Interview by Elena Piraino
I had the pleasure to interview Clare Hutchinson, the recently appointed NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, this February. Before coming to NATO, Hutchison had worked for 10 years as a Senior Gender Advisor for the UN, and now aims to bring her experience to NATO, in order to facilitate the coordination of NATO’s policies and activities and to take forward the implementation of the NATO/EAPC Policy and Action Plan on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
Piraino: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you study? When did you decide you were going to focus your career on gender, women’s empowerment, gender defence and security?
Hutchinson: I was born in Newcastle, England, where I lived until I was 18 years old. I studied international relations at Coventry University and then my masters degree (MA ) in international relations with a focus on women in post-conflict, and then my masters of research (MRES) on women in terrorism.
Piraino: Who was you biggest inspiration? Why?
Hutchinson: My mother, she is a phenomenal feminist.
Piraino: What did you do before working as a senior gender advisor for the UN? How did you start working there?
Hutchinson: I was working primarily on my academic studies immediately before I worked with the UN. Prior to that I was working in risk communications, public relations and media as a consultant and freelance researcher.
Piraino: What can you tell me about your experience working for the UN as a gender advisor?
Hutchinson: While I was working there I had the opportunity to see how the rest of the world works, how gender inequality impacts peace, and I had the privilege to meet women who have suffered, to see how strong they are, despite all the things they had to go through. They were truly inspiring.
Nonetheless, it is clear that much more work needs to be done.
Piraino: What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?
Hutchinson: There are many that I am proud of. Working on gender equality is extremely rewarding. Global Open Days for Peace and Security, which were established for the tenth anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is something I am proud of creating. Anything that allows women to have a voice is important. (For more information on the Global Open Days: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/1325_open_day_report.pdf).
Piraino: Why did you come to work at NATO after more than 10 years as a UN senior gender advisor?
Hutchinson: NATO is an extremely interesting organisation and offers different angles in which to incorporate gender perspectives, especially in defence and security. NATO is better aligned with my academic work, looking at reinforcing gender in early warning detection and other more operational and security aspects.
Similarly, because at NATO all political decision making is consensus based and needs to be agreed upon by all 29 Allies, so there will be different ways to tackle issues.
Piraino: From your studies and from your personal experience, would you say men are advantaged in the workplace? Especially in fields like yours (i.e. Security, peace, war…) where women are often not present and under-represented.
Hutchinson: Yes, but there are a lot of variables that need to be taken into account. For instance it depends on the area of work. I have a friend who is a male nurse, and because of the perception that nursing is a job for women, he is stigmatised. It also depends on the country, but generally yes, I would say men often have more advantages in the workplace, especially when we address issues of pay .
Piraino: Where do you think the problem lies? Is it a generational problem? A mentality one? Education? Can it be changed? If yes how?
Hutchinson: I think the problem is mainly generational but also cultural and educational, but the situation is slowly changing. Education and global access is helping women to fight for their rights and social media is giving them a platform on which they can express themselves and communicate. So change is happening, only it takes a long time.
Piraino: What advice would you give to all the young men and women out there, like myself, who are struggling to figure out what they want to do with their lives?
Hutchinson: Be gentle with yourself, you don’t have to figure it out all at once. Be patient, and find something that will allow you to make a difference, something that will satisfy not only your wallet but also your heart.
Piraino: If you could go back in time and change anything in your life what would it be and why?
Hutchinson: Nothing, I am the person who I am today because of the experiences I’ve had.