Navy helps develop new approach to women in conflict

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author)

Attendees at the workshop hosted by the Australian Civil-Military Centre  consider the practical and ethical implications of women’s involvement in conflicts. (photo: Unknown)
Attendees at the workshop hosted by the Australian Civil-Military Centre consider the practical and ethical implications of women’s involvement in conflicts.

The Royal Australian Navy is helping to re-shape Australia’s approach to managing conflicts of all kinds, joining a special workshop held recently in Canberra. The role of women in conflict has become a key focus for Australian Defence Force planners, as they seek out ways to win over communities on the front line.

Lieutenant Commander Kylie McNamara is at the forefront of this emerging strategy, and attended the workshop, hosted by the Australian Civil-Military Centre, which provided uniformed and civilian delegates with the opportunity to discuss how to involve women in diffusing tension and maintaining law and order. 

“Whether it’s a conflict zone or a humanitarian operation, not engaging with women in those areas places us at an immediate disadvantage,” Lieutenant Commander McNamara said.

“If we don’t harness women’s opinions, knowledge and advice we are effectively ignoring 50 per cent of the population.”

The conference allowed delegates from all backgrounds to consider the practical and ethical implications of women’s’ involvement in conflicts. It was focused on what is known as the ‘four pillars’: 

  • Prevention - Preventing sexual based exploitation, offences and violence against women including by peacekeeping forces

  • Protection - Improving safety for women at risk from a physical, mental, economic and legal perspective

  • Participation - Allowing women to participate in the peace process through increasing numbers of women at all levels of the decision-making process

  • Relief and Recovery - focuses on the equal distribution of aid to women and girls and incorporation of gender perspectives in efforts related to relief and recovery.

The United Nation's Security Council adopted resolution on Women Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325) on 31 October 2000. It addresses the significant and disproportionate impact that armed conflict has on women and children, notably girls, as well as recognising the under-valued and under-utilised contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace building.

Lieutenant Commander McNamara says the discussions helped her better understand the diverse range of perspectives surrounding women in peace and security. 

“Those of us in the military must accept that we operate in the business of conflict at times and we must use all available resources to ensure Internationally recognised interests and Australia’s interests are promoted and protected,” she said.

“The key now is to properly integrate women in peace and security into training and planning programs, not just in Navy but across the board.”

Lieutenant Commander McNamara said the role of women must be at the forefront of thinking from task force commander to the most junior sailor. 

“To date there has not been enough integration and education around women in peace and security to make it an automatic consideration,’ Lieutenant Commander McNamara said.  

“That’s something we all need to work on. 

“Women in peace and security is not just about getting the job done but ensuring that the job is done the right way, taking into consideration all views and perspectives.”