On March 1st, 2018, the 3rd annual “Women, Peace and Security Conference” took place at the Estonian Ministry of Defence. The conference was organised by the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association in cooperation with the NATO Headquarters, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Estonian Ministry of Defence, Embassy of Canada, and Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. The main topic of the conference introduced and reviewed the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, its impact on women in conflict, the important role women play in resolving conflicts, peace building, as well as the overall work of women peacekeepers in a global and national security framework. The conference held two panel discussions from national and international perspectives. The national panel discussion evaluated the progress of Estonia’s women, peace and security agenda, and discussed how to integrate gender aspects into the security sector. The international panel discussion examined the Nordic experiences and solutions on how to involve women in conflict prevention, participation in armed forces, conflict resolution, and peace building processes.
Krista Mulenok, Secretary General of the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association, and Tobias Mörschel, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Baltic coordinator, gave the conference welcome greetings. The conference was opened with the remarks of General Riho Terras, Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces. He noted that the societal attitudes towards women in the Defence Forces are still largely driven by medieval gender roles and thus need to be changed. He stressed that since the main purpose of the Estonian Defence Forces is to protect people and the Estonian Defence Forces is a people’s army, it is wrong to leave half of the population out of national defence, especially when women are equally capable of fulfilling all tasks and spots in the Defence Forces. Today, the Estonian Defence Forces consist of only 9% -10% of women, which in General Terras’ opinion is too little. The second problem in General Terras’ opinion is that women who are in the service want to be like men. But the Estonian Defence Forces need the opposite – it needs perspective and knowledge specific to women, not men. He also noted that it is very difficult to eliminate the rooted dogmas and prejudices, but it is necessary to strive for it. It is important to raise awareness of men about the role of women in national defence. A positive attitude towards women in the national defence and defence forces must become normality.
The opening speech “Integration of Gender Perspectives in Allied Armed Forces” was given by Lt Col Magdalena Dvorakova, International Military Staff Gender Advisor at the NATO HQ, NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives Secretary. Dvorakova stated that the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was a paradigm shift, as it was the first resolution that addressed the disproportionate impact of the armed conflict on women and highlighted the fact that women have historically been excluded from peace and stabilization processes. Dvorakova emphasized that gender equality is no longer optional, but fundamental, as it allows us to better respond to today’s security challenges. For example, physical stereotypes are no longer justified due to the existence of hybrid threats and warfare. The gender perspective is also an operational necessity; it is understood as a cross cutting objective and thus should be taken into account in everyday business and military operations. Finally, Dvorakova mentioned that Women, Peace and Security Action Plan and gender perspectives are not just about women, but both men and women, and it is important to know that because only by equal participation can we achieve lasting peace and security.
The theme of the first discussion panel was “Women, Peace and Security – Nordic Experiences”, moderated by General Major Meelis Kiili, Commander of Estonian Defence League. Prof Robert Egnell, Head of the Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership at Swedish Defence University, delivered a presentation on “Gender and Military Effectiveness”. Egnell’s debate focused on the question of why we should pursue gender equality and how it can be achieved. He noted that in many organizations it is not enough to have a rights-based argument about women’s rights and gender equality anymore. He stressed that it is necessary to take concrete steps and change incentives for people to behave differently, introduce gender perspective to the organization’s work and thus make the armed forces more effective for the 21st century.
Frank B. Steder, a Principal Scientist at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment presented the unique All-Female Norwegian Special Operations Command (NORASOC) Pilot Project and its success in recruiting women to the armed forces. NORASOC is unique because it separated women and men throughout the whole recruitment process and overall project. The aim was to recruit/involve more women in the military and give them the necessary competency in 12 months. The Norwegian Special Forces approach was different from the usual army: women were recruited from “unusual” spheres of life – e.g. farmers and women living in the countryside, because they often had a stronger physical form. Requirements were the same for both men and women, but women were not immediately required to meet the physical requirements – it was required for them to show progress and only by the 12th month they had to meet the same requirements as men. Steder explained why it is important to separate women and men during the selection process – if men and women were to compete together in one group, the results would have been unfair, as physical abilities of women are often worse at first than men’s. The project had surprising results. For example, the difference between men and women in the first weeks of rifle range was noticeable – women asked a lot of questions when completing tasks and were successful at hitting the target at first try; men, however, did not ask questions and were less successful at first try. Conclusion – women are more likely to ask questions than men, and thus complete tasks successfully faster. Steder noted that the same instructors should be used for both men and women and that instructors should represent both genders. Steder stressed that it is important to keep men and women separated, because when the group is together after training (for example during arms/rifle maintenance), the situation is often such that a man cleans arms and a woman does “women’s work”, e.g. washes clothes. However, if men and women are separated, both groups have to do all the tasks.
