''Throughout my career I have worked on challenging and interesting issues,'' says Mari Skåre, who was recently appointed as the NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security. ''It is with great humility and honour that I have taken on this job, but also with a sense of being very privileged at having the opportunity to promote such an important agenda.''
Appointed 100 days ago on 27 August, Skåre is a Norwegian diplomat and the Alliance's first special representative focusing on the topic of women, peace and security. Her mandate is to reinforce and promote the implementation by NATO of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and related resolutions.
“Through the adoption of these resolutions the Security Council recognizes that women are disproportionately affected by conflict and calls for women's active participation at all levels of decision-making in conflict and governance,” explains Skåre.
She emphasizes that the resolutions are about gender equality which is not just a women's issue: “We will not succeed if men are not included in our struggle for gender equality.”
According to recent figures, the level of female participation in the Alliance's armed forces varies between 2 and 20 per cent. Recruitment and retention of women in the national forces as well as national initiatives to raise awareness and improve competences are important in order to make sure best practices are shared.
Widespread sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations, the lack of institutional arrangements to protect women and continued under-representation of women in peace processes
remain impediments to building sustainable peace and security.
“It's too early to know if I will succeed, but I can assure you that I will do my very best to influence the direction and delivery of results on this issue by NATO. I have been given an opportunity to make a difference, and it's exactly that which I hope to achieve,” she says.
Throughout her career, Skåre has worked on issues related to women and security, particularly in her former position as Minister Counsellor at the Norwegian Embassy in Kabul – a place which left many deep impressions.
“There are many things that stay with me; shocking experiences such as listening to phone threats from the Taliban to female parliamentarians; horrific attacks against women and girls; heated discussions in the Senate on whether female parliamentarians should be allowed to travel alone,” she says. However, she adds that while the bad memories stand out there were also many good impressions to take home.
“The achievements in Afghanistan regarding women's rights and equal opportunities are the gains of the Afghan people. The stamina and courage of these people is heroic. We owe them to stay committed,” she adds.
Before the Second World War, 90 per cent of casualties in conflicts were combatants. Today, 90 per cent of casualties are civilians – and some 70 per cent of these are women and children. Following the adoption of UNSCR 1325 in October 2000, NATO and its partners have been taking concerted action to support and fully implement gender awareness into NATO-led operations and missions.
NATO believes in the core role that women can play in building, consolidating and maintaining peace and security. The Alliance and its partners are committed to making this principle an integral part of their everyday business, including their political, civilian and military structures, and their operations and missions.
“NATO has a unified objective and a command structure,” explains Skåre, “which gives it an extraordinary opportunity to be effective on this issue. The biggest challenge is to change mindsets.”
“ We can do many things better,” explains Skåre, “we can include women, peace and security in defence planning, we can exchange best practices on how to prevent and combat sexual harassment and violence, we can ensure more women at all levels of the Alliance. But all of this will only come more easily if we change the way people think and perform their jobs.”