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Historical archive

“Sexual violence, the armed forces and military operations”

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

- We need to combine our efforts and skills in order to make progress in the work against sexual violence in conflict. Additionally, greater political determination is needed, Minister of Defence Grete Faremo said.

Norwegian Defence University College Conference “Sexual violence, the armed forces and military operations”
Gamle Logen, 17 June 2011
Address bu Minister of Defence Grete Faremo

Dear All,

Let me start by thanking the "gender-project" at the Norwegian Defence University College for initiating this conference. We need to combine our efforts and skills in order to make progress in the work against sexual violence in conflict. Additionally, greater political determination is needed.

I would like to especially thank Margot Wallstrøm for visiting Norway, attending this conference and for giving such an inspiring lecture. Her unit at the UN is making great progress. And I am convinced that the report she presented today; "UN Action's Analytical Inventory and training guidelines", will benefit us greatly in the future.

Sexual violence demands a broad approach. Our primary focus should be on women’s need for protection, in war and armed conflicts. Furthermore, we have to underline the significance of female participation in the prevention and resolution of conflict and in peace-building. Women are both victims and agents of change. This balanced perspective is essential.

Women are particularly vulnerable and often targets in war and armed conflicts. They have had little influence on conflict resolution and peace-building. They now need to be included. Their equal right to participation is undisputed. Furthermore, they have the ability to play an important role. Just look at women’s involvement in conflict resolution in Liberia.

It is important to remember that the initiative for resolution 1325 came from those women who had experienced armed conflicts, suppression and physical violence. In some conflict areas, being a woman is more dangerous than being a soldier.

This challenges the traditional concept of security, which traditionally has been state-centric. The new security dimensions do not only concern states, but human security as well.

This begs the question: What does security entail to women?

My address today will firstly focus on why women's need for protection and women's right to participation are important security policy issues and concerns for the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Secondly, I will turn to Norway´s implementation of resolution 1325 and the role of the armed forces in this regard.

Norway is engaged in multiple international operations, and our most extensive engagement is currently the operation in Afghanistan. This is not a conflict where sexual violence is being used as a systematic weapon of war. Nevertheless, women´s rights have suffered serious setbacks due to 30 years of civil war, and women in Afghanistan are to a great extent victims of gender based violence.

In other conflicts where Norway has been or is engaged, such as the Balkans and in Africa, sexual violence as a weapon of war is present. And the tales coming out of Libya are alarming. We may be sure of one thing: We will face it again.

We may expect that different parties to armed conflicts in which we are engaged, utilize sexual violence as a weapon of war. What do we do about this? To what degree do our forces address women’s need for protection? Can their involvement contribute to enhancing women´s involvement in political processes?

Soldiers are role-models and have to behave responsibly when partaking in international operations. Apart from the obvious adherence to the code of conduct, what attitudes and values are they exhibiting? How do they behave toward the women they encounter? How do they behave toward their female comrades? In mentoring local military personnel, what values do they communicate?

Why is it important to have a gender perspective in international operations important?

- Better fulfillment of our mandates. Our mandates dictate that we contribute to security for the whole population — women and men alike. This can only be achieved through implementing a gender perspective.
- Human rights. By having a gender perspective, we can better contribute to ensuring the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts.
- Operational effectiveness. Having a gender perspective will enhance the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces, for instance by contributing to greater situational awareness.

Engaging women is about security and smart policies; about creating the best solutions possible and the most prudent policies. Peace processes where half of the population is excluded are not sustainable.

Women are pivotal in improving local conditions in fields such as health care, food production and education to mention some – and as such in contributing to building democracy and sustainable peace.  Around the world, war and peace are too important to be left to men only.

It is counterproductive to neglect women. This is why it is so important for us to counter the occurrence of systematic sexual violence perpetrated against women, as these crimes do not only come at a terrible cost to each of the women - but to the local community as well. 

Norway wants to be at the forefront of international efforts to counter systematic use of sexual violence in conflict. This is why I tasked the Norwegian Armed Forces in 2010 to develop guidelines on sexual violence in conflict.  This work has not yet been completed, and I look forward to receiving the recommendations.  

Implementation of 1325/1820 in the Norwegian Armed Forces

How do we implement the obligations laid out in resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions in our armed forces and in international operations?

In 2007, the Norwegian Armed Forces were directed to implement resolution 1325. And it is no secret that the armed forces have struggled with realizing this task.

This is why we have produced a list of 21 measures for the defence sector to assist the implementation. We must turn words into action.

Our focus is first and foremost focus on the application of a gender perspective in operations. We need to increase knowledge about what this entails. An institutional and holistic approach is required.

Secondly, we must hold military leaders accountable. And let me be clear on this. I want all leaders of all ranks in the Armed Forces to implement this. Personal preferences concerning the relevance of 1325 have no place here. I want to see leaders instructing their units and demanding results.  I want to see military leaders at conferences like this one. There is much here to learn, for them as well.

Thirdly, we are working to recruit more women. Female soldiers and officers are important assets for doing a better job in operations abroad in general, and also in relation to 1325, as recognized by, and called for in resolution 1325. That said, we need to stress that implementing 1325 is the responsibility of the entire international community – not just that of women or female military personnel.

