YPFP Brussels: Fighting for Equal Rights

Posted on August 8, 2013

“Sexual violence as a tactic of war is not unpreventable,” says Mari Skåre, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security in an interview with YPFP Brussels.

Prevention and response are tied together she says, adding, “How the contemporary  societies take preventive measures and respond when it happens at the local, national or international level,  says a lot about how such crimes are viewed.”

Following YPFP Brussels’ largest ever event which saw 100 people come together to debate ‘Gender, Violence and War’ in May, Mari Skåre sat down to answer further questions on her priorities and the role young leaders play in solving the issue.


Challenges and Priorities

As the first Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security issues appointed by NATO, Mari Skåre represents the prioritization of women and security issues by Allies and NATO. It is a priority that she deems to be crucial, without political leadership, proper investigations and legal backing, efforts to change attitudes about gender awareness will not work.

“Real changes will only occur once the relevance of implementing the gender perspective in our everyday business is really understood,” she says, adding that young leaders have a great responsibility to build societies where developments are not hampered by inequalities and violence.

Her role has four strategic priorities, she explains: raising awareness and changing mindsets are certainly the most important one, but she is also working on how to better institutionalize the work done within NATO and to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders. Her overall objective is to strengthen the Alliance’s ability to deliver results on the women, peace and security agenda.

“In my view gender equality will not only benefit women, but all of our societies - men and women - boys and girls. I advise young leaders to study and work hard to understand the complexities of the challenges that face us and to respect others,” she says. “To use the words of William Hazlitt: “Prejudice is the child of ignorance.”


Reinforcing Legislation

On 24 June 2013 the UN Security Council strengthened its efforts to end impunity for conflict-related sexual violence by passing Resolution 2160.  “It is a strong signal to perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict: the International Community does not tolerate such crimes,” explains Mari Skåre, but more needs to be done than simply reinforcing legislation.

“To be able to prevent and respond to this in conflict, training and education is key. First and foremost it is a national responsibility, but NATO is strengthening its training curricula. We also need to continue to effectively coordinate and institutionalize the work we do, so that we not only have strong policies but also make a real impact.”


Learning Lessons

Mari Skåre believes that NATO is making a significant contribution to the women, peace and security agenda. However, in many societies, respect for women’s rights and inclusion of women requires societal developments and a broad set of reforms. “At NATO we can only ensure effective implementation of the Security Council resolutions working together with our Member and Partner Countries, and International Organizations,” she emphasizes.

Although it took the Alliance 12 years to appoint a Special Representative on Women Peace and Security, work on the issue was going on behind the scenes before Mari Skåre’s arrival. The appointment of Gender Advisors to the leadership of major operations such as Afghanistan has changed the way the Alliance understands operational activity.

“The lessons learned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo, and especially in Afghanistan gave the opportunity to better understand the role and responsibilities of women during a conflict and in the post conflict era,” explains Mari Skåre.

“My role is only an additional step to pave the way for a comprehensive inclusion of women in the security sector. A necessary step if we want to achieve a sustainable and peaceful society.“