A team of three gender advisers are incorporating gender into the planning for Australia’s military operations in the Middle East.

Captain Alan Bretherton, an infantry officer at Headquarters 1 Brigade, recently returned to Australia from his deployment at Australia’s main operating base, where part of his role was as a gender adviser.

CAPT Bretherton said he was a firm believer in the importance of the role within the broader planning of military operations.

“A gender adviser  is the technical specialist responsible for advising the senior commander and staff on implementing a gender perspective in the planning, execution and assessment processes of operations.

“For the ADF, this translates into ensuring we are considering all demographics of local populations in which we operate, in order to set the pre-conditions for enduring peace and stability.

“Men and women may display power and influence differently with male power structures being more overt and authoritative, where women often hold powerful (but hidden) informal influence within communities.

“In Afghanistan, for example, women have an enormous amount of influence on the family and impact on adolescent males who make up the recruiting pool of insurgents.”

CAPT Bretherton said he initially became interested in the gender adviser role when he attended a Gender in Military Operations brief during the Joint Operations Planner Course.

“At first I thought it would be a brief promoting equality and females in Defence, but it was more than that. It demonstrated the operational impact of considering gender in operations," he said.

“I was amazed that, based on the statistics and information, not more people were aware of it. From then on I was pretty much a solid advocate.”

CAPT Bretherton said people were sometimes surprised to encounter a male gender adviser and that it was good for men to take on the role.

“When I stand up there as a six foot two infantry male and tell people this is important, it has a different effect to a female discussing it, particularly when working with other nations that don’t necessarily have the same equality views as Australia," he said.

Just as a man cannot pretend to understand my lived experience as a woman in this world, I cannot pretend to understand the lived experience of a man.

Wing Commander Jade Deveney is the Gender Adviser deployed to Operation Okra in Kuwait. 

Wing Commander Deveney said she also believed having advisers of all genders was important to the effectiveness of the planning role.

“Having male Gender Advisers is incredibly important to what we do,” she said.

“Just as a man cannot pretend to understand my lived experience as a woman in this world, I cannot pretend to understand the lived experience of a man.

“Also, particularly when working within patriarchal societies, a male gender adviser will have access to the leadership and authority structures within the society that I couldn’t access, just as a male gender adviser wouldn’t be able to engage with women in the community that I would be given access to. 

“Ideally, if we could deploy a male and female gender adviser as a team, that would be ultimate, but we don’t have the resources to do that.”

Wing Commander Deveney said the role was something she had always been interested in.

“Working in the gender space has always been a passion of mine, partly because our world, systems and structures are so gendered, so to be able to understand the multi-dimensional aspects of this I find really interesting," she said.

“For me, we talk a lot about how gender can support a return to peace and stability for populations; now I hope we can achieve this for Iraq through supporting greater gender equality across a range of government initiatives and security capabilities.”