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Gender Considerations in Military Planning: Examples from Nepal
Joe Evans and Akriti Rana
Commanders and military planners, from the strategic to the tactical level, have an overwhelming amount of resources to guide defense planning. Operational activities should be driven by situational awareness of the operating environment[i] but are often focused on a narrow picture of the threat. Conflict and threats against our security interests are frequently driven by perceptions and other social factors that are not accounted for in planning. Additionally, wars and other instability inflict significant damage on vulnerable populations that can fester and lead to further violence if ignored. There is a substantial amount of evidence to show that women suffer disproportionally both during and after a war.[ii] The suffering applies also to children, especially girls, as a result of damage to family and social networks and growth of existing gender inequalities. There is also a correlation between the frequency of conflict and violence with the same locations where girls face an increased threat of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and discrimination that hinders basic rights like education and safety[iii]. It could be detrimental to ignore these factors in our security cooperation programs and defense strategy.
Military planning can incorporate gender related factors to promote peacebuilding and mitigate the effects of conflict. These considerations can be applied to planning for ongoing operations, to reduce the likelihood of violence, or in post-conflict situations. The United Nations (UN) has made significant progress in the inclusion of gender into its planning for peacekeeping operations and security matters. There are various directives and guidance which reinforce the need for applying gender specific planning considerations. In addition to the UN Security Council Resolutions, there are national laws and federally mandated guidance that direct defense planners and executors. For the United States, there are a variety of documents including the National Action Plan (NAP), Executive Orders,[iv] and congressional mandates directing equivalent representation of women for International Military Education and Training (IMET). The percentage of women in militaries throughout the world has gradually increased over the last few decades. Women are also increasingly found in combat related military specialties and units.[v] It takes minimal effort for security cooperation programs, bilateral exchanges and training to incorporate gender issues to help achieve peace and security objectives. Military planners and commanders should assess their allies and partners, environments, and resources to identify the opportunities to implement these programs.
Nepalese Participants in a U.S DoD-Sponsored Workshop
The U.S. Department of Defense has paid increased attention to the topic of “Women, Peace, and Security” over the past few years. This includes dedicated efforts in combat zones, programs promoted by the Combatant Commands, and comments by senior leaders like GEN John Nicholson, the Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who acknowledged that women play an integral role in peacebuilding.[vi] The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, adopted in 2000, urged all UN member states to increase women’s representation in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict. These recommendations were further developed in UNSCR 1820, 1888, and 1889 to address the problems of sexual violence against women during and after conflict and ensure the equal participation and full involvement of women in promoting peace and security. Several countries throughout the world have adopted National Action Plans to implement these requirements. Almost every permanent member of the UN Security Council has made significant progress in fulfilling these obligations.[vii]
Women all over the world face social barriers and cultural discrimination, although the level of physical suffering may be less in certain regions. Even in developed countries, women struggle to attain equal status with their male counterparts and face inequality, with gender roles often confused with biological roles. Regardless, there are examples of developing countries where these issues are exceptionally important, and progress has been made. Nepal, one of the leading contributors to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), is an example of a country where gender focused programs can be applied to a variety of security issues.
Post-Conflict and Disaster Response Efforts in Nepal
Nepal, a small South Asian country of about thirty million people and sandwiched between China and India, faces numerous challenges for women resulting from frequent major natural disasters, a decade long civil war that ended in 2006,[viii] and gender based social discrimination. The insurgency resulted in a series of problems for women: forced displacement; interrupted education and employment; sexual violence; fighting as combatants; and the stress of caring for household, land, and families while male family members joined the armed forces. Nepal also faces a major problem with human trafficking into India and the Middle East. Gender relations in Nepal continue to be defined by a patriarchal value system, which perpetuates women’s subordination. Many women accept that men have the right to control their lives and bodies. Nepalese women face discrimination with less access to property, income, inheritance and credit, and often with little control over their own or overall household earnings. This hinders education and other opportunities which prevent girls from having the same prospects as men.[ix]
Nepalese Army Peacekeeping Exercise
The peace building efforts in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency show mixed results for Nepal’s inclusion of gender considerations in security related planning. The Government of Nepal adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) in 2011 to implement UNSCR 1325 and 1820.[x] The NAP contains five pillars: participation; protection and prevention; promotion; relief and recovery; and resource management and monitoring & evaluation. The government’s efforts to complete the Truth and Reconciliation[xi] process have not achieved any tangible results. The commission has also neglected to effectively account for female related issues or give women a full voice in the process. Security sector development programs that are conducted between the political parties and other institutions have also failed to fully include women in the process. However, the government has attempted over the last few years to increase the percentage of women in the security forces. The Nepalese Army has increased the number of women to nearly four percent, which includes the ex-combatants who were integrated after the peace process, while the police and paramilitary Armed Police Force have about five to six percent each. The percentage of women in the Army has nearly doubled in the past five years with similar increases in the law enforcement organizations.
