National Security and Women

I have been living in Washington DC since the beginning of January for an internship at the Defense Department. I have kind of taken the semester off of coding, but I have quickly learned that I can’t really get away from WomanStats. My job at the DoD is not directly pertinent to women’s issues, but I have had some great experiences at work and other places that have really given me hope.

I deal mainly with peacekeeping operations, so I occasionally read reports from field commanders and other officials about the state of the mission or problems in the region. One of my supervisors is a high ranking Air Force officer. As I handed my summary to him he scanned through the headings and noticed the one entitled “Safety and Security of Women and Children.” I was surprised when he shook his head and said to me, “You know, it seems like these places that don’t treat women well don’t do too well themselves.” I of course agreed, but I asked what he meant. He told me that he had traveled all over the world on assignments, but whenever he saw women being mistreated or abused, he knew there were serious problems. I told him about WomanStats. He was impressed and said that this is the sort of research that will change the world; the government’s job would be easier if everyone understood that national security is not primarily the DoD’s responsibility, but the responsibility occurs on a smaller level within homes and communities.

This short encounter kind of shocked me; these ideas are all things that I completely agree with, but it was surprising to hear from a hard core military officer. He is right that the work of WomanStats will change the national security establishment, and if there is one officer that believes in the importance of women, the ideas will spread.

This past week, I was in a meeting with groups from the State Department, National Security Council, Treasury Department, and the UN. As I looked around the room and at the teleconference screen, I realized that women outnumbered men. Interesting concept: a meeting regarding national security that was not dominated by men. I am not saying that one gender or the other is more skilled at handling these issues, but I do think that, in general, men dominate the national security and foreign policy fields and this is not the way it should be. This was a fairly low-level meeting; there was nothing major accomplished at this meeting and there were no huge policy changes, but it was nice to see how both sexes were represented.

These are only a couple of the experiences that I have had here that have really shown me that things are changing. It is easy to see only the negative when studying women and equality, so I thought it was important to share these experiences. I have not been in Washington very long, but I have at least learned that things move very slowly in the government. So if ideas can change here, hopefully they should be able to change anywhere.

—by BP

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