Understanding the prospects of the WPS Agenda: looking at the case of Denmark

By: Sofia Sutera

International Joint Ph.D Programme “Human Rights, Society, and Multi-level Governance”- University of Padova, Human Rights Centre “Antonio Papisca”


In order to understand the potential the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has in the near and even far future, it is necessary first of all to understand how this agenda is currently understood, implemented, and thus concretely lived. Only by observing the present situation is it possible to speculate on the future.

This essay examines the case of Denmark within the broader framework of NATO, analysing specifically how women’s representation is framed in the context of the Danish Armed Forces (DAF).

According to a poll conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, while Denmark is one of the countries in the world to least identify as feminist[1] (Orange and Duncan 2019), Denmark was the first country to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on the WPS Agenda in 2005.  The NAP was subsequently revised in 2008 and 2014. There are other signs that Denmark seems committed to gender issues:  37.4 percent of Denmark’s Parliament are women , the Gender Inequality Index[2] is 0.041, the WPS Index[3] is 0.845 (Our Secure Future 2019), and the Global Peace Index[4] is 1.316: data which depict Denmark as one of the most successful countries in the world in terms of gender equality (World Economic Forum 2020).Yet the DAF, while facing the societal imperative of including women, perform below the other NATO members in gender diversity (Schaub et al. 2012): indeed, data from  2017, when Denmark presented its last national report, indicate that the percentage of women who are part of Active Duty military personnel is 11.1 percent  NATO countries overall and 7.1 percent in Denmark[5]. Moreover, even if women have been part of the volunteer corps in the armed forces since 1934, it is only since 1992 that no more formal barriers to the participation of women in the armed forces have existed (Schaub et al. 2012, 4).

While in 2009 the Defense Command adopted a charter to promote the advancement of women to leadership roles “Flere kvinder i ledelse,”[6] in 2011 the Ministry of Defense developed a Defense Action Plan for Equality containing specific measures for women and ethnic minorities. This resulted in the Ministry of Defense winning the “Diversity in the Workplace” (MIA)  Award in 2011 (Schaub et al. 2012, 5)[7].

This diversity policy was published on the April 28, 2011 by the Defense Minister who stated that the collaboration between a wide range of people with different competences promotes learning, creativity and innovation. As such, increased diversity is an important way to better solve the tasks faced by the armed forces (Ministry of Defense 2011a). Nevertheless, while affirming that “the composition of the personnel within the entire Ministry of Defense must be diverse in terms of gender distribution, age composition, social origin, ethnic origin and so on” (Ministry of Defense, undated), this policy focuses entirely on women and ethnic minorities, considered the two areas to prioritize. Indeed, the Ministry of Defense underlines that “at the heart of the problem is the low number of women in uniformed positions and the number of ethnic minorities in both civilian and military posts” (Schaub et al. 2012, 10).

Particularly, diversity is considered paramount for the effectiveness of military operations: for instance, when “women participate in international missions, we are more easily in contact with the female part of the population. Danish women can act as role models for the local population and show that everyone must have the same opportunities” (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 4). Moreover, diversity is also considered a benefit in building a staff composition that reflects the general population, helping to create trust and respect in the population. These same arguments have been stressed again in 2020 (Ministry of Defense 2020).

The first words of the mentioned diversity policy underline that: “The Ministry of Defense authorities are, overall, one of Denmark’s largest workplaces. We work for peace, freedom and security with respect for human rights” (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 4). It continues by affirming that if the DAF want to “win the peace,” they need to promote democracy and equality, showing to local people, for instance, that women are equal to men and that both girls and boys have the right to go to school. The DAF can thus act as a role model for the local population. At the same time, the text recalls that diversity is relevant not only in international settings but also domestic ones.[8] Indeed, different studies found that there is a positive correlation between diversity and a company’s financial performance, which in the case of a public company mostly translates in terms of greater efficiency (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 5).

Even recognizing that the overall number of women in the DAF is increasing, the policy stresses that their number (in 2011) is 6.4 percent, while the number of women in the workforce in Denmark is around 49percent (still in 2011). It also emphasizes that female role models in leadership positions may be a great motivating factor for young women to choose a career path in uniform by showing that the defense sector is an attractive workplace where gender is not an obstacle to a managerial career (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 13).

Acknowledging that “whoever you are, it will often be a challenge to be a minority, and women in uniform are often few in number” (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 22), the policy introduces several initiatives that have already been implemented or are going to be in order to attract and retain more women and ethnic minorities in the DAF. However, this policy observes these two groups only through the lens of diversity without any specific consideration for gender as the frame of reference. There is a generic reference to the WPS agenda in that the NAP outlined in UNSCR 1325 asks national armed forces to have a major number of women deployed in international operations, without though indicating any specific number to be reached (Ministry of Defense 2011b, 4), there is no reflection on what the gender implications for women or men are.

