Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the NATO Women, Peace, and Security Reception

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the NATO Women, Peace, and Security Reception

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the NATO Women, Peace, and Security Reception
Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the NATO Women, Peace, and Security Reception

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, everyone.  Welcome to the State Department.  It is wonderful to have everyone in this room, on this day, for this occasion.

Seventy-six years ago, a year before the treaty that created NATO was signed, President Truman signed into law two other documents that proved foundational for America’s lasting security.  The first – on June the 12th, 1948 – allowed women to serve as regular members of the United States military.  The second, just six weeks later, banned segregation in our armed forces.

Both reforms faced resistance and skepticism in the United States.  Congress held hearings to debate the merits of permitting women to serve in the same capacity as men.  The very first witness called was General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Asked why he supported the reform, his answer was simple: “We need them.”

The same is true today, for virtually every one of NATO’s strategic objectives.  To achieve them, we have to meaningfully include women at every level.  As we know, the evidence shows that when women enjoy greater physical security, when their rights are respected, when societies have higher levels of gender equality, entire countries are more stable.  They’re more prosperous; they’re more peaceful.  And when women are meaningfully involved in making and keeping the peace, it is more likely to endure.

This is not just a women’s issue.  It’s a national security issue, an economic issue, and yes, a moral issue as well – including for NATO, which was built on a shared commitment to defend liberty, to defend democracy, to defend the rule of law.

Living up to that commitment is also vital to the strength and well-being of our nations and our citizens.  That’s why one of the very first actions that President Biden took was to form a commission to develop America’s first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, a strategy that we put out in 2021 and that we’ve been working to implement every day since.  It’s why we released an updated strategy and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security just last year.  And it’s why advancing women, peace, and security has enjoyed long – longstanding support in our Congress.  We’re so grateful to have a true champion of that issue here today, Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  Thank you, Jeanne, for your remarkable leadership.  (Applause.)

And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of ensuring that women have a leading role in making and keeping peace, despite the real progress that we’ve made on this issue over the last few years, we’ve still got our work cut out for us.  So today, I’d like to briefly focus on three areas where NATO’s enduring effectiveness demands that we do more.

First, we have to continue to improve the meaningful participation of women and girls in all of their diversity.  If we let obstacles and biases stand in the way of their full participation, we’re simply not building the strongest alliance that we can.  Consider that of the 32 Allies, six have women who are permanent representatives.  One of the six happens to be our ambassador to NATO, Julie Smith.  (Applause.)  As some of you might have taken note of yesterday, Julie is also the new announcer for the Washington Nationals – (laughter) – as she opened the game, and Secretary General Stoltenberg threw out the first pitch.

But Ambassador Smith represents the United States at NATO not because she’s the best woman for the job, but because she’s the best person for the job – just as her – two of her – two predecessors, Toria Nuland and Kay Bailey Hutchison.  But how many women like Julie are out there in every NATO country who have been held back from reaching their full potential?  And how much have our nations, how much has our Alliance lost as a result?

Second, we need to fully integrate strategic thinking about women, peace, and security across all of our efforts, particularly in addressing some of the 21st century challenges like those posed by digital technology.  This technology has, of course, immense potential to amplify the voices of women and girls.  But it’s also increasingly being exploited to enable online harassment, to enable online abuse.  Women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, particularly those in public life – political, civil society leaders – are especially vulnerable to this violence.  Such attacks not only harm their victims; they have a chilling effect on the participation of women and girls and other underrepresented groups.

This is a threat to the health of our democracies, and we’re taking steps to push back.  In 2022, we launched the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse to help us better understand, better prevent, better counter these attacks.  Fifteen nations have partnered with the United States in this effort, including five of our NATO Allies.  And I strongly encourage others to join in this effort.

Third, we need to share best practices in women, peace, and security beyond our Alliance.  That will make our partners stronger.  It will make them more stable.  It will help prevent and diminish drivers of instability in other parts of the world, which increasingly affect our own security.

And just to give you a couple quick examples, this year the U.S. launched Women, Peace, and Security regional centers in Colombia and Kosovo.  We’re grateful to have President Osmani here with us today.  (Cheers and applause.)  President Osmani was instrumental in the launch of this initiative.  It’s already demonstrating the way these centers can serve as hubs for ideas and for innovation.  In the months ahead, we’ll launch a third center in the Philippines.  And these hubs bring together government, civil society, academia, the private sector to collaborate on tackling the challenges that we’re talking about here today.

Last year, the U.S. military launched its first-ever Women, Peace, and Security cooperation initiative in the Indo-Pacific.  Together with Australia and New Zealand, we’ve held trainings to help the militaries in 11 partner nations integrate the gender dimension of threats into their own planning, into their own operations, such as how to draw on the leadership of women and girls in responding to national disasters, including their knowledge of the most vulnerable populations and how most effectively to reach them and support them.