The Nepalese Army and other security forces faced a critical planning crisis in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake. This disaster displaced several hundred thousand people and resulted in numerous temporary camps in the Kathmandu valley. The Army was responsible for planning and establishing the infrastructure and security at these camps. Gender considerations were essential to planning both aspects in order to ensure that proper hygiene and sanitary conditions were established for women and also to minimize security problems. The government security force planners effectively managed to reduce the occurrences of human trafficking and sexual assaults by placing female officers on duty at the camps. The integration of gender considerations into the post-disaster planning efforts helped to ensure security and stability in the chaotic aftermath of the earthquake.
United Nations peacekeeping operations (UNPKO) are intended to create conditions for lasting peace in conflict torn countries. The UN Security Council has the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security.[xii] UN peacekeeping forces face a wide spectrum of warfare and varying levels of violence with evolving tactics, means and methods of warfare. The requirements of UNPKO forces include maintaining peace and security, facilitating the political process, protecting civilians, and assisting with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. Peacekeeping forces are also required to support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.[xiii] Nepal is the sixth largest contributor to UNPKO and has made a distinct effort in the past few years to increase the number of women deployed to UN missions.[xiv]
Gender plays an important role in ongoing UNPKO and can be further developed to promote security, stability and peacebuilding. Conflict affected populations have different cultures, norms and values as well as understanding of conflict and peace. Studies have shown that women and children are the most vulnerable during and after conflict. More than half of the conflict victims around the world are female[xv] although nearly ninety percent[xvi] of combatants are male. Accordingly, gender considerations should be a planning priority for peacekeeping and other military operations. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has adopted the policy of gender mainstreaming to help settle conflict and maintain peace. This policy ensures that gender perspectives are integrated into all elements and phases of policy development.[xvii] The number of women comprising peacekeeping forces, both uniformed and civilian UN staff, is increasing in accordance with UNSCR 1325 and 1820.
Military planners in modern day peacekeeping operations must understand that women and men experience conflict differently. Many female victims or those exposed to conflict are hesitant to share their experience because of social, economic, religious and cultural reasons. Thus, peacekeeping forces with only men are not able to fully comprehend female suffering and concerns. Historically, women’s issues were barely addressed until the DPKO made the effort to increase the number of female peacekeeping troops. Recent experience has shown that women in conflict zones are more likely to engage with female peacekeepers, despite cultural or religious differences. This solidarity helps give female conflict victims the confidence to come forward and start to resolve their issues. The UN DPKO’s example of incorporating gender considerations into security planning at all levels has enhanced efforts to resolve conflict and maintain prolonged peace.
Security Cooperation Programs
The U.S. Embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) in Nepal worked with the Nepalese Army and Ministry of Defense to develop a plan to integrate Women Peace and Security (WPS) initiatives into bilateral security cooperation initiatives, in support of the National Action Plan and U.S. Embassy Kathmandu’s Integrated Country Strategy. The primary areas of focus were in the areas of UN Peacekeeping Operations;[xviii] post-conflict resolution and security sector development; humanitarian assistance projects; and a special emphasis on appropriate female nominations for U.S. funded courses. In accordance with UNSCR 1820, the ODC’s engagement stressed UNPKO pre-deployment and in-theater awareness training; full accountability in cases of involvement for sexual exploitation and abuse; and advocacy for the deployment of a higher percentage of women peacekeepers. Additionally, the ODC initiated humanitarian assistance projects for women affected by conflict and natural disasters, to include: female ex-combatants; women who lost male family figures (i.e. widows, daughters); and those who became landless or jobless. The U.S. Embassy ensured compliance with the U.S. Congressional mandate for the percentage of women participants in the International Military Education and Training (IMET)[xix] program and worked to facilitate nominations of appropriate female attendees to conferences, symposiums and courses executed through the entire spectrum of security cooperation programs.
