V/I met with Major General Kristin Lund of Norway, who is the Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). MGen Lund explained the importance of peacekeeping missions and women’s engagement for the sustainability of peace processes as well as her career path in the Norwegian Army, her professional struggles and successes and the significance of good leadership.
Magda Jakubowska: In Poland, there are no female generals in the army; I hope that the Norwegian example will encourage us to have more women in security. Specifically, what are the main peacekeeping missions you carry out? And why do you think that women’s presence is so important in such missions?
Kristin Lund: Of course, all the information about the missions can be found on our webpage with exact numbers and names [https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/where-we-operate], but to put it in a simple way and to make it more understandable for people not knowledgeable with military issues – it is all about monitoring ceasefire agreements that Israel has with its neighbours. This is done by having two observing groups: one in the south of Lebanon, supporting UNIFIL, and another group supporting UNDOF in the Golan Heights.
Our people support the two UN missions mentioned above in fulfilling their mandates. In addition to that, I also have a mandate to liaise with all the capitals in these five countries. We have offices set up for this purpose in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. The one from Jordan is in Jerusalem where the headquarters is located. More or less half of my time is spent travelling between these capitals and talking to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other important interlocutors.
In the countries you just mentioned, the role of women in society is a bit different in comparison to the one we have in Europe.
For me, as the leader of this operation, this is a very important topic. I ask all those countries who contribute with military personnel to send female observers, as one of our primary focuses is specifically the situation of women in the region. By examining the Gender Gap List, produced annually by the World Economic Forum, it is apparent that the Middle East region, where I work, has slipped far behind the rest of the developed nations in this regard.
Another significant point is the rights of women. It is important to show that the UN has equal views on the resources that the UN provides to its missions. Moreover, 50% of the global population is female, so it is vital for me to reach out during my tenure as Head of Mission for UNTSO. The availability of female observers increases our interaction with the local population, and subsequently increases accessibility to information.
There have been studies saying that the presence of women in peacekeeping missions helps to sustain peace. They state that in cases like yours in the Middle East, peace is sustained for 60% longer when women are engaged in the process.
True, and the research speaks for itself why it is so important. Then again, whenever I am out on these regional liaison meetings, I try to raise questions concerning gender as well as attend workshops where we bring all these issues to the table.
I am also a part of the Nordic Women Mediators Network which is based on regional cooperation – there is one in the Mediterranean region, in Africa and throughout the British Commonwealth. We have started to identify women with expertise not only on issues related to gender, but with expertise within all nation building aspects, and with the added female dimension. Thus, it is vital to include the whole society in such a process.
Today, we have Secretary-General who has done a lot and has been a role model of a leader, for women and men alike. Within one year, he has been able to get parity within the UN headquarters when it comes to management, and we are on our way to achieving parity in other areas.
Of course, the biggest issue and challenge within peacekeeping operations is found in the military sector, as this constitutes the largest part of this department. This is why we continuously appeal to the troop-contributing countries to provide us with more female military personnel.
We see that where we deploy both genders – we get a much better result. It is more effective because you are able to reach out to 100% of the population, so your potential interaction is much more diverse and comprehensive.
Personally, I have acquired experience as a pioneer female officer in several operations, including the first Gulf War and in Afghanistan. I fully believe this has facilitated my access to both genders. In comparison, extensive experience emphasizes how men in uniform rarely are able to access the female half of the populations in religious countries. In order to fulfil one’s mandate, access to both genders is critical.
You have served in the Norwegian military for years, and you are the first woman to have such a high position as general. Overall, I would say that Norwegian Army is very progressive as there is compulsory military service for women. In addition, women are recruited into the Special Forces. What was the spark behind this phenomenon?
Our Special Forces experienced the operational necessity of having female colleagues in their units. The capacity of the Special Forces was assessed to increase with both males and females represented. This awareness, and also the compulsory military service for both genders, has over recent years considerably increased the female ration of the Norwegian armed forces.
However, talking about the officer level, women still only constitute about 12%, which is too low. However, the percentage of female soldiers in basic training has reached 25-30%. The ratio is unevenly distributed, however; for instance, it is lower in the army due to their stricter requirements for physical skills.
It is more than 25 years ago when we got our first female submarine commander, and 34 years since all branches were eligible for females. Today there are no limitations.