We’re training and empowering women civil society groups and peace builders, so that they can play a leading role in building peace, in building free and open societies, and negotiating the end of conflicts, even – and maybe even especially – in places where those in power ruthlessly repress the rights of women and girls, like Afghanistan.

For even as the Taliban denies them the right to go to school, to go to work, to move freely and participate in public life, women and girls continue to fight for their right to build a brighter future for themselves and for their country.  As they do, we’re working every day to support their efforts, working with governments, with NGOs, with the private sector, with academia to help Afghan women and girls keep studying, to build their skills, to build their connections, to work remotely.  We also continue to rally global pressure on the Taliban to reverse these repressive policies, which are hurting all Afghans.

And we continue to partner with women in places where we see ongoing fighting, like Sudan and like Ukraine.  From the moment that Putin launched his full-scale invasion, Ukrainian women have stepped up in every conceivable way to defend their country, to defend their communities, to defend their families, including in combat.  Right now, there are thousands of Ukrainian women who are serving on the frontlines, literally as snipers, as machine gunners, as medevac pilots, to manning tank units and artillery batteries.  Every day they prove that valor has no gender.

But too often, Ukrainian women fighters don’t have the equipment that they need to meet their unique needs, forcing many to buy and even design their own kits.  Today, we’re taking a step to fix that by announcing that NATO Allies will provide more than $7 million to purchase equipment for women in Ukraine’s armed forces, including more than 10,000 bulletproof vests, uniforms, boots.  We applaud every Ally that’s come forward to help in this initiative.

It’s just one small part of our effort to ensure that Ukraine can not only defend itself today but also get to the place where it can stand strongly on its own feet – militarily, economically, democratically.  That is the mark of success for Ukraine.  That will be the strongest possible rebuke to Vladimir Putin.

Here’s the reality.  Ukraine cannot do that – it can’t succeed in achieving that ultimate success – without the full and equal participation of all of its people.  For Ukraine’s economy to not only survive but thrive, Ukraine needs women.  Last year, 37,000 new businesses registered in Ukraine, more than in the year leading up to the war.  The majority were founded by women.

For Ukraine to realize its democratic aspirations and build and strengthen its independent institutions, Ukraine needs women.  We see that in the Ukrainian women working as anticorruption and human rights activists, independent judges and prosecutors, reporters in the country’s free press.  Ukraine’s resilience, the path to success, is built in large part on the shoulders and in the hearts of the women of Ukraine.

What’s true for Ukraine is true for so much of what we have to achieve in our Alliance.  And so we thought it was fitting as we kick off this summit, this 75th anniversary summit – a summit that looks not only to the achievements of the past but looks especially to what the Alliance has to do and has to do together to ensure our security, to defend our democracies going forward – we thought it was very appropriate to kick things off with this event, with this focus on women, peace, and security and a commitment to bring our focus to empowering women’s full, meaningful, and equal participation – not just to this forum, but to each and every issue that we have to tackle together.  Our success and, yes, our security depends on it.

I thank you very, very much for joining us today, but not just today, for the work that pretty much everyone in this room is doing every day to advance this agenda.  We know that when we come together for a summit for one day of meetings and discussion, it’s important.  It puts a spotlight on issues.  But what really matters is the next 364 days and the work that you are going to be doing, we’re going to be doing every day.  With that and with that in mind, it’s my honor to introduce someone who has dedicated much of her career to empowering women in peace building, the NATO secretary general’s Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security Irene Fellin.  Irene, the floor is yours.  (Applause.)

MS FELLIN:  Distinguished ministers, excellencies, dear friends, it is a true honor and an utmost pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address you today on the occasion of the Women, Peace, and Security reception.  My special thank you go to you, Secretary Blinken, for hosting us here at the State Department and for being on the front line for the implementation of this important agenda.  I’m truly impressed by the remarkable initiatives that you just described as part of the US WPS strategy.  You are leading by example.

In its 75 years of history, NATO has demonstrated to be an incredible adaptive Alliance capable of transforming itself whenever needed while sticking to its core values.  Our attachment to the Women, Peace, and Security agenda is a distinctive feature of the transatlantic Alliance.  Standing up for and helping advance the rights and participation of women in defense and security is very much at the heart of who we are and what we do as individuals, nations, and collectively as an Alliance.

We know that setbacks in global peace and security go hand in hand with setbacks in gender equality.  Globally, women increasingly face threats to their political and social rights and their personal security as well as bars to their full participation in peace and security processes.

As an Alliance based on democratic values, this matters for NATO.  As Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine continues with devastating impact on civilians, as we just saw yesterday, our work to understand the gender dimension of this conflict is of vital importance to inform us how we can better support Ukraine.

