Fotini Bellou is Assistant Professor at the Department of International and European Studies of the University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki. Her areas of interest include transatlantic relations, european security, conflict resolution, and strategic communication, while a significant part of her research has focused over the last years on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda; she is currently Director of the UNESCO Chair on Women, Peace and Security at the University of Macedonia. Greek News Agenda* had the opportunity to interview Fotini Bellou on the current state of the discipline of International Relations, gender roles in security studies, as well as the new challenges for Greek Public Diplomacy.

Your recent work has been focusing on the complex intertwinement of gender, diplomacy and peace efforts. As UNESCO Chair on Women, Peace and Security, what would you consider to be the most important achievements in this field over the last years?

The policy agenda of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was initially formed through the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR)1325 approximately twenty years ago. The first decade was not particularly brilliant as regards the degree of public awareness, or the level of institutional adjustment from international organizations and national governments, despite its substantive enhancement at the time with the addition of a number of Security Council Resolutions.

During the second decade, however, the WPS policy agenda became incorporated as a filter in international practice and started focusing on protecting women during conflict, encouraging women’s participation in peacebuilding and conflict prevention but also fostering participatory governance through equal rights for women and men in most international organizations. I would consider two important developments to have taken place in recent years that could be seen as instrumental achievements for the promotion of the WPS policy agenda.

The first regards the institutional Action Plans on WPS or respective strategies that all major international organizations have officially adopted in recent years. These aim at projecting the WPS particular policy framework for action not only towards their internal structures but also towards their multilateral policies that also involve the governmental policies of their member states. This by no means entails an established “doctrine” for all governments and societies to follow. Effective implementation is still pending. However, I consider it entails a strong political weight which governments and political leaders are finding difficult to reject publicly these days. After all we are referring to the promotion of the fundamental human right of equality between women and men. In my opinion, sometimes small concrete institutional steps towards emancipatory democracy can prove to be more sustainable and thus difficult to challenge.

This leads to the second important achievement that has taken place in recent years. It regards the inclusion of the WPS provision in all UNSCRs related to peacekeeping operations. This means that as long as the “WPS perspective” is found at the strategic level of a peacekeeping operation, its provisions are more likely to be monitored and implemented. In other words, nowadays you can hardly find a peacekeeping or peacebuilding multinational operation without a gender advisor. Ten years ago only 2 percent of women served as heads or deputy heads of peacekeeping operations while today this indicator in peacekeeping leadership has increased into 25%. As regards female personnel in peacekeeping ops, women cover 30 percent of civilian personnel, 10 percent of police personnel and only 3 percent of military personnel. These numbers indicate that progress has taken place but we still have a long way to go before we could see more equal numbers of women and men and always in response to effectiveness in peacekeeping operations. Women’s participation in peacekeeping can be instrumental at a certain point, especially when they address conflict related gender based violence while their role is considered important in building participatory societies. At the same time women peacekeepers often function as role models in the regions they operate by galvanizing the conception of equality in society and governance.

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Female Peacekeepers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) pose for a group photo during the celebrations to mark International Women’s Day held in Mogadishu on March 08, 2019 (Source: AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed)

What is the particular standing and potential contribution of Greece in the field of gender equality in the larger region of South-Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean?Greece is not only the oldest democracy but it has also proved in recent years that it is also a resilient democracy. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution of the Hellenic Republic and the same goes for positive actions aiming to address discrimination against women. For several decades Greece implements gender equality policies and programmes promoted by the European Union as well as other organizations including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. Gender equality polices have been introduced in almost all areas of governance. However, legal provisions are one side of the story, while on the other side effective implementation is rather weak. As a traditional society, Greece has been rather slow in addressing gender stereotypes. Instead of policies, attitudes perpetrating gender stereotypes have to be reconsidered. It takes time and persistence in the implementation of gender equality public awareness, especially among the youth. In the aftermath of the financial crisis which affected women disproportionally, public awareness as well as governmental commitment has increased as regards positive actions for women in order to address gender based violence or to receive support for entrepreneurship initiatives. Empowering women through targeted positive activities is a policy direction than needs to be further promoted by Athens. In this light, even belatedly, Greece is preparing its National Action Plan as regards the implementation of a Women, Peace and Security policy agenda. This is a very positive development since it aims to establish a “whole of government” approach in the promotion of gender equality, including in areas related to peace and security. Conflict prevention initiatives that promote participatory societies for men and women are of an utmost importance, especially in Greece’s wider neighbourhood. Athens can lead various programmes aiming at women’s empowerment in cooperation with other countries in the wider region through its Public Diplomacy instruments. This is an area of common interest for all counties in the region, involving both southeastern Europe as well as eastern Mediterranean. The OSCE presidency can prove a great opportunity for Athens to accelerate its public international events, its academic exchanges, scholarships, summer academies and workshops in order to establish a network of affiliated groups, governmental as well as non-governmental, related to gender equality, women’s participation in building resilient societies, women in politics and conflict prevention, women in managing complex emergencies etc. For this reason, it is particularly important for Athens to rethink of a certain budgetary commitment on this issues which can take the form of open conferences as well as in the form of targeted lessons, learned seminars, and workshops. In the past, most of these initiatives had a strong impact in people’s minds, especially in the early years of the post-Cold War era.

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United Nations General Assembly Hall, 2011, by Basil Soufi (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

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