Women’s Voices in Foreign Affairs and International Security

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Women’s Voices in Foreign Affairs and International Security

DATE: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, 13 May

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom

SPEAKER: H. E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Nikita Malik, and Baroness Goudie

EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Goudie

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Baroness Goudie, I have met some of you in the audience before, and I am very looking forward to this meeting on women’s voices in Foreign Affairs. One of our speakers, Lucy Fisher, has unfortunately not been able to come and I am upset for Lucy because she prepared very well to come to work this morning but she is now home not well.

I would like to open the meeting with our two speakers, with Ambassador Saida Muna Tasneem who will speak first for about ten minutes, followed by Nikita Malik, who will speak for ten minutes and then I will open it up to questions and sum up at about five to six. When you speak, let everybody know your name and where you come from.

Ambassador would like to talk about very important issue to all of us here.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Thank you very much, good afternoon. It is so kind of you to consider me qualified to speak on this issue and I would just like to say hello to my co-panelist, an expert in counterterrorism, de-radicalisation and counter-extremism. But I think that today’s topic is very timely and I thank the Henry Jackson Society for organising this talk. The topic being women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security, I think what happened in Christchurch recently and how the reaction we saw with Ms Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, she has probably set the best example of why it is important to have women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security. She is probably the role model of the century of how she has handled counterterrorism, creating inter-religious harmony, defusing tensions, and actually, being a feminist for foreign policy proponents in the handling of the whole situation post-Christchurch’s terrorist attacks.

If you look at the two countries in the world who have taken feminist foreign policies, which is Sweden and Canada, Sweden is the first country where the Prime Minister, Margaret Wallaström, in 2014, had introduced this feminist foreign policy where they brought gender equality and women’s right at the centre of the diplomatic agenda. The other country is Canada, where Justin Trudeau has had the Canadian foreign aid program transformed, it is now known as the feminist international assistance policy. Of course, currently, there are twenty-six foreign ministers in this world who are women. We need to have women in these positions if we want to have their voice and their say and changes in the foreign affairs and international security rubric. So, having women foreign ministers, and we have twenty-six women foreign ministers currently, we have four from Asia, six from Europe, eight from Americas, and seven from Africa and one from the Caribbean of the Pacific. Not a very bright picture, but still, if you compare to even six years ago, half a decade ago it is a very bright picture. According to the IPU and UN Women in Politics Report 2019, this picture and these women being in politically important influential positions where they can influence foreign affairs and international security is increasing, it is getting better every year.

What the picture we saw in 2012 and the picture we saw in 2018 is a considerable increase in the positions of women in the positions of parliament staff, defence ministers, international aid ministers, home affairs ministers, and women in justice systems, women in police, in the law enforcement agencies, women in defence, in the army and in air forces and navy, and women in Human Rights commissions. These are the institutions that really matter when we want to bring justice and preserve the four pillars of Resolution 1325, where we see prevention of gender-based violence, and then protection, and then participation and (inaudible) institutionalisation.

If we want women to influence and use their feminism, that they are not pro-militarism, they are pro-peace, I you want to actually leverage on that position, we need to have women in peace institutions. And the report of IPU Women says that currently there are nine countries in the world where than fifty percent women are in ministerial positions, but there are only nine countries. Most of the world global average, where we have women in ministries, as ministers, are about twenty-three to twenty-five percent. That is the global average. Here in parliament, the average is about twenty-five percent to twenty-seven percent. Normally we see that in some of the European countries, including Sweden which has always been a champion in this or the other country is Spain in Europe.

And then there is another trend in Latin American countries – Nicaragua, Colombia – and in Africa, we have Rwanda, that is quite a surprise, a society that is completely transformed since the civil war there and all the conflicts that it has gone through. In Africa, we have about ten percent women ministers increase just over the last two years. But there has not been quite a considerable number of foreign ministers in Africa. In Latin America also, in Mexico, we have seen an increase of five foreign ministers in the last two years.

Let us look at the picture in South Asia. South Asia is made of countries where women foreign ministers in India in the eighties and then Bangladesh has had its first women foreign minister in 2009. But definitely, in South Asia, Pakistan has had its first women in parliament in 2011 and Sri Lanka still does not have one.

But of course, in the UK, if you compare, we have had a women foreign minister, we have had junior ministers, we have had defence ministers and home ministers and of course Prime ministers. These are very important positions and that is why the UK’s regime is very very strong, because we have had women meddling into these issues, in these areas.

In Bangladesh, we have our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we had women Prime Ministers for thirty-five years. There are global surprises and exceptions. For example, the UAE and Mauritania, in the Middle East and Africa, these countries have the largest numbers of women ministers. Countries that we would normally not presume that they have so large numbers of women ministers.

In Bangladesh we have had Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who, after she had come to office in 1996 she signed the first peace accord that Bangladesh has ever signed with the ethnic minorities with the Hill people. She had signed this peace accord in 1997 with the Hill people of Bangladesh and she received the UNESCO peace award for that. So that is actually making a difference in trying to resolve conflicts and do some peace building later on. And then again she has appointed in 2009 the first women Foreign Minister of the country and the first woman Home Affairs minister of the country. These are women, bringing change, being the agent for change in the peace architecture of the country. And then she has resolved our maritime boundaries peacefully with India and Myanmar. We have two neighbours, we had not settled our maritime boundaries during all these years but we have had dictators, so many Prime Ministers, but she has resolved both by taking recourse of peaceful means and taking recourse of the law of the Sea Tribunal. She is using girls’ education to bring peace and she has received this UNESCO peace award for bringing peace.

She is also the defence minister of the country, and as you know, Bangladesh speaks for oppositions as we are the second largest contributor troop contributing country to UN peace keeping operations. This is one area where we actually make a difference in global peace and security architecture. We are also the largest women peace keeper contributor in the world. In terms of civilian police, Bangladesh has contributed to the UN with the first all-women formed police unit in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All-women formed police unit. They actually play a significant role in bringing peace, protecting women, preventing sexual and gender-based violence.

Lastly, we come to the question of the Rohingya refugees. As you know, Sheikh Hasina took the initiative to host 1,1 million refugees and forcedly displaced Myanmar people, but sixty-five percent of that population that enters Bangladesh are women. And they have faced gender-based violence (rape, sexual mutilation, forced sexual slavery), and when they came in, we had nearly fifty-five to sixty thousands women who had been raped and gave birth to their babies. We are working with the UK government on them because UK’s foreign policy wants to provide counselling and post-traumatic gender-based violence counselling.

I just want to come back on leading global leaders who really made a difference in the global architecture of foreign affairs and international security. Ameerah Haq, former Under-Secretary General for the UN peace-keeping department of fields services, who was UN Secretary General special representative for Afghanistan and also for East Timor, where she actually made a difference in peace treaties.

I would mention Liberia’s president Sirleaf, who had made a difference in peace processes. A strong women who has made a difference in peace processes. I would mention Mary Robinson, who has had a contribution in the Good Friday Agreement and also later on Human Rights Commissioner. And of course, currently Helen Clark, the longest serving UNDP Head and the Under-Secretary General. She has really brought a difference in post-conflict peace building.

Today, with twenty-six foreign ministers, and less than five women defence ministers in the world, when we do not have more home ministers, we need women in these positions if we want to bring, and prevent, and actually it is not the president or the prime minister male who is taking decisions but the defence minister, the home minister, actually bringing peace accords, not sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, actually bringing them back, and bringing long-term and sustaining peace and development. We need to engage fifty percent of our population who are women.

Thank you very much.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you, it is as you said now women working together to make this change in a very difficult but important situation. Also, the Deputy General Secretary of NATO is a woman, Rose Gottemoeller, who has worked on a number of very serious peace accords and had as much patience as Georges Mitchell had when he did the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, she can sit for six hours and just let them talk, and talk, and talk.

Now Nikita, would you like to speak please?

 

NIKITA MALIK:

Thank you very much. My name is Nikita Malik, I am the director of our centre on radicalisation and terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. I am actually probably not going to speak for ten minutes because I thought with Lucy here we would have less than ten minutes, but I would like to touch on a few points. Now, the reason why I thought this panel today which the Henry Jackson Society helped to organise and put together is so important and so pertinent is because of the increasing shift we see in government policy and international policy on protecting women but also, as Her Excellency has so clearly defined we see an increasing role of women being involved in positions of power. And I am honoured today that Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem is here with us as is Baroness Goudie because they are two examples of women actually setting foreign policy and helping define what it is that the UK and Bangladesh are doing. So I am absolutely delighted that they are both here.

Now in terms of myself and the research that I do, about two years ago, I published a report by the name of “Trafficking terror”, perhaps some of you have read it. It was the first time that I was systematically looking at the use of international organisations and how they were protecting women in times of conflict. Obviously, the most pertinent example of this is the United Nations. And it is absolutely fascinating to see how resolutions have evolved over time. In the beginning of course, sexual rape in conflict, abduction, forced marriage, were seen as repercussions of war. There was a systematic effort on the part of the United Nations to begin to use terms such as sexual violence in conflict, victims of trafficking, protecting women, protecting children, often these categories lump together as one word, women and children. But in fact, women require a special protection as do children. They often happen to go together but women require special assistance by care providers in areas of conflict for birth control, trauma therapy, I think that has happened.

And it seems to me that there was a systematic approach on the part of the United Nations with much lobbying and much assistance from different countries to begin to say that women deserve protection not just soldiers and fighters, armies in countries. Women, where these wars are happening, deserve a special protection. And no, it is not going to be just a repercussion of war that women will violated in this way. Having said that, even though there has been a systematic approach to changing the way we are thinking about these ideas, one can question how successful this has really been. It is quite saddening that there has only been one international tribunal in history which is looking at trying individuals for sexual violence in conflict. Both against men and women. This was a special tribunal put forward by the United Nations to do that.

Of course in the evolution of protecting women in conflicts, very recently, in the last few years, the UN has put forward a new resolution on the systematic use of sexual violence against women by terrorist organisations, so by non-state actors. How we must ensure that terrorists who obviously do not follow the guidelines of international rules based order or legislation are brutalising, using, selling women in this way and their children in order to gain a reaction from the public or to further their ends. It is a very difficult thing to do. I would argue the most difficult thing in the space is actually ensuring that you have the trust of the victims themselves. Often, we see in the news that a conflict happens, it is in the front of our mind and slowly the story changes and it goes away. And we never really see what happens to these victims in the long-term. Who is studying what is happening what has happened to them, the level of care that they have been given and how successful that has been?

One of the most interesting cases to follow is that of Nadia Murad who, as a Yazidi woman who was subject to a horrifying ordeal by the Islamic State. She has actually helped, through her testimony – her and many others like her through her foundation. I have heard some of their testimonies in person and it is so important because unless we listen to these stories, what will happen is that history will just repeat itself.

What do we do with these stories once we have them? One of the policy recommendations I have put forward, and Lord Ahmed actually brought it up in the House of Lords, the UK we need to be holding countries where these conflicts are happening whether that is Iraq or Syria or Nigeria, where unfortunately national laws do not protect women enough, so rape in a marriage is for example not considered a violation of a woman, it is not considered rape. Often, there is so much stigmatisation after a rape that it is easier to marry the woman off to the perpetrator than actually hold the perpetrator to account or to punish him in any way. I have suggested the ability for UK and US lawyers to assist in evidence gathering, to ensure that any evidence that is collected after a massive genocide like that that happened to the Yazidi people under the Islamic State, we are able to collect the evidence and actually do something with it, take these people to trial, give the victims the justice they deserve. I published a paper in the Vanderbilt law journal on this.

It is all very well and perhaps I am a bit pessimistic that while a female-centric approach is incredibly necessary, and is much needed in having a paradigm shift in the way we think about these issues, what we really need is also men on board, who agree and understand that these are important issues that they need to assist or do things to help with. We look at this room and it is majority women because the title happens to be “women’s voices”. But that does not mean that we exclude men’s voices. In fact, I think that having those conversations, holding organisations, individuals and even the United Nations to account about how long these processes are taking is essential in bringing victims justice.

So I touched briefly on women’s roles as victims sometimes and protecting them and our approaches to protection. We also have the very necessary need to have women as frontline workers, as those that women go to when they have been affected by conflicts, the women who are able to give them care, whom they are able to win their trust with. Her Excellency mentioned it earlier with the role of women in police and coming from my own perspective of countering terrorism and countering violent extremism, women’s voices are extremely important in challenging some of these worldviews as well.

Now what we lack, from a research perspective, is long term studies on this. So we tend to have inflection points where everyone is interested. A classic example would be the case of Shamima Begum. We had a separate talk on this about the women’s voices in extremism but there is so much debate around this woman and what threat she presents to international security but I would be interested to see what the long term approach is about sharing what happens to her whether she, over time, becomes insignificant. I think these are all important issues to discuss today and as I said I am delighted to be here and if anyone has any questions on access to justice for these victims and ad hoc trials in conflicts, that is my kind of area of interest so I would be really happy to answer them.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you so much. I was chairing another meeting where some of these issues came up in the audience and were global, I am very concerned about how to assist, not complain or to put people in silos and boxes. I really wanted to care on how we worked on the children of displaced people. These are really important issues to think about and I would like to throw the discussion open and take two questions at a time so that it means that the speakers can answer as many people as possible.

 

 

Questions and answers:

– Based on Bosnia, how many people in the UN structures and larger organisations, like NATO, the European Commission, have seen the film ‘The whistleblower’ or have even heard of it given that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told me it is so important that he ordered all senior people to watch it? I would question whether that has been cascading down enough? I do not share necessarily entirely the views of the UNDP and I have seen the downsides (inaudible).

