advisers in our PRT in Afghanistan tells us that a) it is a necessary, but not sufficient tool, b) it has to be a part of the permanent structures.

So, let me go a bit deeper into the four lessons from my perspective as a minister of defence.

The Norwegian Armed Forces have been tasked to plan and execute international operations in which a gender perspective is naturally integrated, and in which female and male professionals carry out the work. I do not want to underplay the challenges this work entails. I do, however, want to stress that we are making great efforts to bridge the gaps.

We do this not only because of our commitment to 1325. We do it because we know that applying a gender perspective in military operations can be decisive in order to fulfil our mandate.

We can de-escalate tension. We can provide better security. We can contribute to women’s participation locally. We can crush the ceilings for local women making themselves heard within their own power structures.

Mission success relies on planning how to create a secure environment for women and men, girls and boys. Mission success also relies on engaging both men and women locally, in order to achieve results. It improves situational awareness. It help us identify our capabilities and become more professional. It ensures better operational effectiveness.

One example: Our Special Forces units have built a programme in which Afghan female police officers are being selected, trained and integrated as Police Counter Terrorist Operators. It is a project that has provided high operational output. 

At home, our Special Forces continue their effort of training female rangers, not because they have been instructed to do so, but because they see the obvious value. Female soldiers are needed in missions. They add value, quite simply. This, to me, is one of several fruitful ways of contributing to the fulfilment of our action plan.  

More importantly, our current missions, or contributions to missions, have been clearly instructed to integrate a gender perspective on the ground. In this effort we work in partnership with allies, to make sure that the effort is comprehensive. And the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces have a close cooperation with the Norwegian Red Cross regarding the law of armed conflict. We work to give each other input both from a theoretical perspective and from a practitioner’s view.

I am glad to observe that NATO is becoming a driving force when it comes to applying a gender perspective. No NATO operation is planned without a gender perspective. It’s about to become part of NATO’s “DNA”. This sends a powerful signal to us, and also reinforces and validates our own efforts in this area.

I want our gender approach to be second to none. We are in this for the long haul, and there will be no respite from our efforts. For that reason, our action plan is result oriented. At the end of the day, it is what we achieve that counts. The military is held accountable in this respect.

We have read with interest the global study commissioned by the UN on the implementation of 1325 after 15 years. This report spans broadly, and we can recognize a lot of our own action plan in the recommendations of this report.

My impression is that the Norwegian action plan is on target. However, I see the need to comment on the issue of militarization. Some of the recommendations of the global study include an emphatic “no to militarization” and “no to securitization” of 1325. The study states that women should never be used as instruments in any military strategy.

But, dear friends, we do not live in an ideal world. Women, peace and security is also security policy. 1325 is about protection, conflict management and peace processes. But it is also about efficient use of military force. The Armed Forces have been tasked with providing security and to contribute to international missions where this is deemed necessary.

The UN calls for military forces which may contribute directly in this respect. They call for more female soldiers to carry out these tasks alongside male colleagues, and they call for a mainstreaming of the gender perspective in military operations.

We are always committed to building military forces that are disciplined, with a strong and unequivocal code of conduct, high respect for international law and for human rights. This is our point of departure when we train our soldiers and officers, and when we conduct operations. Our action plan will involve both civilian and military actors, operating respectfully in an operational environment. We aim not to use people as instruments but as goals in themselves.

In response to this independent study, the Secretary General of the UN has reiterated the UN’s commitment to continue including security and military efforts as key components in the implementation of 1325.

As already stated, 1325 is also about security, which is sadly lacking in many parts of the world. Therefore the need to “securitize” our action plan. We cannot pretend that peace is easily won. Sometimes it is hard fought, sometimes with military as safeguards and protectors. We have an obligation to respond to the world as it is – not as we would like itto be.

Having said that, military action is always a last resort. I want to underline that we should not – and will not - deploy without serious consideration, and without a broader strategy that includes political, humanitarian, economical and other efforts. More often than not, we will conclude that our military forces should stay at home. No one is more aware of the limits of military power than officers themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am a realistic optimist. I can see both the half full and the half-empty glass. That learning takes time is not contradicting the fact that understanding is sinking in.

Let me close by adding a story. Six years ago I attended a meeting in the UN about 1325, chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the first time, there was a substantial number of male world leaders around the table. Secretary Clinton opened the meeting by stating that “violence against women is not cultural, it is criminal”. She also pointed out that research shows that there is often a discrepancy between the description of women’s participation and their real influence. In that meeting six years ago, I can assure you that even if Secretary Clinton was outnumbered by men, her influence was real.