Controversies in Military Ethics & Security Policy
For a Bold Implementation – Women, Peace and Security in the German Defense Ministry and Armed Forces
In 2000, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted the landmark resolution 13251 on women, peace and security. It was the first UNSC resolution to address the importance of women’s participation in conflict prevention, management, resolution and post-conflict reconstruction, as well as the disproportionately severe impact of armed conflicts on women and girls.
Since then, nine more UNSC resolutions2 have followed. Together, they form the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda.
The WPS agenda aims at the full, equal and meaningful participation of all genders in peace and security. To achieve this, women should be more strongly represented in all international, national and regional decision-making bodies and mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution. This includes the active participation of women in peace negotiations as well as the increased involvement of women in peace operations.
Another aspect of the WPS Agenda is that peace and security for all people should be achieved through a concept of security that focuses on human security and respect for human rights, as well as through the integration of a gender perspective.3 In peace operations, for example, the integration of a gender perspective makes it possible to analyze the different concerns and needs of all genders in violent conflicts or other operational contexts, and address them in a solution-oriented way.4 This underlines the point that Agenda 1325 is by no means purely a “women’s issue”.
Agenda 1325 in the work of the German federal government
The WPS Agenda is a relevant topic for the German federal government. It is anchored in strategic documents such as the White Paper on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr, the foreign policy guidelines on “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace” (Krisen verhindern, Konflikte bewältigen, Frieden fördern) and the White Paper on Multilateralism. In addition, the federal government’s activities relating to the implementation of Agenda 1325 are structured by what is now the third National Action Plan (NAP). National Action Plans are a common implementation tool internationally – 98 UN member states have currently adopted a NAP.5 With each NAP, the German government commits to concrete actions for a period of four years, to promote increased participation of women in crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding, to advocate for the protection of women and girls against violence in armed conflicts, and to support gender-sensitive conflict analysis.
The current National Action Plan for the period 2021 to 2024 is distinguished by its whole-of-government approach. It is prepared by the interministerial working group on women, peace and security, consisting of the six federal ministries relevant for its implementation, under the leadership of the German Federal Foreign Office.6 The NAP covers the four pillars of the WPS Agenda: “conflict prevention”, “participation”, “protection”, and “relief and recovery”. It also aims to strengthen the WPS Agenda and increase its institutional integration and capacities within the German government. For the first time, the NAP includes a monitoring and evaluation plan as well as indicators to measure goal attainment. The NAP’s goals are in alignment with other relevant guidelines of the federal government, to improve policy coherence.7 The German government’s coalition agreement – “Dare More Progress – Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Sustainability” – also emphasizes the relevance of Agenda 1325 and the NAP for this legislative period. In the spirit of a feminist foreign policy, the German government is seeking to strengthen the rights, resources and representation of women and girls worldwide, and, in doing so, to also “ambitiously implement and further develop” the NAP.8
Women, peace and security in the Defense Ministry’s area of responsibility
The German Federal Ministry of Defense (FMoD) plays an integral role in devising and implementing the NAP. It actively participates in the work of the interministerial working group, and engages in regular dialog with German civil society.
With the current third NAP, the FMoD has committed to implementing fifteen measures.9 These include strengthening the WPS Agenda in cooperation with NATO, and increasing the proportion of women, especially in leadership positions in the Ministry of Defense. Appropriate consideration is to be given to the WPS Agenda, women’s rights, and dealing with sexual and gender-based violence in training and deployment preparation for military personnel. The analysis of structural barriers to increasing the proportion of women in European and international peace operations is also part of the NAP.