Based on Ms Malik’s comments about how you bring women, and I think this is absolutely vital, it is an increasing problem of over-reliance on computing, in artificial intelligence. I believe that the presence of women in organisations will go a long way to mitigate the dangers of that. Are there basically any organisation where working in the field where you think women’s role has been particularly successful or where you see particular problems?

 

– Something I am absolutely passionate about is how jobs that involve moving a lot and being in a number of different domains. A lot of women have opted for the Foreign Office, for example. A lot of women have said it is not such an attractive opportunity because they might have children or they might have partners who also have geographically complicated jobs. How do we overcome that? Is it the institutions that need to somehow facilitate that? Or what do you feel barriers to more women being involved in international security might be?

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Over the last five years, I have seen more young women apply for these roles and take the roles. And they have managed. It is not easy. Some of them got married to other people within the Foreign Office or within the Ministry of Defence so they managed to have roles in the similar part of the world. That is not easy. Long-term situation of spouses and partners has to be considered when people are applying because the old days of somebody just going off is over so that has to be part of the new world, men and women working together on these issues. These issues can never be a full success but you know what I am trying to say and I feel that it is really important and it should be raised constantly. That is important that it is faced up, not next week, now.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I would just like to say, the United Kingdom is a developed country, Bangladesh is not only a developing country, but also it is a Muslim and conservative society. In South Asia, like in Bangladesh, we have about twenty-three percent women in the foreign service and in India we have about eighteen percent, in Pakistan it is slightly less. In ambassador positions, we have about fifteen percent women in these positions, who are in a leadership position and able to make changes in many ways. I am the first woman High Commissioner to the UK, but at the same time I am also surprised to see from India also. Of course, India had a woman political appointee who was the sister of the first Prime Minister Nehru in the fifties. Actually for the foreign service as you said, Ruchi Ghanashyam is also the first woman High Commissioner.

If you look at the propositions within the foreign service, diplomatic service, where countries that are permanent members can actually do their power play role and make differences and take decisions in these matters, we have had the first woman PR from the UK. And Bangladesh has had a permanent representative in 2007. There are surprises, like I have said. A country like the UK would expect that there would be a first woman permanent representative much earlier. And these are the real non-traditional roles where conventionally it has been held by men. Even countries like the US had a woman PR much much later, after 2010. There are surprises.

One thing is clear that change will come when we see that women are being their stereotypes. That means we will have the first defence secretary. These are really gradual changes, that means women are getting there.

You did mention about men, but actually, it is not men that ought to help women. It is women who have to use networking stronger, that is always networking that gives them strength. That is from my experience. There are glass ceilings in the foreign service, so women have actually to work much harder because they have to keep the family and also be at the top of their game. If you want to be in the top of both games, the family game and the professional game, you really have to tear yourself apart and that is what we are doing.

So as an international women’s day, I was invited by the Indian High Commissioner as a panellist. This year’s topic was the balance between family and profession. I said that I am so torn apart between the two that I have come here to get some love from my colleagues. It is very tough on the foreign service. There are certain foreign services where they are getting married, that is the only way out, to have a husband from the foreign service. If he is not from the foreign service, it is very difficult to understand your coming back at two am in the morning after you negotiated and achieved nothing. It is very difficult to explain.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I still feel we do have men’s responses as well.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Definitely, we need the support. But I have not been put in the UK because my Prime Minister is a woman and she thinks we should put a woman there. I have earned it through my qualifications and I had to work on the same level, on the basis of merit, not by any quota, with my colleagues, shoulder to shoulder. Women have the merit to do it. No quotas!

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I am not in the foreign service, I did speak at an FCO event last year, about women. And I was very surprises, they were speaking about how until some time ago, if you were pregnant at the FCO, you would have to give your notice. That is not the case anymore, we are holding that as an achievement. I can understand that there is always options to the exercise. I think it would be very difficult to work at the foreign service and you were married and your husband was not understanding the fact that you are working hard or you are traveling to all kinds of places. And the other thing I would add to that as well, from my perspective is that if you are in a conflict zone, as a woman, you are subject to more risks and yes, sexual violence can happen against men as well, but women in conflict zone have reported these stories. Whether they were part of a charity or humanitarian assistance or even in the UN.

We need better reporting mechanisms. If sexual violence happens to you as a UN worker in a conflict zone, for example, who is to be held to account. Often it is not sexual violence from enemy combatant, it is more often from a fellow UN person. Why is the UN not holding its employees to account for making these situations even riskier than they have to be? There are risks, risks in the academic fieldwork as well, and universities have not really been helping women. I might be generalising, but the stories I have read have not been great. They do not give women enough background about “if you go and do fieldwork in this country you will be subject to these many risks” and when they come back and report it to the university and say “this happened to me”, it is kind of buried under the carpet. Processes are not made better for the next years’ students, for example.

There is a lot of work that can be done to improve it across the spectrum, not just in the foreign office but for anyone who is subjecting themselves to risks.

 

– My understanding is that a lot of diplomacy happens at the bar or at crazy times in the morning, happens through personal relationships ant that sort of things. And I understand that at some point this might look like an all-boys club. For you to be included in that is not considered as part of the game, or diverse people might not want you to. What are some of the barriers but also what are some of the opportunities of making these things work to our advantage?

 

– I am from Nigeria, where the President thinks women’s role is in the kitchen. (Inaudible). Women should confront that and should also raise their voice and correct men. (Inaudible).

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

That is what I meant, I am here today not because I am a woman. But I can assure you that if it was a male president, I would not have been here, it would have taken fifteen more years. There are glass ceilings and there are cultural issues that we have to overcome. And you are right, it is women who has to make a stand. It is not easy to be a bold woman and make this kind of comments. Every national women’s day back in Bangladesh, they come to interview me and ask for my message. My message is clear, we still have not had a woman as permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, we have not had a woman permanent under-secretary for home affairs, for defence, for finance. Finance is very important. Even a woman Prime Minister could not enforce that. We women have to sort of negotiate with our main counterparts or bosses that “I am deserving”.

I want to question that cultural question of inclusiveness. You do not feel included in the boys’ club. That quite often happens. I do not know if that is a problem in this country, but definitely in our part of the world it is. It is not customary for a woman in South Asian societies to go in a bar at 2 am in the morning or stay late at night. It is not looked upon positively from the family perspective.

Having professional ethics, again, women have to speak up on this issue. And you are not favoured if you speak up on this issue, have been acting like a rebel. But you have to nevertheless speak out and say that we have to have professional ethics and professional practices where women should be included. And it should be easier for women to participate. That is a problem and that is not going to be solved easily.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I agree with Her Excellency’s remark when she said that it is not easy. You know the phrase “Calm down Dear!” or “difficult woman”, “don’t be so difficult!”. Studies have been done that women saying the same thing as men, men using female names as email signatures have got different responses from colleagues and clients because women are just seen as when they are calling out something, why they do that and disrupt the status quo.

One very important way to leverage that façade, it is very well to say “hold someone to account”, but the number one thing that I think works against us is the lack of transparency. Besides evidence and testimony, even things like how much employees are making in a company are things that have very recently been held to account, companies have to publish this information. But it benefits those in power that everybody else does not know what is going on or they are not accountable for it. I think all companies that employ anyone should be disclosing publicly how much they are paying their male staff versus female staff because there should be no disparity if you are doing the same job or that should be explained. Holding someone into account for that transparency makes you the ‘difficult woman’.

 

– (Inaudible). Things have evolved over years, I have seen how efforts are made to make gender parity with women and making it easy for women to enter in the area. There was this idea that it is a no-go area, a boys’ place. (Inaudible). A lot has been done to promote women in these areas, in ministerial areas. It was not only about the media but it is about who you have around the table. The fact that we have somebody who is accomplished shows women that it is possible, through hard work and through convictions and through their own contributions. In the UK, I think again, we still have the same problem, if we take Theresa May, people have been condescending. What she has achieved may not be the best for the country, may not be to everybody’s liking, but it is a woman who goes there, stand up, she commands respect for what she has done. I think more we should be showing more of an understanding for these women moving towards gender parity and inclusion. We have achieved slow progress, but it is happening.

 

– About education, we have to be careful when we talk about women in foreign policy and security issues about the fact that if you bring more women in, it is not necessary going to make anybody’s work useful. What we need is structures to open up. And I think that there are structural barriers in a lot of different places and we have pointed out some of these. One of the things that we have been looking at is how do we create lines at university level to make sure to say “this is a job for you”? Most of our best students last years have been women actually. They see women professors, women in these areas, we introduce them to these women, and say “this is something that you are invited to consider”. The barriers, at least in countries like mine, are not ones that are formal but really informal. But even at the military, one of the projects that we have been looking at is trying to produce analysis in terms of what the numbers look like, what are the pathways for advance, how many women do you have and what roles do they play. Opening up that transparency can then create new ideas about how you move forward.

 

– My commentary is about ‘the boys’ club’. What if certain women become part of these ‘boys’ clubs’ and (inaudible)?  I have experienced that; how do you manage that? Because it does exist!

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

When you are looking at the British military, we have managed through the minister of defence to bring improvement. These women are becoming role models and are mentoring each other. It is quite fascinating when you start looking at that. The British military is changing.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Bangladesh also has a Prime Minister and a defence minister, she started inducting women in the five disciplines. Of course, there were women army doctors, that was conventional, but less traditional roles, such as in the artillery, in the ordonnance, in the signals, in the engineering. Except for infantry, we still do not have women there. Of course women are also in the navy and the air force, except for being pilots, women are everywhere in the air force. Now how are the men behaving? They are behaving pretty well. It is a disciplined and structured service and they are welcoming women, they have been very cautious about how to treat them. Male defence services officers are going to UN peacekeeping and you mentioned cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, by peacekeepers. We have had hardly anyone complaining about that in Bangladesh. They are disciplined in the field. From that perspective, in Bangladesh, the only area where we have had medium experiences is the education sector, in universities. Professor have been taking advantage of students. But in the service, even if it is there, it does not surface that easily.

Can I just touch on an area where you have women being recruited, if we look at the extremist organisations and terrorist organisations such as ISIL. You mentioned Shamima Begum, she is the classic example. She is just fifteen years old and she got involved with ISIS through the Internet, through social media and went there as an ISIS bride at the age of fifteen. And obviously, she was nineteen, has had three babies and lived a very traumatic experience in every way. How to prevent that? I am not going over the debate about whether Shamima Begum is British of Bangladeshi. Obviously, she is not Bangladesh’s problem. She was born here, she was raised here, she was radicalised here and she went to Syria with a British passport, so we need to give the benefit of doubt that Bangladesh had nothing to do with it. I think that Shamima Begum’s case is a very special example. There are many other returnees, who were allowed to return, including males who were actually in ISIL. But she is a bride, but there were actual ISIS active terrorists who were welcomed back in the UK and they were rehabilitated.

In the case of Shamima, just how old she was, she was the example of being victimised and she is currently stateless. This is the perfect example of how women are being trafficked into this. And I think that this is one area that should be looked into by international foreign affairs and security experts.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

We had a special panel on this, two months ago, where we talked about whether Shamima Begum was a victim or an agent. We had four experts on this talk about the different roles she may have played. I have been very active in stating a bit of the opposite in that I do not think that she was a victim in the same that, say, a Yazidi woman would have been. We are short of time, I could speak about this for another hour, but to wrap up, this is why these panels and this series of talks we are having about women’s voices is so important, because there is no unified women’s voice. One woman can have a very different opinion on what happened than someone else. It is really important and I thank Baroness Goudie for organising this and having women saying “you know, maybe my idea on this is a little bit different than yours”, because there is not a unified voice at all in defence and security or in counterterrorism.

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I just wanted to add that in terms of counterterrorism every country has a policy of how to counter terrorism. Because terrorists do not have religion, they do not have race, they do not have gender. A terrorist is a terrorist. If Shamima Begum has been recruited by ISIL, and our foreign minister has been interview on this by ITV and it was on the media, she said that if Shamima Begum had gone to Bangladesh and been arrested, that is why she has been prevented from entering Bangladesh because she is somebody else’s terrorist. If she had mentioned it to Bangladesh, she would have been arrested under our counterterrorism law. Our country’s counterterrorism law, if it is part of the 1267 committee which ISIL is, it is listed in the 1267 Al-Qaeda committee, then our law is very clear, she would have faced even death sentence, so capital punishment for terrorism. So in our eye, Shamima Begum is a terrorist because she has affiliated herself with a terrorist organisation.

The other question I cannot answer, it is the UK’s decision, but our law says that gender is not a phenomenon when it comes to terrorism. We have actually handed and also penalised many women extremist who had helped male terrorists to blast the bomb, so it actually does not depend on the gender.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Well gender certainly does not count on this issue, it is a men and women’s issue. Well, I think people do not understand that we have many male terrorists but we have many female as well. It is not just ISIS, it is Ireland, it is Colombia. In some cases, women are more protected, not by government, but are protected by their own, but that is a completely different issue. It is a female and male issue and you expect the same punishment, the same trial, the same everything.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I do agree that the punishment should be the same, but going back to evidence, it is much harder to prove. You can prove that a woman is a part of a terrorist organisation, but it is very unlikely, and I have written about this, that she would have committed any act of violence like a man would have. But that does not necessarily mean that she would not have intended to or that could just mean that she was not allowed to. That is a sub-conversation from our last panel, but it is a very interesting case.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I would like to thank everybody for coming this evening and I hope you found it very interesting because we managed to talk about a number of issues in sixty minutes. So thank you very much

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Women’s Voice in Foreign Affairs and International Security

DATE: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, 13 May

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom

SPEAKER: H. E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Nikita Malik, and Baroness Goudie

EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Goudie

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Baroness Goudie, I have met some of you in the audience before, and I am very looking forward to this meeting on women’s voices in Foreign Affairs. One of our speakers, Lucy Fisher, has unfortunately not been able to come and I am upset for Lucy because she prepared very well to come to work this morning but she is now home not well.