Norway also categorizes positions with different fixed physical standards. By observing any sports arena today, one can easily observe how many women are in great shape. Increased participation in sports – many which have been typically associated with men – are producing women with better physical preconditions for the challenges of military service.
In Norway there is a saying, “we need good heads – most other things can be trained”. Your mentality and attitude have to be well suited from the start; without this, training alone might not be sufficient.
I have been talking to many female representatives already, and I have noticed that all of you have the same problem – being alone among many men.
From your experience, what types of character do you see as important to have for such position? What would you advise other women to do in such situations?
Thinking back, I often experienced that the only woman in a male crowd would become a mascot. Men tended to address us using only our first name, while our male counterparts would be addressed with the more traditionally used rank or surname. And that is not good either.
Personally, I have always been lucky to have good people around me who are ready to fight for you when you are not in the room, who have a clear perspective and can see the benefit diversity has to offer.
If you find such kind of people among your male colleagues, you can get support from them. The best thing is to perform your job well; as long as you do this, you will be accepted. But I have been through the whole range, including where I have had to work twice as hard as my male colleagues in order to be recognized.
What we also have in Norway is a network for female officers which has become a great support system. Therefore, I always try to recommend creating a network because then you can at least have a forum where you let out frustration and to learn from others based on what they have been doing. That is my best advice.
Again, looking back, civilian women working in the military have also had a hard time, sometimes even harder, with regards to, for instance, sexual harassment. The most important thing to understand is that everything starts from the top. The leadership of organisations needs the awareness that in order to fulfil your task and mandate, both genders need to be fully empowered and employed. This is not about political correctness.
It is like connecting dots of each country or international organisation working for the benefit of gender, that is not only the army itself but all the policies together treating gender as an important issue…
Yes. For instance, there are always questions about gender during our interviews. For instance, interviewees are being asked to give an example when gender played a role or how can they relate to it. It can tell you a lot about their experience of working with women or their attitude towards women.
I wonder in what sense the UN is working to advance all these gender issues or bringing more women into what you do in the UN? Are there any other actions, resolutions that can help?
The Secretary General touches upon the element of gender in most of his speeches.
There are a lot of actions going on. One of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is specifically related to the promotion of equality and women empowerment.
For example, the policy of parity is pushed with greater force in the UN than in NATO. So, I would say that the UN has come quite far in this. They also have a pipeline for women; a way for UN women to come and meet women from other divisions. This is also an arena for where young women may be actively encouraged to seek positions within the UN.
The UN women also have “champions”, and I am one of them. However, what we would need, are more men that are champions for women.
As long as everybody is given recruitment opportunities, the situation will improve; if you are underrepresented, you have to find women and see if they match. And from 2019, we will be measured on how we are able to fulfil – on the civilian side of the house – all these tasks concerning parity. We need to encourage more qualified women to be apply and be admitted into the rosters.
I am very appreciative for having a Secretary General who pushes this initiative. He has taken leadership of the issue, and everybody knows that the best practice is achieved though leadership at all levels.
This reminds me of when I was a force commander in Cyprus. We had been meeting both political, military and police delegations coming from the various contributing nations.
Some of our top – the first or second points – were always about gender. We put it front-and-centre to increase the pressure. During our time there, we were able to get an increase of 7% females in the military, and 25% in the UN Police. This shows that by just mentioning it, pressure and output is increased.
For me, being a female, this is natural because I have been fighting my whole life to get where I am today. And I think this is another important issue that we, as women, need to support each other and empower other women. There are a lot of women who forget, once they themselves enter into positions of power, to keep on supporting or empowering other women.
The encouragement and promotion of suitable female candidates is something we need to learn from men and their network. They will call up candidates and let them know that “there is a position, and you should go for this one”.
This is what I thought about UN champions. Having you and other women would be supportive for others. Would you tell me some more about UN women champions? What is it about?
I think there are around fourteen of them, give or take. What we are trying to do is wherever we go and deliver speeches or trainings, we will always mention the need of and promote gender in our operations.
In a way, we are talking about what the UN is doing, what in a way we expect that can be done from the interlocutors. It is not more than that but I will use all occasions to promote the active presence of females in operations. Having my CV state that I am a Women UN Champion is a way of sending out this message.