You can tell that an issue is gaining potency by the resistance it evokes. So says Jaqueline O’Neill, Canada’s ambassador for women, peace and security, who took up her post in early August. “Progress isn’t necessarily linear,” she says, sitting in Canada’s embassy in Washington. “You can see progress in certain areas but that doesn’t mean it will continue on that trajectory or at that speed.”
It’s something that O’Neill sees firsthand, having been tasked with championing the role of women and girls. “Globally, certainly at a policy level, there is momentum,” she says. “There’s a growing recognition that this is smart policy, not a fringe issue. But at the same time we’re seeing a rise in strongman-type governments around the world. That has increased the number of people purporting to be fighting for conservative or family values who are frightened by – or even trying to shut down – the women’s advocacy space.”
Tackling that resistance is something O’Neill has worked on during her career. Most recently, she served as president of the Institute for Inclusive Security, a Washington-based lobbying and advocacy firm aimed at boosting women’s participation in peace processes globally. The Colombian peace process between Farc rebels and the government in Bogotá, the formation of NATO’s first policy agenda on women and defence, and the creation of the African Union’s first envoy for women, peace and security were among the institute’s achievements during O’Neill’s presidency.
Her most recent appointment marks the latest step in Canada’s feminist foreign policy. It also comes at a time when regressive rhetoric towards women emanates from pedestals as vaunted as the White House. “Changing a government institution takes time because you’re working against a big system,” says O’Neill. Yet she’s not “overly discouraged by some of the negative things that are happening at the moment because there are so many people who want to implement change”. She points out that 80 nations now have policy agendas that centre on women’s involvement in peace and security. “Despite the tone in some quarters, it’s by no means a wholly negative story.”
2006: Earned master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; named president, Institute for Inclusive Security
2007: Co-founded Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative to eliminate use of children in conflict
2019: Became Canada’s ambassador for women, peace and security
Olafur Ragnar Grimsson guided Iceland as president from 1996 to 2016. Post-presidency he has swiftly elevated Reykjavik’s diplomatic profile as the seat of the Arctic Circle, something of a global parliament for the Arctic that has met annually at the Harpa since 2013. The next assembly takes place from 10 to 13 October.
What differentiates the Arctic Circle from the existing Arctic forums?
Before, all Arctic conferences were specialised. Scientists talked to scientists and diplomats talked to diplomats. The Arctic Circle has brought constituencies together and, through that, brought global engagement from the Arctic states into a multitude of countries.
How are the Arctic countries grappling with these newcomers to the far north?
Even 10 years ago most people thought there were eight Arctic states – the US, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic countries – but all that has changed. South Korea, Japan and China have all entered the Arctic. The same goes for the leading economies in Europe. We needed a framework where all the newcomers could be made accountable in a transparent way; that is the Arctic Circle Assembly’s greatest success.
What draws mid-latitude countries to a seat at the Arctic table?
Why is Singapore interested in the Arctic? If the ice sheet in Greenland melts, Singapore as it is built will no longer exist. If the Northern Sea Route opens up it could be of economic importance for Singapore. The realisation was that the future of Singapore will be decided in Greenland.
Serbia is persuading countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo. The latest domino to topple is Togo – the 15th such snub secured by Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic. “Serbia is trying to create the illusion that Kosovo’s independence could be reversed,” says Florian Bieber, professor of southeast European studies at the University of Graz. “Its independence is an inconvenience that Serb governments are kicking down the road in the hope that they don’t have to recognise it.”