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Interview with NISC Alumna Katja Pehrman

GCSP Alumni Affairs congratulates 2011 NISC alumna H. E. Katja Pehrman to her career move to UN Women Headquarters in New York and takes the opportunity to ask her some questions.

The GCSP is sensitive to gender balance for sustainable peace, security, and stability, which we believe can only be ensured when the whole of society is represented. The Centre’s “Gender and Inclusive Security Cluster” enhances the understanding of the value of inclusivity and builds capacity with its three pillars, namely executive education, research, and dialogue.

GCSP: Ambassador Pehrman, you held functions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland as Diplomatic Adviser to the Foreign Minister and as Chief of Cabinet at the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, lastly you assumed the post as Permanent Representative of Finland to the OSCE in September 2013. International gender equality is today not yet evident. You made the choice to devote your career and promote this important matter within the UN system. Can you tell us a bit more about the choice of your career move and the upcoming activities at UN Women?

Ambassador Pehrman: Enhancing gender equality and the empowerment of women has always been very close to my heart. While with my country’s foreign service, this was a high priority in the Finnish foreign policy, and I was privileged to contribute my share as a Finnish diplomat, in particular as the Permanent Representative of Finland to the OSCE. Throughout my career, gender issues and human rights have been at the forefront of my work, and I have been involved in several initiatives and facilitative work in this regard.

It is a great honor and opportunity for me now to be able to work at UN Women, which is a dynamic and strong champion for women and girls. UN Women works towards the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, empowerment of women and achievement of equality between women and men.

UN Women’s ability to leverage its triple mandate of normative support, UN coordination and operational activities represents a major asset. First of all, it supports inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women in formulating global and regional standards and norms for gender equality. Secondly, through its operational mandate, UN Women helps UN Member States implement global standards and norms to achieve gender equality by providing advice on legislation, policies strategies and programmes. Thirdly, UN Women coordinates the overall efforts in the UN system to deliver on gender equality commitment.

As you hinted in your question, work still remains to be done in order to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women globally. Fortunately, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is very committed to achieving gender equality. As he has said, women already have what it takes to succeed; empowerment is about breaking structural barriers. UN Women is fully committed to helping in this regard. 

GCSP: Having dealt with questions such as the rights of women and persons with disabilities, last year as Chair of the Human Dimension Committee of the OSCE, what advice can you give to young women and men?

Ambassador Pehrman: Let me emphasize that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as democratic governance are integral components of our joint security. Their effective implementation and promotion have a direct contribution to a more stable and sustainable security worldwide. Simply said, there is no security without human rights.

Therefore, for instance gender equality is not merely “a nice thing to have” or “a soft issue”, but of fundamental importance. Women’s full participation in politics and in the matters of peace and security is a priority in efforts to build a truly inclusive and functioning society, and to speed up the growth of economy. The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will only be possible, if the role and participation of women is fully recognized and incorporated in the work of implementation.

Despite many international commitments, including UNSC resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and subsequent resolutions, the number of women and gender experts in peace-making processes remains disappointingly low. This is very unfortunate, as studies have shown that the prospects for conflict resolution and sustainable peace are significantly enhanced when women are fully involved.

Let me underline that nobody is perfect. All of us have room for improvement. For instance, the comparatively high level of violence against women is still quite a challenge also for Finland, and for many other countries as well.

As the Chair of the Human Dimension Committee of the OSCE in 2016, I had the privilege to discuss various human rights issues and situations with a wide range of high-level experts and colleagues. The issue of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as Gender Equality received our special attention - for a good reason. As the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has said, “we have to keep the promise of leaving no one behind:  We cannot allow backsliding on equality, human rights and empowerment of women. Women and girls are the backbone to ending poverty, and ensuring a healthier, inclusive world.” I could not agree more. 

GCSP: Are there key issues regarding gender that are specific to your home country?

Ambassador Pehrman: While with my country’s foreign service, I witnessed numerous efforts by Finland to promote gender equality.

The implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 is of utmost importance as well as the inclusion of women in mediation processes and their participation and leadership in political and economic decision-making. These goals are also pursued through development cooperation by supporting women’s and girls’ education.

However, much remains to be done. Issues, such as care duties are not sufficiently shared among men and women, and equality of pay has not yet been achieved. Violence against women remains a challenge.

GCSP: In 2011, you had joined our three-month course, “New Issues in International Security”. Why did you take the course and what were some of the key lessons learned?

Ambassador PehrmanI was very privileged to participate in the GCSP course on “New Issues in International Security” in 2011. The course provided a very broad and comprehensive overview of the contemporary security environment and prospects for the future. It truly elevated my knowledge and that of my fellow participants to the centre of international politics and relations through its analytical, yet pragmatic approach. It offered various tools for international settings, negotiations and relations.

The course brought together participants from 26 countries originating from Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice, Interior as well as two international organisations and one NGO. I highly appreciated our discussions, debates and public speaking opportunities as well as the high-level speakers and experts. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine better teachers and tutors than at the GCSP. They truly made the course an unforgettable learning experience, where everyone was not only eager to learn more, but ready to challenge one’s own preconceptions and perspectives. I am very grateful in particular to our brilliant course director at the time, Dr W. Pal Sidhu.