All-male panel talking about virtues of women in security sparks outcry

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 did not originally 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.

‘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,’ says Joanne Bernard, a former Nova Scotia Liberal MLA and cabinet minister. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

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.”

When the panel was first announced, it was due to be moderated by Steve Clemons, editor-at-large for The Hill. The three speakers were: 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.

Two women were added to the panel late Friday afternoon after a public outcry.

The panel will now be moderated by Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. Panellists will also include Jody Thomas, Canada’s deputy minister of defence.

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 earlier this week, 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.

‘Panel was not an accident,’ say organizers

The organizers of the forum said Friday morning they have been listening to public feedback.

“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.”

Paz Magat, centre, is the director of the Halifax Security International Forum’s fellowship for senior female military officers from around the world. She says forum organizers have been listening to public feedback surrounding the situation. (Tim Krochak/The Canadian Press)

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.

Read more at CBC.ca