Integrating gender perspectives makes military operations more effective: Gender Advisor

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Article / March 8, 2017

By: Lucy Ellis, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

Imagine being sent on a humanitarian mission. Would you help a young boy and an elderly woman in the same way? Would you try to meet their unique needs? If the town leaders were all men, would you only talk to them, or would you also talk with the local women?

At the end of the day, the mission will be most successful when you consider and include everyone. That’s where gender perspectives come into the picture.

“Integrating gender perspectives is about more than just gender itself: it’s also about education, religion, culture, ethnicity - all of those other factors,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Jody Hanson, the Gender Advisor at the Canadian Joint Operations Command.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson’s position is relatively new. She and two other colleagues, who advise the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command respectively, are the first Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Gender Advisors. They are paving the way to make CAF operations more effective by tabling considerations to support Canada’s comprehensive approach to operations around the world.

“If we understand the groups of people in the areas to which we deploy, and we understand what their needs are, we can address them during the planning process,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson. “If we plan with those considerations in mind, we will set ourselves up for success by arming the troops on the ground with the tools and education they need.”

The Gender Advisors consider four main themes in their work: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery.

“Participation speaks to the importance of bringing women in to participate in the peace making process,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson. “We’re trying to set up long term security and stability, and the only way we can do that is if we try to incorporate their buy in, interests and input as well.”

One example is from a Swedish-Finnish Task Force in Afghanistan in 2012. In one village, the situation was so dangerous that female teachers stopped working at schools, which meant that girls also couldn’t go to school. The soldiers set up a security checkpoint, which allowed some of the teachers to return to work. When the soldiers decided to set up another checkpoint, they asked the female teachers where it should be placed to make the school safer. In the end, most of the teachers and girls returned to the school, and the soldiers developed a better understanding of the local security dynamics of the area.

Protection and prevention both deal with stopping conflict-related sexual violence, but in different ways. Protection is about taking action to keep people—women and men, girls and boys—safer. Prevention is about creating policies and programs to change the culture around sexual violence.

Finally, the relief and recovery theme is about making sure that people have equal access to humanitarian assistance and developmental aid.

The goal is to educate all CAF members about gender perspectives and have trained Gender Advisors ready to send on operations. Over time, it should become a reflex for everyone to think about these issues in all stages of their work.

As people plan and conduct future operations, they’ll stop and think: “Is our operation differentially impacting someone in a negative way? Are we inadvertently forgetting somebody or putting someone at a disadvantage? And if we are, how can we alter it so that we either stop doing that or mitigate the effect on those people?” said Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson.

Institutionalizing this way of thinking will take time, but Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson is enthusiastic about the progress that has been made, and looks forward to seeing Canadian Gender Advisors deployed on operations.

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