Lisa Larson: Hello, I'm Lisa Larson. I'm an expert in leadership development, and after having had the good fortune to work with the GCSP in several of their Inspiring Women Leaders programs, in 2020 I was invited to join them as a fellow of Women Peace and Security [part of the Global Fellowship Initiative thanks to the sponsorship of the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva. 2020 coincided with the 20th anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council resolution 1325, which laid out the Women Peace and Security agenda. I wanted to get the perspectives of different people on how they view the current state of Women Peace and Security. And since we were unfortunately all stuck at home, I had informal chats with them virtually, and we called the resulting four part Podcast Series Tea at 1325. I'm grateful for the positive response we've received about the podcast, and now I'd like to offer a bonus episode. I asked each of the people I interviewed what advice they would give to a young person just starting their career in the field of peace and security, and I shared it with an inspiring young woman to get her reactions. I hope you enjoy the conversation. I'd like to welcome Heather McDonald. Heather, would you mind introducing yourself a little bit about what you do?
Heather McDonald: Yeah, so I just recently completed my international master's degree in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies, looking at male supremacy and gender-based terrorism. And now I've just finished being a Young Leader in Foreign and Security Policy Fellow with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, in the Gender and Inclusion department. And now, I am working as a consultant for the International Gender Champions.
Lisa Larson: Wonderful, wonderful. You're at the very beginning now of your career. What kind of aspirations do you have? What would you like? What kind of impact would you like to have?
Heather McDonald: Well, one thing I would really like to change the narrative around is looking at things to do with masculinity. I think often when we look at gender, we assume these are women's issues, and that women must respond and that women are the sole people involved. And I think men have a massive role to play. And I think better understanding men's relationships with gender, and better understanding how we can work towards, you know, gender progress for all genders. That's something that I think I’d really like to work towards.
Lisa Larson: Okay. And as you start your career --okay, we're in the middle of a pandemic-- but apart from that, what do you find to be the biggest challenges to get going?
Heather McDonald: Well, I think one of the main challenges I find is, aside from the pandemic, is obviously narrowing down and working out what it is I want to do and how I want to do it and how to get there. I think as well, experience is hard to try and come by, you know, if you've not got as much experience as other people. You're looking at entry jobs with three years of minimum experience when it's supposed to be an entry that can be confusing, that can be difficult. I think he's just maintaining that positivity and that determination and not letting it waver. That's one of the biggest challenges so far,
Lisa Larson: Especially when you're stuck at home. Right? Okay, well, let's, if you are ready, let's listen to some of the experts that have bits of advice for young people starting a career in the field of peace and security. First up, our own Fleur Heyworth, Head of the Gender and Inclusive Security cluster, at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy,
Fleur Heyworth: My advice for young people entering the field of peace and security is, first of all, to really explore different areas that may be hidden from sight that there's many different factors that affect our security. So you can be influencing change and peace and security in lots of different ways, both in formal institutions and in civil society. And when we think of what does security actually mean, and the so many different interpretations of that, so really figure out what it means to you. Is it, uh, is it actually in relation to climate justice, which is going to be one of the biggest challenges that's going to impact our security? Is it in relation to poverty, child welfare, some of those big human security challenges? And, and even in relation to health. There's so many different factors that actually impact our security now that we really think about what it means to you and what drives you what motivates you the most. And then the second piece of advice I give to all young people is to really think about where your skill sets lie and what environment you want to work in, because what we need is people to be able to contribute their talent to their fullest ability. So get to know your own strengths, and where you can really add value for things. And I think that's how you get the most satisfaction, is when you feel that you're contributing, and certainly how I feel.
Heather McDonald: What do you think is really valuable about Fleur’s advice is thinking about what security means to us. You know, I am a straight white woman. And I think sometimes what security is for me is not what it is for other women. And some things I like to look at or engage with other people that are like me. They don't have the same physical appearances as me, the same background as me, and understand what security means to them. Because so often, you can just understand that is how it is around you, you don't see beyond the world that you're in. And I come from Scotland, and we're quite okay for security, you know, we have the normal levels of violence or issues that other countries have, but we don't have anything that's like an overwhelming big issue. And so I think sometimes it's, it's difficult to imagine these other circumstances where insecurity is a problem. And I really, really thought it was a valuable point of understanding because there's no point in me coming in, and trying to give all this advice on you know, peace and conflict when I myself have never fully experienced peace and conflict. And it's not something I've researched extensively. So understanding what security means to me and working on that I think is a really, really valuable piece of advice, because it reminds you that you should be looking inwards as well as outwards. And I think her second piece of advice about thinking where you fit in is also quite related to the first one. My abilities, I enjoy writing, I enjoy researching all these kinds of things. So I am more suited for sitting in an office and researching and analyzing and looking at this work. I'm not used to anyone running through a field trying to help someone, and I think that's really important. You know, you might have all these big dreams and aspirations, you might not be able to do them. So it's about working out how you can do it. And being practical about it, whilst also not straying too far from the end goal.
