Half of a Discussion on Drones

13 Jul

A few months ago, a newly set-up think tank, Diplosphere, held a panel discussion on drone strikes and whether they are in New Zealand’s interest. Throughout the discussion, people talked about how important it is that a new forum focused specifically on international affairs has started up in New Zealand. This is true and forums like these have the potential to encourage more people to feel part of what’s going on in the wider world and to care about the role New Zealand plays within this.


Speaking to someone involved with Diplosphere afterwards, he commented that he felt they had been able to assemble a diverse range of the panellists who brought very different perspectives to the issue. In many ways this was true; there were law lecturers, a journalist, a politician and an international relations professor. The discussion was interesting and the panellists were well informed, insightful and at times inspiring.


The thing is though, they were also all white men. We’re not just talking about a three-person panel here either; there were six panellists, plus the chair and the event host. That’s eight men and not a single woman. When I raised this issue with someone after the discussion, I was told that it’s difficult because there just “aren’t any women”. Presumably, this meant no women who know enough about drones and international security.

In the context of what was being discussed – the effects of new arms technologies, conflict and terrorism – not having any women on a panel can appear pretty minor and on the surface these issues are not obviously connected to women. However the lack on women at this discussion is representative of a much larger issue at hand; that of women’s exclusion from discussions and decision-making around international peace and security, whether it is as ‘experts’ on panels, as participants in formal peace negotiations or in leadership roles in security institutions.


Despite the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which calls for the increased recognition of women’s roles in conflict prevention, conflict management and sustainable peace, discussions on international peace and security around the world continue to exclude women. For example, in May this year, at the first multilateral meeting on the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (commonly known know as ‘killer robots’), none of the 18 experts called by the U.N to speak were women. Despite talk of there not being suitable female experts, many women were involved in the side events organised by civil society and since the event lists and lists of qualified female experts have been distributed which disprove this. Some organisations have also designed creative ways of overcoming this such as Article36 who are encouraging male experts to agree not to participate on all-male panels.


It’s likely true that there are fewer women involved in international peace and security within New Zealand, but that certainly doesn’t mean that there are none.So, if you can’t find any it probably means you’re not looking hard enough or you’re looking in the wrong places. Many of the women who work on peace and security globally, work for civil society organisations. There was no one from civil society included in the discussion, this despite there being an over representation of certain types of experts (like university lecturers) in the panel.


That women are differently and often disproportionally affected by conflict has been well established and it makes it all the more important that they are included in discussions on peace and security. These are not just ‘men’s issues’. When we talk about arms control, disarmament and security, we are not just talking about technical and legal aspects of arms control, but broader questions about ethics and morality; we are talking about what kind of societies we want to create, and how we want to create them. While the Diplosphere discussion was grounded in these ethical and moral questions, we cannot expect to meaningfully discuss these issues and come up with new ideas for addressing them without including women on an equal basis.


If you want to provoke more discussion about an international issue, people need to not only learn more about it, but also feel like they can have an opinion about the issue and be taken seriously. One of the underlying reasons that there has always been less visible and formal involvement of women in international security is not because women don’t care or know about these issues. Of course they do, and women have played instrumental roles in peace-building, arms control and international diplomacy.


Looking specifically as arms control and disarmament there’s Jody Williams who co-ordinated the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and won a Nobel Peace Prize for this in 1997; there’s Leymah Gbowee, who with many other Liberian women, made sure that former soldiers surrendered their weapons during the DDR process after the war in Liberia; there were the women in Argentina who played an instrumental role in ensuring the success of the gun by-back scheme in 2007-2008; and there’s Angela Kane who currently leads the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.


Within New Zealand, there are range women from academia, civil society and the security sector with knowledge and experience in international peace and security including:


  • Mary Wareham (currently based in the U.S.) who works as Advocacy Director, Arms Division for Human Rights Watch and leads the Campaign Against Killer Robots;
  • Dr Anna Powles Senior Lecturer, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University and President of Women In International Security New Zealand who has, among other things, held positions advising on security issues in Timor-Leste;
  • Dr Negar Partow, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University;
  • Professor Caroline Ziemke, Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University;
  • Dr Teresia Teaiwa, Senior Lecturer at Victoria University who researches militarism in the Pacific;
  • Marianne Elliot, a human rights lawyer who has worked for civil society and the United Nations in Palestine and Afghanistan;
  • Dr Beth Greener, Senior Lecturer at Massey University who does research on international policing;
  • Edwina Hughes from Peace Movement Aotearoa who knows a lot about militarism within New Zealand and abroad; and
  • All those women in the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand Police who have worked in peacekeeping missions abroad.