I would like to open the meeting with our two speakers, with Ambassador Saida Muna Tasneem who will speak first for about ten minutes, followed by Nikita Malik, who will speak for ten minutes and then I will open it up to questions and sum up at about five to six. When you speak, let everybody know your name and where you come from.

Ambassador would like to talk about very important issue to all of us here.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Thank you very much, good afternoon. It is so kind of you to consider me qualified to speak on this issue and I would just like to say hello to my co-panelist, an expert in counterterrorism, de-radicalisation and counter-extremism. But I think that today’s topic is very timely and I thank the Henry Jackson Society for organising this talk. The topic being women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security, I think what happened in Christchurch recently and how the reaction we saw with Ms Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, she has probably set the best example of why it is important to have women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security. She is probably the role model of the century of how she has handled counterterrorism, creating inter-religious harmony, defusing tensions, and actually, being a feminist for foreign policy proponents in the handling of the whole situation post-Christchurch’s terrorist attacks.

If you look at the two countries in the world who have taken feminist foreign policies, which is Sweden and Canada, Sweden is the first country where the Prime Minister, Margaret Wallaström, in 2014, had introduced this feminist foreign policy where they brought gender equality and women’s right at the centre of the diplomatic agenda. The other country is Canada, where Justin Trudeau has had the Canadian foreign aid program transformed, it is now known as the feminist international assistance policy. Of course, currently, there are twenty-six foreign ministers in this world who are women. We need to have women in these positions if we want to have their voice and their say and changes in the foreign affairs and international security rubric. So, having women foreign ministers, and we have twenty-six women foreign ministers currently, we have four from Asia, six from Europe, eight from Americas, and seven from Africa and one from the Caribbean of the Pacific. Not a very bright picture, but still, if you compare to even six years ago, half a decade ago it is a very bright picture. According to the IPU and UN Women in Politics Report 2019, this picture and these women being in politically important influential positions where they can influence foreign affairs and international security is increasing, it is getting better every year.

What the picture we saw in 2012 and the picture we saw in 2018 is a considerable increase in the positions of women in the positions of parliament staff, defence ministers, international aid ministers, home affairs ministers, and women in justice systems, women in police, in the law enforcement agencies, women in defence, in the army and in air forces and navy, and women in Human Rights commissions. These are the institutions that really matter when we want to bring justice and preserve the four pillars of Resolution 1325, where we see prevention of gender-based violence, and then protection, and then participation and (inaudible) institutionalisation.

If we want women to influence and use their feminism, that they are not pro-militarism, they are pro-peace, I you want to actually leverage on that position, we need to have women in peace institutions. And the report of IPU Women says that currently there are nine countries in the world where than fifty percent women are in ministerial positions, but there are only nine countries. Most of the world global average, where we have women in ministries, as ministers, are about twenty-three to twenty-five percent. That is the global average. Here in parliament, the average is about twenty-five percent to twenty-seven percent. Normally we see that in some of the European countries, including Sweden which has always been a champion in this or the other country is Spain in Europe.

And then there is another trend in Latin American countries – Nicaragua, Colombia – and in Africa, we have Rwanda, that is quite a surprise, a society that is completely transformed since the civil war there and all the conflicts that it has gone through. In Africa, we have about ten percent women ministers increase just over the last two years. But there has not been quite a considerable number of foreign ministers in Africa. In Latin America also, in Mexico, we have seen an increase of five foreign ministers in the last two years.

Let us look at the picture in South Asia. South Asia is made of countries where women foreign ministers in India in the eighties and then Bangladesh has had its first women foreign minister in 2009. But definitely, in South Asia, Pakistan has had its first women in parliament in 2011 and Sri Lanka still does not have one.

But of course, in the UK, if you compare, we have had a women foreign minister, we have had junior ministers, we have had defence ministers and home ministers and of course Prime ministers. These are very important positions and that is why the UK’s regime is very very strong, because we have had women meddling into these issues, in these areas.

In Bangladesh, we have our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we had women Prime Ministers for thirty-five years. There are global surprises and exceptions. For example, the UAE and Mauritania, in the Middle East and Africa, these countries have the largest numbers of women ministers. Countries that we would normally not presume that they have so large numbers of women ministers.

In Bangladesh we have had Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who, after she had come to office in 1996 she signed the first peace accord that Bangladesh has ever signed with the ethnic minorities with the Hill people. She had signed this peace accord in 1997 with the Hill people of Bangladesh and she received the UNESCO peace award for that. So that is actually making a difference in trying to resolve conflicts and do some peace building later on. And then again she has appointed in 2009 the first women Foreign Minister of the country and the first woman Home Affairs minister of the country. These are women, bringing change, being the agent for change in the peace architecture of the country. And then she has resolved our maritime boundaries peacefully with India and Myanmar. We have two neighbours, we had not settled our maritime boundaries during all these years but we have had dictators, so many Prime Ministers, but she has resolved both by taking recourse of peaceful means and taking recourse of the law of the Sea Tribunal. She is using girls’ education to bring peace and she has received this UNESCO peace award for bringing peace.

She is also the defence minister of the country, and as you know, Bangladesh speaks for oppositions as we are the second largest contributor troop contributing country to UN peace keeping operations. This is one area where we actually make a difference in global peace and security architecture. We are also the largest women peace keeper contributor in the world. In terms of civilian police, Bangladesh has contributed to the UN with the first all-women formed police unit in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All-women formed police unit. They actually play a significant role in bringing peace, protecting women, preventing sexual and gender-based violence.

Lastly, we come to the question of the Rohingya refugees. As you know, Sheikh Hasina took the initiative to host 1,1 million refugees and forcedly displaced Myanmar people, but sixty-five percent of that population that enters Bangladesh are women. And they have faced gender-based violence (rape, sexual mutilation, forced sexual slavery), and when they came in, we had nearly fifty-five to sixty thousands women who had been raped and gave birth to their babies. We are working with the UK government on them because UK’s foreign policy wants to provide counselling and post-traumatic gender-based violence counselling.

I just want to come back on leading global leaders who really made a difference in the global architecture of foreign affairs and international security. Ameerah Haq, former Under-Secretary General for the UN peace-keeping department of fields services, who was UN Secretary General special representative for Afghanistan and also for East Timor, where she actually made a difference in peace treaties.

I would mention Liberia’s president Sirleaf, who had made a difference in peace processes. A strong women who has made a difference in peace processes. I would mention Mary Robinson, who has had a contribution in the Good Friday Agreement and also later on Human Rights Commissioner. And of course, currently Helen Clark, the longest serving UNDP Head and the Under-Secretary General. She has really brought a difference in post-conflict peace building.

Today, with twenty-six foreign ministers, and less than five women defence ministers in the world, when we do not have more home ministers, we need women in these positions if we want to bring, and prevent, and actually it is not the president or the prime minister male who is taking decisions but the defence minister, the home minister, actually bringing peace accords, not sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, actually bringing them back, and bringing long-term and sustaining peace and development. We need to engage fifty percent of our population who are women.

Thank you very much.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you, it is as you said now women working together to make this change in a very difficult but important situation. Also, the Deputy General Secretary of NATO is a woman, Rose Gottemoeller, who has worked on a number of very serious peace accords and had as much patience as Georges Mitchell had when he did the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, she can sit for six hours and just let them talk, and talk, and talk.

Now Nikita, would you like to speak please?

 

NIKITA MALIK:

Thank you very much. My name is Nikita Malik, I am the director of our centre on radicalisation and terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. I am actually probably not going to speak for ten minutes because I thought with Lucy here we would have less than ten minutes, but I would like to touch on a few points. Now, the reason why I thought this panel today which the Henry Jackson Society helped to organise and put together is so important and so pertinent is because of the increasing shift we see in government policy and international policy on protecting women but also, as Her Excellency has so clearly defined we see an increasing role of women being involved in positions of power. And I am honoured today that Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem is here with us as is Baroness Goudie because they are two examples of women actually setting foreign policy and helping define what it is that the UK and Bangladesh are doing. So I am absolutely delighted that they are both here.

Now in terms of myself and the research that I do, about two years ago, I published a report by the name of “Trafficking terror”, perhaps some of you have read it. It was the first time that I was systematically looking at the use of international organisations and how they were protecting women in times of conflict. Obviously, the most pertinent example of this is the United Nations. And it is absolutely fascinating to see how resolutions have evolved over time. In the beginning of course, sexual rape in conflict, abduction, forced marriage, were seen as repercussions of war. There was a systematic effort on the part of the United Nations to begin to use terms such as sexual violence in conflict, victims of trafficking, protecting women, protecting children, often these categories lump together as one word, women and children. But in fact, women require a special protection as do children. They often happen to go together but women require special assistance by care providers in areas of conflict for birth control, trauma therapy, I think that has happened.

And it seems to me that there was a systematic approach on the part of the United Nations with much lobbying and much assistance from different countries to begin to say that women deserve protection not just soldiers and fighters, armies in countries. Women, where these wars are happening, deserve a special protection. And no, it is not going to be just a repercussion of war that women will violated in this way. Having said that, even though there has been a systematic approach to changing the way we are thinking about these ideas, one can question how successful this has really been. It is quite saddening that there has only been one international tribunal in history which is looking at trying individuals for sexual violence in conflict. Both against men and women. This was a special tribunal put forward by the United Nations to do that.

Of course in the evolution of protecting women in conflicts, very recently, in the last few years, the UN has put forward a new resolution on the systematic use of sexual violence against women by terrorist organisations, so by non-state actors. How we must ensure that terrorists who obviously do not follow the guidelines of international rules based order or legislation are brutalising, using, selling women in this way and their children in order to gain a reaction from the public or to further their ends. It is a very difficult thing to do. I would argue the most difficult thing in the space is actually ensuring that you have the trust of the victims themselves. Often, we see in the news that a conflict happens, it is in the front of our mind and slowly the story changes and it goes away. And we never really see what happens to these victims in the long-term. Who is studying what is happening what has happened to them, the level of care that they have been given and how successful that has been?

One of the most interesting cases to follow is that of Nadia Murad who, as a Yazidi woman who was subject to a horrifying ordeal by the Islamic State. She has actually helped, through her testimony – her and many others like her through her foundation. I have heard some of their testimonies in person and it is so important because unless we listen to these stories, what will happen is that history will just repeat itself.

What do we do with these stories once we have them? One of the policy recommendations I have put forward, and Lord Ahmed actually brought it up in the House of Lords, the UK we need to be holding countries where these conflicts are happening whether that is Iraq or Syria or Nigeria, where unfortunately national laws do not protect women enough, so rape in a marriage is for example not considered a violation of a woman, it is not considered rape. Often, there is so much stigmatisation after a rape that it is easier to marry the woman off to the perpetrator than actually hold the perpetrator to account or to punish him in any way. I have suggested the ability for UK and US lawyers to assist in evidence gathering, to ensure that any evidence that is collected after a massive genocide like that that happened to the Yazidi people under the Islamic State, we are able to collect the evidence and actually do something with it, take these people to trial, give the victims the justice they deserve. I published a paper in the Vanderbilt law journal on this.

It is all very well and perhaps I am a bit pessimistic that while a female-centric approach is incredibly necessary, and is much needed in having a paradigm shift in the way we think about these issues, what we really need is also men on board, who agree and understand that these are important issues that they need to assist or do things to help with. We look at this room and it is majority women because the title happens to be “women’s voices”. But that does not mean that we exclude men’s voices. In fact, I think that having those conversations, holding organisations, individuals and even the United Nations to account about how long these processes are taking is essential in bringing victims justice.

So I touched briefly on women’s roles as victims sometimes and protecting them and our approaches to protection. We also have the very necessary need to have women as frontline workers, as those that women go to when they have been affected by conflicts, the women who are able to give them care, whom they are able to win their trust with. Her Excellency mentioned it earlier with the role of women in police and coming from my own perspective of countering terrorism and countering violent extremism, women’s voices are extremely important in challenging some of these worldviews as well.

Now what we lack, from a research perspective, is long term studies on this. So we tend to have inflection points where everyone is interested. A classic example would be the case of Shamima Begum. We had a separate talk on this about the women’s voices in extremism but there is so much debate around this woman and what threat she presents to international security but I would be interested to see what the long term approach is about sharing what happens to her whether she, over time, becomes insignificant. I think these are all important issues to discuss today and as I said I am delighted to be here and if anyone has any questions on access to justice for these victims and ad hoc trials in conflicts, that is my kind of area of interest so I would be really happy to answer them.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you so much. I was chairing another meeting where some of these issues came up in the audience and were global, I am very concerned about how to assist, not complain or to put people in silos and boxes. I really wanted to care on how we worked on the children of displaced people. These are really important issues to think about and I would like to throw the discussion open and take two questions at a time so that it means that the speakers can answer as many people as possible.

 

 

Questions and answers:

– Based on Bosnia, how many people in the UN structures and larger organisations, like NATO, the European Commission, have seen the film ‘The whistleblower’ or have even heard of it given that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told me it is so important that he ordered all senior people to watch it? I would question whether that has been cascading down enough? I do not share necessarily entirely the views of the UNDP and I have seen the downsides (inaudible).

