NOTE: This post was written by Emily Green. Emily is an undergraduate student at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She is currently pursuing a degree in both International Relations and Economics. Her areas of interest include women’s rights, economic empowerment, and the post-conflict peace process.
On March 31st, in the midst of a rather pressing agenda, a meeting with top ambassadors from across the Security Council was called to order. H.E. Dina Kawar of Jordan, just one day away from assuming the Security Council Presidency, sat beside Lithuanian Permanent Representative Raimonda Murmokaite, Argentinian Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, and H.E. Mirsada Colakovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The room soon flooded with representatives of countless delegations. However, this event was no high-level briefing. Rather, it was an intimate luncheon organized by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Qatar, to discuss “Voices of Women from the UN Security Council on Peace and Security”. As the women of Security Councils past and present spoke of their experiences, the interactive dynamic soon revealed several commonalities. Below are prominent themes of the panel discussion.
Credibility of Female Leadership:
One of the first themes addressed by the panel was the unique nature of female leadership. The ambassadors noted that female leadership has increased exponentially within the Security Council, due partly to recognition of women’s remarkable approach to diplomacy. One ambassador noted with a smile that women are known to be less confrontational in Council negotiations, as their judgment is less clouded by vanity or ego. Women often show a softer side when engaging in diplomatic negotiations, placing special emphasis on reaching consensus. The women highlight the importance of cooperation, both within the Council and when engaging with civil society. Within the Council, the female diplomats trust their intuition more when pursuing solutions.
Threat of ‘Issue Stereotyping’:
However, while all members of the panel noted talents possessed by their female peers, a few ambassadors expressed hesitance towards singling out strengths based solely on gender. One common theme touched on throughout the event was the need to combat gender-based stereotypes. While we can recognize influential leaders for their accomplishments, highlighting certain strengths based upon gender can imply weakness in other areas. One ambassador reiterated the popular belief that an increase of women on the Council results in an increased focus on the more ‘human’ elements of conflict. While it’s true that women are known to pay special attention to social issues, this belief also gives rise to the problem of ‘issue stereotyping’. Social issues of a ‘soft’ nature are attributed to the agenda of the female diplomat. ‘Hard issues’ of security are associated with their male counterparts. Stereotyping issues places constraints on the capacity and abilities of both the male and female diplomat. One ambassador even noted that dividing issues can allow the male delegate to try to expunge ‘women’s issues’ off the table entirely, neglecting the ‘human’ aspects of conflict. Another representative, when asked to define ‘women’s issues’, expressed discomfort at the request. After all, for example, isn’t the adequate training of peacekeepers both a man and woman’s issue? The panel stressed that although women on the Council have gained a reputation for giving voice to the softer elements, this attribution shouldn’t be acknowledged with praise, but rather with a call for a change of the Council’s environment.
Prejudice Against Expressing Emotion:
Acknowledging a reputation for focusing solely on soft issues, the women also spoke out against the prejudice they face for showing emotion in Security Council proceedings. It quickly became clear through the ambassadors’ anecdotes that many had faced judgment for exhibiting passion during Council debates. Many male colleagues sought to belittle their female counterparts by publicly dismissing their statements as ‘emotional’. After explaining similarities between conflicts of today to those that shaped many delegations’ pasts, the diplomats would be given a dismissive thanks for their ‘emotional’ speech. One ambassador even recounted an instance in which a fellow panelist had to stand up for her in debate, calling the aggressor out for his behavior. The panel acknowledged that there was no need to feel shame for showing passion towards these political issues.
Solidarity Within the Council:
In spite of stories shared of adversity, one vibrant undertone throughout the panel was a sense of solidarity shared between the female delegates of the Council. Throughout the discussion, the ambassadors freely praised their Council counterparts. Alluding to Friday’s debate on the situation in the Middle East, Dina Kawar’s insight was recognized by many of her colleagues as integral to understanding the ethical and political dimensions of the conflict. As the ambassadors discussed discrimination faced during debate, one leader turned to the permanent representative beside her to thank her for defending her during a meeting. The women stressed that their leadership in the council is a testament of diversity; although they each represent their countries, they all represent women as a whole. The panel of women from Security Councils past and present raised a call together for an environment of support and solidarity.
The panel discussion provided a chance for the female faces of the Security Council to offer an intimate glimpse at the trials and tribulations of their experiences. Before running off to their next briefing, the leaders sat together to share a meal with representatives from all delegations. As they transitioned seamlessly from sharing stories of their family to discussing issues of global security, it became evident that the women of the Security Council truly practiced what they preached. The women extended a warm sense of solidarity to everyone in attendance, united in their efforts to work together to ensure international peace and security.