Women and Security: How NATO and the UN Advance Gender Equality


In a recent op-ed over at Atlantic Community, the think tank posed a collection of questions from its members regarding the role of women in international security and development to NATO’s Assistant Secretary-General  for Public Diplomacy, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic The main highlights are on the operationalization of women’s participation in NATO’s structures, as well as the role of women in the Middle East, following the political changes that have occurred there in the past two years.

The United Nations remains one of the strongest forces for ensuring that women participate to their full potential in the socio-political, economic and cultural fabric of their societies. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or as it is creatively known, UN Women, is the global institution that consolidates the systemic efforts for achieving a full range of women’s rights. Alongside,  Grabar-Kitarovic has highlighted that women’s rights are an articulation of NATO’s own set of core value set, itself focused around democratic ideals.

The lion’s share of the op-ed focuses on women’s rights in the Middle East, with some questions asking about the status of women in post-Mubarak Egypt, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. It is curious that the inclusion of women in societal function is making the most headway in Afghanistan, with thousands of women having finished an education, a female regional governor already in place and the beginning of women’s participation in the officer core of the Afghani National Army. Saudi Arabia, as Grabar-Kitarovic recognizes, has made marginal progress in the participation of women in municipal councils, but progress still remains slow. Egypt is perhaps the most unpredictable in this respect, because powerful tensions between resurgent fundamental Islamic movements, democracy and inevitably, the division of gender roles in Egyptian society, are enhanced by a well-educated diaspora. Not only is the professor asking the question in the article Egyptian and male, but I can personally attest that the Egyptians I have met in my life are critically thinking and progressive people with very good ideas about the need for reforming Egyptian society toward a more egalitarian model.

NATO has also benefited from further reforms on the inclusion of women in its own operations. Grabar-Kitarovic is the first female assistant secretary-general, and a dedicated department to gender questions already exists within NATO; it wokrks on ground operations, within bloc, as well as partner countries.

What becomes clear form this overview is that women are a positive force in society and it would be foolish to claim otherwise. Their multimodal integration is a work in progress not only in the developed world, but even more so in transitioning and developing countries. As NATO evolves to adopt a more sophisticated political aspect of its existence, women are gradually becoming a key part in the narrative of the alliance.

We need to realize that women’s rights are not just a Western construct, but an intrinsic aspect of the human condition on a global level.