Based on Ms Malik’s comments about how you bring women, and I think this is absolutely vital, it is an increasing problem of over-reliance on computing, in artificial intelligence. I believe that the presence of women in organisations will go a long way to mitigate the dangers of that. Are there basically any organisation where working in the field where you think women’s role has been particularly successful or where you see particular problems?

 

– Something I am absolutely passionate about is how jobs that involve moving a lot and being in a number of different domains. A lot of women have opted for the Foreign Office, for example. A lot of women have said it is not such an attractive opportunity because they might have children or they might have partners who also have geographically complicated jobs. How do we overcome that? Is it the institutions that need to somehow facilitate that? Or what do you feel barriers to more women being involved in international security might be?

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Over the last five years, I have seen more young women apply for these roles and take the roles. And they have managed. It is not easy. Some of them got married to other people within the Foreign Office or within the Ministry of Defence so they managed to have roles in the similar part of the world. That is not easy. Long-term situation of spouses and partners has to be considered when people are applying because the old days of somebody just going off is over so that has to be part of the new world, men and women working together on these issues. These issues can never be a full success but you know what I am trying to say and I feel that it is really important and it should be raised constantly. That is important that it is faced up, not next week, now.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I would just like to say, the United Kingdom is a developed country, Bangladesh is not only a developing country, but also it is a Muslim and conservative society. In South Asia, like in Bangladesh, we have about twenty-three percent women in the foreign service and in India we have about eighteen percent, in Pakistan it is slightly less. In ambassador positions, we have about fifteen percent women in these positions, who are in a leadership position and able to make changes in many ways. I am the first woman High Commissioner to the UK, but at the same time I am also surprised to see from India also. Of course, India had a woman political appointee who was the sister of the first Prime Minister Nehru in the fifties. Actually for the foreign service as you said, Ruchi Ghanashyam is also the first woman High Commissioner.

If you look at the propositions within the foreign service, diplomatic service, where countries that are permanent members can actually do their power play role and make differences and take decisions in these matters, we have had the first woman PR from the UK. And Bangladesh has had a permanent representative in 2007. There are surprises, like I have said. A country like the UK would expect that there would be a first woman permanent representative much earlier. And these are the real non-traditional roles where conventionally it has been held by men. Even countries like the US had a woman PR much much later, after 2010. There are surprises.

One thing is clear that change will come when we see that women are being their stereotypes. That means we will have the first defence secretary. These are really gradual changes, that means women are getting there.

You did mention about men, but actually, it is not men that ought to help women. It is women who have to use networking stronger, that is always networking that gives them strength. That is from my experience. There are glass ceilings in the foreign service, so women have actually to work much harder because they have to keep the family and also be at the top of their game. If you want to be in the top of both games, the family game and the professional game, you really have to tear yourself apart and that is what we are doing.

So as an international women’s day, I was invited by the Indian High Commissioner as a panellist. This year’s topic was the balance between family and profession. I said that I am so torn apart between the two that I have come here to get some love from my colleagues. It is very tough on the foreign service. There are certain foreign services where they are getting married, that is the only way out, to have a husband from the foreign service. If he is not from the foreign service, it is very difficult to understand your coming back at two am in the morning after you negotiated and achieved nothing. It is very difficult to explain.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I still feel we do have men’s responses as well.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Definitely, we need the support. But I have not been put in the UK because my Prime Minister is a woman and she thinks we should put a woman there. I have earned it through my qualifications and I had to work on the same level, on the basis of merit, not by any quota, with my colleagues, shoulder to shoulder. Women have the merit to do it. No quotas!

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I am not in the foreign service, I did speak at an FCO event last year, about women. And I was very surprises, they were speaking about how until some time ago, if you were pregnant at the FCO, you would have to give your notice. That is not the case anymore, we are holding that as an achievement. I can understand that there is always options to the exercise. I think it would be very difficult to work at the foreign service and you were married and your husband was not understanding the fact that you are working hard or you are traveling to all kinds of places. And the other thing I would add to that as well, from my perspective is that if you are in a conflict zone, as a woman, you are subject to more risks and yes, sexual violence can happen against men as well, but women in conflict zone have reported these stories. Whether they were part of a charity or humanitarian assistance or even in the UN.

We need better reporting mechanisms. If sexual violence happens to you as a UN worker in a conflict zone, for example, who is to be held to account. Often it is not sexual violence from enemy combatant, it is more often from a fellow UN person. Why is the UN not holding its employees to account for making these situations even riskier than they have to be? There are risks, risks in the academic fieldwork as well, and universities have not really been helping women. I might be generalising, but the stories I have read have not been great. They do not give women enough background about “if you go and do fieldwork in this country you will be subject to these many risks” and when they come back and report it to the university and say “this happened to me”, it is kind of buried under the carpet. Processes are not made better for the next years’ students, for example.

There is a lot of work that can be done to improve it across the spectrum, not just in the foreign office but for anyone who is subjecting themselves to risks.

 

– My understanding is that a lot of diplomacy happens at the bar or at crazy times in the morning, happens through personal relationships ant that sort of things. And I understand that at some point this might look like an all-boys club. For you to be included in that is not considered as part of the game, or diverse people might not want you to. What are some of the barriers but also what are some of the opportunities of making these things work to our advantage?

 

– I am from Nigeria, where the President thinks women’s role is in the kitchen. (Inaudible). Women should confront that and should also raise their voice and correct men. (Inaudible).

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

That is what I meant, I am here today not because I am a woman. But I can assure you that if it was a male president, I would not have been here, it would have taken fifteen more years. There are glass ceilings and there are cultural issues that we have to overcome. And you are right, it is women who has to make a stand. It is not easy to be a bold woman and make this kind of comments. Every national women’s day back in Bangladesh, they come to interview me and ask for my message. My message is clear, we still have not had a woman as permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, we have not had a woman permanent under-secretary for home affairs, for defence, for finance. Finance is very important. Even a woman Prime Minister could not enforce that. We women have to sort of negotiate with our main counterparts or bosses that “I am deserving”.

I want to question that cultural question of inclusiveness. You do not feel included in the boys’ club. That quite often happens. I do not know if that is a problem in this country, but definitely in our part of the world it is. It is not customary for a woman in South Asian societies to go in a bar at 2 am in the morning or stay late at night. It is not looked upon positively from the family perspective.

Having professional ethics, again, women have to speak up on this issue. And you are not favoured if you speak up on this issue, have been acting like a rebel. But you have to nevertheless speak out and say that we have to have professional ethics and professional practices where women should be included. And it should be easier for women to participate. That is a problem and that is not going to be solved easily.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I agree with Her Excellency’s remark when she said that it is not easy. You know the phrase “Calm down Dear!” or “difficult woman”, “don’t be so difficult!”. Studies have been done that women saying the same thing as men, men using female names as email signatures have got different responses from colleagues and clients because women are just seen as when they are calling out something, why they do that and disrupt the status quo.

One very important way to leverage that façade, it is very well to say “hold someone to account”, but the number one thing that I think works against us is the lack of transparency. Besides evidence and testimony, even things like how much employees are making in a company are things that have very recently been held to account, companies have to publish this information. But it benefits those in power that everybody else does not know what is going on or they are not accountable for it. I think all companies that employ anyone should be disclosing publicly how much they are paying their male staff versus female staff because there should be no disparity if you are doing the same job or that should be explained. Holding someone into account for that transparency makes you the ‘difficult woman’.

 

– (Inaudible). Things have evolved over years, I have seen how efforts are made to make gender parity with women and making it easy for women to enter in the area. There was this idea that it is a no-go area, a boys’ place. (Inaudible). A lot has been done to promote women in these areas, in ministerial areas. It was not only about the media but it is about who you have around the table. The fact that we have somebody who is accomplished shows women that it is possible, through hard work and through convictions and through their own contributions. In the UK, I think again, we still have the same problem, if we take Theresa May, people have been condescending. What she has achieved may not be the best for the country, may not be to everybody’s liking, but it is a woman who goes there, stand up, she commands respect for what she has done. I think more we should be showing more of an understanding for these women moving towards gender parity and inclusion. We have achieved slow progress, but it is happening.

 

– About education, we have to be careful when we talk about women in foreign policy and security issues about the fact that if you bring more women in, it is not necessary going to make anybody’s work useful. What we need is structures to open up. And I think that there are structural barriers in a lot of different places and we have pointed out some of these. One of the things that we have been looking at is how do we create lines at university level to make sure to say “this is a job for you”? Most of our best students last years have been women actually. They see women professors, women in these areas, we introduce them to these women, and say “this is something that you are invited to consider”. The barriers, at least in countries like mine, are not ones that are formal but really informal. But even at the military, one of the projects that we have been looking at is trying to produce analysis in terms of what the numbers look like, what are the pathways for advance, how many women do you have and what roles do they play. Opening up that transparency can then create new ideas about how you move forward.

 

– My commentary is about ‘the boys’ club’. What if certain women become part of these ‘boys’ clubs’ and (inaudible)?  I have experienced that; how do you manage that? Because it does exist!

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

When you are looking at the British military, we have managed through the minister of defence to bring improvement. These women are becoming role models and are mentoring each other. It is quite fascinating when you start looking at that. The British military is changing.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Bangladesh also has a Prime Minister and a defence minister, she started inducting women in the five disciplines. Of course, there were women army doctors, that was conventional, but less traditional roles, such as in the artillery, in the ordonnance, in the signals, in the engineering. Except for infantry, we still do not have women there. Of course women are also in the navy and the air force, except for being pilots, women are everywhere in the air force. Now how are the men behaving? They are behaving pretty well. It is a disciplined and structured service and they are welcoming women, they have been very cautious about how to treat them. Male defence services officers are going to UN peacekeeping and you mentioned cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, by peacekeepers. We have had hardly anyone complaining about that in Bangladesh. They are disciplined in the field. From that perspective, in Bangladesh, the only area where we have had medium experiences is the education sector, in universities. Professor have been taking advantage of students. But in the service, even if it is there, it does not surface that easily.

Can I just touch on an area where you have women being recruited, if we look at the extremist organisations and terrorist organisations such as ISIL. You mentioned Shamima Begum, she is the classic example. She is just fifteen years old and she got involved with ISIS through the Internet, through social media and went there as an ISIS bride at the age of fifteen. And obviously, she was nineteen, has had three babies and lived a very traumatic experience in every way. How to prevent that? I am not going over the debate about whether Shamima Begum is British of Bangladeshi. Obviously, she is not Bangladesh’s problem. She was born here, she was raised here, she was radicalised here and she went to Syria with a British passport, so we need to give the benefit of doubt that Bangladesh had nothing to do with it. I think that Shamima Begum’s case is a very special example. There are many other returnees, who were allowed to return, including males who were actually in ISIL. But she is a bride, but there were actual ISIS active terrorists who were welcomed back in the UK and they were rehabilitated.

In the case of Shamima, just how old she was, she was the example of being victimised and she is currently stateless. This is the perfect example of how women are being trafficked into this. And I think that this is one area that should be looked into by international foreign affairs and security experts.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

We had a special panel on this, two months ago, where we talked about whether Shamima Begum was a victim or an agent. We had four experts on this talk about the different roles she may have played. I have been very active in stating a bit of the opposite in that I do not think that she was a victim in the same that, say, a Yazidi woman would have been. We are short of time, I could speak about this for another hour, but to wrap up, this is why these panels and this series of talks we are having about women’s voices is so important, because there is no unified women’s voice. One woman can have a very different opinion on what happened than someone else. It is really important and I thank Baroness Goudie for organising this and having women saying “you know, maybe my idea on this is a little bit different than yours”, because there is not a unified voice at all in defence and security or in counterterrorism.

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I just wanted to add that in terms of counterterrorism every country has a policy of how to counter terrorism. Because terrorists do not have religion, they do not have race, they do not have gender. A terrorist is a terrorist. If Shamima Begum has been recruited by ISIL, and our foreign minister has been interview on this by ITV and it was on the media, she said that if Shamima Begum had gone to Bangladesh and been arrested, that is why she has been prevented from entering Bangladesh because she is somebody else’s terrorist. If she had mentioned it to Bangladesh, she would have been arrested under our counterterrorism law. Our country’s counterterrorism law, if it is part of the 1267 committee which ISIL is, it is listed in the 1267 Al-Qaeda committee, then our law is very clear, she would have faced even death sentence, so capital punishment for terrorism. So in our eye, Shamima Begum is a terrorist because she has affiliated herself with a terrorist organisation.

The other question I cannot answer, it is the UK’s decision, but our law says that gender is not a phenomenon when it comes to terrorism. We have actually handed and also penalised many women extremist who had helped male terrorists to blast the bomb, so it actually does not depend on the gender.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Well gender certainly does not count on this issue, it is a men and women’s issue. Well, I think people do not understand that we have many male terrorists but we have many female as well. It is not just ISIS, it is Ireland, it is Colombia. In some cases, women are more protected, not by government, but are protected by their own, but that is a completely different issue. It is a female and male issue and you expect the same punishment, the same trial, the same everything.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I do agree that the punishment should be the same, but going back to evidence, it is much harder to prove. You can prove that a woman is a part of a terrorist organisation, but it is very unlikely, and I have written about this, that she would have committed any act of violence like a man would have. But that does not necessarily mean that she would not have intended to or that could just mean that she was not allowed to. That is a sub-conversation from our last panel, but it is a very interesting case.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I would like to thank everybody for coming this evening and I hope you found it very interesting because we managed to talk about a number of issues in sixty minutes. So thank you very much

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Women’s Voice in Foreign Affairs and International Security

DATE: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, 13 May

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom

SPEAKER: H. E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Nikita Malik, and Baroness Goudie

EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Goudie

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Baroness Goudie, I have met some of you in the audience before, and I am very looking forward to this meeting on women’s voices in Foreign Affairs. One of our speakers, Lucy Fisher, has unfortunately not been able to come and I am upset for Lucy because she prepared very well to come to work this morning but she is now home not well.

