On 27 October 2021, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and UN Women organized a First Committee side event entitled “advancing the role of women in international security: views from the Middle East.”
H.E. Ms. Leena Al-Hadid, Ambassador of Jordan to Austria, Czech Republic, & Hungary, and Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN and other International Organizations, opened the conversation by stating that there were advances made globally and in the Middle East towards gender equality since the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, with the inclusion of women in the traditionally male-dominated roles such as the diplomacy, military, and arms control. However, she noted that women’s representation remained low, particularly so in the Middle East region, where concerted effort is needed to remove social and cultural expectations to allow more women to participate in international security positions. She emphasized that women’s inclusion not only provides a diversity of opinion, but that women have the right to be part of the discussions that impact their lives.
H.E. Ms. Nabeela Al-Mulla, former Ambassador of Kuwait and distinguished lecturer at the American University of Kuwait, characterized her experience as a diplomat in the international security field as a lonely one, with many occasions where she was the only woman in the room. She stated that while she was proud to see more women in the disarmament field now, regretfully, even those countries in the region that have historically strong civil service institutions fail to include women in their delegations. The speaker noted that she has encountered many women from the Middle East who worked at the UN and suggested that the organisation exert all efforts to support and nurture these talented women to succeed.
H.E. Ms. Lana Nusseibeh, Assistant Minister for Political Affairs, Ambassador and Permanent Representative for the United Arab Emirates to the UN, noted that while Security Council resolution 1325 changed the narrative from women being victims to agents of change, and that gains have been made, gender inequality remains. She stated that there is a need to move beyond the need to justify women’s inclusion to discussions on implementation, as there is an abundance of data and case studies that show that inclusion of women, particularly in peace processes, make solutions more durable. She highlighted three concrete actions that should be taken to improve gender equality: 1) specific inclusion of women in peace and recovery processes, such as quotas and women-specific consultations; 2) the use of gender-specific evaluation metrics to be used by UN agencies in their work, including accountability through staff performance; 3) appointment of women from the Middle East to serve as heads of missions and peace envoys (there are currently none).
Ms. Mona Ali Khalil, Director, MAK Law International, concurred with other panelists that while there are more women in the field, their presence still falls well below 50 per cent. This phenomenon is not specific to the Middle East; gender inequality remains across the globe. She stated that young women such as Nadia Murad and Malala made her optimistic that the next generation will continue to make strides. She noted that cultural and religious factors contribute to precluding women’s inclusion in the international security arena, as does the narrow definition of what constitutes international security roles, adding that doctors, journalists, human rights activists, humanitarians also fall into this scope considering the interdependence of these roles on security issues.
Furthermore, Ms. Khalil stated that there is a need to normalise the inclusion of women for boys and encourage men who support and champion women’s inclusion. She added that one of the key factors in radicalization of men stems from when they perceive a threat of becoming marginalized as women (and other groups) rise in societies. Education plays a role in addressing these perceptions, especially for those in religious leadership positions, she concluded.
Lastly, all the panelists shared one piece of advice for girls and women in the international security field. Ms. Khalil encouraged them to look for role models, while Ambassador Nusseibeh highlighted the need for women to excel in their field, keep learning and meeting interesting people. Ambassador Al-Mulla added that it is very important to like what you do as well as read, research and ask questions. Ambassador Al-Hadid believed that women need to persevere, stay focused and avoid listening to the noise around.
In her closing remarks, UN Women Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director, Anita Bhatia highlighted the gendered impact of security issues and the need for new ways to consider international security through the inclusion of women and roles beyond the traditional.
Drafted by Marya Canham