Since 2001, all military positions within the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) have been open to women; from the mid-1970s women were able to pursue an officer’s career in the medical service. Today, women occupy 12.90% of all roles in the Bundeswehr (45.54% in the medical service and 9.24% of all other career roles), while in 2021, 17% of new applications to join the German armed forces on a fixed-term contract came from women. Women accounted for 8.11% of all personnel on foreign deployments in mid-April 2022. In terms of the proportion of women, the Bundeswehr is in the centre field compared to other NATO countries. This is partly due to the fact, mentioned above, that all military positions have only been open to women in Germany for a little over 20 years.10
Based on the WPS Agenda, gender mainstreaming has been identified as a cross-sectional task for policymakers. “Mainstreaming” consists of a fundamental, general assessment and consideration of the gender-related consequences of all decisions11 taken in an organization. The comprehensive implementation of a gender perspective cannot be achieved solely by one institutional department; it relies on the involvement of all people at all levels of an institution. The impacts of decisions on all genders should be taken into account in all project phases, i.e. in the assessment, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs or activities.12
Military operations require the ability to gather information from and about the local population, which in turn calls for a culturally and gender-sensitive approach. Adopting a gender perspective enhances the situational awareness of one’s own armed forces in the field. Threats can be analyzed with greater precision, and operations planned more holistically. The impacts of military intervention on different population groups can be assessed more accurately and, in the best case, negative side-effects can be prevented. The needs of local populations can be better understood if the mission is aware of the different social roles and tasks of people of different genders, age groups, ethnicities, etc. Dealing with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence of all genders also requires a gender-sensitive approach. Gender competence can make an important contribution to greater effectiveness and legitimacy of operations and missions. Therefore the topic is also relevant for the German armed forces.
Implementation in the UN context
For decades, the United Nations has been pushing for the implementation of Agenda 1325 in the security and defense sector, and also in the context of UN peace operations.
In the year 2000, resolution 1325 explicitly mentioned the integration of a gender perspective in peacekeeping, and the participation of women in UN missions. Today, gender aspects are an integral part of a large number of Security Council mandates authorizing peace operations. In the early 1990s, even before resolution 1325 was adopted, the United Nations was increasingly seeking women peacekeepers for UN missions and women officers for the UN headquarters.13 In 2014, Kristin Lund, a major general in the Norwegian armed forces, became the first female commander of the military component of a peace operation, when she joined the UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The UN Secretariat has adopted annually increasing targets for the years 2018 to 2028 for the proportion of women in uniformed components of UN peace operations (known as the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy).14 The UN website lists the proportion of women for every country that contributes troops and police, and shows whether it is meeting the targets or what increase in the proportion of women would be necessary to achieve them.
Functionalist arguments have long been used to support increasing the proportion of women in UN missions. For example, women contribute to greater operational effectiveness because their input is essential in gender-sensitive contexts such as dealing with victims of sexual violence or body-searching women; and in some cases they can more easily establish relations with segments of the population. Women peacekeepers can also function as role models and sources of guidance in the country of deployment and in their home country, in terms of professional opportunities and putting gender equality into practice. It is an undisputed fact that more diverse teams can achieve more successful results in every social and professional sphere. However, in the international discourse, the focus has now increasingly moved to the question of equal opportunities, because women should have the same career chances and UN employment opportunities.
Implementing the WPS Agenda was one of the focal points of Germany’s non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2019 and 2020. In April 2019, the German defense minister at the time, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, chaired a meeting of the UNSC on women in peacekeeping, and announced national measures to increase the proportion of women in UN missions. In particular, a study15 was conducted to identify barriers to the participation of German servicewomen in UN peace operations in the area of responsibility of the German Federal Ministry of Defense. As an Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) champion,16 Germany has also assumed a leading role in the implementation of measures to increase the proportion of women in peacekeeping, and holds events to raise awareness of the topic and coordinate with other UN troop contributors. To date, Germany has not met the targets set out in the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy. For UN staff officers and military observers, the UN calls for a proportion of women of 19%; in February 2022, Germany stood at 6.45%. The UN target for troop contingents is for a proportion of women of 9%; here Germany reached 6.06% in February 2022. Therefore more information should be provided about UN missions, and more servicewomen should be trained as UN military observers or UN staff officers – as the Inspector-General of the German armed forces already called for in his order to the armed forces of August 16, 2019.
Implementation in the EU and NATO
The women, peace and security theme has also gained attention and importance within the EU and NATO in recent years.
NATO adopted its first policy on the topic in 2007; it was most recently revised in 2018. With the appointment of the NATO Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security in 2012, the Alliance created a high-level point of contact for the Alliance’s work in this area. With the WPS Action Plan for 2021-2025, NATO is seeking to consistently integrate a gender perspective into all its activities.17 To this end, gender advisors are to be deployed in NATO’s military structure and in all missions.18 Their main task is to advise NATO commanders on integrating the gender perspective into the planning and execution of missions and operations, crisis and conflict analysis, and education and training. Gender advisors are supported by a network of Gender Focal Points (GFPs), who are appointed at the tactical level and whose task is to integrate a gender perspective into the unit’s regular tasks. Germany supports NATO’s work in the area of women, peace and security, in particular by taking part in the annual conference of the gender perspectives committee and by contributing to the annual NATO gender report. This describes the status of implementation of Agenda 1325 in the member and partner nations. However, the role of an independent gender advisor is not mirrored in the Bundeswehr.