I would like to open the meeting with our two speakers, with Ambassador Saida Muna Tasneem who will speak first for about ten minutes, followed by Nikita Malik, who will speak for ten minutes and then I will open it up to questions and sum up at about five to six. When you speak, let everybody know your name and where you come from.

Ambassador would like to talk about very important issue to all of us here.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Thank you very much, good afternoon. It is so kind of you to consider me qualified to speak on this issue and I would just like to say hello to my co-panelist, an expert in counterterrorism, de-radicalisation and counter-extremism. But I think that today’s topic is very timely and I thank the Henry Jackson Society for organising this talk. The topic being women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security, I think what happened in Christchurch recently and how the reaction we saw with Ms Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, she has probably set the best example of why it is important to have women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security. She is probably the role model of the century of how she has handled counterterrorism, creating inter-religious harmony, defusing tensions, and actually, being a feminist for foreign policy proponents in the handling of the whole situation post-Christchurch’s terrorist attacks.

If you look at the two countries in the world who have taken feminist foreign policies, which is Sweden and Canada, Sweden is the first country where the Prime Minister, Margaret Wallaström, in 2014, had introduced this feminist foreign policy where they brought gender equality and women’s right at the centre of the diplomatic agenda. The other country is Canada, where Justin Trudeau has had the Canadian foreign aid program transformed, it is now known as the feminist international assistance policy. Of course, currently, there are twenty-six foreign ministers in this world who are women. We need to have women in these positions if we want to have their voice and their say and changes in the foreign affairs and international security rubric. So, having women foreign ministers, and we have twenty-six women foreign ministers currently, we have four from Asia, six from Europe, eight from Americas, and seven from Africa and one from the Caribbean of the Pacific. Not a very bright picture, but still, if you compare to even six years ago, half a decade ago it is a very bright picture. According to the IPU and UN Women in Politics Report 2019, this picture and these women being in politically important influential positions where they can influence foreign affairs and international security is increasing, it is getting better every year.

What the picture we saw in 2012 and the picture we saw in 2018 is a considerable increase in the positions of women in the positions of parliament staff, defence ministers, international aid ministers, home affairs ministers, and women in justice systems, women in police, in the law enforcement agencies, women in defence, in the army and in air forces and navy, and women in Human Rights commissions. These are the institutions that really matter when we want to bring justice and preserve the four pillars of Resolution 1325, where we see prevention of gender-based violence, and then protection, and then participation and (inaudible) institutionalisation.

If we want women to influence and use their feminism, that they are not pro-militarism, they are pro-peace, I you want to actually leverage on that position, we need to have women in peace institutions. And the report of IPU Women says that currently there are nine countries in the world where than fifty percent women are in ministerial positions, but there are only nine countries. Most of the world global average, where we have women in ministries, as ministers, are about twenty-three to twenty-five percent. That is the global average. Here in parliament, the average is about twenty-five percent to twenty-seven percent. Normally we see that in some of the European countries, including Sweden which has always been a champion in this or the other country is Spain in Europe.

And then there is another trend in Latin American countries – Nicaragua, Colombia – and in Africa, we have Rwanda, that is quite a surprise, a society that is completely transformed since the civil war there and all the conflicts that it has gone through. In Africa, we have about ten percent women ministers increase just over the last two years. But there has not been quite a considerable number of foreign ministers in Africa. In Latin America also, in Mexico, we have seen an increase of five foreign ministers in the last two years.

Let us look at the picture in South Asia. South Asia is made of countries where women foreign ministers in India in the eighties and then Bangladesh has had its first women foreign minister in 2009. But definitely, in South Asia, Pakistan has had its first women in parliament in 2011 and Sri Lanka still does not have one.

But of course, in the UK, if you compare, we have had a women foreign minister, we have had junior ministers, we have had defence ministers and home ministers and of course Prime ministers. These are very important positions and that is why the UK’s regime is very very strong, because we have had women meddling into these issues, in these areas.

In Bangladesh, we have our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we had women Prime Ministers for thirty-five years. There are global surprises and exceptions. For example, the UAE and Mauritania, in the Middle East and Africa, these countries have the largest numbers of women ministers. Countries that we would normally not presume that they have so large numbers of women ministers.

In Bangladesh we have had Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who, after she had come to office in 1996 she signed the first peace accord that Bangladesh has ever signed with the ethnic minorities with the Hill people. She had signed this peace accord in 1997 with the Hill people of Bangladesh and she received the UNESCO peace award for that. So that is actually making a difference in trying to resolve conflicts and do some peace building later on. And then again she has appointed in 2009 the first women Foreign Minister of the country and the first woman Home Affairs minister of the country. These are women, bringing change, being the agent for change in the peace architecture of the country. And then she has resolved our maritime boundaries peacefully with India and Myanmar. We have two neighbours, we had not settled our maritime boundaries during all these years but we have had dictators, so many Prime Ministers, but she has resolved both by taking recourse of peaceful means and taking recourse of the law of the Sea Tribunal. She is using girls’ education to bring peace and she has received this UNESCO peace award for bringing peace.

She is also the defence minister of the country, and as you know, Bangladesh speaks for oppositions as we are the second largest contributor troop contributing country to UN peace keeping operations. This is one area where we actually make a difference in global peace and security architecture. We are also the largest women peace keeper contributor in the world. In terms of civilian police, Bangladesh has contributed to the UN with the first all-women formed police unit in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All-women formed police unit. They actually play a significant role in bringing peace, protecting women, preventing sexual and gender-based violence.

Lastly, we come to the question of the Rohingya refugees. As you know, Sheikh Hasina took the initiative to host 1,1 million refugees and forcedly displaced Myanmar people, but sixty-five percent of that population that enters Bangladesh are women. And they have faced gender-based violence (rape, sexual mutilation, forced sexual slavery), and when they came in, we had nearly fifty-five to sixty thousands women who had been raped and gave birth to their babies. We are working with the UK government on them because UK’s foreign policy wants to provide counselling and post-traumatic gender-based violence counselling.

I just want to come back on leading global leaders who really made a difference in the global architecture of foreign affairs and international security. Ameerah Haq, former Under-Secretary General for the UN peace-keeping department of fields services, who was UN Secretary General special representative for Afghanistan and also for East Timor, where she actually made a difference in peace treaties.

I would mention Liberia’s president Sirleaf, who had made a difference in peace processes. A strong women who has made a difference in peace processes. I would mention Mary Robinson, who has had a contribution in the Good Friday Agreement and also later on Human Rights Commissioner. And of course, currently Helen Clark, the longest serving UNDP Head and the Under-Secretary General. She has really brought a difference in post-conflict peace building.

Today, with twenty-six foreign ministers, and less than five women defence ministers in the world, when we do not have more home ministers, we need women in these positions if we want to bring, and prevent, and actually it is not the president or the prime minister male who is taking decisions but the defence minister, the home minister, actually bringing peace accords, not sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, actually bringing them back, and bringing long-term and sustaining peace and development. We need to engage fifty percent of our population who are women.

Thank you very much.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you, it is as you said now women working together to make this change in a very difficult but important situation. Also, the Deputy General Secretary of NATO is a woman, Rose Gottemoeller, who has worked on a number of very serious peace accords and had as much patience as Georges Mitchell had when he did the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, she can sit for six hours and just let them talk, and talk, and talk.

Now Nikita, would you like to speak please?

 

NIKITA MALIK:

Thank you very much. My name is Nikita Malik, I am the director of our centre on radicalisation and terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. I am actually probably not going to speak for ten minutes because I thought with Lucy here we would have less than ten minutes, but I would like to touch on a few points. Now, the reason why I thought this panel today which the Henry Jackson Society helped to organise and put together is so important and so pertinent is because of the increasing shift we see in government policy and international policy on protecting women but also, as Her Excellency has so clearly defined we see an increasing role of women being involved in positions of power. And I am honoured today that Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem is here with us as is Baroness Goudie because they are two examples of women actually setting foreign policy and helping define what it is that the UK and Bangladesh are doing. So I am absolutely delighted that they are both here.

Now in terms of myself and the research that I do, about two years ago, I published a report by the name of “Trafficking terror”, perhaps some of you have read it. It was the first time that I was systematically looking at the use of international organisations and how they were protecting women in times of conflict. Obviously, the most pertinent example of this is the United Nations. And it is absolutely fascinating to see how resolutions have evolved over time. In the beginning of course, sexual rape in conflict, abduction, forced marriage, were seen as repercussions of war. There was a systematic effort on the part of the United Nations to begin to use terms such as sexual violence in conflict, victims of trafficking, protecting women, protecting children, often these categories lump together as one word, women and children. But in fact, women require a special protection as do children. They often happen to go together but women require special assistance by care providers in areas of conflict for birth control, trauma therapy, I think that has happened.

And it seems to me that there was a systematic approach on the part of the United Nations with much lobbying and much assistance from different countries to begin to say that women deserve protection not just soldiers and fighters, armies in countries. Women, where these wars are happening, deserve a special protection. And no, it is not going to be just a repercussion of war that women will violated in this way. Having said that, even though there has been a systematic approach to changing the way we are thinking about these ideas, one can question how successful this has really been. It is quite saddening that there has only been one international tribunal in history which is looking at trying individuals for sexual violence in conflict. Both against men and women. This was a special tribunal put forward by the United Nations to do that.

Of course in the evolution of protecting women in conflicts, very recently, in the last few years, the UN has put forward a new resolution on the systematic use of sexual violence against women by terrorist organisations, so by non-state actors. How we must ensure that terrorists who obviously do not follow the guidelines of international rules based order or legislation are brutalising, using, selling women in this way and their children in order to gain a reaction from the public or to further their ends. It is a very difficult thing to do. I would argue the most difficult thing in the space is actually ensuring that you have the trust of the victims themselves. Often, we see in the news that a conflict happens, it is in the front of our mind and slowly the story changes and it goes away. And we never really see what happens to these victims in the long-term. Who is studying what is happening what has happened to them, the level of care that they have been given and how successful that has been?

One of the most interesting cases to follow is that of Nadia Murad who, as a Yazidi woman who was subject to a horrifying ordeal by the Islamic State. She has actually helped, through her testimony – her and many others like her through her foundation. I have heard some of their testimonies in person and it is so important because unless we listen to these stories, what will happen is that history will just repeat itself.

What do we do with these stories once we have them? One of the policy recommendations I have put forward, and Lord Ahmed actually brought it up in the House of Lords, the UK we need to be holding countries where these conflicts are happening whether that is Iraq or Syria or Nigeria, where unfortunately national laws do not protect women enough, so rape in a marriage is for example not considered a violation of a woman, it is not considered rape. Often, there is so much stigmatisation after a rape that it is easier to marry the woman off to the perpetrator than actually hold the perpetrator to account or to punish him in any way. I have suggested the ability for UK and US lawyers to assist in evidence gathering, to ensure that any evidence that is collected after a massive genocide like that that happened to the Yazidi people under the Islamic State, we are able to collect the evidence and actually do something with it, take these people to trial, give the victims the justice they deserve. I published a paper in the Vanderbilt law journal on this.

It is all very well and perhaps I am a bit pessimistic that while a female-centric approach is incredibly necessary, and is much needed in having a paradigm shift in the way we think about these issues, what we really need is also men on board, who agree and understand that these are important issues that they need to assist or do things to help with. We look at this room and it is majority women because the title happens to be “women’s voices”. But that does not mean that we exclude men’s voices. In fact, I think that having those conversations, holding organisations, individuals and even the United Nations to account about how long these processes are taking is essential in bringing victims justice.

So I touched briefly on women’s roles as victims sometimes and protecting them and our approaches to protection. We also have the very necessary need to have women as frontline workers, as those that women go to when they have been affected by conflicts, the women who are able to give them care, whom they are able to win their trust with. Her Excellency mentioned it earlier with the role of women in police and coming from my own perspective of countering terrorism and countering violent extremism, women’s voices are extremely important in challenging some of these worldviews as well.

Now what we lack, from a research perspective, is long term studies on this. So we tend to have inflection points where everyone is interested. A classic example would be the case of Shamima Begum. We had a separate talk on this about the women’s voices in extremism but there is so much debate around this woman and what threat she presents to international security but I would be interested to see what the long term approach is about sharing what happens to her whether she, over time, becomes insignificant. I think these are all important issues to discuss today and as I said I am delighted to be here and if anyone has any questions on access to justice for these victims and ad hoc trials in conflicts, that is my kind of area of interest so I would be really happy to answer them.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you so much. I was chairing another meeting where some of these issues came up in the audience and were global, I am very concerned about how to assist, not complain or to put people in silos and boxes. I really wanted to care on how we worked on the children of displaced people. These are really important issues to think about and I would like to throw the discussion open and take two questions at a time so that it means that the speakers can answer as many people as possible.

 

 

Questions and answers:

– Based on Bosnia, how many people in the UN structures and larger organisations, like NATO, the European Commission, have seen the film ‘The whistleblower’ or have even heard of it given that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told me it is so important that he ordered all senior people to watch it? I would question whether that has been cascading down enough? I do not share necessarily entirely the views of the UNDP and I have seen the downsides (inaudible).

