Women, Peace and Security Workshop: A successful cooperation between Canada and eight Asian countries

Workshop instructors (left to right) Mélanie Provost, Lt(N) Delphine Bonnardot, LCol Nathalie Boisvert, LCol Rowena Williams
Workshop instructors (left to right) Mélanie Provost, Lt(N) Delphine Bonnardot, LCol Nathalie Boisvert, LCol Rowena Williams. Photo: Major Shino Ariki

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By Lieutenant(N) Delphine Bonnardot

Four Canadian women, three military members and one civilian, delivered training on the theme of Women, Peace and Security from January 28 to February 1, 2019 at the Malaysian Peacekeeping Center in Port Dickson, to thirty participants from eight Asian countries. The participating countries were Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

This five-day workshop provided insight into the integration of women, peace and security. National security and human rights programs, women’s participation in the military, and various international commitments to women, peace and security were among the themes discussed during this training. The workshop focused particularly on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, women’s place in the armed forces throughout the world, concepts relating to diversity and the inclusion of military women, women and leadership, culture change and military ethos, as well as the Canadian example of a Gender Based Analysis + (GBA+).

“As lead instructor on this course, it is an honour to represent Canada and to share our experiences while also having an awareness of the different ways that other countries do things,” stated Lieutenant-Colonel Nathalie Boisvert, Director – Directorate of Human Rights and Diversity (DHRH) of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and instructor during the workshop.

Image gallery

  • Lieutenant-Colonel Rowena Williams delivers training at the Peacekeeping Centre in Port Dickson, Malaysia
  • Lt(N) Delphine Bonnardot discusses the impact of changing values on women in the military in armed forces across Asia with a Malaysian soldier at the Peacekeeping Centre in Port Dickson, Malaysia
  • Mélanie Provost, a psychology teacher at Royal Military College Saint-Jean, facilitates a workshop
  • Group photo from the Women, Peace and Security 2019 Workshop at the Peacekeeping Center in Port Dickson, Malaysia

The group of participants was comprised of 67% women and 33% men, from the rank of Sergeant to Lieutenant-Colonel, with different trades and operational experience.

In addition to the main themes, a shared preoccupation of the recruitment and retention of women quickly emerged. Even though all trades are open to Canadian women, the situation is different in certain countries, where women are required to obtain permission from their husbands in order to deploy, or they are confronted with extremely demanding physical tests that lead to a high percentage of severe injuries, indirectly preventing women from accessing the combat arms.

“Until this workshop, it had never occurred to me the need to formalize policies to treat our women workforce. I had always assumed that the earlier “prejudices” I faced as a junior officer were unique to Singapore,” says Major Jayne Tan, Women’s Recruitment Officer for the Singapore Army.

Military organizations, and the key role its leaders play, can bring about the required changes in order to enable a military culture that is more inclusive and designed to increase the operational effectiveness of mixed-gender teams.

Furthermore, representatives from diverse cultures discovered that some of their concerns were shared with others.

“I find it heartening to learn that women around the world face similar problems like family commitment, gender stereotyping”, explains Major Romana Zaman, Operations Officer for the Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Throughout the five days, an emphasis was put on the importance of encouraging women and men to work together for the advancement of women. Indeed, only close collaboration and mutual support will achieve the goals set by these countries.

“In addition to the operational aspect, an academic consideration is necessary to address the issue of inclusive language, unconscious biases, stereotypes and the organizational psychology of the different armies,” reports Mélanie Provost, psychology teacher at Royal Military College Saint-Jean.

The success of the workshop was largely based on the interactivity and dynamic approach adopted throughout the week.

“We got to know the different perspectives on leadership and the CAF policies and practices in support of gender integration,” explains Lieutenant Michelle Agudo, Officer of Gender and Development in the Philippine Navy.

Among the concerns of the participants, we were able to note questions concerning work-family balance, well-being at work, the question of motherhood, as well as the possibilities of deployment and career progression during pre- and post-natal periods.

“Gender is at the heart of the discussions, and workshops such as Women, Peace and Security provide a forum for collectively reflecting on the full integration of women into the Armed Forces,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Rowena Williams, Strategic Joint Staff Gender Advisor for the Canadian Armed Forces, and instructor at the workshop.

The participants stated they were returning to their respective countries with not only a better understanding of the integration of women in the Armed Forces, but also with a network of important contacts which will allow them to maintain a bond with their Asian colleagues.

Lieutenant (Navy) Delphine Bonnardot was an instructor for the Women, Peace and Security workshop. She is a Public Affairs Officer and associate researcher for the International Centre for the Study of the Profession of Arms of Royal Military College Saint-Jean, as a doctoral candidate on women in military operations.

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