Women, Peace and Security?

One of the military gender advisers talking to local kids in Faryab. Photo: Geir Bøe/Norwegian Defence

The Norwegian government had lofty ambitions to implement UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in Faryab Province in Afghanistan. However, attempts to realise these ambitions were half-hearted. The role of the gender adviser became a political alibi for the Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team’s haphazard efforts to implement the resolution.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in October 2000. Norway, a leading nation in the fields of peace negotiation, human security and women’s equality, became one of the first countries to develop a national action plan to implement the resolution.

The national action plan, launched in 2006, outlined a number of national measures that would ensure the implementation of Resolution 1325. One of the measures identified was the introduction of a new expert role – the so-called “gender adviser” – in international and Norwegian military and peace operations. The adviser’s key function was to implement the resolution and a gender perspective in military operations.

Norwegian military involvement in Afghanistan presented Norway with a good opportunity to put the action plan into effect – especially given that the fight against the Taliban and terrorist activities in Afghanistan was viewed as an opportunity to free Afghan women from years of extreme oppression and violence.

The Norwegian stabilization force led the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Faryab Province from September 2005 until the end of 2012. The mandate of the PRT was to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to establish security in the province while also supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This kind of “comprehensive approach” required international forces to work across military and civilian lines.

The necessity of understanding the Afghan people

To gain the trust of the local population, particularly in a highly gender-segregated society such as in Afghanistan, military actors must understand how cultural conditions and gender roles influence the choices and actions of the local population. Such an awareness will also improve military actors’ insight into how their presence and operations affect the local society.
Recognition of this fact has increased the demand within the armed forces for experts and knowledge on both culture and gender. Nonetheless, it was only in 2009 that the Norwegian Armed Forces deployed a gender adviser to the PRT.

A part-time role

The main step taken to implement Resolution 1325 in Faryab Province was the introduction of a new staff function in the PRT – in the form of a gender adviser. The gender adviser was expected to, on the one side, provide in-house advice to the Norwegian military command and, on the other side, build relationships with the local population and security forces. Given the duality of this role, it would be more effective if there were two gender advisers assigned to the PRT: one adviser responsible for implementing Resolution 1325 vis-à-vis the local population (through outreach activities) and another adviser working to ensure a gender perspective in operational planning and the conduct of operations. Yet, the role of gender adviser was assigned as a part-time role to be performed alongside the adviser’s main duties.

This meant that those who were assigned to act as gender advisers often only spent a small fraction of their time on gender-related work. In addition, few of the assigned gender advisers in the period 2009-2012 had the necessary background or skills to enable them to perform the role successfully – or they were simply not equipped to do so by their superiors. The gender advisers were set up for failure. They became a political alibi for the Norwegian government’s public support for the implementation of Resolution 1325 in Afghanistan.

One of the most important aspects of Resolution 1325 is its emphasis on the special protection of women’s and girl’s human rights, women’s right to participate in peace processes and in the rebuilding of their societies following a transition to peace. Safeguarding women’s right to be heard, consulted and represented is precisely where Norwegian efforts have fallen short.

Meaningless women’s meetings

Resolution 1325 requires parties in a conflict to consider gender perspectives and women’s rights by consulting with local and international women’s organizations and networks. The Norwegian Armed Forces as well as the gender adviser had varying degrees of success interacting with the local population, in particular with local women and women’s networks. This was partially due to a lack of cultural awareness among Norwegian soldiers (they believed men were not allowed to speak to Afghan women) and partially due to a lack of understanding of the importance of engaging with all segments of society in order to improve security.

There were occasions where the Norwegian Armed Forces, often initiated by the gender adviser, did consult with local Afghan women. These meetings, or “women’s lunches”, had no concrete goals or plans for follow-up and were therefore only seen as a way to cross Resolution 1325 off the to-do-list.

Not transmitted to the Afghan forces

One of the key tasks of the Norwegian PRT was “partnering” with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The final contingents emphasized training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces in order to enable them to maintain security and stability after the international forces re-deployed.

Resolution 1325 calls for the integration of a gender perspective in peacekeeping operations and for soldiers to receive training on how to protect civilians from sexual violence. Although the Norwegian stability operation in Faryab province cooperated with the Afghan population, there were few visible signs of a gender perspective in the operation.

The first gender adviser in the Norwegian-led PRT noted in an internal report in 2009 that the PRT lacked guidelines for tackling violence against women and children and dealing with allegations of violence committed by the ANSF. Six contingents (three years) later, the PRT finally developed a strategy for dealing with sexual violence, including sexual assaults perpetrated by local security forces against women, men and children.

However, this strategy was primarily concerned with how Norwegian solders should respond to and deal with sexual violence. The Afghan forces did not receive any training in this regard. In other words, the Norwegian forces made little or no attempt to convey to the local security forces the importance of protecting civilians, in particular women and children, or incorporating a gender perspective or Resolution 1325 in Afghan-led operations.

Gender: a political alibi

The Norwegian Armed Forces achieved limited success in implementing the resolution on women, peace and security in Afghanistan for the following reasons: the Norwegian Armed Forces paid little attention to gender perspectives and Resolution 1325 in pre-deployment training and operational planning; Norwegian soldiers did not comprehend their role in safeguarding Afghan women’s rights to protection, participation and representation; the Norwegian forces fell short on building relationships and consulting with local women and women’s networks; and gender perspectives and Resolution 1325 were not seen as particularly relevant to how the Norwegian PRT conducted its military operation. Additionally, the limited knowledge and expertise on gender and the local culture reduced the soldiers’ ability to connect with local Afghans. These shortcomings combined have made it difficult to implement Resolution 1325 and a gender perspective in Afghanistan. That is why the gender advisers served more as a political alibi to demonstrate Norway’s commitment to the women, peace and security agenda, than as a serious attempt by the Norwegian Armed Forces to implement the resolution.

Facts about Resolution 1325

Resolution 1325 recognizes the disproportionate impact war and conflict have on women. The resolution identifies the various roles women have in conflict, as victims and as active contributors to peace-building processes. Furthermore, the resolution proposes a series of measures to ensure women are protected from violence and to increase women’s participation and representation in peace operations, peace processes and in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. In order to implement Resolution 1325 in Afghanistan, the Norwegian Armed Forces would have to accomplish the following, among other things:

  • take account of the needs and rights of women during military operations,
  • provide all personnel with special training on the special rights of women and children and their need for protection,
  • encourage women to participate in conflict resolution and in peace processes,
  • increase the number and strengthen the role of women and their contributions in Norwegian and Afghan-led operations,
  • and implement special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in conflict situations.

Useful links

  • This text was first published in Norwegian by the Norwegian Afghanistan Comittee: “Kvinner, fred og sikkerhet?” in Norge i Afghanistan (2016)
  • Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext
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