A quick look through the military history doesn't reveal many women's names, but things are changing.
There’s more to defence and security than charging the enemy or tackling a violent offender. The complex threats we face and the multifaceted response they require have created roles for women both, in the front line and in developing the systems and technology to combat them.
If you are looking for evidence that women are taking more prominent roles, then you only have to look at the numerous defence ministers who are women (Florance Parly in France, Ursula Von der Leyen in Germany, Margarita Robles in Spain, Elisabetta Trenta in Italy and Ank Bijleveld in the Netherlands). At the EU level, there is my colleague Federica Mogherini and me. Together we have taken the lead in establishing the new European defence agenda.
In particular, I proposed the new €13 billion European Defence Fund, which will help Europe to develop its own defence capabilities and ensure its strategic autonomy. Moreover, we have developed the Commission’s proposals for defence funding over the next seven years. At the operational level, one of the two managers responsible for our defence programme is a woman.
Nonetheless, the perception is still very much that defence and security is the domain of men. However, this is simply not the case. The military services have long recognised the important contribution women make in operations and leadership.
It’s more than 40 years since NATO set up the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces. The complementary skills of both men and women are essential for the effectiveness of the armed forces. Moreover, much of our security will depend on analysing new threats and dangers that we might not even suspect exist.
Women’s skills are badly needed in understanding the hidden dangers that can undermine society and designing counter-measures. For example, experts are beginning to appreciate the importance of “softer measures” to counter radicalisation where women can play an important role.
Today there are women in the defence industry, but they are mostly to be found in the jobs that are not defence specific, such as HR or finance. On the engineering side, women’s skills are largely untapped. This is symptomatic of a general underrepresentation of women in science and technology. Of course, this concerns not only the defence industry, but the whole EU industry in general.
We are continuing to encourage more women into science and technology, for example through the Women Innovators Award or support to female entrepreneurship, facilitating networking among entrepreneurs and support organisations and access to finance.
The European Commission, under this mandate, has set the EU in a new direction to guarantee security for all Europeans. To achieve this, we are working very closely with NATO.
This is not contradictory to NATO. On the contrary, a stronger European defence means ultimately a stronger NATO. We want to strengthen the NATO alliance, which has defended our freedom for nearly 70 years. This is why the EU is taking more responsibility on the world stage and needs to develop its own capacities. And to do this we must call on the talents of Europe’s women, as well.
The EU project is built on solidarity and equality. As the EU develops its role as a security provider, this concept of equality will manifest itself. We have seen over the last century the dynamic contribution that women can make in all aspects of commerce, industry and society as a whole. Defence and security are no different. The challenge for us all today is to make sure we use this potential.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project series run by Visegrad/Insight and the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as well as editors of leading newspapers across Central Europe.