Since the start of the Russian-led conflict in eastern Donbas, women have played a key role in the battle for Ukraine’s sovereignty. According to the Ministry of Defense, there are currently more than 50,000 women in the Ukrainian army.
As part of the country’s National Action Plan, created to establish a framework and strategies for coordinated implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, Ukraine aims to increase the number of women in the military.
Clare Hutchinson, NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, said that to successfully carry out the plan, it’s necessary to ensure women are not only joining the defense forces but also moving up into the ranks.
“There need to be women who are across the board included in defense, and this is in line with the international agreements, and in line with the international action plan,” she said.
Hutchinson said, generally, conflict affects women differently to men.
“Women are disproportionately impacted. Quite often we have in conflict issues such as conflict-related sexual violence, IDPs, refugees, children, unaccompanied minors, we see these in all conflicts,” she said.
“Protecting women means that we also have to hear women, and we have to hear what they have to tell us, and sometimes we seem to provide legislative process without actually including women's voices.”
She said it was vital to “have an equal measure of women's political engagement” to advance policies around better protections.
Hromadske spoke to Clare Hutchinson, NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, about how to advance women’s role in military, gender equality and how Ukraine can develop better protection for women and families in the conflict zone.
You are dealing with women's security and peace. So what are your duties and responsibilities and why is it important to talk about women in the context of NATO?
As you may know, this is my first visit to Ukraine and it was very important for me to come because I'm personally interested in the country, in the issues, and in women's peace and security here. As you know, as you said, NATO is a military alliance but it is also a political organization and the mandate that I have as the Secretary General of NATO's special representative on women peace and security is about how do we put the issues that affect women in conflict and women in peace at the center of the work we do at NATO, and that means across of all of the tasks and functions we have. As you know, women are often affected by conflict and quite often they are marginalized in the peace processes.
This is the heart of United Nations Security Council Resolution #1325, which is the mandate for my office. Within NATO we look at what we would call the inclusive security approach to security, and that means my mandate includes women peace and security, children in armed conflict, as well as protection for civilians. Collectively, we look at how we would integrate what we would call a "gender perspective" into all areas of peace, security, though primarily in defense and security, which as you know is the mandate for NATO.
You had many meetings with the Ukrainian officials and representatives of the NGOs and civil society. What are your impressions of these meetings? Concerning the role of women and the position of women both in military matters and conflicts, as it is very actual for Ukraine.
I've been incredibly impressed by everyone I've met, but primarily about the women. Ukraine has a very active, strong, and quite impressive women's civil society. We have had the opportunity to meet many women across the spectrum here in Ukraine and to listen to their voices about what's important to them in the context of Ukraine, but in the context of security, and what does security mean to them? While listening, at present time, hearing women's voices and what they understand about the essential elements of security and what does a safe society mean for them is important.
We as NATO, while we listen to these voices, you will know we also have a Ukrainian representative on our civil society advisory panel, we have constructed an advisory panel that will allow women from all parts of the world to talk to us about how we would place security at the center of all the policy work that we do. We are really happy that Ukraine is on that panel and happy to listen to what Ukrainian women have to say. Their concerns are the same as women's everywhere. It is the concern for their family, of a broader security dialogue around what peace means, what it looks like, how a society stays safe. But also for us, it's important to understand that security means much more than military means.
There are issues of hybrid nature. It is the idea of how we can have a good economy, how we make sure women's voices are heard in political processes, and getting women into parliament is very important. But having a legislative framework and making sure that especially in defense, that there are plenty of women who are represented in the national forces, that we have women's voices included in the defense industry, and that we have more women at the leadership level, which is very important as you'll know in defense and security.
Talking about the military, the Ukrainian army now is one of the strongest armies out of non-NATO member countries. It happened as a result of Russian aggression, where it had to strengthen itself. So how can NATO cooperate, or maybe support the Ukrainian military, also in this context of promoting gender equality and women's security?
For every country, Resolution #1325 which was adopted in October 2000, has requested that all nations develop national action plans on the implementations of #1325. Ukraine has a national action plan. Part of that action plan is to look at two things. One, to increase numbers of women in defense forces, and the other is to make sure all military doctrine reflects a gender perspective. And in terms of how NATO would view this is to look and to work and support Ukraine in the development of the national action plan, to make sure that all of the elements are included to allow for a robust defense and security policy and to make sure that women are moving up into the ranks.
You need to have women at the general level. There need to be women who are across the board included in defense, and this is in line with the international agreements, and in line with the international action plan. What we would look to do is to help support Ukraine, help support and understand what indicators are needed, and to support civil society so that their voices are included in the defense area too.
You have a vast experience working in conflict and post-conflict zones such as Kosovo for example. So from your experience, what can Ukraine, in the situation of the ongoing conflict in Donbass, do to protect women and kids who are in the area of the conflict?