I often hear people in the Armed Forces complain that resolution 1325 is ambiguous. How can we be more concise? This entails how our soldiers patrol, who they talk to, who they meet, how they create security around areas where women meet, and how they can provide protection for girls on their way to and from school. We have to understand women’s security needs in order to meet them. And we have to listen to women to ensure those needs are met. By engaging women we gain a better understanding of the situation where our soldiers operate. At the same time, we must ensure that our approach does not expose the women to risks they themselves are not prepared to faces.

Let me add that if 1325 and all it entails sounds complicated and ambiguous – well, then, take the time to educate yourself and your staff. A conference such as this one provides an excellent opportunity. I salute all those attending the conference today.

Institutional Approach

If we are to succeed with the implementation of 1325, we will need the organization on our side.

This in turn means that the Norwegian Armed Forces must strengthen its ability to include a gender perspective in the planning, execution and evaluation of operations, as well as training and education.

Prior to an operation, a gender-analysis of the area of operation should be conducted. Routine instructions on how soldiers and officers should behave in the field must be reviewed and revised. And eventually reporting must include gender-specific activities.

We will support academic discourse on the subject, to gain more knowledge on the issue. We will consider coaching leaders and other key personnel. We will recruit more women to operational units. By the end of 2011, guidelines for countering sexual violence in war and armed conflicts will be in place.

Implementing a gender perspective in military operations is largely about changing attitudes and gaining a new perspective on how we perceive our military missions. It is demanding work. Which is why I am exceptionally pleased with the gender-project at our Defence University College. Ever since its launch a year and a half ago, the staff have been working diligently with lecturing and educating the armed forces. Attitudes can only be changed through knowledge and experience, and by making our military leaders prime stakeholders in this endeavor. They cannot rely solely on the Defence University College to do the job
They must themselves seek the knowledge and pass it on to their unit.

To carry out 1325 our forces are engaging local women. We are identifying possible female agents of change. We are meeting with local women leaders and representatives in our PRT in Meymaneh, we are improving the competence of our personnel and we have established new positions and functions. We are starting to report on the progress of our work.

We have a gender field advisor in our PRT in Meymaneh, who is dedicated towards ensuring the integration of a gender perspective in our operations. The gender field adviser is leading the female engagement team in the PRT.

Additionally, we have a full-time Gender Advisor in the ISAF HQ. And we are deploying an officer to the NATO Training Mission — Afghanistan (NTM-A) in Kabul. He will advise Afghan officers and police about gender and human rights. This is an excellent example of how 1325 is not only about women, but equally about men, our male soldiers and local male powerbrokers.

Much work remains. In Afghanistan our approach should be permeated by a gender perspective – not just from a few specialists, but from the entire organisation.

Our military forces are training and mentoring the Afghan forces to protect and respect local woman. By doing so, we hope to influence men´s attitudes towards women. The latter is probably the most important part of what we do to prevent sexual violence against women. The brutal sexual assaults against women in the Congo and other countries are not only part of military strategies. They are expressions of sexual aggression and hatred against women.

This is why Defence and Security Sector Reform is such an important measure to prevent sexual violence against women. It is an important tool in assuring a continued focus on gender – and it is key to making important changes possible. I believe this tool has not yet been used to its full capacity. Norway is deeply committed to Security Sector Reform, in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, in the Horn of Africa and we are considering stepping up our efforts in Sudan. From the defence side, this is one of the most important measures we undertake to contribute to the implementation of resolution 1820.

A larger portion of women in the Norwegian Armed Forces

Resolution 1325 calls for an increase of the number of female military personnel in the armed forces. More women will ensure a more competent force, a broader spectrum of competence. Research shows that women have a tendency to be more dialogue-oriented and may bring a different mindset to conflict resolution and prevention. Furthermore, female military personnel often send important signals to the local population. Increased recruitment of women provides the armed forces with more tools for the toolbox.

We know one thing; we are no better abroad than we are at home. If the leaders and employees of the armed forces are not conscious about equality and human rights, such issues may be easily forgotten in operations. We not only bring our weapons, we also carry our values. Let us be aware of and honour these values.

We have a job to do at home as well. According to a new survey, sexual harassment and assault occurs in the Norwegian Armed Forces. We have various surveys showing different figures. Typically, the number of women who have experienced such treatment is significantly higher than men. Now we are working to find out more. Such findings are completely unacceptable. Appropriate measures are being implemented.

Let me assure you that I will monitor progress in this area. It is related to today’s topic. There is a limit as to what we tolerate — among our own, alliance partners or local associates. On several occasions, the ISAF command has expressed criticism about Afghan development adverse to the promotion of women’s rights. ISAF is not willing to defend governments regardless of their agenda or human rights record. Therefore, we cannot either. Let me remind you that if we neglect women and women’s rights we actually make a conscious choice — for the suppressors of women.


I hope this will be a day of learning for us all. I would like to finish by thanking the Norwegian Defence University College for organizing this conference. Today´s conference is historic in its focus and expertise.
Let me call on all good forces to combine in the effort to combat sexual violence in war and conflict. We have our work cut out for us!

Thank you for your attention

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