Nepalese School Campaign Against Gender-Based Bias
The consistent feedback from the Nepalese women, including Army officers, who returned from training in the U.S. was a desire to share what they had learned. Almost every one of them was thrilled with the opportunity, experience and knowledge that they had gained but wished they had been aware of it when they were younger. They could share their experience with their peers but felt that it was more important for the school age generation. The Embassy’s security cooperation office, in conjunction with several of the female alumni of U.S. sponsored training, planned a workshop to allow these women to share their experience and knowledge with teenage Nepalese girls. The purpose of this workshop was to raise awareness on several gender related issues with mentors from the Government of Nepal, Nepalese Army, and civil society. The workshop included Nepalese high school aged girls in a three-day session during which they gained awareness of a variety of subjects. The topics included: Gender Based Violence, Human Trafficking, Sexual Assault, Education, Physical Fitness and Personal Health, National and International Laws for Women’s Rights, Disaster Preparedness, and Social Discrimination. The mentors were comprised of female officers from the Nepalese Army, a journalist, an engineer, religious clergy, senior civilian Government officials, and political, democracy and governance specialists. Students from both government (public) and private schools participated with a goal to develop the knowledge, leadership skills, and confidence to be able to make a difference in their own schools and communities. This program addressed several of the underlying issues that contribute to instability in Nepal and the region.
The security cooperation programs in Nepal implemented gender planning considerations to address a variety of societal issues that threatened the stability and security of the country. Recognizing that women have a tremendous influence both inside the home and in professional roles is imperative to achieving a healthy society. The bilateral military cooperation programs addressed these issues by raising awareness for girls, addressing social issues at the community level, mitigating the risks associated with post-conflict and disaster environments, and enhancing the credentials of female leaders in the security forces. Ensuring that youth are aware of the impacts of gender inequality social effects helps strengthen society as a whole. This should be an important factor of military planning because stronger societies are less likely to face problems with instability, violence, and war.
While Nepal provides both positive and negative examples of incorporating gender-based considerations into military and security planning, the benefits and results can be applied in almost any situation. Strengthening the social structure and growing a generation of responsible and educated future leaders will help reduce the risk of future conflict and mitigate the effects of ongoing and past conflict. Raising awareness against human trafficking, gender-based violence, and other social issues also helps to increase regional and global security. The UN has helped to promote stability across the globe with resolutions from the Security Council and the efforts of peacekeeping forces. These contributions are enhanced by the integration of gender related planning factors and the acknowledgement of women’s role in achieving peace.
[iii] Human Rights Review, September 2011, Vol. 12, Issue 3, pp 287-299 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12142-010-0181-8
[iv] Executive Orders 13506 and 13595 to promote issues relating to the welfare of women and girls and implement the National Action Plan were signed by President Obama and remain in effect. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=97990
[vi] U.S. CENTCOM Press Release, 23 May 2017 http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/1193462/afghan-women-get-better-medical-care-thanks-to-coalition-investment/
[ix] Women’s Commission Periodic Report on CEDAW, 2011:3. Independent Report prepared by the National Women’s Commission of Nepal to supplement the Combined 4thand 5th Periodic Report Submitted to the CEDAW Committee by the Government of Nepal
[xvii] UN Gender Directive, 2010, http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/gender_directive_2010.pdf
[xviii] Nepal is the 6th largest contributor globally to UNPKO http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/resources/statistics/contributors.shtml
[xix] This information is included in the guidance for the implementation of IMET annually from DSCA and the U.S. Department of State http://www.dsca.mil/programs/international-military-education-training-imet