Lisa Larson: Next, Lieutenant Colonel Serge Stroobants who is with the Institute for Economics and Peace, as the Director of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and not surprisingly, is a big fan of good data, just like you, Heather.
Serge Stroobants: Well, I would say perseverance and step by step evolution in different functions in evolution in the career, making sure that they can always sit in a position in which they can influence: influence the process, influence the minds, and also influencing the levels of peace. Do not forget that to stuff your carrier. Long life learning is really necessary. We need to keep at the highest level of knowledge concerning what you are, the matter you are dealing with. And in this case, it could be peace and security. And there again, maybe I could quote John F. Kennedy, and say that “Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try”. So always decide to try and then you will get to your accomplishments. So never let anyone, I would say, take away your drive, take away the courage to start a career, to continue a career in peace and security. And never let anyone stop you from trying to achieve peace, that would be my advice.
Heather McDonald: Well, I think his advice is very emotional, actually. Because one thing that I do worry about is like losing the motivation or losing, you know, that drive that you have, because as a young person, I start off with all these, you know, ambitious ideas and things that I want to do. And I'm still that person that when they were younger, had written on their wall that was like, I will be the UN Secretary General one day and still telling myself that I'll be the first female one. Um, and so it's just trying to not lose that spark and not lose that hope. I think, especially when you're spending so long, right, in these job applications and doing lots of different things, whether it requires you know, a couple of days work and thousands of words, and you’re having to pour your entire passion into it. It can get lost somewhere, trying to convince other people that you're worthy of being at the table and that you have knowledge and expertise. It's a hard enough job as well as maintaining, you know, like, the earlier you are, they've been there. But you're going to make change, and it's going to be good. And I think something that I've had to learn through my entire academic and professional career is that the change isn't going to just come instantly, right? Like, I'm not going to just walk into the job and suddenly fix everything. It's okay to start at the bottom and work your way up. And I think what he said was good about maintaining learning and maintaining keen interest. That's so important. You know, our world constantly changes and constantly evolves and keeping on top of that, and making sure that we're changing and learning with the times is so…it's an invaluable resource to do. So. I liked his advice, it was good.
Lisa Larson: Now we have Maria Butler, the Global Program Director for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which is the oldest women's peace organization in the world. Maria Butler: My advice is to invoke curiosity. And as Cynthia Enloe, an author on peace and security has called it, feminist curiosity. And this means asking questions, and also looking at: Who's visible? Who's invisible? Who's making decisions? Who's making the rules? And looking at power within our own lives, and within the systems of the world we work in. And particularly, looking at where men and women are within those power structures. My advice is to be curious, act curious, and continue the journey.
Heather McDonald: I really enjoyed her advice, because I remember back when I was doing my undergrad, one of my professors, Claire Duncanson, she's like a feminist author and researcher. And she told us, she was like, whenever you read something, think about who the author is. And it changed the way that I looked at things because it is! It's like looking at the privilege and looking at the power, and that's exactly what Maria said. And I found it so funny that she mentioned Cynthia Enloe, because that's someone -- I mean, her book’s definitely behind me somewhere. But I read her work years ago, and I always thought it was incredible. And it's nice to know that these people are so -- to me, high up in these powerful positions-- are still, you know, they're still referencing Enloe, which is nice to know. But I think reflecting on the power and addressing kind of where the gaps are and who we see, is so important. And you know, this kind of feminist theme where, you cannot be what you cannot see. And that's always kind of stuck with me. -f you're looking at these jobs, and you're looking at these roles, even if you're just looking at the world around you, and you cannot see yourself in these positions. It's so difficult to be the person to change that. And I think for young people, especially ones that maybe don't have equal representation, and socio political, cultural, you know, positions, it's hard to just imagine yourself walking in and be like, Okay, I'm gonna take it. And every so often we get someone that's a pioneer, someone that's brave enough to do it. But just because you're not brave enough to do, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with it, it just means that you need to take smaller steps towards changing the power hold. I really, I really, really liked her advice. It was motivating.