Based on Ms Malik’s comments about how you bring women, and I think this is absolutely vital, it is an increasing problem of over-reliance on computing, in artificial intelligence. I believe that the presence of women in organisations will go a long way to mitigate the dangers of that. Are there basically any organisation where working in the field where you think women’s role has been particularly successful or where you see particular problems?

 

– Something I am absolutely passionate about is how jobs that involve moving a lot and being in a number of different domains. A lot of women have opted for the Foreign Office, for example. A lot of women have said it is not such an attractive opportunity because they might have children or they might have partners who also have geographically complicated jobs. How do we overcome that? Is it the institutions that need to somehow facilitate that? Or what do you feel barriers to more women being involved in international security might be?

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Over the last five years, I have seen more young women apply for these roles and take the roles. And they have managed. It is not easy. Some of them got married to other people within the Foreign Office or within the Ministry of Defence so they managed to have roles in the similar part of the world. That is not easy. Long-term situation of spouses and partners has to be considered when people are applying because the old days of somebody just going off is over so that has to be part of the new world, men and women working together on these issues. These issues can never be a full success but you know what I am trying to say and I feel that it is really important and it should be raised constantly. That is important that it is faced up, not next week, now.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I would just like to say, the United Kingdom is a developed country, Bangladesh is not only a developing country, but also it is a Muslim and conservative society. In South Asia, like in Bangladesh, we have about twenty-three percent women in the foreign service and in India we have about eighteen percent, in Pakistan it is slightly less. In ambassador positions, we have about fifteen percent women in these positions, who are in a leadership position and able to make changes in many ways. I am the first woman High Commissioner to the UK, but at the same time I am also surprised to see from India also. Of course, India had a woman political appointee who was the sister of the first Prime Minister Nehru in the fifties. Actually for the foreign service as you said, Ruchi Ghanashyam is also the first woman High Commissioner.

If you look at the propositions within the foreign service, diplomatic service, where countries that are permanent members can actually do their power play role and make differences and take decisions in these matters, we have had the first woman PR from the UK. And Bangladesh has had a permanent representative in 2007. There are surprises, like I have said. A country like the UK would expect that there would be a first woman permanent representative much earlier. And these are the real non-traditional roles where conventionally it has been held by men. Even countries like the US had a woman PR much much later, after 2010. There are surprises.

One thing is clear that change will come when we see that women are being their stereotypes. That means we will have the first defence secretary. These are really gradual changes, that means women are getting there.

You did mention about men, but actually, it is not men that ought to help women. It is women who have to use networking stronger, that is always networking that gives them strength. That is from my experience. There are glass ceilings in the foreign service, so women have actually to work much harder because they have to keep the family and also be at the top of their game. If you want to be in the top of both games, the family game and the professional game, you really have to tear yourself apart and that is what we are doing.

So as an international women’s day, I was invited by the Indian High Commissioner as a panellist. This year’s topic was the balance between family and profession. I said that I am so torn apart between the two that I have come here to get some love from my colleagues. It is very tough on the foreign service. There are certain foreign services where they are getting married, that is the only way out, to have a husband from the foreign service. If he is not from the foreign service, it is very difficult to understand your coming back at two am in the morning after you negotiated and achieved nothing. It is very difficult to explain.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I still feel we do have men’s responses as well.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Definitely, we need the support. But I have not been put in the UK because my Prime Minister is a woman and she thinks we should put a woman there. I have earned it through my qualifications and I had to work on the same level, on the basis of merit, not by any quota, with my colleagues, shoulder to shoulder. Women have the merit to do it. No quotas!

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I am not in the foreign service, I did speak at an FCO event last year, about women. And I was very surprises, they were speaking about how until some time ago, if you were pregnant at the FCO, you would have to give your notice. That is not the case anymore, we are holding that as an achievement. I can understand that there is always options to the exercise. I think it would be very difficult to work at the foreign service and you were married and your husband was not understanding the fact that you are working hard or you are traveling to all kinds of places. And the other thing I would add to that as well, from my perspective is that if you are in a conflict zone, as a woman, you are subject to more risks and yes, sexual violence can happen against men as well, but women in conflict zone have reported these stories. Whether they were part of a charity or humanitarian assistance or even in the UN.

We need better reporting mechanisms. If sexual violence happens to you as a UN worker in a conflict zone, for example, who is to be held to account. Often it is not sexual violence from enemy combatant, it is more often from a fellow UN person. Why is the UN not holding its employees to account for making these situations even riskier than they have to be? There are risks, risks in the academic fieldwork as well, and universities have not really been helping women. I might be generalising, but the stories I have read have not been great. They do not give women enough background about “if you go and do fieldwork in this country you will be subject to these many risks” and when they come back and report it to the university and say “this happened to me”, it is kind of buried under the carpet. Processes are not made better for the next years’ students, for example.

There is a lot of work that can be done to improve it across the spectrum, not just in the foreign office but for anyone who is subjecting themselves to risks.

 

– My understanding is that a lot of diplomacy happens at the bar or at crazy times in the morning, happens through personal relationships ant that sort of things. And I understand that at some point this might look like an all-boys club. For you to be included in that is not considered as part of the game, or diverse people might not want you to. What are some of the barriers but also what are some of the opportunities of making these things work to our advantage?

 

– I am from Nigeria, where the President thinks women’s role is in the kitchen. (Inaudible). Women should confront that and should also raise their voice and correct men. (Inaudible).

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

That is what I meant, I am here today not because I am a woman. But I can assure you that if it was a male president, I would not have been here, it would have taken fifteen more years. There are glass ceilings and there are cultural issues that we have to overcome. And you are right, it is women who has to make a stand. It is not easy to be a bold woman and make this kind of comments. Every national women’s day back in Bangladesh, they come to interview me and ask for my message. My message is clear, we still have not had a woman as permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, we have not had a woman permanent under-secretary for home affairs, for defence, for finance. Finance is very important. Even a woman Prime Minister could not enforce that. We women have to sort of negotiate with our main counterparts or bosses that “I am deserving”.

I want to question that cultural question of inclusiveness. You do not feel included in the boys’ club. That quite often happens. I do not know if that is a problem in this country, but definitely in our part of the world it is. It is not customary for a woman in South Asian societies to go in a bar at 2 am in the morning or stay late at night. It is not looked upon positively from the family perspective.

Having professional ethics, again, women have to speak up on this issue. And you are not favoured if you speak up on this issue, have been acting like a rebel. But you have to nevertheless speak out and say that we have to have professional ethics and professional practices where women should be included. And it should be easier for women to participate. That is a problem and that is not going to be solved easily.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I agree with Her Excellency’s remark when she said that it is not easy. You know the phrase “Calm down Dear!” or “difficult woman”, “don’t be so difficult!”. Studies have been done that women saying the same thing as men, men using female names as email signatures have got different responses from colleagues and clients because women are just seen as when they are calling out something, why they do that and disrupt the status quo.

One very important way to leverage that façade, it is very well to say “hold someone to account”, but the number one thing that I think works against us is the lack of transparency. Besides evidence and testimony, even things like how much employees are making in a company are things that have very recently been held to account, companies have to publish this information. But it benefits those in power that everybody else does not know what is going on or they are not accountable for it. I think all companies that employ anyone should be disclosing publicly how much they are paying their male staff versus female staff because there should be no disparity if you are doing the same job or that should be explained. Holding someone into account for that transparency makes you the ‘difficult woman’.

 

– (Inaudible). Things have evolved over years, I have seen how efforts are made to make gender parity with women and making it easy for women to enter in the area. There was this idea that it is a no-go area, a boys’ place. (Inaudible). A lot has been done to promote women in these areas, in ministerial areas. It was not only about the media but it is about who you have around the table. The fact that we have somebody who is accomplished shows women that it is possible, through hard work and through convictions and through their own contributions. In the UK, I think again, we still have the same problem, if we take Theresa May, people have been condescending. What she has achieved may not be the best for the country, may not be to everybody’s liking, but it is a woman who goes there, stand up, she commands respect for what she has done. I think more we should be showing more of an understanding for these women moving towards gender parity and inclusion. We have achieved slow progress, but it is happening.

 

– About education, we have to be careful when we talk about women in foreign policy and security issues about the fact that if you bring more women in, it is not necessary going to make anybody’s work useful. What we need is structures to open up. And I think that there are structural barriers in a lot of different places and we have pointed out some of these. One of the things that we have been looking at is how do we create lines at university level to make sure to say “this is a job for you”? Most of our best students last years have been women actually. They see women professors, women in these areas, we introduce them to these women, and say “this is something that you are invited to consider”. The barriers, at least in countries like mine, are not ones that are formal but really informal. But even at the military, one of the projects that we have been looking at is trying to produce analysis in terms of what the numbers look like, what are the pathways for advance, how many women do you have and what roles do they play. Opening up that transparency can then create new ideas about how you move forward.

 

– My commentary is about ‘the boys’ club’. What if certain women become part of these ‘boys’ clubs’ and (inaudible)?  I have experienced that; how do you manage that? Because it does exist!

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

When you are looking at the British military, we have managed through the minister of defence to bring improvement. These women are becoming role models and are mentoring each other. It is quite fascinating when you start looking at that. The British military is changing.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Bangladesh also has a Prime Minister and a defence minister, she started inducting women in the five disciplines. Of course, there were women army doctors, that was conventional, but less traditional roles, such as in the artillery, in the ordonnance, in the signals, in the engineering. Except for infantry, we still do not have women there. Of course women are also in the navy and the air force, except for being pilots, women are everywhere in the air force. Now how are the men behaving? They are behaving pretty well. It is a disciplined and structured service and they are welcoming women, they have been very cautious about how to treat them. Male defence services officers are going to UN peacekeeping and you mentioned cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, by peacekeepers. We have had hardly anyone complaining about that in Bangladesh. They are disciplined in the field. From that perspective, in Bangladesh, the only area where we have had medium experiences is the education sector, in universities. Professor have been taking advantage of students. But in the service, even if it is there, it does not surface that easily.

Can I just touch on an area where you have women being recruited, if we look at the extremist organisations and terrorist organisations such as ISIL. You mentioned Shamima Begum, she is the classic example. She is just fifteen years old and she got involved with ISIS through the Internet, through social media and went there as an ISIS bride at the age of fifteen. And obviously, she was nineteen, has had three babies and lived a very traumatic experience in every way. How to prevent that? I am not going over the debate about whether Shamima Begum is British of Bangladeshi. Obviously, she is not Bangladesh’s problem. She was born here, she was raised here, she was radicalised here and she went to Syria with a British passport, so we need to give the benefit of doubt that Bangladesh had nothing to do with it. I think that Shamima Begum’s case is a very special example. There are many other returnees, who were allowed to return, including males who were actually in ISIL. But she is a bride, but there were actual ISIS active terrorists who were welcomed back in the UK and they were rehabilitated.

In the case of Shamima, just how old she was, she was the example of being victimised and she is currently stateless. This is the perfect example of how women are being trafficked into this. And I think that this is one area that should be looked into by international foreign affairs and security experts.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

We had a special panel on this, two months ago, where we talked about whether Shamima Begum was a victim or an agent. We had four experts on this talk about the different roles she may have played. I have been very active in stating a bit of the opposite in that I do not think that she was a victim in the same that, say, a Yazidi woman would have been. We are short of time, I could speak about this for another hour, but to wrap up, this is why these panels and this series of talks we are having about women’s voices is so important, because there is no unified women’s voice. One woman can have a very different opinion on what happened than someone else. It is really important and I thank Baroness Goudie for organising this and having women saying “you know, maybe my idea on this is a little bit different than yours”, because there is not a unified voice at all in defence and security or in counterterrorism.

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I just wanted to add that in terms of counterterrorism every country has a policy of how to counter terrorism. Because terrorists do not have religion, they do not have race, they do not have gender. A terrorist is a terrorist. If Shamima Begum has been recruited by ISIL, and our foreign minister has been interview on this by ITV and it was on the media, she said that if Shamima Begum had gone to Bangladesh and been arrested, that is why she has been prevented from entering Bangladesh because she is somebody else’s terrorist. If she had mentioned it to Bangladesh, she would have been arrested under our counterterrorism law. Our country’s counterterrorism law, if it is part of the 1267 committee which ISIL is, it is listed in the 1267 Al-Qaeda committee, then our law is very clear, she would have faced even death sentence, so capital punishment for terrorism. So in our eye, Shamima Begum is a terrorist because she has affiliated herself with a terrorist organisation.

The other question I cannot answer, it is the UK’s decision, but our law says that gender is not a phenomenon when it comes to terrorism. We have actually handed and also penalised many women extremist who had helped male terrorists to blast the bomb, so it actually does not depend on the gender.

 

  1. E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Well gender certainly does not count on this issue, it is a men and women’s issue. Well, I think people do not understand that we have many male terrorists but we have many female as well. It is not just ISIS, it is Ireland, it is Colombia. In some cases, women are more protected, not by government, but are protected by their own, but that is a completely different issue. It is a female and male issue and you expect the same punishment, the same trial, the same everything.

 

NIKITA MALIK:

I do agree that the punishment should be the same, but going back to evidence, it is much harder to prove. You can prove that a woman is a part of a terrorist organisation, but it is very unlikely, and I have written about this, that she would have committed any act of violence like a man would have. But that does not necessarily mean that she would not have intended to or that could just mean that she was not allowed to. That is a sub-conversation from our last panel, but it is a very interesting case.

