Women, Peace and Security in the military: The need for leadership

This blog post is one in a series of WPS-related posts CERL is running in connection with its February 11 symposium, National Security as a Feminist Issue: Twenty Years of Women, Peace, and Security Initiatives. Dr. Johnson-Freese was a speaker at that symposium.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (“UNSCR”) 1325, the first formal international resolution calling for the full involvement of women in peace and security initiatives. It recognizes that conflicts affect women and girls differently than boys and men and that peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women participate in conflict prevention, mitigation, and delivery of relief and recovery measures. But to participate, they must first be protected from the ravages of conflicts and the conditions that lead to and stem from conflicts. Basically, the Women, Peace, and Security (“WPS”) agenda, which is based on UNSCR 1325 and supplemental, related resolutions passed since, recognizes that gender equality is not just a social justice issue but also a security issue.

Individual nations and organizations have responded to Resolution 1325’s passage in different ways, including through adoption of National Action Plans and associated policies and strategies for implementation. While many countries promulgated National Action Plans before the United States, in 2017 the United States was the first country to codify WPS implementation domestically with the bipartisan passage of the Women, Peace & Security Act, signed by President Donald Trump. A U.S. National Strategy for implementation followed in June 2019. Unfortunately, however, global support for implementation often has been more rhetorical than actual. At the October 2019 annual Security Council “Open Debate” on Women, Peace & Security, for example, 140 nations requested podium time to voice their program support. But less than 25% of the 83 states with formalized National Action Plans have budgets to implement them.

UNSCR 1325 explicates various roles for different stakeholders in implementation, including national militaries and peacekeeping personnel. For armed forces, these roles include effectively addressing the differing needs and challenges regarding protection of civilians in conflict, preventing and addressing Conflict-Related Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (“CR-SGBV”), and creating positive conditions of service for all armed forces personnel. Implementation progress within militaries has been slow, largely stemming from both lack of resources and a lack of organizational commitment, with the former often linked to the latter. Organizationally, some institutions have moved faster and farther than others. This is likely a reflection of the fact that some leaders have demonstrated a stronger commitment to WPS implementation within their organizations than others, and leadership has been demonstrated to be key to successful WPS implementation.

Organizational Progress

NATO first issued a policy of active commitment to implementation of WPS principles in December 2007. An Action Plan followed in 2010, which has been revised subsequently to reflect updates. Three principles guide NATO implementation.

Integration: Gender equality must be considered as an integral part of NATO policies, programs, and projects guided by effective gender mainstreaming practices. To achieve gender equality, it must be acknowledged that each policy, program, and project affects both women and men.

Inclusiveness: Representation of women across NATO and in national forces is necessary to enhance operational effectiveness and success.

Integrity: Systemic inequalities should be addressed to ensure fair and equal treatment of women and men Alliance-wide. Accountability on all efforts to increase awareness and implementation of the WPS agenda will be made a priority.

With an implementation plan and ten years of effort behind it, as well as a full-time Special Representative to the NATO Secretary General (currently, Canadian Clare Hutchinson), NATO is beyond merely getting organized and is now actively working on substance.

The U.S. Department of Defense, on the other hand, is still struggling with organization, as is evident from a 2018 report from The New American Foundation. The report was based on interviews with U.S. security practitioners regarding views on gender inclusivity, inclusive security agendas, gender-differentiated data, and general perceptions of the role of gender in national security policy processes and outcomes. It states that the U.S. State Department Joint Strategic Plan 2018-2022 (with USAID) 62-page plan mentions “women” eighteen times and “gender” nine times. In contrast, the “Department of Defense’s [operational plan] for FY 2018-2022 makes no mention of ‘women’ or ‘gender’ in its 38-page report.” The New America report also notes that “[a]cross agencies and administrations, nearly all our interviewees saw most roadblocks to gender inclusivity emanating from two sources: the Department of Defense or from interagency rivalries.” Delays to implementation continue. Although the United States’ 2019 National Strategy called for a DOD Implementation Plan by September 11, 2019, it has yet to be released.

