Nova Scotia’s former minister for the status of women says it “doesn’t make any sense” that a panel at the Halifax International Security Forum on the critical role women play in global security will not have a single woman speaking about the topic.
“There are women leaders in security and defence in the world, and we know that because they’ve identified that and they’re going to speak about that,” said Joanne Bernard.
“So not to have those women whose contributions they’re speaking about deliver that on their own behalf, or on behalf of others with the same gender, just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The talk, “Security Solutions, Women’s Contributions,” is being held Sunday morning as part of the 11th annual conference.
There are 700 participants from 80 countries in Halifax this weekend to discuss global defence and security issues.
According to the forum: “Women have a critical role to play in ensuring a safe and secure world. ‘Security Solutions, Women’s Contributions’ will explore how women lead, from the frontline to command.”
The panel is being moderated by Steve Clemons, editor-at-large for The Hill. The three speakers are: Admiral Rob Bauer, chief of defence for the Netherlands Armed Forces; Atul Khare, undersecretary general for operational support for the United Nations; and Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff for the United States Air Force.
Bernard said she spent two days this week at another event discussing the value and benefit of having women at tables of power.
When she saw a post about the panel on social media, Bernard couldn’t believe what she saw.
“For men to think that they can coherently or genuinely talk to the contributions or experiences or expertise of women in any given field just astounds me,” she said.
Though no women are on the panel, Jody Thomas, deputy minister at Canada’s Department of National Defence, did write an op-ed for the panel. In it, she highlighted the vital role women play in the success of peace and security solutions.
‘Panel was not an accident,’ say organizers
The organizers of the forum said they have been listening to public feedback, but would not say whether any women would be added to the panel.
“This panel was not an accident,” said Paz Margat, the director of the forum’s fellowship for senior female military officers from around the world.
“We are hoping to have a meaningful conversation about what it’s going to take to truly elevate the role of women. In order to really leverage the human capacity of all the people involved, we still need the people in positions of power to be able to let us do that.”
When asked whether there were women in positions of power who could speak to these issues, Margat acknowledged that such women exist, but said, “Until that scale tips, I think we still need to find the champions who can have the right conversations, who can hold truth to power, who can truly ask the good questions of what are we missing.”
Bernard said she’s glad the situation has sparked a conversation.
“And starting conversations has always, in my opinion, has always been the way to change,” she said.