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I would like to thank everybody for coming this evening and I hope you found it very interesting because we managed to talk about a number of issues in sixty minutes. So thank you very much

DATE: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, 13 May

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom

SPEAKER: H. E. Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Nikita Malik, and Baroness Goudie

EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Goudie

 

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Baroness Goudie, I have met some of you in the audience before, and I am very looking forward to this meeting on women’s voices in Foreign Affairs. One of our speakers, Lucy Fisher, has unfortunately not been able to come and I am upset for Lucy because she prepared very well to come to work this morning but she is now home not well.

I would like to open the meeting with our two speakers, with Ambassador Saida Muna Tasneem who will speak first for about ten minutes, followed by Nikita Malik, who will speak for ten minutes and then I will open it up to questions and sum up at about five to six. When you speak, let everybody know your name and where you come from.

Ambassador would like to talk about very important issue to all of us here.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Thank you very much, good afternoon. It is so kind of you to consider me qualified to speak on this issue and I would just like to say hello to my co-panelist, an expert in counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and counter-extremism. But I think that today’s topic is very timely and I thank the Henry Jackson Society for organising this talk. The topic being women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security, I think what happened in Christchurch recently and how the reaction we saw with Ms Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, she has probably set the best example of why it is important to have women’s voices in foreign affairs and international security. She is probably the role model of the century of how she has handled counter-terrorism, creating inter-religious harmony, defusing tensions, and actually, being a feminist for foreign policy proponents in the handling of the whole situation post-Christchurch’s terrorist attacks.

If you look at the two countries in the world who have taken feminist foreign policies, which is Sweden and Canada, Sweden is the first country where the Prime Minister, Margaret Wallaström, in 2014, had introduced this feminist foreign policy where they brought gender equality and women’s right at the centre of the diplomatic agenda. The other country is Canada, where Justin Trudeau has had the Canadian foreign aid program transformed, it is now known as the feminist international assistance policy. Of course, currently, there are twenty-six foreign ministers in this world who are women. We need to have women in these positions if we want to have their voice and their say and changes in the foreign affairs and international security rubric. So, having women foreign ministers, and we have twenty-six women foreign ministers currently, we have four from Asia, six from Europe, eight from Americas, and seven from Africa and one from the Caribbean of the Pacific. Not a very bright picture, but still, if you compare to even six years ago, half a decade ago it is a very bright picture. According to the IPU and UN Women in Politics Report 2019, this picture and these women being in politically important influential positions where they can influence foreign affairs and international security is increasing, it is getting better every year.

What the picture we saw in 2012 and the picture we saw in 2018 is a considerable increase in the positions of women in the positions of parliament staff, defence ministers, international aid ministers, home affairs ministers, and women in justice systems, women in police, in the law enforcement agencies, women in defence, in the army and in air forces and navy, and women in Human Rights commissions. These are the institutions that really matter when we want to bring justice and preserve the four pillars of Resolution 1325, where we see prevention of gender-based violence, and then protection, and then participation and (inaudible) institutionalisation.

If we want women to influence and use their feminism, that they are not pro-militarism, they are pro-peace, I you want to actually leverage on that position, we need to have women in peace institutions. And the report of IPU Women says that currently there are nine countries in the world where than fifty percent women are in ministerial positions, but there are only nine countries. Most of the world global average, where we have women in ministries, as ministers, are about twenty-three to twenty-five percent. That is the global average. Here in parliament, the average is about twenty-five percent to twenty-seven percent. Normally we see that in some of the European countries, including Sweden which has always been a champion in this or the other country is Spain in Europe.

And then there is another trend in Latin American countries – Nicaragua, Colombia – and in Africa, we have Rwanda, that is quite a surprise, a society that is completely transformed since the civil war there and all the conflicts that it has gone through. In Africa, we have about ten percent women ministers increase just over the last two years. But there has not been quite a considerable number of foreign ministers in Africa. In Latin America also, in Mexico, we have seen an increase of five foreign ministers in the last two years.

Let us look at the picture in South Asia. South Asia is made of countries where women foreign ministers in India in the eighties and then Bangladesh has had its first women foreign minister in 2009. But definitely, in South Asia, Pakistan has had its first women in parliament in 2011 and Sri Lanka still does not have one.

But of course, in the UK, if you compare, we have had a women foreign minister, we have had junior ministers, we have had defence ministers and home ministers and of course Prime ministers. These are very important positions and that is why the UK’s regime is very very strong, because we have had women meddling into these issues, in these areas.

In Bangladesh, we have our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we had women Prime Ministers for thirty-five years. There are global surprises and exceptions. For example, the UAE and Mauritania, in the Middle East and Africa, these countries have the largest numbers of women ministers. Countries that we would normally not presume that they have so large numbers of women ministers.

In Bangladesh we have had Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who, after she had come to office in 1996 she signed the first peace accord that Bangladesh has ever signed with the ethnic minorities with the Hill people. She had signed this peace accord in 1997 with the Hill people of Bangladesh and she received the UNESCO peace award for that. So that is actually making a difference in trying to resolve conflicts and do some peace building later on. And then again she has appointed in 2009 the first women Foreign Minister of the country and the first woman Home Affairs minister of the country. These are women, bringing change, being the agent for change in the peace architecture of the country. And then she has resolved our maritime boundaries peacefully with India and Myanmar. We have two neighbours, we had not settled our maritime boundaries during all these years but we have had dictators, so many Prime Ministers, but she has resolved both by taking recourse of peaceful means and taking recourse of the law of the Sea Tribunal. She is using girls’ education to bring peace and she has received this UNESCO peace award for bringing peace.

She is also the defence minister of the country, and as you know, Bangladesh speaks for oppositions as we are the second largest contributor troop contributing country to UN peace keeping operations. This is one area where we actually make a difference in global peace and security architecture. We are also the largest women peace keeper contributor in the world. In terms of civilian police, Bangladesh has contributed to the UN with the first all-women formed police unit in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All-women formed police unit. They actually play a significant role in bringing peace, protecting women, preventing sexual and gender-based violence.

Lastly, we come to the question of the Rohingya refugees. As you know, Sheikh Hasina took the initiative to host 1,1 million refugees and forcibly displaced Myanmar people, but sixty-five percent of that population that enters Bangladesh are women. And they have faced gender-based violence (rape, sexual mutilation, forced sexual slavery), and when they came in, we had nearly fifty-five to sixty thousands women who had been raped and gave birth to their babies. We are working with the UK government on them because UK’s foreign policy wants to provide counselling and post-traumatic gender-based violence counselling.

I just want to come back on leading global leaders who really made a difference in the global architecture of foreign affairs and international security. Ameerah Haq, former Under-Secretary General for the UN peace-keeping department of fields services, who was UN Secretary General special representative for Afghanistan and also for East Timor, where she actually made a difference in peace treaties.

I would mention Liberia’s president Sirleaf, who had made a difference in peace processes. A strong women who has made a difference in peace processes. I would mention Mary Robinson, who has had a contribution in the Good Friday Agreement and also later on Human Rights Commissioner. And of course, currently Helen Clark, the longest serving UNDP Head and the Under-Secretary General. She has really brought a difference in post-conflict peace building.

Today, with twenty-six foreign ministers, and less than five women defence ministers in the world, when we do not have more home ministers, we need women in these positions if we want to bring, and prevent, and actually it is not the president or the prime minister male who is taking decisions but the defence minister, the home minister, actually bringing peace accords, not sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, actually bringing them back, and bringing long-term and sustaining peace and development. We need to engage fifty percent of our population who are women.

Thank you very much.

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you, it is as you said now women working together to make this change in a very difficult but important situation. Also, the Deputy General Secretary of NATO is a woman, Rose Gottemoeller, who has worked on a number of very serious peace accords and had as much patience as Georges Mitchell had when he did the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, she can sit for six hours and just let them talk, and talk, and talk.

Now Nikita, would you like to speak please?

NIKITA MALIK:

Thank you very much. My name is Nikita Malik, I am the director of our centre on radicalisation and terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. I am actually probably not going to speak for ten minutes because I thought with Lucy here we would have less than ten minutes, but I would like to touch on a few points. Now, the reason why I thought this panel today which the Henry Jackson Society helped to organise and put together is so important and so pertinent is because of the increasing shift we see in government policy and international policy on protecting women but also, as Her Excellency has so clearly defined we see an increasing role of women being involved in positions of power. And I am honoured today that Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem is here with us as is Baroness Goudie because they are two examples of women actually setting foreign policy and helping define what it is that the UK and Bangladesh are doing. So I am absolutely delighted that they are both here.

Now in terms of myself and the research that I do, about two years ago, I published a report by the name of “Trafficking terror”, perhaps some of you have read it. It was the first time that I was systematically looking at the use of international organisations and how they were protecting women in times of conflict. Obviously, the most pertinent example of this is the United Nations. And it is absolutely fascinating to see how resolutions have evolved over time. In the beginning of course, sexual rape in conflict, abduction, forced marriage, were seen as repercussions of war. There was a systematic effort on the part of the United Nations to begin to use terms such as sexual violence in conflict, victims of trafficking, protecting women, protecting children, often these categories lump together as one word, women and children. But in fact, women require a special protection as do children. They often happen to go together but women require special assistance by care providers in areas of conflict for birth control, trauma therapy, I think that has happened.

And it seems to me that there was a systematic approach on the part of the United Nations with much lobbying and much assistance from different countries to begin to say that women deserve protection not just soldiers and fighters, armies in countries. Women, where these wars are happening, deserve a special protection. And no, it is not going to be just a repercussion of war that women will violated in this way. Having said that, even though there has been a systematic approach to changing the way we are thinking about these ideas, one can question how successful this has really been. It is quite saddening that there has only been one international tribunal in history which is looking at trying individuals for sexual violence in conflict. Both against men and women. This was a special tribunal put forward by the United Nations to do that.

Of course in the evolution of protecting women in conflicts, very recently, in the last few years, the UN has put forward a new resolution on the systematic use of sexual violence against women by terrorist organisations, so by non-state actors. How we must ensure that terrorists who obviously do not follow the guidelines of international rules based order or legislation are brutalising, using, selling women in this way and their children in order to gain a reaction from the public or to further their ends. It is a very difficult thing to do. I would argue the most difficult thing in the space is actually ensuring that you have the trust of the victims themselves. Often, we see in the news that a conflict happens, it is in the front of our mind and slowly the story changes and it goes away. And we never really see what happens to these victims in the long-term. Who is studying what is happening what has happened to them, the level of care that they have been given and how successful that has been?

One of the most interesting cases to follow is that of Nadia Murad who, as a Yazidi woman who was subject to a horrifying ordeal by the Islamic State. She has actually helped, through her testimony – her and many others like her through her foundation. I have heard some of their testimonies in person and it is so important because unless we listen to these stories, what will happen is that history will just repeat itself.

What do we do with these stories once we have them? One of the policy recommendations I have put forward, and Lord Ahmed actually brought it up in the House of Lords, the UK we need to be holding countries where these conflicts are happening whether that is Iraq or Syria or Nigeria, where unfortunately national laws do not protect women enough, so rape in a marriage is for example not considered a violation of a woman, it is not considered rape. Often, there is so much stigmatisation after a rape that it is easier to marry the woman off to the perpetrator than actually hold the perpetrator to account or to punish him in any way. I have suggested the ability for UK and US lawyers to assist in evidence gathering, to ensure that any evidence that is collected after a massive genocide like that that happened to the Yazidi people under the Islamic State, we are able to collect the evidence and actually do something with it, take these people to trial, give the victims the justice they deserve. I published a paper in the Vanderbilt law journal on this.

It is all very well and perhaps I am a bit pessimistic that while a female-centric approach is incredibly necessary, and is much needed in having a paradigm shift in the way we think about these issues, what we really need is also men on board, who agree and understand that these are important issues that they need to assist or do things to help with. We look at this room and it is majority women because the title happens to be “women’s voices”. But that does not mean that we exclude men’s voices. In fact, I think that having those conversations, holding organisations, individuals and even the United Nations to account about how long these processes are taking is essential in bringing victims justice.

So I touched briefly on women’s roles as victims sometimes and protecting them and our approaches to protection. We also have the very necessary need to have women as frontline workers, as those that women go to when they have been affected by conflicts, the women who are able to give them care, whom they are able to win their trust with. Her Excellency mentioned it earlier with the role of women in police and coming from my own perspective of countering terrorism and countering violent extremism, women’s voices are extremely important in challenging some of these worldviews as well.

Now what we lack, from a research perspective, is long term studies on this. So we tend to have inflection points where everyone is interested. A classic example would be the case of Shamima Begum. We had a separate talk on this about the women’s voices in extremism but there is so much debate around this woman and what threat she presents to international security but I would be interested to see what the long term approach is about sharing what happens to her whether she, over time, becomes insignificant. I think these are all important issues to discuss today and as I said I am delighted to be here and if anyone has any questions on access to justice for these victims and ad hoc trials in conflicts, that is my kind of area of interest so I would be really happy to answer them.

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Thank you so much. I was chairing another meeting where some of these issues came up in the audience and were global, I am very concerned about how to assist, not complain or to put people in silos and boxes. I really wanted to care on how we worked on the children of displaced people. These are really important issues to think about and I would like to throw the discussion open and take two questions at a time so that it means that the speakers can answer as many people as possible.

Questions and answers:

– Based on Bosnia, how many people in the UN structures and larger organisations, like NATO, the European Commission, have seen the film ‘The whistleblower’ or have even heard of it given that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told me it is so important that he ordered all senior people to watch it? I would question whether that has been cascading down enough? I do not share necessarily entirely the views of the UNDP and I have seen the downsides (inaudible).

Based on Ms Malik’s comments about how you bring women, and I think this is absolutely vital, it is an increasing problem of over-reliance on computing, in artificial intelligence. I believe that the presence of women in organisations will go a long way to mitigate the dangers of that. Are there basically any organisation where working in the field where you think women’s role has been particularly successful or where you see particular problems?

