Women’s Rights Are the Key to National Security

In an official document released in July of this year, the U.S. Government announced that it will now work to incorporate gender perspectives in its implementation of national security policies and strategy.[1] The Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Agency for International Development will head the new Women, Peace, and Security Initiative (WPS).[2] The announcement comes as military planners emphasize the need for greater inclusion of women within the armed forces and in strategic planning in order to maintain a dominant edge over foreign nations.[3] Indeed, the intended “gender network” that will be established by the new initiative includes the incorporation of women and gender perspectives from the “tactical to the strategic level” – specifically the consideration of women’s perspectives, problems, opportunities, and concerns.[4]

The integration of women into tactical units was not unheard of even before the opening of combat positions to women across the military in 2015.[5] The United States Army, in particular, worked to incorporate women into combat as early as 2011, albeit informally. The Army recognized the benefit the presence of female soldiers would bring in working with locals and began to actively recruit women for deployment to Afghanistan.[6] These female soldiers were trained to work in infantry and Special Forces units. Female soldiers were much more able to earn the trust of the locals – critical to establishing authority in the region – and as a result, were incredibly effective in their ability to gather relevant intelligence and save lives.[7]

In addition to establishing positive relations within a country during war, research has shown that the presence of female peacekeepers has a significant impact on establishing lasting stability and peace. Specifically, peace agreements are 64 percent less likely to fail, and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years when women are included in the peacekeeping process.[8] In light of such findings, Lisa W. Hershman, the chief management officer at the DOD and leading official for the Women, Peace and Security Initiative stated that the involvement of women in the peacekeeping process is absolutely critical in preventing conflict.[9]

Despite such evidence, women are still critically under-represented in conflict resolution as well as post-conflict peace-building efforts – both in military peacekeeping units and in formal negotiations. Between 1992 and 2011 women made up a mere two percent of mediators in conflict zones and nine percent of negotiators in formal post-conflict peace talks.[10] In Afghanistan, for example, between 2005 and 2014 women were only present twice during peace negotiations.[11] This is a troubling figure, as it implies that the specific needs of half of the population are effectively being ignored. Additionally, women often bear unique and disproportionate impacts of armed conflict, and yet are not allowed to contribute to or participate in the post-conflict negotiations.[12] As research also shows that women’s physical security in a given country is also an excellent predictor of that country’s level of conflict and violence, failure to include women in the peacekeeping process perpetuates a cycle of instability within a region as issues affecting women remain unaddressed.[13]

It is with this in mind, that the Women, Peace, and Security Initiative seeks to accomplish several ambitious, strategic goals to create more stability in conflict areas around the globe.[14] The key strategic objectives of the Initiative include:

  1. ensuring women are engaged in meaningful decision-making processes (including programs that provide training regarding law enforcement, rule of law, and professional military education)
  2. the protection of women and girls’ human rights
  3. improving equality for all
  4. convincing partner governments to adopt similar approaches to women’s security

However, there are barriers to accomplishing these points, which vary by country: legal, structural, and cultural barriers (such as entrenched social norms) are real and very difficult issues to overcome.[15] Thus, the United States and partner governments will find themselves in the difficult position of needing to change local perception of gender roles while avoiding the appearance of attempting to quash the culture itself.

Despite these challenges, the importance of the WPS Initiative is not to be underestimated. This Initiative shows that the empowerment of women – both domestically and internationally – as well as the inclusion of gender perspectives, are now considered by the government to be integral factors in the preservation of U.S. national security.

The inclusion of gender perspectives in foreign policy affairs is a crucial component for the continued prosperity of the United States. In implementing this Initiative, however, if the U.S. wishes to include gender perspectives in its strategic, operative, and tactical planning, then it must also consider how to better protect the women within its own ranks. As noted in previous blog posts, sexual assault is still a problem in today’s military and must be addressed in order to allow women to be fully incorporated into the decision-making process.

– H.M.

REFERENCES

Chappell, Bill. (2015, December 3). Pentagon Says Women Can Now Serve In Front-Line Ground Combat Positions. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/03/458319524/pentagon-will-allow-women-in-frontline-ground-combat-positions.

Council on Foreign Relations. (2019). Statistical Findings on Gender Equality and the Security of States.Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/interactive/womens-participation-in-peace-processes/research.

Garamone, Jim. (2019, August 22). Women, Peace, Security Initiative Promotes Empowerment. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/explore/story/Article/1941832/women-peace-security-initiative-promotes-empowerment/.

Garamone, Jim. (2019, July 19). Women’s Perspectives Important in New DOD Strategy Push. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/explore/story/Article/1910884/womens-perspectives-important-in-new-dod-strategy-push/.

Hudson, V. M., Ballif-Spanbill, B., Caprioli, M., & Emmett, C. F. (2014). Sex and World Peace. New York, NY: Columbia Univ. Press.

White House. (2019, June). United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/WPS_Strategy_10_October2019.pdf.

[1]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

[2]Garamone, Jim. (2019, July 19). Women’s Perspectives Important in New DOD Strategy Push.

[3]Garamone, Jim. (2019, July 19). Women’s Perspectives Important in New DOD Strategy Push.

[4]Garamone, Jim. (2019, July 19). Women’s Perspectives Important in New DOD Strategy Push.

[5]Chappell, Bill. (2015, December 3). Pentagon Says Women Can Now Serve In Front-Line Ground Combat Positions.

[6]Garamone, Jim. (2019, August 22). Women, Peace, Security Initiative Promotes Empowerment.

[7]Garamone, Jim. (2019, August 22). Women, Peace, Security Initiative Promotes Empowerment.

[8]Council on Foreign Relations, 2019

[9]Garamone, Jim. (2019, August 22). Women, Peace, Security Initiative Promotes Empowerment.

[10]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

[11]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

[12]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

[13]SeeSex and World Peace

[14]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

[15]See United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security

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