Gender Equity as a National Security Priority in Germany and the United States Webinar

By Jessica Barber

As the world continues to struggle with the pandemic, gender equity has more often than not been pushed to the back burner. There are events, annual celebrations, and conferences that applaud women and seek to highlight women’s issues and gender equity, but little concrete action and resource allocation typically follows. On International Women’s Day, the American Council on Germany held a discussion called “Gender Equity as a National Security Priority in Germany and the United States,” which addressed what steps need to be taken to put gender issues at the forefront of every foreign and national security policy in both America and the European Union (EU). 

During the webinar, Dr. Hannah Neumann, Julia Santucci, and Dr. Armgard von Reden discussed the recent creation of a Gender Equality Council by the Biden-Harris administration, as well as the adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy in the EU. The council and a feminist foreign policy approach will hopefully combat lagging global gender equity and move the discussion away from publicity events and into specific policies. 

Neumann serves in the European Parliament, particularly working on peace and human rights policy. She is also the Chair of the Delegation for Relations to the Arabian Peninsula, where she takes a lead role in discussing women’s issues in countries like Saudi Arabia. Santucci is a Senior Lecturer in Intelligence Studies and the Director of the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership and has served in senior positions in the National Security Council and State Department, such as a senior advisor in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues during the Obama administration. 

Von Reden has held a variety of senior-level positions and is currently the Chairwoman of WIIS.de (Women in International Security Germany). Each woman brought valuable insight and experience to the discussion, which ranged from talking about discriminative hiring policies to the fact that simply having women at the table is not enough.

As a former senior adviser in the highest levels of government, Santucci emphasized that having a Gender Equality Council is great, but if women from this council are not included in the situation room to brief military officers and top-ranking officials before an airstrike in Syria about the impact it will have on women, then its existence is largely performative and counterproductive. To this point, Santucci noted that institutions like the CIA and the NSC must be made safer and more accommodating for women so that they keep working. A lack of paid parental and maternal leave, particularly during the pandemic, disproportionately affects women. The combination of including women at the table, centering gender into every policy decision, and then retaining these women at the workplace is key to making progress on gender equity.

Neumann added that women must “push the boundaries of their power and see where it takes them.” As one of the architects of the new Feminist Foreign Policy plan in the EU, Neumann is doing just that. Both she and Von Reden discussed how the plan seeks to address the effect trade has on women, change migration policies that often leave women vulnerable and left behind, put gender at the very center of climate policies, make management levels equal, and complete staff assessments and workplace training around gender and diversity. 

Von Reden noted that everyone sees the problems and talks about them, but without concrete policies, things will remain the same.

To achieve global gender equity, each woman agreed, the United States and the EU must first set an example. This means that simply inviting women to the table is not enough. Instead, Santucci said that “both men and women must look at everything with a gender lens.” 

Women are often left out of conversations that involve national security, and gender is instead framed as a social or civil issue. Neumann, Santucci, von Reden, and millions of other women are seeking to change this narrative. As Santucci powerfully said, “if women are not at the table, then there will be no table.”

Global change is made possible by having discussions like these and then turning it into a reality. While there is a long way to go, implementing a feminist foreign policy in the EU and a gender council in the U.S. that reports directly to one of the most powerful people in the world is a step in the right direction. Foreign and national security policies must reflect these changes. The world will be safer, more prosperous, and inclusive when women not only have a seat at the table but a voice as well.