Skip Navigation

In her keynote address to University of Maryland University College Europe (UMUC Europe) Class of 2016, a class marked by multiple firsts, Ambassador Marriët Schuurman invoked the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead in challenging celebrants to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

The Ambassador, who during the commencement ceremony was awarded the honorary Doctor of Public Service degree, said she now follows in the footsteps of Mead, who in 1972 became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the University.

“It humbles me to step into these big shoes and stand here in front of you, to address you in honor of your formidable academic accomplishment,” Schuurman said, adding that she was additionally humbled by the “many firsts” held by this year’s graduating class.

Celebrants included the first MBA graduates to take on-site courses overseas, the first Master of Social Work graduates and the first on-site Master of Science in Cybersecurity graduates.

Said Schuurman, “I am not a first, at least not the first woman. I am not an anthropologist. I am not even an academic. I am just a practitioner.”

Still, she shares some similarities with Mead that define her current work as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, she said.

“I share her passion for studying, understanding, submerging in other cultures. It taught me, like Margaret Mead, that human diversity is a resource, not a handicap. Diversity is a treasure and a strength.

“I share her fascination for gender as a defining aspect of all societies, for the different roles and characteristics we assign to being a man or a woman in society, and how that changes from culture to culture and over time.

“I share her conviction that we can choose among possible futures, that we have the ability to change, that we can make this world a better and safer world―for all: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’”

Women, Peace and Security, which is the title of Resolution 1325 adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000, helps NATO’ fulfill its mandate and find more sustainable, lasting solutions to today’s security challenges, Schuurman said.

Built on the understanding that a lasting peace requires inclusion, Resolution 1325 promotes equal participation by men and women at all decision-making levels in matters of peace and security, in conflict prevention, management, resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation, according to Schuurman.

The Resolution’s history dates back 101 years―to April 28, 1915―when 1100 women from 12 countries affected by war gathered in The Hague to end the First World War and prevent further conflict, she said.

“More than a hundred years later, we are still struggling to recognize the agency of women and their equal right to a place at the table, to actively contribute to securing peace. That is why I sometimes say ‘1325’ is the codename for a slow but unstoppable revolution.

“Unstoppable, because progress may be slow, but gender equality and equal participation is as relevant for securing peace today as it was in 1915.”

The guiding principles of Resolution 1325 allow NATO to do its job right, Schuurman said.

“I often say that for the Alliance, this is a matter of both credibility and capability, because it is our mission to lead by example [and] because we are stronger when we build on our diversity, when we use the full potential that our societies have to offer and leave no talent untapped,” she said.

NATO’s keep-it-practical formula for success takes a two-pronged approach to what Schuurman described as the Alliance’s sincere effort to translate the principle of gender equality into practical tools and targets. It does so by integrating gender perspectives in the day-to-day work of every peace and security professional, and by reducing barriers to afford women active and meaningful participation in both the military and civilian security structures within NATO and at the national level.

And the formula does make a difference, said Schuurman, who cited multiple examples of NATO’s experience in Afghanistan.

“It makes a difference when we have enough women peacekeepers there. It allows us to have access to the other half of the population, to better understand their specific needs and better respond to them, to avoid doing more harm than good.

“It makes a difference when we understand the different roles of men and women in Afghan society, when we understand how conflict affects those roles and often exacerbates already existing inequalities, and how our actions impact on these power relations.

“It makes a difference to train Afghan female security providers to empower women to protect and defend themselves and their communities, in a context where only women can protect women.

“It makes a difference to train Afghan female searchers and election observers, who made it possible for Afghan women to come out and vote, resulting in a historically high turnout of women in the last presidential elections.

“Promoting equal participation and integrating a gender perspective in our work is an enabler and force multiplier. It increases our strategic awareness, operational effectiveness and capability,” Schuurman said.

Maintaining such inclusivity, though, is doubly complicated, she added. On the one hand, we must sustain and internalize these best practices outlined by Resolution 1325, while, at the same time, adapting them to a rapidly changing security environment. On the other hand, when confronted with violent extremism and other threats, our reflex typically is to set the gender lens aside.

But terrorist organizations, which have been quick to realize women’s potential, are deliberately targeting women in many different ways to undermine the social fabric and norms on which our peace and prosperity is built, Schuurman said. Effectively countering those organizations and addressing the root causes of today’s security challenges―and not just the symptoms―requires that we apply the gender lens consistently and much more comprehensively, she added.

Doing so means we must change the way we view security both worldwide and at home, and such a change in thinking can only happen with enduring leadership, said Schuurman, as she introduced her final appeal to graduates

“Bring the spirit of inclusive peace and security home and demonstrate in practice that equal participation does make a difference, that it makes us stronger and more resilient.

“It is time to bring ‘1325’ home, because we simply cannot afford to leave any talent untapped, because mixed teams perform better and are more creative. And we need all the creativity our society has to offer to deal with the challenges we face.

“But more fundamentally, because the very foundation of our peace and security is equal rights and fundamental freedoms, there is no other way to defend those fundamental values and safeguard peace and prosperity than to live those principles.

“It is time to bring inclusive peace and security home. Because a safer world starts at home, with equal opportunities for all to contribute to peace and security, with women and men using their full potential to build resilient societies. Because we can only be secure, free and at peace when we are inclusive.

“As you graduate today to become tomorrow’s leaders, you will make this happen: better peace built on equal rights and opportunities, a resilient society in which no talent remains untapped [and] where boys and girls can go as far as their dreams will take them.

“So this is my appeal to you. Be a leader for change and resilience. Think inclusive. Act to make a difference. Start at home, and, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’”

Ambassador Marriët Schuurman, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security, delivered her remarks on April 30, 2016, at the 64th University of Maryland University College Europe (UMUC Europe) Commencement at the Gartenschau Event Hall in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The largest military-affiliated commencement ceremony outside of the United States honored more than 1140 graduates from across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East―200 of whom were present―who earned an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree with UMUC or its partner institutions.

This year, UMUC honors more than 11,156 graduates at ceremonies worldwide.