JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
U.S. Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) hosted its first Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Symposium here, March 29 to April 1.
The goal of the symposium was to meet U.S. Department of Defense objectives to exemplify women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force. Additionally, another long-term defense objective for WPS is to work alongside partner nations to ensure the safety, security and the protection of human rights among women and girls, especially during conflict and crisis.
“We’re committed to increasing participation of women in the security and defense apparatuses,” said Australian Army Brigadier Nerolie McDonald, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Vice Director for Intelligence and guest speaker during PACAF’s WPS symposium. “And we're committed to ensuring that the gender perspective is embraced within the defense and the defense culture.”
One hundred and sixteen virtual and in-person representatives from 20 nations throughout the Indo-Pacific attended the symposium. In addition to Brigadier McDonald, some of the guest speakers included Gen. (ret.) Lori Robinson, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Joanne Bass to name a few.
“It takes all of us to move people forward. It takes all of us to talk about the goodness of everybody,” Robinson said. “But they have to also earn it. I don't want to be at a different standard. We want to be at the standard and we want to live up to everybody's expectations.”
Robinson also highlighted the responsibility of senior leaders to set the tone for their units and make decisions indiscriminate of unconscious bias, gender, race, ethnicity or background. Robinson explained that while she was serving, instead of being seen as a woman, she preferred to be looked at as a commander, a general and an Airman who just happened to be a woman.
“The tone is about making sure we're all rowing the same way,” Robinson explained. “But understanding, you know, that there are differences, and there are sensitivities. But that shouldn't be the top thing. What should be the top thing is that we're all trying to get the same thing done and that is something I think we can always continue to strive for.”
“It's not just about us imparting our knowledge, it's about learning from our partners, and learning the gender perspective that they have,” McDonald said. “It enriches our understanding of the cultures (and) it enriches our understanding of the people involved in disasters in conflict and post conflict environments.”
McDonald also explained that by bringing an understanding to the gender perspective, senior leaders are better able to tailor what type of support is provided to different circumstances.
“We have more to do and we have to work toward continuing the effort — ensuring we do have a gendered perspective in how we operate over the coming years,” McDonald said. “At the end of the day, it's the whole of defense, whole of government, whole of region effort to ensure that women peace and security issues are progressed and the initiatives are met as we move forward.”
In terms of moving forward, Chief Bass also provided context to how the U.S. Air Force should move forward to modernize Air Force policies and programs.
“Our Air Force looks very different today than it did when I first came in and so does the family unit,” Bass said. “If you look at … statistics when I first joined our military compared to today, you have more women serving, you have more dual-military (couples) serving, you have more dual working parents serving, and you have a lot of single parents serving.”
In support of U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff CQ Brown, Jr.’s “Accelerate Change, or Lose” initiative, Bass highlighted that many of the Air Force’s policies and processes that are in effect from today are still tied to the 1990s to 2000s era.
“If we don't evolve the way we manage the talent in our Air Force, then it's not going to put us in a good light,” Bass said. “So we've got to change the way we manage our talent, and we've got to adjust fire to the family dynamic that we have today.”
Throughout the week, the WPS symposium reviewed and discussed global principles such as the women’s participation in peace and security, inclusion of women in conflict prevention, and the equal application of the rule of law, among many other topics.
“WPS, is ultimately about ensuring that women are equally and meaningfully engaged in every space where conversations and decisions about peace and security are being made,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander. “We've made a lot of advances in the past few years, like opening up career fields in many countries to women, but there's still some room to grow.
“For example, I was speaking to a friend’s daughter and mentioned she should be a fighter pilot. But her response surprised me,” Wilsbach continued. “She didn’t believe that was even an available option to her, and yet right here on our staff Brig. Gen. Jennifer Short, a fighter pilot, serves alongside me every day. We have to continue to be better to maximize security for our nation.”