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Investing in Women: Reflections on IWD204 #DemocracyDrinks

17 March 2024

“A gender-based target is just the start, we need to create a more enabling environment”Ella van den Heuvel, Lieutenant Colonel for the Dutch Armed Forces

“What does investing in women mean to you?” Guided by this question, and in line with UN Women’s theme of “Investing in Women”, this edition’s #DemocracyDrinks The Hague focused on what investing in women entails for democracy. Sabra Bano, Director of Gender Concerns International and Ella van den Heuvel, Lieutenant Colonel and Gender Advisor for the Dutch Armed Forces spoke on the topic, while Fleur de Braaf, vice president of the Women in International Security (WIIS) moderated the discussion.

In her reflection, Ella van den Heuvel emphasized a gap in military funding for women in the armed forces “there’s just no money marked for us” she remarked. Despite great advances in gender-friendly policies, she also notes that there is much work to be done “in the military, our target is having 30% women at all levels. We can push but we will never reach it”.

Sabra Bano, as Head of Mission for several international Election Observations, made an emphasis on female leadership in electoral settings. Her work, focusing on the issue of Global Gender Electoral Disparity (as mentioned in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325), highlights the need for further “women-led” and “women-managed” decision-making. Having worked internationally, she notes that even electoral spaces in established democracies like in the Netherlands need to be improved in terms of participation “Democracy (candidacy lists) needs to be more like a zig-zag instead of having women candidates be all the way at the bottom like in the Netherlands”.

The session concluded with a future glance at 2024 as the biggest “year of elections” in contemporary times. For Sabra Bano, this year is a “lobby year”, in which she urged that many policymakers should view democracy (and therefore women’s rights) as a humane concept. She added, “How discriminatory democracy is in terms of democracy” in light of the fact that not a single country has complete gender equality in the world. Both speakers agreed, however, that it is through more consistent efforts to include women in leadership and mentorship programmes that will further the fight for improved gender rights globally.

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About #DemocracyDrinks

#DemocracyDrinks were launched by Defend Democracy in Brussels in 2018. Since then, the idea has taken off. #DemocracyDrinks have taken place around the world, including in Washington DC, Berlin, Kathmandu and, since last year, The Hague.

Our previous #DemocracyDrinks events have attracted a lively mixture of people from NGOs, international institutions, think tanks and national government, among others.

This event series is a collaboration between NIMD, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC)  and The Hague Humanity Hub.