The result, therefore, has been no discussion of the concept of gender, homogenizing the women category in the overall armed forces entity from which they stand out, always accompanied by the category of ethnic minorities, only for statistical purposes. This is problematic. Firstly, the policy utilizes solely the Danish term “køn,” which can be interpreted both as sex and gender and thus does not highlight the dissimilarity between these two concepts. In fact, looking at the UN framework, where the WPS Agenda is placed, and quoting the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI 2001, 1) gender is defined as:

 “the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes”.

Likewise, the “Gender Equality Glossary” developed by UN Women, clearly distinguishes gender as:

“the roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate for men and women. In addition to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, gender also refers to the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable […]” (UN WOMEN undated).

The term sex is defined as: “The physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males and females” (UN WOMEN undated).

Moreover, this approach does not take into account the reality that women are not a uniform category, either. Indeed, the evaluation of the last Danish NAP on the WPS agenda, released in October 2019, asks to: “strengthen the focus on the needs and experiences of diverse groups of women within the fourth NAP, acknowledging the impact that intersecting identities have on the WPS agenda (for example age, class, disability, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, religion and others)” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark 2019).

It is possible, therefore, to conclude that the potential of the WPS agenda is to an extent still embraced by the DAF. Despite the acknowledgment that this institution is distinguished by a peculiar mission of a very practical nature, it cannot but base its work on some theoretical foundations. As Kronsell (2012, 92) claims, “it is not necessarily the number of women present in the peacekeeping forces or in the military that is the key to gender awareness but rather the systematic work with gender strategies from the leadership level.” Indeed, among the six priority action areas in the field of the WPS agenda identified by the UN, the first requires to “make leadership accountable for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, through improved data and gender analysis” (UN WOMEN 2019).

On the other hand, though, it is the UN itself that, in the context of the WPS agenda and specifically to the related Security Council resolutions, needs to provide a theoretical discussion on the concept of gender. While recognizing that the Security Council itself is charged with a specific mission, i.e., the fundamental task of maintaining international peace and security, this goal cannot but be founded on a comprehensive understanding of peace and security. Thus, a more in-depth analysis into the notion of gender and the category of women who embody the capacities of half the world’s population is necessary for the Security Council to achieve its purpose.








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Ministry of Defence (2011a) Mangfoldighedspolitik – vejen til bedre opgaveløsning, retrieved from: https://www.fmn.dk/nyheder/Arkiv/2011/Pages/Nymangfoldighedspolitik%E2%80%93vejentilbedreopgaveloesning.aspx (accessed 19/06/2020).

Ministry of Defence (2011b) Vejen til bedre opgaveløsning -Forsvarsministeriets mangfoldighedspolitik, retrieved from: https://www.yumpu.com/da/document/read/19966173/forsvarsministeriets-politik-for-mangfoldighed-kvinderiledelsedk (accessed 20/11/2020).

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Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (2019). Evaluation of the Danish National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, retrieved from: http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/eval_danish_action_plan_resolution_1325/Pdf/eval_danish_action_plan_resolution_1325.pdf (accessed 19/06/2020).

Orange, R. and Duncan, P. (2019). And the least feminist nation in the world is… Denmark?, The Guardian, retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/may/10/and-the-least-feminist-nation-in-the-world-is-denmark (accessed: 19/06/2020).

Our Secure Future (2019) ‘NATIONAL ACTION PLAN MAP’. One Earth Future, retrieved from: https://oursecurefuture.org/projects/national-action-plan-mapping (accessed: 19/06/2020).

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[1] Just one in six Danes (Orange and Duncan 2019).

[2] The Gender Inequality Index measures gender inequalities through human development indicators: 0 is the best possible score and 1 is the worst possible score (http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/gender-inequality-index-gii).

[3] The Women, Peace and Security Index is based upon indicators of security, inclusion and justice: 1 is the best possible score and 0 is the worst possible score (https://giwps.georgetown.edu/the-index/).

[4] The Global Peace Index measures the level of peacefulness of a State: 1 is the best possible score and 5 is the worst possible score (http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2019/06/GPI-2019-web003.pdf).

[5] Data based on the National Reports submitted by NATO member nations to the NATO Committee on Gender Perspectives, available at: https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2019_09/20190909_190909-2017-Summary-NR-to-NCGP.pdf (accessed 18/06/2020)

[6] “Charter for More Women in Leadership”, signed by the then Defence Secretary Tim Sloth Jørgensen on April 16, 2009.

[7] Prize launched in 2003 by the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR). In 2007 also the Danish Emergency Management Agency won this prize.

[8] Particularly taking into account that the Defence is Denmark’s largest youth workplace thanks to the military service (Ministry of Defence 2011b, 10).