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Minister of Defense: “It Doesn’t Matter If You Have a Willy”

Last week marked a huge milestone for women in leadership positions. Europe’s defense ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss ways to boost EU-Nato cooperation and the use of joint EU battle groups. The newest addition to this group, Sylvie Goulard, was given the position of France’s Minister of the Armed Forces a mere 24 hours before the meeting.

Goulard’s new position, while an exciting step for herself and women everywhere, was not the only
significant thing about the meeting. Women represented all five of the bloc’s largest economies, excluding Britain, of course. The bloc is composed of the 28 European countries that are members of the
European Union. The meeting included Goulard, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, the Netherlands’ Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Italy’s Roberta Pinotti, and Spain’s Maria Dolores de Cospedal. At the head of the table sat Federica Mogherini, the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Chief. The significant presence of women in these leading economies sets precedence for the rest of the EU and the world.

Alexandra Ashbourne-Walmsley, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said, “I’d like to think the glass ceiling has been broken. It shouldn’t be a thing any more. But actually it will be until the US has a female defense secretary.” Ashbourne-Walmsley’s response is optimistic but still aware of the imbalances that persist. As she indicates, women have made incredible progress, but there is still plenty of work to do.

The growing presence of women in defense is a huge step forward, as the field is traditionally dominated by men. Ashbourne-Walmsley continued, “Defense is a complex and fast-moving job. Unexpected things
happen. It will include, for example, cyber-warfare and other less conventional forms of warfare. It’s also often about finding consensus, building alliances.” The acknowledgement that women can handle this critical position is a huge change. As Minister of Defense
Hennis-Plasschaert said on her appointment in 2012: “It doesn’t matter if you have a willy or not,” as long as you can capably do what the job requires.

Interestingly, there have been various studies about the trend of women being appointed to defense positions. One of these studies was conducted in 2015 by Tiffany Barnes and Diana O’Brien. The researchers found that gender equality in any given country was an accurate indicator of whether the country would appoint a female defense chief. This finding is encouraging, as it indicates that 5 of the most prominent countries in the EU are serious about gender equality.

As women continue to move forward, the number of women present at a table will lose its significance. For now, though, these five women are a huge sign of hope and change.

Featured Image by Chatham House on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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