– Something I am absolutely passionate about is how jobs that involve moving a lot and being in a number of different domains. A lot of women have opted for the Foreign Office, for example. A lot of women have said it is not such an attractive opportunity because they might have children or they might have partners who also have geographically complicated jobs. How do we overcome that? Is it the institutions that need to somehow facilitate that? Or what do you feel barriers to more women being involved in international security might be?

BARONESS GOUDIE:

Over the last five years, I have seen more young women apply for these roles and take the roles. And they have managed. It is not easy. Some of them got married to other people within the Foreign Office or within the Ministry of Defence so they managed to have roles in the similar part of the world. That is not easy. Long-term situation of spouses and partners has to be considered when people are applying because the old days of somebody just going off is over so that has to be part of the new world, men and women working together on these issues. These issues can never be a full success but you know what I am trying to say and I feel that it is really important and it should be raised constantly. That is important that it is faced up, not next week, now.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I would just like to say, the United Kingdom is a developed country, Bangladesh is not only a developing country, but also it is a Muslim and conservative society. In South Asia, like in Bangladesh, we have about twenty-three percent women in the foreign service and in India we have about eighteen percent, in Pakistan it is slightly less. In ambassador positions, we have about fifteen percent women in these positions, who are in a leadership position and able to make changes in many ways. I am the first woman High Commissioner to the UK, but at the same time I am also surprised to see from India also. Of course, India had a woman political appointee who was the sister of the first Prime Minister Nehru in the fifties. Actually for the foreign service as you said, Ruchi Ghanashyam is also the first woman High Commissioner.

If you look at the propositions within the foreign service, diplomatic service, where countries that are permanent members can actually do their power play role and make differences and take decisions in these matters, we have had the first woman PR from the UK. And Bangladesh has had a permanent representative in 2007. There are surprises, like I have said. A country like the UK would expect that there would be a first woman permanent representative much earlier. And these are the real non-traditional roles where conventionally it has been held by men. Even countries like the US had a woman PR much much later, after 2010. There are surprises.

One thing is clear that change will come when we see that women are being their stereotypes. That means we will have the first defence secretary. These are really gradual changes, that means women are getting there.

You did mention about men, but actually, it is not men that ought to help women. It is women who have to use networking stronger, that is always networking that gives them strength. That is from my experience. There are glass ceilings in the foreign service, so women have actually to work much harder because they have to keep the family and also be at the top of their game. If you want to be in the top of both games, the family game and the professional game, you really have to tear yourself apart and that is what we are doing.

So as an international women’s day, I was invited by the Indian High Commissioner as a panellist. This year’s topic was the balance between family and profession. I said that I am so torn apart between the two that I have come here to get some love from my colleagues. It is very tough on the foreign service. There are certain foreign services where they are getting married, that is the only way out, to have a husband from the foreign service. If he is not from the foreign service, it is very difficult to understand your coming back at two am in the morning after you negotiated and achieved nothing. It is very difficult to explain.

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I still feel we do have men’s responses as well.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Definitely, we need the support. But I have not been put in the UK because my Prime Minister is a woman and she thinks we should put a woman there. I have earned it through my qualifications and I had to work on the same level, on the basis of merit, not by any quota, with my colleagues, shoulder to shoulder. Women have the merit to do it. No quotas!

NIKITA MALIK:

I am not in the foreign service, I did speak at an FCO event last year, about women. And I was very surprises, they were speaking about how until some time ago, if you were pregnant at the FCO, you would have to give your notice. That is not the case anymore, we are holding that as an achievement. I can understand that there is always options to the exercise. I think it would be very difficult to work at the foreign service and you were married and your husband was not understanding the fact that you are working hard or you are traveling to all kinds of places. And the other thing I would add to that as well, from my perspective is that if you are in a conflict zone, as a woman, you are subject to more risks and yes, sexual violence can happen against men as well, but women in conflict zone have reported these stories. Whether they were part of a charity or humanitarian assistance or even in the UN.

We need better reporting mechanisms. If sexual violence happens to you as a UN worker in a conflict zone, for example, who is to be held to account. Often it is not sexual violence from enemy combatant, it is more often from a fellow UN person. Why is the UN not holding its employees to account for making these situations even riskier than they have to be? There are risks, risks in the academic fieldwork as well, and universities have not really been helping women. I might be generalising, but the stories I have read have not been great. They do not give women enough background about “if you go and do fieldwork in this country you will be subject to these many risks” and when they come back and report it to the university and say “this happened to me”, it is kind of buried under the carpet. Processes are not made better for the next years’ students, for example.

There is a lot of work that can be done to improve it across the spectrum, not just in the foreign office but for anyone who is subjecting themselves to risks.

– My understanding is that a lot of diplomacy happens at the bar or at crazy times in the morning, happens through personal relationships ant that sort of things. And I understand that at some point this might look like an all-boys club. For you to be included in that is not considered as part of the game, or diverse people might not want you to. What are some of the barriers but also what are some of the opportunities of making these things work to our advantage?

– I am from Nigeria, where the President thinks women’s role is in the kitchen. (Inaudible). Women should confront that and should also raise their voice and correct men. (Inaudible).

 

 H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

That is what I meant, I am here today not because I am a woman. But I can assure you that if it was a male president, I would not have been here, it would have taken fifteen more years. There are glass ceilings and there are cultural issues that we have to overcome. And you are right, it is women who has to make a stand. It is not easy to be a bold woman and make this kind of comments. Every national women’s day back in Bangladesh, they come to interview me and ask for my message. My message is clear, we still have not had a woman as permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, we have not had a woman permanent under-secretary for home affairs, for defence, for finance. Finance is very important. Even a woman Prime Minister could not enforce that. We women have to sort of negotiate with our main counterparts or bosses that “I am deserving”.

I want to question that cultural question of inclusiveness. You do not feel included in the boys’ club. That quite often happens. I do not know if that is a problem in this country, but definitely in our part of the world it is. It is not customary for a woman in South Asian societies to go in a bar at 2 am in the morning or stay late at night. It is not looked upon positively from the family perspective.

Having professional ethics, again, women have to speak up on this issue. And you are not favoured if you speak up on this issue, have been acting like a rebel. But you have to nevertheless speak out and say that we have to have professional ethics and professional practices where women should be included. And it should be easier for women to participate. That is a problem and that is not going to be solved easily.

NIKITA MALIK:

I agree with Her Excellency’s remark when she said that it is not easy. You know the phrase “Calm down Dear!” or “difficult woman”, “don’t be so difficult!”. Studies have been done that women saying the same thing as men, men using female names as email signatures have got different responses from colleagues and clients because women are just seen as when they are calling out something, why they do that and disrupt the status quo.

One very important way to leverage that façade, it is very well to say “hold someone to account”, but the number one thing that I think works against us is the lack of transparency. Besides evidence and testimony, even things like how much employees are making in a company are things that have very recently been held to account, companies have to publish this information. But it benefits those in power that everybody else does not know what is going on or they are not accountable for it. I think all companies that employ anyone should be disclosing publicly how much they are paying their male staff versus female staff because there should be no disparity if you are doing the same job or that should be explained. Holding someone into account for that transparency makes you the ‘difficult woman’.

– (Inaudible). Things have evolved over years, I have seen how efforts are made to make gender parity with women and making it easy for women to enter in the area. There was this idea that it is a no-go area, a boys’ place. (Inaudible). A lot has been done to promote women in these areas, in ministerial areas. It was not only about the media but it is about who you have around the table. The fact that we have somebody who is accomplished shows women that it is possible, through hard work and through convictions and through their own contributions. In the UK, I think again, we still have the same problem, if we take Theresa May, people have been condescending. What she has achieved may not be the best for the country, may not be to everybody’s liking, but it is a woman who goes there, stand up, she commands respect for what she has done. I think more we should be showing more of an understanding for these women moving towards gender parity and inclusion. We have achieved slow progress, but it is happening.

– About education, we have to be careful when we talk about women in foreign policy and security issues about the fact that if you bring more women in, it is not necessary going to make anybody’s work useful. What we need is structures to open up. And I think that there are structural barriers in a lot of different places and we have pointed out some of these. One of the things that we have been looking at is how do we create lines at university level to make sure to say “this is a job for you”? Most of our best students last years have been women actually. They see women professors, women in these areas, we introduce them to these women, and say “this is something that you are invited to consider”. The barriers, at least in countries like mine, are not ones that are formal but really informal. But even at the military, one of the projects that we have been looking at is trying to produce analysis in terms of what the numbers look like, what are the pathways for advance, how many women do you have and what roles do they play. Opening up that transparency can then create new ideas about how you move forward.

– My commentary is about ‘the boys’ club’. What if certain women become part of these ‘boys’ clubs’ and (inaudible)?  I have experienced that; how do you manage that? Because it does exist!

BARONESS GOUDIE:

When you are looking at the British military, we have managed through the minister of defence to bring improvement. These women are becoming role models and are mentoring each other. It is quite fascinating when you start looking at that. The British military is changing.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Bangladesh also has a Prime Minister and a defence minister, she started inducting women in the five disciplines. Of course, there were women army doctors, that was conventional, but less traditional roles, such as in the artillery, in the ordnance, in the signals, in the engineering. Except for infantry, we still do not have women there. Of course women are also in the navy and the air force, except for being pilots, women are everywhere in the air force. Now how are the men behaving? They are behaving pretty well. It is a disciplined and structured service and they are welcoming women, they have been very cautious about how to treat them. Male defence services officers are going to UN peacekeeping and you mentioned cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, by peacekeepers. We have had hardly anyone complaining about that in Bangladesh. They are disciplined in the field. From that perspective, in Bangladesh, the only area where we have had medium experiences is the education sector, in universities. Professor have been taking advantage of students. But in the service, even if it is there, it does not surface that easily.

Can I just touch on an area where you have women being recruited, if we look at the extremist organisations and terrorist organisations such as ISIL. You mentioned Shamima Begum, she is the classic example. She is just fifteen years old and she got involved with ISIS through the Internet, through social media and went there as an ISIS bride at the age of fifteen. And obviously, she was nineteen, has had three babies and lived a very traumatic experience in every way. How to prevent that? I am not going over the debate about whether Shamima Begum is British of Bangladeshi. Obviously, she is not Bangladesh’s problem. She was born here, she was raised here, she was radicalised here and she went to Syria with a British passport, so we need to give the benefit of doubt that Bangladesh had nothing to do with it. I think that Shamima Begum’s case is a very special example. There are many other returnees, who were allowed to return, including males who were actually in ISIL. But she is a bride, but there were actual ISIS active terrorists who were welcomed back in the UK and they were rehabilitated.

In the case of Shamima, just how old she was, she was the example of being victimised and she is currently stateless. This is the perfect example of how women are being trafficked into this. And I think that this is one area that should be looked into by international foreign affairs and security experts.

NIKITA MALIK:

We had a special panel on this, two months ago, where we talked about whether Shamima Begum was a victim or an agent. We had four experts on this talk about the different roles she may have played. I have been very active in stating a bit of the opposite in that I do not think that she was a victim in the same that, say, a Yazidi woman would have been. We are short of time, I could speak about this for another hour, but to wrap up, this is why these panels and this series of talks we are having about women’s voices is so important, because there is no unified women’s voice. One woman can have a very different opinion on what happened than someone else. It is really important and I thank Baroness Goudie for organising this and having women saying “you know, maybe my idea on this is a little bit different than yours”, because there is not a unified voice at all in defence and security or in counter-terrorism.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

I just wanted to add that in terms of counterterrorism every country has a policy of how to counter terrorism. Because terrorists do not have religion, they do not have race, they do not have gender. A terrorist is a terrorist. If Shamima Begum has been recruited by ISIL, and our foreign minister has been interview on this by ITV and it was on the media, she said that if Shamima Begum had gone to Bangladesh and been arrested, that is why she has been prevented from entering Bangladesh because she is somebody else’s terrorist. If she had mentioned it to Bangladesh, she would have been arrested under our counterterrorism law. Our country’s counterterrorism law, if it is part of the 1267 committee which ISIL is, it is listed in the 1267 Al-Qaeda committee, then our law is very clear, she would have faced even death sentence, so capital punishment for terrorism. So in our eye, Shamima Begum is a terrorist because she has affiliated herself with a terrorist organisation.

The other question I cannot answer, it is the UK’s decision, but our law says that gender is not a phenomenon when it comes to terrorism. We have actually handed and also penalised many women extremist who had helped male terrorists to blast the bomb, so it actually does not depend on the gender.

 

H.E. MS. SAIDA MUNA TASNEEM:

Well gender certainly does not count on this issue, it is a men and women’s issue. Well, I think people do not understand that we have many male terrorists but we have many female as well. It is not just ISIS, it is Ireland, it is Colombia. In some cases, women are more protected, not by government, but are protected by their own, but that is a completely different issue. It is a female and male issue and you expect the same punishment, the same trial, the same everything.

NIKITA MALIK:

I do agree that the punishment should be the same, but going back to evidence, it is much harder to prove. You can prove that a woman is a part of a terrorist organisation, but it is very unlikely, and I have written about this, that she would have committed any act of violence like a man would have. But that does not necessarily mean that she would not have intended to or that could just mean that she was not allowed to. That is a sub-conversation from our last panel, but it is a very interesting case.

BARONESS GOUDIE:

I would like to thank everybody for coming this evening and I hope you found it very interesting because we managed to talk about a number of issues in sixty minutes. So thank you very much

HJS



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