There are, I’m sure, many more.


Despite all this, through both subtle and overt means, women have often been made to feel that security and arms control is a ‘male’ domain and that their opinions are less welcome. When you do not include women in discussions on international security, you are perpetuating this perception, whether you mean to or not.


This week Diplosphere announced their latest forum on tensions in Iraq and the implications for New Zealand’s United Nations Security Council candidacy. It’s good to see that there is a female panellist included this time. But it’s still only one out of five. If like me you want to see a forum that includes the voices of women on an equal basis, then I hope you will go along not only to learn more about the issue but to also ask where the rest of the women are.


3 Responses to “Half of a Discussion on Drones”

  1. Maty O'Brien July 13, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Comments regarding Diplosphere’s recent discussion on drones:
    It is a pity Marianne didn’t see or didn’t want to see that the founder, brain behind and decison-maker of Diplosphere is a WOMAN!

    – Diplosphere is a self-funded organisation, run by a woman.
    – The panel is based on expertise and availability and not by gender.
    – For your information, the Pakistani High Commissioner and the Turkish Ambassador, both women were asked to join the panel and declined.
    – We owe nothing to anyone and can choose whoever we want on the panel.
    – There is nothing preventing yourself from organising your own events with as many women you as you choose.
    – Instead of promoting and celebrating an organisation run by a woman- which finally make things happen in this country, you undermine it.
    – Pot calling kettle black! Where are men on your “About us” page?
    – Women who wish to succeed in this world, do succeed (Helen Clark, Shirin Ebadi, Margaret Thatcher…) Mediocracy is just complaining. JUST DO IT!
    – This kind of faux-feminism discourse harms woman as it insinuates that women do not gain their positions on merit but because of their gender and not merit.

    • mariannebevan July 14, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Thanks for your comments Maty. You are right that I should have acknowledged that the founder is a woman and I apologise for not including this in the post. It was not in anyway my intention to undermine what Diplosphere does and I think I was clear in saying that I agreed with the aims of the organisation and thought that it was an important discussion to be having. I am glad there will be future discussions in the future and I really appreciate what you are doing. While I think it’s great that Diplosphere is being run by a woman, I think it is just as important to have female panelists so that women’s voices are also heard in the debates that are being held. I stand by my point that having no women on the panel is an issue and perpetuates that idea that women are less knowledgeable on issues of international security. I was not suggesting that women be included on the panel just for the sake of it; I think that because of the historic discrimination of women in this area, extra effort often needs to be made to seek out and include women with expertise in discussions such as yours.

      • Maty O'Brien July 16, 2014 at 1:52 am #


        Thank you for your understanding. I appreciate your apologies.

        I see your point, having found it very hard myself to do my way in an old-boy school network, specially as a mother of two young children.

        We are also very pleased to see many women from all age groups in the audience. The drone event was extremely hard to organise. The focus was mostly to find highly qualified experts from different perspectives and funding. So, the gender issue didn’t even cross my mind. Are there any funding opportunities from organisations encouraging women leadership in security?

        But once again, if I choose someone for the panel, I look at the profile and expertise and not at gender. If one of the panellists at our coming event on Iraq is a woman, it is because she has served in Iraq and is the highest authority of the diplomatic mission her country represents to NZ. It happens she is a woman, was this person a man, this has not changed anything. As, I mentioned before, for the drone event I had asked women to be on the panel -because of their specific expertise- but they declined.

        Also, as the founder of Diplosphere, it makes sense that I take my own decisions and not let anyone dictate me how I should run my own organisation.

        And I hope to have on a future event Ms Helen Clark and similar profiles.

        I think sexism exists in both ways. Women are not better than men and men are not better than women. We should accept to live in an egalitarian society.

        I hope you can better see my point.

        Best regards,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: