Promoting Gender Diversity and Integrating the Gender Perspective in Indian Intelligence Agencies

    • By,
      Sanyogita Satpute- Student, Kautilya

Promotion of Gender Diversity and Integration of Gender perspective has recently received much attention across domains, but IndianIntelligence Agencies seem to be an exception. Indian Intelligence agencies have failed to become a major part of this discourse. There have been reports and talks around the reforms in intelligence agencies like the IDSA Task Force report “A Case for Intelligence Reforms in India” by R. Banerji and the Bill for Intelligence Reforms introduced by Mannish Tiwari in 2011, but they have all failed to incorporate the gender dimension. Also, though India supports UN Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, there seems to be a dissonance between India’s international display by contributing female peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping missions and the situation back home (Seth, 2022).

Promoting gender diversity in intelligence institutions is of significance for various reasons. Individuals recruited from diverse backgrounds with different skills, expertise, problem-solving approaches, ideas, perspectives, and cultural experiences will help improve the productivity and quality of engagement and lead to innovation and creativity in intel agencies. Seeing the issue from a gender perspective will strengthen intelligence products and help better decision-making (“Foreign Territory: Women in international relations,” 2019). The options for recruiters will improve as more applicants can apply, attracting the best talent. The intel workforce should reflect the diversity in society, gender diversity is crucial. Inclusion will enhance public trust and confidence in these institutions. Such an approach will also empower the disadvantaged genders.

If we specifically focus on women, some studies and opinions highlight that some skills women possess are most needed for intel jobs. One of the former female agents at the CIA argued that women are better at people skills, i.e., they can read people better, which includes determining their motivations and vulnerabilities; they’re street smart, i.e., they can easily read the potential danger and escape threats proactively; they are better at training foreign assets and are better listeners on the job (Zeigler, 2012). Thoughassociating certain skills with a specific gender can be seen as a perpetuation of stereotypes, it can be viewed as a result of the gendered structures that have been around for centuries, which we strive to change. Tamir Pardo, the head of Mossad, in one of his interviews, said that female agents have a distinct advantage in secret warfare because of their better ability to multitask and suppress their ego to attain goals vis-à-vis men and contrary to the stereotypes, women are good at deciphering situations and their abilities are superior to men in terms of understanding the territory, reading situations, spatial awareness (Zeigler, 2012). The ‘UN Security Gender and security Toolkit’ elaborates that WPS Agenda is important for intelligence agencies as it promotes gender inclusion and advocates using gender analysis for conflict impact, resolution, and recovery, and talks about how women can play a significant role in reducing the harm of gender-based violence and discrimination. UNSCR 2242 calls for the integration of gender in the counterterrorism approach and emphasizes developing gender focussed evidence-based policies to deal better with the impacts of violence on women by conducting gender-sensitive research (DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR, UN Women, 2019).

Seeing the growing number and changing nature of security challenges, adopting a gender-inclusive approach in India’s security and intelligence policy has become far more relevant. India must soon develop a policy with a broad vision for gender inclusion in security and intelligence. A gender-diverse expert committee to review after such a policy is drafted is a must. I doubt if our traditional institutional structures are fully capable of gender-inclusive policymaking. Implementing the provisions of such a policy will need a strategy, resource management, political will, and moving away from systemic inertia. A multi-pronged strategy focussing on recruitment-promotion of diverse genders at all levels, across all intel functions – intelligence collection, collation, control, analysis, and research, and from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds with a gender-inclusive workplace can be deployed. Such a reform, along with other suggested reforms in intel agencies, is in our larger strategic and geopolitical interest. It will impact India’s foreign policymaking and better integrate humanitarian aspects in security and crisis response situations.

Other countries of the world have made significant progress in this regard. USA’s Intelligence Community Diversity and Equal Opportunity Report 2020, UK’s Diversity and Inclusion in the UK Intelligence Community Report 2018, Australia’s ONA Diversity Action Plan 2015-2018, and New Zealand’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017–2020 reflect this progress. Mossad has 40% females in its staff, with 24% in key senior roles, and is seeking to add more women. Learning from them, India must take concrete steps with necessary modifications in this direction. The best practices employed in other sectors like corporates for gender diversity can also be explored. Indian Intelligence, Security and Foreign policy, thus, need to undergo a structural gender overhaul.


*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.