Because there are Congressional requirements to report on WPS-related activity, the Pentagon has largely been focused on getting organized rather than on implementation so that they can report “progress.” U.S. Commands have appointed WPS “leads” who meet monthly for one hour by video teleconference, with workshops planned for later in 2020 focused on education and general organization, respectively. The command leads serve in their roles as a collateral duty, with various levels of knowledge—or even interest—about WPS. While the number of individuals in the Pentagon working full-time on WPS has doubled from a year ago, the total is still only two. The current level of organizational activity can best be described as primarily box-checking for reporting purposes.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of dedicated individuals within the Pentagon and the U.S. military supporting gender inclusion. Often those have been individuals who witnessed the value of inclusion through real-world operations. For example, women’s Cultural Support Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan worked directly with Special Operations Forces on field missions to interact with local women off-limits to conversation with male team members, or women in other combat or combat support roles. Others have witnessed the role of women in stabilizing civil society in regions like Africa or Latin America. But support for gender inclusion has largely depended on individual leaders. Troops pay attention to those matters to which their leaders pay attention. Unfortunately, a noticeable appreciation for the WPS agenda, let alone personal commitment, is lacking among many leaders in the Department of Defense. At a recent presentation I attended, a female Lieutenant General was asked her views on Women, Peace and Security and she admitted she was not familiar with the reference. You cannot implement what you do not know.

Leadership is Key to Implementation

Key NATO leadership has demonstrated commitment to supporting the WPS agenda. In February 2020, NATO held its first workshop on Conflict Related Sexual and Gender Based Violence (CR-SGBV) in Naples, Italy. Admiral James Foggo, Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and U.S. Naval Forces Africa, spoke about the benefits and challenges of addressing issues of WPS generally, and CR-SGBV specifically. His remarks highlighted real-world examples of women living through conflict. He shared the travails of a Nigerian-born woman fleeing Africa through Libya who had written out her story with a crayon while on a U.S. Navy ship after being rescued at sea. He also told of Iraqi women attending a NATO supported military medical school in Iraq to work with Iraqi men and women who will form the country’s future health service and as trainers for the Iraqi military forces.

Admiral Foggo explained that the goal of NATO’s efforts in partnering with the African Union (AU) is to combat the root causes of regional instability, namely, poor governance and weak or nonexistent rule of law. Such an effort requires extensive collaboration between NATO forces, the U.S. Ambassador to the AU Mary Beth Leonard, AU representatives, and key members of civil society. One such member, a group called FemWise, is dedicated to strengthening African women’s participation in conflict prevention, mediation processes, and peace stabilization efforts. Admiral Foggo has begun the process of integrating African women into these processes. While he is not alone in his support for WPS, his leadership on this issue is an example of what is needed across the military services.

Challenges and Next Steps

While NATO has come a long way, it still has a long way to go. In NATO, as in most military organizations, too many Gender Advisors (GENADS) who work on integrating WPS principles into mission planning and operations are still doing so on a part-time, collateral basis with sometimes limited training, interest, or willingness to engage the topic. And GENAD positions, in NATO and militaries in general, are not considered career enhancing. But in a refreshingly candid manner, the need for more full-time GENADs and the abundance of box-checking that still takes place in operationalizing plans for CR-SGBV in exercises and missions were discussed at the Naples workshop. And it was repeatedly said that GENADS are not responsible for implementation, commanders are. The candid, useful discussion was possible because at least one military leader at the Naples workshop took that responsibility seriously.

Currently, rhetorical support for the Women, Peace, and Security agenda still outpaces action in most militaries and defense departments. The most pressing requirement for WPS implementation is commitment within military and defense organizations and leadership. Leaders commit to implementation of WPS as they become aware of its power and recognize its benefits. It is up to the agenda’s supporters—men and women—to take every opportunity to promote the benefits of the agenda, supported by data. To assure widespread awareness, it is imperative that military leaders support including Women, Peace, and Security training into all military education as part of core curricula. Until then, advancement will remain beholden to the efforts of individuals.

*Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor and the Charles F. Bolden, Jr. Chair of Science, Space & Technology at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. She writes extensively on issues of military education, space security, and gender and security. The views represented in this post solely hers and do not represent the views of the U.S. Naval War College, the U.S.Navy, or the Department of Defense. @JohnsonFreese

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