It is clear that the principle for UNSCR 1325, adopted almost 25 years ago, are not only yet to be fully implemented, but are indeed increasingly challenged.  In light with this recognition, at the 2023 Vilnius Summit, NATO Ally resolved to update the NATO WPS policy.  And after a year work, this new policy is now ready to be endorsed tomorrow by heads of state (inaudible) at this Washington Summit.

Let me now share with you some reflection on this new policy – is an important part of the implementation of NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept.  Within the context of deterrence and defense, for example, NATO commits for the first time to advance work on challenges and threats like gender disinformation and technology-facilitated gender-based violence.  This can include cyber harassment, hate speech, or video and image-based abuse.  They carry not only health and safety consequences but also political consequences, as they silence women in online spaces, ultimately diminishing their engagement in public life and democratic processes.

When we look at the opportunities and challenges of technologies – from drone-related warfare, cyber attacks, and generative AI – we will ensure that we are looking at how this impact diverse segment of the population, and will focus on our efforts on mitigating any exacerbation of gender inequality in the work we do.

While the Women, Peace, and Security agenda is relevant to deterrence and defense, it is also an essential partnership tool.  In fact, to be successful in integrating WPS in all that we do, collaboration and engagement in that – with diverse actors as part of NATO’s cooperative security efforts is key.  We will continue to work closely with our partners, some of whom are with us here today.  NATO partnership represent a privilege mechanist throughout which we can learn from one another, and this is particularly relevant when it comes to Ukraine defending itself against Russia’s war of aggression.

In this context, as Secretary Blinken just mentioned, an unprecedented number of women joined the armed forces of Ukraine in order to defend their own country, challenging societal norm and stereotypes.  And in fact, the servicewomen found themself fighting on different fronts, some more obvious than others.  And one of them is the lack of appropriate equipment, namely body armor and uniform fits for them.  So I would like to join the announcement just made by Secretary Blinken that throughout NATO’s comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine, we will fund this initial production of body armor, wool winter uniform, and combat boots for servicewomen of the armed forces of Ukraine.

And allow to personally thank you, Mr. Secretary, for strongly supporting our project, as well as our Allies Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, and Norway for their important financial contribution.  Just before we joined the reception, other Allies came to me to say they want to join this initiative and fund more support for Ukraine, so I’m sure that we will have other (inaudible) and continued support to the servicewomen of Ukraine, and I’m looking at Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna, who is leading the work with a comprehensive assistance package, and we will continue our joint efforts in the coming months.

Partnership is not only among nations.  It is with civil society organizations as well, and I recognize many such representatives present this room today.  I want to reassure you the strengthened engagement with women civil society actors, including throughout the NATO Civil Society Advisory Panel, is and will remain a priority, as it helps us stay connected to the foundations of the WPS agenda.

Distinguished guests, the road ahead requires unwavering commitment and collective efforts at all levels.  It demands that we, from the political and military leaders to the civilian and military staff, continue to champion gender equality in every sphere.  As part of this new policy, I strongly advocate for a more gender-responsive and accountable leadership.  This means that leaders, men and women alike, are called to lead by example and commit to fully advance the Women, Peace, and Security agenda at NATO and beyond.  I therefore call on you today to be part of the cultural change that is still needed.  Together, we can create a future where every individual, regardless of their gender, can contribute to and benefit from peace and security.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

I would like now to pass the floor to Ms. Thordis Gylfadottir, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iceland.  (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER GYLFADOTTIR:  Thank you, Secretary of State Blinken, Special Representative Fellin, and other distinguished guests for providing an important opportunity for us, Allies and partners, right at the start of the summit to reaffirm our commitment to advancing the Women, Peace, and Security agenda.  Gathering in the wake of Russia’s brutal attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine, our support and solidarity is unwavering.

Tomorrow we will endorse NATO’s very impressive and, I would say, progressive WPS policy.  Thanks to everyone involved at the headquarters in Brussels, in the respective capitals, and from civil society for your solid work.  Iceland has for years been a strong proponent for the Women, Peace, and Security agenda at NATO, globally, and at home.  Even as we face mounting challenges on the global stage, or perhaps particularly because of that, we cannot lose sight of this important agenda.  At critical times when so much is at stake, it is vital to mobilize all available human capital, both men and women.  This is equally important for economic growth as well as deterrence and defense.

And here we have a lot to learn from our Ukrainian friends.  Ukrainian women are at the front lines of the war, assuming increasingly crucial roles.  They are making a significant contribution to the defense of Ukraine today and tomorrow and building the resilience for Ukraine to prevail.  They are leading humanitarian relief efforts, taking up key positions in the administration, and playing a vocal role in Ukraine’s civil society.  We need to listen attentively to the voices of Ukrainian women and support them on their terms.

I am therefore pleased to announce Iceland’s contribution of 500,000 euros to the CAP Trust Fund to provide Ukrainian women with critical body armors, uniforms, and boots.  Providing them with the appropriate equipment is both essential for their protection on the battlefield as well as an important step in modernizing Ukraine’s future force.

