OSF and the Atlantic Council Host Event on WPS in Today's Security Landscape

On March 4, 2024, Our Secure Future and the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, co-hosted a hybrid public event on the role of the Women, Peace and Security agenda in today’s security landscape.

The event, titled “Women, Peace, and Security in a Shifting Security Landscape,” served as a timely exploration of the role of women in the evolving security environment, particularly poignant as the world prepared to observe International Women’s Day. From Europe to the Middle East, conflicts challenging the rules-based international order have intensified, threatening civilian populations and amplifying global insecurity. Against this backdrop, the indispensable perspectives of women, who are disproportionately affected by conflict, have emerged as crucial contributors for fostering lasting peace and reshaping the security paradigm. 

Key milestones framed the discussion, including the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the United Nations' Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and NATO’s 75th anniversary. Panelists underscored the importance of integrating gender perspectives into policy responses for emergent geopolitical challenges, such as climate change, technological advancements, and the global refugee crisis, to fortify collective security and defense alliances. 

The panel discussion was moderated by OSF Vice President Sahana Dharmapuri and featured a distinguished speaker lineup: 

  • Jenna Ben-Yehuda, Executive Vice President, Atlantic Council 
  • Moira Whelan, Director, Democracy and Technology Team, National Democratic Institute; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) 
  • Melanie Nezer, Vice President, Advocacy and External Relations, Women’s Refugee Commission 

Keynote remarks by Irene Fellin, Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), set the stage for the conversation, as it emphasized the profound significance of two momentous anniversaries: NATO's 75th founding anniversary and the upcoming 25th anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325. Set against Europe's evolving security landscape marked by strategic competition and instability, Ms. Fellin underscored the enduring commitment to advancing gender equality and ensuring the security of all individuals. 

Addressing a spectrum of security threats, including Russian aggression in Ukraine and the growth of terrorism, Ms. Fellin emphasized their adverse impact on women's rights and their meaningful participation in peace processes. Notably, she stressed the imperative of implementing resolution 1325 and combatting gender-based violence and exploitation. She also addressed the intersecting challenges posed by climate change and emerging technologies, highlighting the need for a gender-sensitive approach to address these pressing issues.  

Ms. Fellin reaffirmed NATO's commitment to the WPS agenda, pointing to the ongoing consultative process with civil society organizations, exemplified by the newly established Civil Society Advisory Panel (CSAP) on WPS, to revise and realign NATO’s WPS policy with its overarching strategy. Ms. Fellin underscored women's pivotal role in promoting global peace and stability, emphasizing their full engagement in decision-making as crucial for realizing NATO's mandate and fostering a just and enduring peace in the Euro-Atlantic region. 

Following her remarks, the event’s panelists continued the discussion of NATO’s role in advancing the application of a gender lens in global security policy. Jenna Ben-Yehuda of the Atlantic Council emphasized the imperative of incorporating civil society voices into NATO’s discourse, particularly regarding the WPS agenda. She acknowledged NATO’s struggle with opacity and advocated for greater accessibility to external stakeholders. Ms. Ben-Yehuda highlighted the ongoing focus on meeting the 2% GDP threshold for defense spending within NATO, while stressing the strategic importance of investing in WPS initiatives, especially amid the global refugee crises. She likewise urged for inclusive resource allocation and anticipated these discussions to take center stage at the NATO Summit in Washington D.C. later this year. 

NDI’s Moira Whelan highlighted the increasing importance of addressing the gendered implications of emerging technology, explaining that challenges in this space extend beyond hindrances to women's full participation in elections or accessing information, and had to address also the escalating cybersecurity threats and surveillance concerns faced by women. While technological tools used by democracies and defense institutions like NATO can be beneficial for enhancing security, Ms. Whelan cautioned that they can also threaten half of the global population. She stressed the urgency of discussions to rectify these disparities and ensure that efforts to protect and secure societies do not inadvertently undermine the values they seek to uphold. 

Addressing the importance of recognizing the WPS agenda at the NATO Summit, Melanie Nezer outlined two key challenges through the lens of the refugee crisis. First, displaced women are consistently excluded from leadership roles under the pretext of ensuring their safety, despite their invaluable contributions to peacebuilding efforts. Ms. Nezer highlighted the practical barriers faced by women, including transportation safety, which directly impact their physical security and, consequently, capacity to engage in peacebuilding processes.  

Second, Ms. Nezer drew attention to the imminent anniversary of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which provides the legal framework for protecting individuals fleeing persecution. She lamented the contemporary trend towards deterrence and enforcement-focused approaches to displacement crises, urging for a more coordinated and compassionate response to address the multifaceted challenges posed by displacement, including those exacerbated by climate change. Ms. Nezer advocated for inclusive decision-making processes and emphasized the necessity for global collaboration to tackle these challenges effectively, challenging the notion of isolationist responses. 

Examining the shifting and interconnected nature of warfare, as well as its extension beyond traditional borders, speakers offered recommendations for NATO. Ms. Ben-Yehuda discussed the prevalence of gray zone conflicts and the challenges posed by online security threats, emphasizing the importance of addressing AI weaponization and its disproportionate impact on women, who are often targets of online abuse. She called for a more inclusive approach to online security, recognizing the need to mitigate biases that marginalize women's voices and experiences online. Similarly, Ms. Whelan highlighted the imperative for organizations like NATO to expand conversations beyond traditional hubs and recognize the invaluable contributions of women from the global south in redefining security. While progress is underway, Ms. Whelan underscored the urgent need to develop inclusive mechanisms to ensure the integration of perspectives from all populations, particularly women, into the decision-making process, ultimately aiming for durable peace.  

The event shed light on the pivotal role of women in shaping peace and security agendas amid an ever-evolving global landscape. We heard a call for action to revise policies, amplify women's voices, and foster inclusive decision-making processes within NATO and beyond. As we approach NATO's 75th Anniversary, it is important to heed these insights and commit to forging a more just and enduring peace where the contributions of women are recognized, valued, and indispensable in safeguarding our collective security.  

For those who missed it, watch the full event online: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/women-peace-and-security-in-a-shifting-security-landscape/