SOUTHCOM Commander Kicks Off 2017 Gender Perspectives Seminar

SOUTHCOM Commander Kicks Off 2017 Gender Perspectives Seminar

By Claudia Sánchez-Bustamante/Diálogo
March 13, 2017

From March 7-9, the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) and Chile’s National Academy of Political Science and Strategic Studies (ANEPE), hosted the 2017 seminar on “Peace and Security from a Gender Perspective: From Policy to Strategy” at Fort Lesley J. McNair, in Washington, D.C. The initiative, started in 2016, is an effort to promote United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on Women, Peace, and Security. This year’s event brought together participants from the defense, human rights, public security, and women’s issues arenas in partner nations including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Uruguay to discuss topics of gender integration in developing security, an international framework for the protection of human rights, and the application of a gendered human security perspective on emergencies and humanitarian assistance, among others. U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, kicked off the event highlighting the importance of gender integration in strategy and policy. “Now, more than ever, the issue of effective gender integration is connected to the present and future capabilities of our armed forces and national security institutions,” said Adm. Tidd, from his perspective as an operational combatant commander. “Right now, the men and women of our security forces are engaged in a wide spectrum of missions, across a wide range of conditions, all over the world,” he stated. “The operations they’re serving in are a far cry from the types of missions most of us in uniform served in –or even contemplated– at the beginning of our careers.” Adm. Tidd highlighted the ever-changing conditions of the armed forces today. “Even peacekeeping has changed,” he pointed out. “Today, two-thirds of all peacekeepers are serving in active conflict zones. Peacekeepers from our hemisphere are supporting UN missions on four different continents: they’re deployed to Kashmir, Cyprus, Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, the Sinai, Mali, and Haiti. At the same time, U.S troops are involved around the world in operations as diverse as counter terrorism missions in Afghanistan, supporting coalition operations in Syria and Iraq, and building partner capacity right here in our own hemisphere,” he reflected. “And no matter where our men and women are serving, the security environment they face is unlike any we’ve seen before,” he added. “It’s more unpredictable, far more dangerous, and extraordinarily complex.” The SOUTHCOM commander listed specific examples to illustrate today’s realities. “New technologies are fielded faster than ever before –by our forces, and by those who seek to do us harm. Technologies are used in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago. Violent state actors, non-state actors, non-state Islamist extremists like ISIS and criminal networks now operate across geographic boundaries and domains. The information landscape is more crowded and competitive than ever before. We’ve seen new social media platforms extend the reach, scale, and speech in which both real and fake news move… This new reality directly influences the operational environment and collapses the decision space of our civilian leaders. Tactics and techniques continue changing in ways that pose enormous ethical and cultural challenges, from the use of female and child suicide bombers, to entire families traveling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. The battle field is literally moving under our feet.” Adm. Tidd posed important questions on how to tackle this change. “Keeping pace with this change involves asking ourselves how our forces need to adapt, and how our cultures and institutions need to change to support our forces,” he said. “This means evolving the way we unleash the full talent, initiative, and potential of our men and women. This means evolving how we cultivate capable, adaptable, and creative leaders who can thrive in this challenging world of change and complexity,” he continued. “This is why effective gender integration, and the integration of gender perspectives into military operations, is an absolute imperative for each of our armed forces and security institutions. If we are to successfully adapt to meet the demands of the 21st century security environment.” The SOUTHCOM commander stressed the importance of adapting quickly in order to achieving operational effectiveness. “It’s how we attain and maintain our respective competitive advantages,” he said. “Integrating women and gender perspectives into military operations is part of that adaptation.” For example, Adm. Tidd listed UN studies that have shown that female peacekeepers improve the understanding of the operational environment, especially as it relates to the issues affecting women and children in conflict and post-conflict societies. “As we’ve seen in Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Namibia, and South Africa, the presence of female peacekeepers in our formations increases access to and support for local women affected by conflict, improving the likelihood of attaining a lasting peace,” he said. “In our own military, we saw how the integration of female cultural support teams (CST) into U.S. Special Operations Forces units made for a fundamentally stronger, more capable, and flexible fighting force.” According to Adm. Tidd, “after action reports revealed those CST were highly effective at de-escalating tense situations. They were uniquely placed to protect women and children when raids turned deadly, enhancing the legitimacy of U.S. and coalition forces. Any by interacting with a portion of the population that was previously off limits to U.S. troops, they were able to gather critical information and intelligence about weapons caches and insurgent hiding places, improving force protection of U.S. and coalition troops and the situational awareness of our commanders in the field.” Adm. Tidd urged the conferees to look beyond the simple question of how to integrate women into military operations. In order to begin the conversation of gender integration, the Admiral remarked the importance of remembering the fundamental difference between the mere inclusion of women as participants in the nations’ militaries, and the recognition of women as equals. “The first is