And this last point is key.  Bringing women on board is not only a women’s rights issue.  It brings benefits to the whole of society and to our collective security.  This we in Iceland know.  This the Ukrainian society also knows.  It’s not about waiting for the time when you can afford focusing on women, peace, and security, or gender equality for that matter, or empowering women.  You become stronger because you focus on those points, not when you afford them.


Cheers to that.  (Laughter.)  Distinguished guests, the WPS agenda is a reflection of our values.  When women’s rights are faced with a backlash around the world, it is especially important to continue promoting gender equality and inclusivity.

The endorsement of NATO’s new WPS policy tomorrow comes timely and is essential in the context of the current security environment we are facing at NATO.  NATO, as our leading security organization, has a unique role to play in advancing the WPS agenda across all three core tasks integrated in our Strategic Concept.  We have taken important steps at NATO in recent years, recognizing that gender perspectives should be at the center of our efforts and not of a secondary importance.

The new WPS policy provides a strong foundation.  However, it is implementation of the policy and the upcoming action plan that will matter the most.  We need to put the issue at the top of our agenda as a leadership issue, both at NATO and back home, with focus on sustainable resources, meaningful representation, gender mainstreaming, and strong accountability.

So let’s move forward with ambition on Women, Peace, and Security, both for us as an Alliance and for Ukraine and for the whole world.  Now is the opportunity to demonstrate that NATO can be a real champion of Women, Peace, and Security.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

SENATOR SHAHEEN:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to all of you who are here from outside of the United States to the 75th NATO summit.  We’re delighted to have you here.  We wish it were a little cooler in Washington, but – now I know all of you are saying:  I understand why Secretary Blinken is here, we understand why the NATO representative for WPS is here, we understand why the foreign minister from Iceland is here, but why is that senator from New Hampshire here?  (Laughter.)  For those of you who don’t know where New Hampshire is, it’s up north where it’s cooler.  (Laughter.)

But I’m here because I had the good fortune to pick up the legislation when Barbara Boxer left the Senate to sponsor the Women, Peace, and Security legislation for the United States.  We were the first and remain the only country to have legislatively passed the WPS agenda.  And I’m very proud of that and very proud to be with all of you participating in the summit and talking about why it matters to have women part of the agenda for NATO and in all other aspects of our governments.

It’s been 24 years since the United Nations Security Council formally acknowledged the role that women must play in preventing and resolving conflict and preserving peace with the passes of – passage of Resolution 1325.  And for the last two and a half decades, the United States, NATO, and our allies have stepped up to put into action the core values that underline WPS.  The gathering here demonstrates today this partnership’s enduring commitment to advancing the WPS agenda within our own countries and as an Alliance that is committed to democracy and freedom.

So fundamentally, WPS acknowledges the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women, but also the essential role that women play in preventing violence, resolving conflict, and ensuring peace.  And I’m sure that most of you here are familiar with the often-cited statistic, but I think it’s worth repeating that women’s involvement in peace negotiations increases the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years by 35 percent.  It makes a difference.  This is a measurable impact that we can’t afford to ignore.  NATO is a military Alliance, but it’s also a values-based Alliance, joined together by our common commitment that to advance our collective security, everyone needs a seat at the table.

It’s a privilege to have sponsored that legislation, and bipartisan, bicameral support has never been more important than it is today.  At a time when it feels like national security has never been more subject to the change of administrations, Congress has reaffirmed its steadfast commitment to our NATO Alliance and our WPS agenda.  I’ve been honored to work with many of you here today to advance that agenda within the United States and abroad.

This summit is an important opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine also, as they defend their country against an unprovoked Russian invasion.  Ukrainian women, as everyone here has said, have been central to the war effort since day one.  They’ve served on the front lines; they’ve represented their country abroad; they’ve led efforts to preserve democracy at home and ensure the safety of the Ukrainian people.  It is necessary that this summit send the powerful message that we stand with Ukrainian women who are leading the on-the-ground response.  You can clap for that, folks.  Wake up; come on.   (Applause.)

Ukraine’s fight is our fight, and WPS is central to the better future all Ukrainians are fighting for – for themselves at home, but for our democracies around the world.  This summit is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to advancing that agenda.

And thank you to everyone here today for your commitment to WPS, for your commitment to NATO.  Secretary Blinken, thank you for prioritizing WPS within the Department of State and ensuring that our diplomatic corps reflects our diverse nation and pursues policies that prioritize women’s equality and equity.  And to Ambassador Gupta, thank you for your leadership within the State Department to advance the WPS agenda.  Thank you all very much.  (Cheers and applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you again, everyone.  So great to have you here today.  Great to have you at the summit and great to have you in this effort together.  Enjoy the rest of the day.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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