Kaisa-Maria Tölli, Chairwoman of a think tank “Elisabeth Rehn – Bank of Ideas” talked about “Perspectives on Women’s role in Finnish Military”. Tölli pointed out that women in Finnish Defence Forces often experience sexual harassment and bullying due to their gender and physical abilities. She also explained the research about the new potential conscription model and talked about the hope that the current conscription model will be renewed and built as a comprehensive security service for future generations. She highlighted that it is not about militarizing Finland but instead about promoting comprehensive security.
The last speaker of the panel was Ambassador Kristín A. Árnadóttir, Special Envoy for Gender Equality, MFA Iceland. She talked on a topic of “A Civilian Approach to Women, Peace and Security” and Iceland’s role in NATO without a military presence, and especially Iceland’s role in promoting equality in the organization. This role involves advising on gender equality in military operations through the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, raising the issue of women, peace and security, where appropriate, in cooperation with other countries and international staff. She noted that gender equality is never intended to benefit women only – it is necessary both for men and women, because cooperation and involvement of both is the key to success.
The second panel discussion “Women, Peace and Security in Estonia – Challenges and Opportunities” was introduced by Maj Gen Tiiu Kera, United States Aire Force (Ret.). She considered it important to raise this issue in Estonian society and stressed that it must become a normality for men and women to work together in the Defence Forces.
Karmen Laus, Director of Division for International Organizations at MFA Estonia presented the Estonia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. She noted that the topic of women, peace and security must remain active. Estonia has drawn up two action plans, the goals of which are the goals of the UN Resolution 1325, such as the provision of humanitarian assistance to women in conflict areas and focus on their education, raising awareness of the role of women in conflict resolution, and making international co-operation and information exchange more effective. Laus stated that Estonia has been an active partner in the international arena.
Tiia Nightingale, the UN Security Council campaign task force coordinator at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, moderated the second panel.
Andres Siplane, adviser for Social Affairs to the Estonian Ministry of Defence, presented the report “Women in the Estonian Defence Forces – Motivation, Attitudes, Experiences and Challenges”. He said that “in order to bring 20% of women to peacekeeping, there is a need to significantly increase the female recruitment target. The situation is now favourable – women in service are rather satisfied, the Defence Forces and general society are supportive. The barrier to overcome is the one between the approval of the idea of female officers and the actual consideration of a military career by an individual.”
Tiia Sõmer, Researcher at TUT Centre for Digital Forensics and Cyber Security, talked on “Women in Cybersecurity”, i.e. women’s participation and role in cyber security. She noted that although 25% of the people working in the Estonian IT sector are women, which is rather high in a global context (11%), then considering that today’s increasing digitalization also requires the development of cyber security, there is a need for significantly higher female participation in the IT sector. She mentioned that the Estonian IT-sector is missing around couple of thousands of skilled IT staff and engineers, which could be successfully filled by women. However, IT and cyber defence are surrounded by stereotypes that are hard to break. The IT-sector is still widely considered a “boys playground” and only 20% of people know what cyber defence actually is. Sõmer noted that such socially designed image of cyber defence and IT needs to change, especially among women themselves.
LTJG Kärt Praks from the Estonian Navy introduced her military career. She noted that a lot has changed over time in the conscription process and general attitudes towards women in defence forces. Today, women in military uniforms do not get as much attention as in the past, and no longer is there a need to have contacts and network to get considered for military service. Praks would like to see more women in the defence forces and added that serving and working in the Estonian Defence Forces has given her survival skills, taught to strive for best results, and gave the ability to lead people and manage crisis situations.
Airi Tooming, Chairwoman of Women’s Voluntary Defence Organization talked about voluntary contribution to National Defence. She noted that in addition to the 2,500 members of the Women’s Voluntary Defence Organization, including the 100 quick response units, there are no age and physical training constraints in a voluntary organization, meaning that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to national defence in some way. Tooming also pointed out that often a member becomes an active and conscious contributor to national defence, or even goes to active military service.
Laura Toodu, Conscription Adviser at Estonian Ministry of Defence, introduced a “Women into Uniform!” campaign. The goal was to inform young women about the opportunity to contribute to national defence and how to complete military service. This was a first such campaign in Estonia. According to Toodu, the campaign can be considered successful because there was a lot of interest, and given that 83% of the society supports women’s conscription, it can be assumed that the campaign could have played some role in achieving this result. Toodu also noted that it is necessary to make women aware that they are welcome to join the Defence Forces. In addition, it is necessary to introduce the nature of military service to people at all levels, and especially young people, so that they know what opportunities are available in the armed forces. In the eyes of the society, the Defence Forces is far from the civil society, however, in reality the civilian sphere is very closely linked to the Defence Forces. Toodu also noted that although it is difficult to change deeply entrenched beliefs, we must work on it.
The final words of the conference were held by the member of Estonian Defence League Silva Kiili, who noted that while people’s confidence in defence organizations is high, there is little awareness about the possibilities of contributing to national defence. She agreed that awareness about the situation has to be increased, because this will also lead to higher activity. She also stated that both boys and girls should be encouraged in society and that we need to talk about societal problems openly and honestly. She concluded with a message aimed at youth: “do not build barriers for yourself.”