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Missing — women in national security

The words of distinguished feminist international relations theorist, Ann Tickner, in 1998, “International relations is a man’s world, a world of power and conflict in which warfare is a privileged activity”; is convincing even today. Majority of experts in Pakistan do not look at warfare issues with the gender lens. A small number of highly placed Pakistani women in politics and civil service feel demoted if asked to look at a certain issue with gender standpoint until and unless there is any compulsion. This is in conformity with the popular worldwide assumption about the irrelevance of the complex roles of women in the theatre of International Relations.

The cautious women and conventional academia in Pakistan, remains largely unmoved by the UN Security Council’s land mark resolution 1325 in year 2000, and subsequent resolutions that continue to underscore the centrality of women in the realm of security. The country cannot afford to remain refractory to this alarming state of the affairs. Different public universities should come together in strategising how academia and the defence industry plan to better harness women’s skills and utilise the insights of those experts, who understand the indigenous contexts, on engendered leadership in national security. Investing in nurturing a multiple and multilevel narrativisation on national security is worth doing.

Empowerment of women is one of the elements of power in national security. What is the position of women and those too powerless women, mothers who lose their children, widows and orphan daughters within such definitions and discourse about the national security? Should women be active contributors or passive users of the national security? Such queries have been residing in my mind for as long as my homeland has endured the war on terrorism. These questions have consistently troubled many hearts like mine that have wept non-stop, since the militant’s attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. Nearly twenty million Pakistanis, that day, simultaneously realised that lightest coffins are heaviest to lift.

Owing to a combination of errors in civil military relationship, power equations and transformative changes in global power balance, the society in Pakistan has not only become violent towards women but also sexual, ethnic and religious minorities. The terror torn context has become too shallow and is existing with an accentuated intolerance. Difference rather than diversity is decipherable. A National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was set up in 2008 and is mandated to devise a counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan. It has recently sent a draft strategy of national narrative to the government for approval in order to deal with extremist ideologies. Reportedly, 18-month long stakeholders’ consultations produced the draft. Such consultations must always be vast and the methods must ensure directness, inclusion of grass roots organisations and evident community participation; if the aim is to deliver a gender responsive and rights based strategy.

National Defence University regularly organises annual 5-week intensive workshops with legislators, civil society representatives, civil servants and military officials

The security and equality of women is imperative in the security of the state itself. Introducing and integrating gender diversity, in making decisions, leads to better results. The non-inclusion of women in general and those from masses in particular in the portrait of the brass tacks of power, undermine our national security that is already experiencing destabilisation due to the religious divide, sectarianism, extremism and terrorism. The duty bearers may embark on a conscious effort to realise the relevance of engendering their respective sphere or at least animatedly work on regulation of the perception about the absence of the voices and views of women in the security space.

After more than 26 years of mostly learning experiences with emptiness of funds-dependent and funds-driven interventions, that too often create, speculation (no matter how undue it may be), I believe that the national narrative/s on national security must be fully understood and owned by the country’s public sector organisations. The visible participation of those women, who are direct right holders in security spectrum (and not those who are merely primary recipients international funds), in national security policy, decisions making should be established as a standard practice as there are definite benefits and dividends in it.

National Defence University (NDU) regularly organises annual 5-week intensive workshops with legislators, civil society representatives, civil servants and senior military officials to dispel myths and build harmony on national security. The NDU could take a lead role by establishing a think tank that can engage with women and other marginalised groups of Pakistani citizens on different dimensions of national security. This must happen with speed, right intentions and visionary leadership otherwise the catastrophe to be caused by the radicalisation of academia, emotionally disturbed population due to traumas of death, disability and displacement caused by insecurities and escalating militarisation within women, is writing on the wall.


According to SATP, the largest website on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia, our country coped with 62586 (33794 terrorists/insurgents, 21947 civilians and 6845 armed forces personnel) casualties between 2003 till November 5th, 2017 due to terrorism. Pakistani women like women elsewhere have the potential to enrich humanitarian assistance, ripen peace talks and toughen peacekeepers’ endeavors. The recognition of this veiled power of women and the gender-alert peace management by the pertinent organisations would be a game changer in the security landscape of the country.

Perveen, Rakshinda. Missing — women in national security. Daily Times, November 13, 2017.

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