Conflict affects women very differently to men, and that is the premise of women, peace and security, that conflict is not the same for everybody. Women are disproportionately impacted. Quite often we have in conflict issues such as conflict-related sexual violence, IDPs, refugees, children, unaccompanied minors, we see these in all conflicts. It's how we address them and make sure that we are responding politically as well as operationally to those issues.
Protecting women means that we also have to hear women, and we have to hear what they have to tell us, and sometimes we seem to provide legislative process without actually including women's voices. Women are the best indicators of their own protection, so how can we make sure we listen to civil society, which has very powerful women here, where they would help direct what is needed in terms of protection. We cannot do protection without participation. We have to have an equal measure of women's political engagement that would be able to advance the policies around better protections.
One other important issue is post-traumatic stress that people and women and children have as a result of the conflict, so maybe here you have some advice and see some ways for cooperation? How can your personal experience and NATO's experience help Ukraine to cope with this new issue?
What we have to understand is that there is a disproportionate impact of conflict. Women will suffer the trauma of war very differently to men. So having women for example who are combatants, or women integrating back into their communities, do we know what challenges they are going to have? Do we know medically, the different impacts that the conflict will have on women? And then when you have men who have trauma of war, what about their wives and children? How do we make sure we have programs that are going to take into account their suffering? We have to really unpack and break down all of these different issues. This is what the resolutions talk about, this is what our commitment is to women in areas of conflict and also post-conflict.
But more generally, how do we make sure that we are including women. Women are both agents and victims of conflict, women are 50% of the population, women must have a voice, they must be present, they must be visible in all the work we do around conflict. We have to take lessons from other areas, political systems, and other areas that have been affected by conflict, to make sure we can find the best solutions we can so that we do better protection but we also do better enhancement and empowerment for women so that they can be actors in whatever rehabilitation or reconstitution of the community. They need to have a say.
You mentioned that we need to learn from the experience of others. Can you provide some specific examples, perhaps some countries, areas, or policies that could be useful for Ukraine?
Around the world, whenever we see conflict, and I have served in many different places from Kosovo to south Lebanon. I've been in Haiti and Congo. What we know is that we can draw the lessons by having women present. Even if you looked at countries where you start with your constitution framework, you make sure gender equality is in the center of your policies, you make sure women are in your parliaments, governing level, and that women's representation is central to reforming whatever you need to do. Security sector reform is essential, defense policy reform is essential. Countries which come out of conflict know that the way women are treated is an indicator of whether or not you will have conflict.
When women are empowered, a country is vastly more secure generally, and you are less likely to fall into conflict if you have women who are equally represented in all sectors of society. So one of the lessons is making sure that these economic programs which are going to be in place for women so they can receive economic incentives to grow and invest in their own economies. But also to make sure that the political structure, where women are 50% of the population are having a voice. Women must be in elections, they must be voters and candidates. They must be present, they must be seen, and they must have a voice. We cannot have a sustainable peace or sustainable community without the presence of 50% of the population. It's quite simple, and these are the lessons that have come out of conflict. We see those communities not falling back into conflict when you have gender equality at the center of any post conflict environment.
There were reported cases of sexual violence in the conflict zone in Ukraine. There are cases allegedly made by both parties of the conflict, but in most of these cases investigations didn't go through because there is some stigma and opposition, as it is a taboo topic in society. How can we overcome this because it is a very important issue? Because it is not talked about.
It's present in every conflict. There's been an assumption that sexual violence is an automatic outcome of war, that women's bodies were just part of the "booty" of war, that it was just an unfortunate but recognized consequence. We now know that's not true, we know since 2008 that with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolutions on conflict related sexual violence, that it is not an automatic consequence of war, and that it would not be accepted by the international community. Sexual violence, any kind of violation against women, is a violation against international and human rights law, and it would be tackled as such when it is proven as an allegation proven to be founded on evidence.
The United Nations has specific teams of experts that would be deployed to investigate incidents of sexual violence. I think as a community and society, we need to understand not just conflict related sexual violence but any kind of violence against women will not be accepted, it will not be tolerated, it's not part of a functioning society. The health and welfare of women are essential to any democratic society, and we need to recognize that in legislative process too.
There is a lot of talk about the peacekeeping mission that could be in Donbass, its configuration, how it should be. What is your vision on that? What role can women play in this peacekeeping mission?
As you know, as from NATO, a peacekeeping mission would be better placed with the UN. But what I do know from my experience from having worked in peacekeeping, it is important for us to have more women in peacekeeping. To have women employed as both military observers, and as deployed soldiers. But also in the ranks of the UN peacekeeping mission anywhere. A lot of the experience I had from peacekeeping and bringing with me to NATO to understand how we can best place, and we work very well with the UN, and the OSCE, and the EU and all our colleagues on the international arena.
We need to work together because collectively the end result for us is women's equality. We work together to make sure we're going to advance this agenda so we can help nations like Ukraine and other nations that need our help. We do better when we work together and I think that as we move forward, we will find the best solutions through national action plans, to support government processes, to addressing issues such as sexual violence collectively. But it is better when you work together.
/Interview by Olga Tokariuk