The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is aware of the disproportionate impact conflicts have on women and girls, the vital roles women play in peace and security, and the importance of incorporating gender perspectives in all its activities. Consequently, in 2007, following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the organization endorsed its first policy on gender perspective which has been continuously updated until the approval of the most recent 2021-2015 Action Plan. Particularly, the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda (WPS Agenda) advocates for the integration of the gender perspective and gender balance within NATO military and civilian structure, and for mainstreaming the gender dimension within NATO policies and programmes. The WPS Agenda is a global, thematic agenda that calls for progress toward gender equality and justice as a foundation for peace and security and is framed around 3 I’s principles: integration – gender equality must be considered as an integral part of NATO policies, programmes and projects, and it must be recognized that each policy, programme and project affects both women and men; inclusiveness – increasing women representation across NATO international staff and in national forces at all levels; integrity – systemic inequalities should be addressed to ensure fair and equal treatment of women and men throughout the entire organization.

The WPS Agenda along with gender-related issues are part of the wider domain of human security which is a multi-sectoral approach to security that focuses on people and includes, among others, topics like combatting trafficking in human beings, protection of children and of civilians in armed conflict, preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence. For NATO, the term human security relates to risks and threats to populations where NATO has operations, missions, or activities, and how to mitigate and respond to them. In recent years, the organization has developed a human security agenda to protect civilians in armed conflicts, countering human trafficking and preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of particular groups within a community is worsened when it comes to particular forms of violence, for instance the risk of gender-based violence against women and children. Therefore, understanding such social dynamics is crucial for assessing the security needs of different groups, and for the effective analysis, planning, conduct, and evaluation of military operations because conflicts and crises create different gender experiences for men, women, boys, and girls. Consequently, NATO integrates gender perspective as a way of assessing gender-based differences between women and men as reflected in their social roles and interactions, in the distribution of power and access to resources. In fact, the Alliance defines gender as the social attributes associated with being male and female learned through socialisation and determines a person’s position and value in each context. Given that social value and positions are always defined and negotiated between men, women, boys and girls, gender does not exclusively refer to women.

In this context, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, based at NATO Headquarters in Brussels (Belgium), serves as the high-level focal point for NATO’s work in this domain and is tasked with the responsibility to coordinate and oversee the implementation of the WPS agenda within the entire Alliance. Hence, the recently appointed Secretary General’s Special Representative on WPS, Ms. Irene Fellin, former President of WIIS Italy, will work to further advance gender equality and integrate gender perspectives in all that NATO does, across political, civilian and military structures, from policies and planning, training and education, to missions and operations. Conversely, across NATO’s military structures and in all operations and missions, since 2009, are in place Gender Advisors to provide guidance and advice to commanders on how to integrate gender perspective into operations and missions, crisis and conflict analysis, concepts, doctrine, procedures, and education and training. Besides the WPS agenda, to advance gender security, NATO can deploy other instruments such as the International Military Staff Office of the Gender Advisor and the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives that work to integrate a gender perspective into all aspects of the Alliance military operations. While the former provides information and advice on gender issues; collects and disseminates information on the national policies relating to gender; facilitates dialogue and liaises with international organisations concerned with the integration of a gender perspective into military operations; the latter promotes gender mainstreaming as an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Alliance’s policies, programmes and military operations.

All in all, as recognized by Megan Bastick, NATO is leading on this aspect in important ways: offering encouragement to members and partners to ensure that their armed forces and defence establishments become more inclusive of women, creating space to talk about LGBT inclusion, magnifying women in senior positions, delivering training on gender-based violence.
Many nations now regularly include WPS-specific interventions in trainings on how military operations impact the local population and how the local population impacts the conduct of military operations; and they are aware of the criticality of applying a gender perspective to all stages of an operation. Consequently, it is expected that this aspect will be considered when preparing the next organisation’s strategic concept, NATO 2030: United for a new era, as it would mean centring human security and human rights and emphasizing the value of human dignity. In fact, the Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană, while speaking at the December 2021 meeting of the NATO committee on gender, stressed the importance of mainstreaming gender perspectives across NATO’s agenda, from operations and missions to developing new capabilities and equipment. In the same direction goes the endorsement by the Defence Ministers of the NATO’s 2021-2025 Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. It is a comprehensive, ambitious and forward-looking policy which will contribute to better preparing the Alliance to address the challenges of today and for the next five years. It aims at strengthening NATO’s institutional framework to advance gender equality and integrate gender perspective in its activities; fostering cooperation and training among Allies and partners to contribute to the implementation of the WPS Agenda; and reaching a more balanced representation of men and women at all levels and functions across the organization.

As NATO reflects on a way forward, girls and women remain vulnerable to varied threats to their physical security and exposed to gendered digital threats. Thus, the next phase for the WPS agenda must deal with more sophisticated and intersectional threat assessments, risk analysis and gender analysis to deal with these challenges. Hence, the NATO 2030 Young Leaders acknowledged in their report that the gendered nature of human security challenges deserve greater attention; whilst, the reflection group appointed by NATO Secretary General called for the greater mobilization of strategic partnerships to reinforce human security and WPS, to ensure equal opportunities for women in the organization, in its military operations and at the community level where NATO has operational missions, to promote female role models and to communicate NATO activities on human security and WPS especially to younger generations. Afterall, it is widely agreed that making full use of women’s potential contributes to better fulfilment of the Alliance political and military goals.