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Opinion: Why must women prove themselves? by Ambassador Bjørn Jahnsen

By sheer stroke of serendipity, between her meetings in Zürich and commitments with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York, Major General Kristin Lund agreed to speak at a Women in Peacekeeping seminar in Manila last week at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

General Lund epitomizes a Norwegian woman who has broken through the proverbial glass ceiling several times in her career. She is a trailblazer.

She was the first force commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Cyprus. Currently, Lund is the head of mission and the chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation, a body responsible for keeping the peace among the parties to the Armistice Agreements: Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Syrian Arab Republic. She was the first woman general in the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Her presentation last week was an instructive experience for former and current Filipino members of numerous UN peacekeeping operations, local defence and security experts, and the diplomatic corps.

The Philippines has come far on this topic. This is a country that accepts and celebrates women successful in different fields. In the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rating in 2018, the Philippines came first in Asia and ranked eighth worldwide.

For instance, we heard from the first female Philippine National Police Academy graduate, now the first-ever female police director Colonel Portia Manalad, who is newly deployed in Cotabato City, the Bangsamoro capital. The first woman commanding a Philippine Naval ship, Captain Luzviminda Camacho, recounted her experiences as the first Filipina peacekeeping commander assigned to Haiti. Undersecretary Gloria Mercado, from the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process, also explained elements of the Philippine National Action Plan on the UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security.


In her presentation, Major General Lund asked an important question: Why do women always have to prove themselves? She asked this in a manner that was rhetorical - and yet also practical.

Globally, peacekeeping operations have gained much by having women on board. In the Middle East, Lund narrated how women are important in ground operations, how women translators gained access to culture, information, and areas that are otherwise inaccessible or unrecognised by men.

Lund encouraged women to always help each other and take responsibility for uplifting other women’s careers. Lund also presented research that indicated that success metrics go up when teams have diversity and there are women members.

I invited Lund to Manila with the idea that her many different roles – United Nations champion, peacekeeper, military officer, Norwegian, woman – would be a good personification of Norway’s global foreign policy footprint and our commitment to the humanitarian and human rights system.

In many places, multilateralism is under pressure, and Norway’s candidature for the UN Security Council 2021-2022 seeks to defend a humanitarian and rules-based global order.

We believe Norway’s longstanding and unwavering history of support to the United Nations, as well as our long experience in peace diplomacy, sustainable development, women’s participation and gender equality, human rights and humanitarian response, build a strong candidature.

In line with Norway’s gender commitment, we will increase the participation of women in formal and informal peace talks and peace negotiations. This is our commitment in the Government’s recently published Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2019-2021, the fourth time we have made such an action plan.

Norway has been involved in a number of peace and reconciliation processes as facilitator and as a supporter of the UN and other actors since the early 1990s. In the Philippines, one of the cornerstones of our co-operation is the peace processes. Since 2001, Norway has been the third-party facilitator in the government peace efforts with the communists. And in fact, the current and the former Special Envoys to this peace process are both female peace facilitators.

We were also engaged in the International Monitoring Team that observed the ceasefire in Mindanao. Now, we are assisting through the International Decommissioning Body (IDB) that oversees the MILF decommissioning efforts in the Bangsamoro region.

Our bilateral relations are anchored on shared values and experiences. From the energy, trade, maritime and seafood industries to our shared undertaking of the peace processes – we are long-term partners. Together with the Philippines, a country that shares our vision on gender equality, Norway will work towards the goal when women no longer must prove themselves.

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Bjørn Jahnsen is the Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines. Prior to his posting to the Philippines in September 2018, Ambassador Jahnsen worked on the Colombian Peace Process in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo. His diplomatic assignments abroad include Mexico, London and Madrid. Mr. Jahnsen was also the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway from 2008 to 2012.

This article was originally published in Manila Bulletin: