Pacific Military Women’s network launched

Women in the military, navy and peacekeeping space need room to network, share and help each other: and now they have one.

The Pacific Defence Gender Network (P.D.G.N) was officially launched at the New Zealand High Commissioner’s residence in Apia, Samoa, with representatives of regional defence and police forces to celebrate.

Squadron Leader Libby Reardon is a Military Women Network Development Officer in the New Zealand Defence Force, and has been behind the establishment of the programme. 

She said the goal is to improve women’s participation, one of the four pillars of the United Nations Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

“My belief is that when you fix participation other aspects will diminish as well,” she said.

“I appreciate there have been resolutions released since that one but a lot of them focus on sex and gender based violence, so we are trying to shift the conversation back to the participation.

“I believe that in transforming our security apparatus it’s really important we look at that participation angle.”

The P.D.G.N is a Facebook community group and an annual seminar in the region for military and navy women and advocates. 

The network met in Fiji in April for the first Pacific Military Women's Advisory Network, and will meet again next year in Papua New Guinea with more representatives, including new members Vanuatu.

As well as network and problem sharing, the aim is to design and share policies than can improve women’s participation in the service.

And that has already begun, especially between Papua New Guinea and Fiji, Ms. Reardon said.

“With the women in sea policy that Papua New Guinea Defence Force has just rewritten, Fiji are about to send their first naval members out to see as well so [Fiji] have been able to take that policy across and have a look at it to develop [their] own.

But improving women’s military or naval careers cannot happen without their male counterparts support, and the network is engaging advocates to push that process along.

They are essential partners in conversations where it is not always appropriate to have a woman, or New Zealand Defence Force personnel involved, Ms. Reardon said:

“For some of the Pacific nations, we have female representation below five per cent, and they are often not in positions of leadership so it is difficult for them to make a change of their own accord.

“[The male advocates] understand the challenges and barriers we identify as the pressing issues of our time and that they are then responsible for taking that to a higher level.”

In recent years, Papua New Guinea has established a gender equity policy committee, refreshing policy in keeping with their more gender diverse force, and the male advocate role is scripted into a job description.

And recently in Fiji every base and camp except two held gender awareness training.

But progress is not so quick across the entire region.

“Obviously there are cultural restrictions in some places that make it more difficult to progress the ideals of the Women Peace and Security agenda,” Ms. Reardon said. 

“Those are conversations we are still having and again, they are where male advocates are key to being able to identify ways to have those conversations without isolating or upsetting people.”

Once female participation is improved, the network will need to assess how good that participation actually is. Currently there is little data on what their participation looks like on the ground, “let alone whether it’s meaningful,” Ms. Reardon said.

“There are still some restrictions, particularly on peacekeepers that get relegated to camp duties and kept in safe spaces.

“Those are conversations we have to have once we have a critical mass of women in the room and available to better inform the benefit and the operational effectiveness they bring to the mission, to clarify we can stop just seeing women as victims or potential victims and ensuring there are safety nets put around their participation. 

New Zealand assistant Police Commissioner, Lauano Sue Schwalger, said the network will enable better outcomes for the region.

“Empowering women to both sit at the table but also have a voice to represent their community and their community within their organisation is going to make the organisation they are in far stronger and more representative, and from that will deliver better outcomes for the Pacific."

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