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Women's empowerment needs to remain high on the agenda of the OSCE

Statement by Ambassador Andrej Benedejčič, Permanent Representative of Slovenia and Chairperson of the OSCE MenEngage Network, at the 917th Meeting of the Forum for Security Co-operation, on the occasion of the Security Dialogue on UNSCR 1325, Vienna, 5 June 2019

Mr. Chairperson,

Let me start by commending you personally and the team of the Tajik FSC Chairmanship as a whole for organizing this Security Dialogue. By emphasizing the importance of integrating women into the defence and security sectors of the OSCE participating States you have continued with the good practice of a number of previous Chairmanships, including the Slovenian one, which have placed the issue of women’s empowerment high on their agenda. The continuity of such efforts is important and deserves to be acknowledged. This continuity is also natural in the sense that Tajikistan itself exemplifies a good practice to be emulated, since it ensures an almost perfect gender balance in its contingent in the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, where 9 out of the 19 Tajik members are women. In that respect, Mr. Chairperson, you yourself have already provided part of the answer to the question raised in your introductory remarks and the concept note as to how to close gaps in the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.

I should now like to share, in my capacity as the Chairperson of the OSCE MenEngage Network, some views on this issue. As you know, the Network’s aim is to mobilize male ambassadors and military advisers here in Vienna in support of the task of promoting women’s rights. Accordingly, in my role as Chairperson I took an active part in early May in the OSCE Conference on Combating Violence against Women and Girls, which served as a platform for presenting the results of the recent OSCE led Survey on the Well-being and Safety of Women. I myself moderated a session addressing knowledge gaps and root causes of violence against women. One of its findings was that there is still a significant lack of understanding of the importance of equal opportunities, and that this nonchalant attitude is especially pronounced among high-ranking civil servants and government officials in a number of participating States. In that sense, these observations dovetail with what Vice Admiral Mellett of Ireland described in his presentation as “pushback”. This is worrying because, as pointed out earlier by Ms. Kannisto of UN-Women, the women, peace and security agenda really does depend on leadership for its implementation. To answer your question about what support the OSCE can provide to promote the forward-looking goals of UNSCR 1325, I would therefore say that keeping this issue high on the list of the Organization’s priorities and mainstreaming it into all of its activities, both here in Vienna and in the field operations, remain as important as ever. We should never assume that progress achieved cannot be rolled back.

Allow me also to point out that visibility is something that should never be underestimated. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the experience of my country, Slovenia, the appointment of women to the position of Minister of Defence directly paved the way for what happened last year, when Slovenia became the first NATO country to appoint a woman as Chief of the General Staff. Last year, by the way, when she had not yet been promoted to her current rank, Major General Ermenc took part in a Security Dialogue in this very room. Similarly, the fact that Lieutenant Colonel Strebel is a high-ranking officer in the United States Marine Corps sends a very important message in and of itself. The more opportunities she receives to speak about her work and experience, the better for all of us. And that is why it is so important to implement the “Panel Parity Pledge” that all members of the International Gender Champions network are required to sign up to. Indeed, we should all make sure that there are no more “manels”, as all-male panels are now called – especially not in activities conducted under the politico-military dimension of the OSCE, dealing as it does with the defence and security fields, in which men are still disproportionately represented.

Before concluding, Mr. Chairperson, I should like to seize this opportunity to put a few questions to Vice Admiral Mellett: Admiral Mellett, as a veteran of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan, how do you view the challenge of promoting women’s rights in a different cultural environment? What arguments, in your experience, work best in such a setting when encouraging other men to stand up for these rights?

With this, Mr. Chairperson, I should like to thank you again for organizing this Security Dialogue and request you to attach this statement to the journal of the day.

Thank you.