Slovenian Army 1st Lt. Maja Kocnar, an infantry platoon leader serving for KFOR at a base near Peja, Kosovo, gives instructions to members of her platoon, Dec. 15, 2016. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton)
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton and French Army Capt. Eloise Rossi
PRISTINA, Kosovo -- Greek Army Master Sgt. Maria Konstantopoulou stands outside the perimeter of a bustling military camp, dubbed "Film City”, on the outskirts of Pristina, Kosovo. For Konstantopoulou, it’s a typical December evening of checking vehicles and pedestrians entering the base’s main gate.
Being a part of the Kosovo Force, the NATO-led peace support operation commonly referred to as KFOR, Konstantopoulou is satisfied that her childhood dream of serving in the military has worked out. Not all of her friends and family thought her dream would become a reality.
"Especially men, they would say…you don’t want to be in the Army, it’s our way of life,” recalled Konstantopoulou. "They don’t believe that I now train men.”
Being a part of KFOR and surrounded by so many troops from all over the world has only made her satisfaction sweeter.
"It makes me feel stronger, feel proud,” Konstantopoulou said of seeing the numbers of female troops serving at KFOR.
Within NATO and KFOR, gender equality isn’t a new concept.
The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and it urges participants to increase the female presence and incorporate gender perspectives in peace and security efforts.
NATO responded to the resolution by adopting an overarching policy, developed with its partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 2007. Additionally, since 2000, seven additional resolutions focusing on women, peace and security have been adopted to complement the original 1325. The international community has also emphasized efforts and education on how to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence conducted as part of a conflict.
"Gender equality isn’t optional,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a NATO publication. "It is fundamental. It allows us to respond better, and smarter, to the many complex security challenges we face today.”
According to the 2015 Secretary General’s Annual Report, 73 percent of NATO members have all positions open to women in the armed forces, and 10 percent is the average percentage of women in the NATO armed forces. Percentages aren’t the only aim for NATO as it incorporates women, peace and security into its core tasks of collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security. While emphasizing its goals of contributing to the full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions into daily civilian and military structures, NATO leaders say attention will also be given to the social roles of both men and women and how these can lead to different risks and security requirements.
Although NATO organizations aim to constantly lean forward regarding Resolution 1325, it is ultimately the individual nations with the responsibility to ensure a better gender balance and provision of trained troops on gender issues.
Today, Resolution 1325 is fully implemented in NATO-led operations and missions, and the Alliance has gender advisers in place at certain commands, including KFOR.
Austrian Army Maj. Matthias Hirsch serves as the gender advisor to the KFOR commander following his studies at Sweden’s Nordic Center for Gender in Military Operations.
Hirsch said at KFOR, as is the case throughout NATO-led organizations, a goal is to raise awareness and promote positive change regarding gender issues. Hirsch also noted the need for flexibility when looking through a gender lens, as the perspective can alter according to the location.
"What can we do to serve all parts of the population in the same way, equally?” cited Hirsch as a key question to ask during the planning process. He emphasized that it’s not just looking through a female lens, that all parties and considerations must be considered.
He used an example of engineers planning to build a bridge to expand economic exchange between two sides of a river. He stated that perhaps initial planning forgot to take into account a pedestrian way that would enable a segment of the population without cars to also take advantage. It’s part of a gender advisor’s duty to advise engineers not to forget that segment of society.
Swiss Army Pvt. Cathia Fercher, who serves as part of a KFOR Liaison Monitoring Team, or LMT, works daily interacting with the local population where she sees the importance of having a gender perspective as she "feels the pulse” of the citizens. As the LMTs interact with residents of Kosovo, they’re able to bring the information they gather and pass it on to appropriate parties at the KFOR headquarters.
"It’s important to get information from the women,” said Fercher. "The focus of women and children is different, there are other problems.”
For example, Fercher relayed a story of meeting with a local female lawyer whose focus is on domestic violence. The attorney spoke about the need for clothing at women’s shelters.
"That’s one of the great things about my job,” said Fercher. "Even when we can’t help directly, we can make the contact to get them assistance.”
At the KFOR headquarters building, visitors to Hirsch’s office may notice a purple unicorn graphic on the door and a stuffed unicorn toy shaded in violet resting on his corner desk. Hirsch explained his class in Sweden adopted the purple unicorn as their symbol. When asked why they chose the color, Hirsch noted that a mixture of pink and blue, traditional colors representing males and females, will come out purple.
"To do gender right and to have a gender perspective is a part of situational awareness,” said Hirsch. "It increases force protection and is a kind of early warning system.”
• Allied Joint Force Command Naples will publish a series of articles highlighting female KFOR troops and their accomplishments. The articles will be released on the following dates:
Jan. 24, 2017: Austrian Army 1st Lt. Eszter Deak
Jan. 31, 2017: Finnish Army 2nd Lt. Kethlin Piirma
Feb. 7, 2017: U.S. Army 1st Lt. Erin Schneider
Feb. 14, 2017: Italian Army Warrant Officer Sara Sapienza