NATO’s Take on Sexism

By Hilda Berg

NATO – one of the most, if not the most, powerful military alliance in the world – has never had a woman Secretary General. Since their founding in 1949, 13 powerful men have been the head of the intergovernmental nuclear alliance. But never a powerful woman. Of course, a similar pattern of a series of unrepresentative leaders is displayed in heads of governments. According to Pew Research Center, less than a third of the UN member states have ever had a woman leader. Gender inequality and faulty stereotypes continue to bar the door into politics for millions of women around the world; however, NATO has had 74 years to elect a woman for the post of Sec Gen. Outdated norms are not enough to excuse this blatant show of internal sexism.

When it was recently speculated that current Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg’s term might be coming to an end, there were indeed a few women who were considered to be his potential successor. Such women included Danish PM Mette Frederiksen, Estonian PM Kaja Kallas and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. All, on paper, qualified candidates, who deserve to be considered as a result of their impressive resumes, not their gender. 

Electing, or solely just promoting, any of the leaders mentioned above to lead NATO because it balances the scales would hardly be an indication of development and rather just a spectacle for the media to applaud. Yet, as stated in Politico, a senior NATO official had commented on the speculative rumors that it is ‘Time for a female Sec Gen’ and that ‘If men try to hold their positions forever, fair representation of women will never have a chance’. Granted, the official isn’t wrong. An unrepresentative leadership is oppressive. But if such a push for a representative leader is forced, if a woman is elected as Gen Sec for the main reason that she is a woman, it is not because NATO has decided to eliminate sexism – it is because sexism still prevails in the organization. That steers the conversation onwards, as to why NATO has never had a woman leader.

Another potential successor speculated to take over after Stoltenberg was Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová. According to an article by Politico, this is because she ‘ticks two boxes’ – she is from Eastern Europe and she is a woman. Hence, it is argued that factors which are out of her control, her origin and her gender, are her strengths. Nevermind that Čaputová is a head of government. Her gender ‘ticks a box’, and such a discredit to her capabilities is a prime example of how the general consensus of who should be a military leader is oppressive within itself. 

‘Could it be a woman?’ was the exact question posed by Politico in the same article, when referring to who Stoltenberg’s successor would be. No article would ever ask if it could be a man, because that is considered to be a given possibility. If the next leader of the most powerful military alliance in the world is a man, it is expected. If it is a woman, questions are asked and eyebrows are raised. Why has NATO never had a woman Secretary General? Because as sexist obstacles prevail in politics, keeping most women from being able to access their representative offices, it looks perfect on paper to select a woman just to earn bragging rights.


Hi! I’m Hilda and I am a High School junior from Sweden. I also work as the ambassador manager for WIP and love to write, debate and develop projects, which is why I joined this organization. I hope to soon release my first book and continue writing about important matters!

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