Lisa Larson: And last, but definitely not least, here's advice from Nadine Puechguirbal, who, among other impressive achievements, has over 20 years experience as a Senior Gender Advisor and practitioner at the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Nadine Puechguirbal: I've seen sometimes young people arrive, you know, in this field, and it's like, oh, the UN, it's great. And then they get so burned out. Because it's, you know, they have this rosy picture of the UN, but the reality is really harsh. And especially these days. It's very, it's a very difficult field. So especially when you want to work on Women Peace and Security, it's not like a very popular topic unless you work, of course, with advocacy organization, grassroots organization. But if you want to, if you want to join a patriarchal organization, like international NGOs, or the Red Cross, or the UN, you need to be equipped. So what I would advise young people is really, to read Cynthia Enloe. I mean, she's my mentor, and she's a wonderful teacher, and her books are so clear. Because you know, sometimes academic people are super complicated in the way they write. She's extremely clear, she gives very good advice on deconstructing patriarchy. So I would say just get equipped to have your gender lenses together with a feminist critical approach. And when I was teaching in Costa Rica, I remember that some students were just for them super, you know, big eye opener. Oh my god, the UN is like that. So um, you know, I deconstruct them. I'm not criticizing for the sake of criticizing, I'm just putting everything back into the feminist framework. And we understand why the UN is working like that. And one of my students --who's now in New York, working for the UN, has been in the field before-- and she was telling me she was thanking me for the class I had, the course I had on deconstructing patriarchy. Because she was better equipped to understand when she was in the field working with peacekeepers and she was experiencing some difficulties, she could take some distance with the situation and understand being you know, she could keep the power over the situation because she understood the gender relations at play. That's the the advice, especially today, get equipped really, really with a feminist, critical mind, deconstruct gender, read Cynthia Enloe, and then go to the field and apply what you learned. But be extremely careful about the first signs of burnout, because I realized that the UN has still not learned any lesson on mental health of people. So I'm extremely, extremely focused on that these days.
Lisa Larson: Your favorite author?
Heather McDonald: I know Cynthia Enloe. She just keeps coming back, doesn't she? And anyway, apart from Cynthia, I think that was some really useful advice in terms of watching out for burnout and having these aspirations because my generation, we've grown up with technology, our lives are immersed in it, and especially social media. and I think it's really, really difficult with as much as I love LinkedIn, or even Instagram or Facebook, it’s difficult going on. And you know, you're not me, but like, you might be, for example, stuck in an admin role, where you're maybe not achieving the dream that you want, or you're doing something monotonous. And you go online, and you see that all these people that you know, are all over the globe, and they're achieving all these great things. And they're involved in all these different things. And that's difficult because you think that you're just wanting to graduate or just your first job is going to be straight into the dream job. And I think that's really, really important for people my age is to just kind of take a step back and think, right, okay, we're not exactly where we want to be now, but that's okay. And just take your time and think about it. I have friends that graduated, and it's taken two years before they find the job that they like, or one year before they can even get a job. And I think that's perfectly okay. There's so much pressure on, at least I feel my generation to form one another than from ourselves to just be successful straight away. And it's really an important thing to somebody just take a step back and reflect and be like, okay, it's fine. You don't have to be the top dog all the time. I also think her advice on having a feminist approach and a critical feminist lens is super, super important. A lot of the time with gender is construed as a woman's issue for women's issues, you know, like, we should care about these specific things, because they impact women. And throughout my academic career and professional career, I've been trying to focus on applying these gender lenses in different places. So my master's degree, I focused on security and technology. And it was really interesting to be able to look at the world of AI and algorithms, and think, “Well, what about from a gender perspective?” It's so much more valuable. Having all these people that are interested in gender and women and peace and security, having them in lots of different departments is so much more useful than just having one little group of people that all sit around and have these really great feminist debates and discussions and then go home at night.
It's you know, it's about expanding outside your bubble, and that's something that I've had to learn myself. All my friends are great, they're all really similar to me. And so I find it shocking sometimes when I hear someone say something or think something different. Where I'm like, “Wait a minute, what? Because you get so used to this little bubble that you're in where everybody you know is progressive, and then you bump into someone and they say, you know, something completely different and it's shocking. And so I think taking that critical feminist lens, and this gendered approach and just applying it to lots of different areas is how we actually make steps towards actually achieving that. Well, the agenda, Women Peace and Security.
Lisa Larson: Okay. You know, Heather, I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to these bits of advice and respond to them and reflect on them and respond. The thing is in the two groups that are so important for making advances, youth and women, funnily enough, it's like young women are kind of falling out of each of the categories. And so I'm very happy to have had your reflections and your voice in this miniseries of Tea at 1325.
Heather McDonald: Thank you so much, Lisa. It's been wonderful. hearing all your experiences, and just learning from you is amazing. So thank you so much for being involved.
Lisa Larson: Thank you for joining me in this conversation about the state of the Women Peace and Security agenda. And thanks as well to my guests for sharing their expertise, wisdom and time. If you're interested in following conversations with experts about the current state of peace and security in the world, please subscribe to us on Apple iTunes or YouTube and follow us on Spotify or SoundCloud. I'm Lisa Larson and this has been Tea at 1325
Learn more about Gender and Inclusive Security at the GCSP including upcoming courses.
Lisa has extensive experience in leadership development and is participating in GCSP activities and research to contribute to the empowerment of women and more inclusive peace, security and international cooperation. Through these interviews, she introduces different personal experiences and perspectives on the WPS agenda, from peacekeeping operations to peace movements, and asks experts ‘what next?’ at a time when we know we cannot wait for change. We hope that you will find the series informative and inspiring.
DISCLAIMER: The views, information and opinions expressed in this podcast are the interviewee and interviewers own and do not necessarily reflect those shared by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy or its employees. The GCSP is not responsible for and may not always verify the accuracy of the information contained in the podcasts published.