As Special Representative, Clare Hutchinson—a Canadian gender advocate whose breadth of experience includes over ten years as a Gender Adviser for the United Nations—is now the key choreographer of NATO’s work on its women, peace and security agenda.
Hutchinson has been referred to as “a champion of women’s rights and empowerment,” and her appointment speaks to Canada’s efforts to bring a feminist lens to peacekeeping. In a similar vein, Canada has just launched its second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, as well as its Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations. The Elsie Initiative, named after the Canadian women’s rights trailblazer Elsie MacGill, is aimed to help Canada meet the benchmarks set by 2015 U.N. Resolution 2242, which includes doubling the rate of women’s participation as peacekeepers by 2020. To meet this target, the Elsie Initiative initiates efforts to develop a systematic approach to increase the deployment of women in peace operations and design tailored technical assistance for countries looking to support their deployed women peacekeepers. Canada will also provide six million dollars in assistance to designated U.N. peacekeeping missions to support women’s increased participation and $15 million to establish a global fund to support further deployment of women peacekeepers.
Canada’s self-defined feminist foreign policy is part of a larger, multinational movement to prioritize gender as a cross-cutting, fundamental component of conflict resolution and prevention. Countries across the globe are taking real steps that ensure women’s meaningful participation and leadership in preventing and resolving conflict. In the United States this past October, the Women, Peace and Security Act was signed into law, codifying into U.S. foreign policy women’s inclusion as a core, operationalized priority. Similarly, dozens of countries, including Liberia, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Argentina, Afghanistan and South Africa, have launched programs that have increased—in some cases doubling and even tripling—women’s involvement in peacekeeping operations. For instance, in Rwanda, where a constitutional amendment requires gender equality as a legal framework, women played a pivotal role in facilitating the post-1994 genocide reconstruction process and now make up more than 50 percent of the country’s national parliament.
The research showing that women’s involvement is fundamental to the creation of strong, more sustainable solutions to bringing an end to wars, combating terrorism and improving human rights around the world is overwhelming. Peace is possible only when women have a seat at the negotiating tables. This is due in part to the fact that “women have a very different perspective about what causes conflict, what comes from conflict, and how to resolve it,” Special Representative Hutchinson explains. “When conflict breaks out and men join the armed forces, women are left on the ground, working to keep society and their communities going. If you don’t include their voices and experiences, then you’re not getting a genuine picture about how to address the conflict.” Laws and initiatives like the ones coming out of the U.S. and Canada recognize the urgency of broadening the involvement of women in order to safeguard peace and build lasting security.
It has been an exciting year for women, peace and security across the globe, as women—their voices and experiences—are finally being elevated across the full spectrum of foreign policy. Yet rising extremism and international crises continue to threaten global security. Now more than ever is the time for policy makers to follow the lead of countries that are advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world.