window dressing, meeting a quota, and advancing an agenda,” he said. “The second is transformative for our forces and our institutions.” He was poignant in that it is not about looking for the right number of women, but rather looking for the “best teammates –those men and women with the irresistible drive to contribute to mission success, who have the right team ethos and who possess a diverse way of looking at problems and coming up with unexpected, creative solutions” to join in the conversation, the decision making process, and the ranks of the militaries and security structures working toward regional peace and stability. Effective gender integration, he said, is really part of a larger question: How do we attract, develop, and retain the best people, with the right skillsets, to meet the ever accelerating demands of military operations in the 21st century? To answer that, Adm. Tidd asked the audience to think about the real-world impact of the strategies they develop, and what those mean for training and human capital development pipelines. “I can only speak from my U.S. perspective, but the issue of standards tends to dominate any discussion of gender integration,” he said. “In the U.S., we’ve had a lot of talk about whether women can meet the physical standards required for combat. In my opinion, there should be no compromises in the name of equality and opportunity,” he stated. “It undermines what we’re trying to do, and reinforces the stereotypes we’re fighting against.” Adm. Tidd assured the audience that all the women he has worked with in the course of his career reject the idea of double standards. “They want to receive the same treatment, and have the same opportunities as their male team members. They want to be held to one standard, a mission standard, not a gender standard,” he said. “We all recognize that the readiness of our forces and the security of our nations depend on the maintenance of tough standards that reflect the mission, not the gender,” he added. “Female military professionals, exactly like their male counterparts, want to be judged on the basis of their grit, their determination, and tenacity–the things that matter most. The things we prize in all our team members.” Adm. Tidd brought to light that the U.S. Marine Corps has examined the performance gap between men and women on combat fitness tests. The results showed that the primary obstacle for the majority of women was upper body strength. However, he also cited previous studies which documented that women and men who are strength trained can increase their performance on combat-related tasks. “The fact that some female marines could complete the most challenging upper body strength tests suggests those barriers are neither inherent nor biological,” he highlighted. “So when it comes to standards, we must think in terms of gender-blind standards… focus on specific out comes, not on specific genders,” he added. “Our U.S. military is still working through this,” he added. “We haven’t figured it all out yet either.” But he was clear on that “whatever it involves, it needs to include opportunities for all our men and women to train for the jobs they aspire towards.” In addition to discussing the importance of training men and women physically, Adm. Tidd appended that it is also paramount to consider their mental and emotional training as well. “Excelling in the complex 21st century security environment is not simply a matter of physical strength. It’s about the ideas we generate, the creativity we cultivate, and the problems we solve,” he underscored. “Ultimately, it’s about the effective teams we build.” Adm. Tidd was clear on that “we need more comprehensive measurements of intellectual, professional, and character attributes,” he said. “We need to develop women and men who excel in complexity, anticipate change, recognize opportunity, and adapt to meet new challenges. The complex environments our forces face demand critical thinking, flexibility, and creativity. Our mission success depends on it,” he highlighted. “Ultimately, gender integration has nothing to do with leveling the playing field. It’s about making sure we put our nest possible team on that playing field,” he remarked. But the Admiral also called on “strategic patience” to continue to develop and achieve more and better gender integration. “The small numbers of women in some of our ranks–especially in the combat arms–doesn’t mean this isn’t worth pursuing. Developing the force we need takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight …Today’s dialogue, and others like it, will help us develop the necessary strategies and policies, adapt our doctrines, revise our training guidance, and retool our learning curriculums.” Adm. Tidd ended his speech with three poignant examples to illustrate gender integration and remind the audience that these are “much harder to see, or measure, or quantify, but are nevertheless incredibly important to the ultimate success of effective gender integration”: “Imagine what a young Haitian girl thought when she saw female peacekeepers from Uruguay, Peru, and Brazil patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince, providing security, and delivering medical care to Haitian citizens and helping the country recover from the devastating earthquake. Imagine what a young Afghan girl thought when she saw our cultural support teams taking fire and saving lives, not just American soldiers, but Afghan civilians. Imagine what a young American school girl thought when she heard that three women graduated from the U.S. Army’s notoriously tough ranger school–achieving a level of leadership training that few men will ever accomplish. Or what she thought when she heard that for the first time, a fully qualified woman has been selected to serve in our ranger regiment, an elite unit that conducts some of the most challenging and precise offensive operations undertaken by the U.S. military.” “The women serving in our forces today are incredibly powerful sources of inspiration for the future,” he stated. “Because those young Haitian, Afghan, and American girls can see it, they know that if they prepare effectively, they can be it. Like the men they serve beside, the women serving in our forces today are pioneers of a new generation of military professionals – the women serving in our forces today aren’t a milestone. They’re a motivation–an inspiration–for all of us,” he concluded.
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