Women, peace and security is also firmly established as a topic within the work of the European Union. For example, the EU has regularly adopted a regional action plan for the implementation of resolution 1325, most recently for the period 2019-2024.19 As part of the EU Strategic Approach to WPS from 2018, the EU also seeks to engage men and boys as agents of change, and emphasizes the need to address and transform gender stereotypes and societal exclusion mechanisms.20 The WPS Agenda is also strengthened by the EU Action Plan for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development 2021-2025.21
How could the WPS agenda be taken forward in the German armed forces?
As set out in the coalition agreement, as a first step the NAP should be implemented ambitiously within the area of responsibility of the German Federal Ministry of Defense. Special priority should be given to taking aspects of the WPS Agenda into account in training and pre-deployment training, and to removing barriers to the participation of women in operations and missions.
Although aspects of the WPS Agenda are an integral part of pre-deployment training, for example for UN peace operations, the only in-detail consideration of gender perspectives in the Bundeswehr known to the authors is part of the training for Intercultural Mission Advisors. However, one does not become an expert on gender issues so easily. Training for civilian and military personnel – especially those in senior positions – that qualifies them appropriately could help significantly in this regard. Consistent implementation of a gender perspective in all working areas, as is already being done in NATO and the EU, would be another idea for advancing the WPS Agenda in the Bundeswehr. In addition, further training on the WPS Agenda for all employees, as envisaged in the EU Action Plan, could also be introduced in the FMoD’s area of responsibility.
In principle, Germany could coordinate more closely with partner countries in the UN, NATO and the EU in matters of the institutional implementation of the WPS Agenda and appropriate training. In this way, existing and established training content from the UN and NATO could be put to more extensive use.
Other countries are implementing the WPS Agenda beyond the framework of their NAP. Ireland, for example, has adopted its own implementation plan to implement the WPS Agenda in its armed forces. Such an implementation for the Bundeswehr could be part of the next German NAP, for example.
In addition, the vast majority of NATO and EU partners already deploy gender advisors in national structures. The United Kingdom, for example, has human security advisors in its Ministry of Defence and armed forces, as well as human security focal points throughout the defense sector. The assistance chief of defense staff also acts as the Senior Responsible Officer for Human Security. Albania is currently in the process of introducing relevant positions in its general staff and command staffs.
To date, there is no central point of contact for WPS issues in the FMoD at management level, and the relevant responsibilities are spread across various departments. There is a lack of overarching coordination in this area.
A suggestion for the future could therefore be to establish such points of contact or officers in the Bundeswehr and in the FMoD to ensure greater policy coherence and a more ambitious implementation of the NAP as well as clearer structures and responsibilities. The topic could then be included and represented in a more integrated way in assignments, the drafting of discussion documents, and the preparation of country or project status reports.
Ambitious implementation of the outlined steps could accelerate the change in culture toward a gender-responsive institution that also displays gender sensitivity in its external activities. With the courage to take appropriate measures, the FMoD’s area of responsibility could more strongly support the efforts of the UN, NATO and the EU, and continue to make an active contribution to implementing the goals of the coalition agreement and the NAP.
3 “Gender” means attributed gender identity as a social reality made by humans, which determines hierarchies between social actors. (Cf. West, Candace and Zimmerman, Don H. (1987): Doing Gender. In: Gender and Society, vol. 1, no. 2 (June), pp. 125-151.)
6 German Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt), Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend), Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Inneren), Federal Ministry of Justice (Bundesministerium der Justiz), Federal Ministry of Defense (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung), Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung).
11 UN ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions 1997/2: “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels.” https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/ECOSOCAC1997.2.PDF.
[12 Cf. Bastick, Megan and Valasek, Kristin (eds.) (2008): Gender and SSR Toolkit. Geneva.
13 Beilstein, Janet (1998): The Expanding Role of Women in United Nations Peacekeeping. In: Lorentzen, Louis Ann and Turpin, Jennifer (eds.): The Women & War Reader. New York/London, pp. 143-144.