“Women, Peace and Security” initiatives are national security initiatives

This blog post is an edited version of the “Introduction to WPS” remarks CERL Senior Fellow Alexandra A.K. Meise made to open CERL’s February 11 symposium, National Security as a Feminist Issue: Twenty Years of Women, Peace, and Security Initiatives.

Welcome to today’s symposium, “National Security as a Feminist Issue: Twenty Years of Women, Peace, and Security Initiatives.” In recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 1325’s impending twentieth anniversary, our program today seeks to introduce participants to Women, Peace, and Security (“WPS”) initiatives and explore how far the global community has come towards realizing the Resolution’s goals.

As we’ve been planning this program over the last few months, I’ve lost count of the number of times mention of Women, Peace, and Security (“WPS”) has been met with eye rolls, presumptions that WPS is only another word for “diversity,” and questions whether WPS means making women register for the Draft. Rarely do people respond in a way that connects WPS to national security strategy. I’ve gone so far as to joke about getting a T-shirt made that says “WPS Is a Thing” in big letters.

Defining “National Security”

These conversations are a reminder that “national security” has nearly as many meanings as there are people defining it. In the United States, when many people think of “national security” they think of the military and “hard security” aspects of U.S. defense policy, including the use of force. Even though women have defended the United States since its inception and are on the frontlines of peace-building and peace-keeping not only in the United States but around the world, many are unlikely to include women in that hard national security picture. They question how “Women, Peace, and Security” fits into their hard national security strategy paradigm. We challenge that limitation in this symposium.

While our military and hard security endeavors might be the most visual displays of our national security might, decades of experience show that preventing and resolving conflict and maintaining peace requires strategies on, and resources for, development and diplomacy in addition to traditional “hard” defense. As Gen. Mattis said in his 2013 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” And as more than 120 retired generals and admirals wrote in response to threats in 2017 to slash the U.S. foreign aid budget, “The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism—lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”

These military leaders recognize there are at least three “Ds” of national security: defense, diplomacy, and development. Women play extremely important roles in all three and are essential to their success. For example, diplomatic negotiators have recognized there is a correlation between women’s involvement in peace processes and the sustainability of the resulting peace. Research also shows investing in women reduces poverty, increases local economic activity, and improves child health. Metrics of gender equity are used by diplomats, aid workers, and defense analysts because gender equity is a recognized indicator of a nation’s “peacefulness,” and gender inequality in a society can be an indicator of potential conflict.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflict and are particularly vulnerable in periods of violent conflict and humanitarian crisis. Violence can be used to maintain male-dominated social structures. Instability and conflict can be threat multipliers, exacerbating existing gender inequities that already make women and girls vulnerable in unequal societies. These situations have long-term effects on everyone in society. As we see a rise in irregular warfare and Grey Zone conflicts, more civilian populations are pulled into the fog of war. Even if women are not on the front lines of conflict, they are on the frontlines of its aftermath, picking up the pieces of the broken streets, broken communities, and broken families left behind.

What is the “WPS Agenda”?

National security issues affect men, women, and children differently, and the failure to consider the differing effects can lead to flawed security policies. The UN Security Council implicitly acknowledged this when it unanimously passed Resolution 1325 in 2000, putting the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda on the international stage. The Resolution recognized the special role that women play in the prevention and resolution of conflict and in maintaining the peace while acknowledging their particular vulnerabilities in times of conflict. As stated in the Resolution’s Preamble:

Understanding … the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, effective institutional arrangements to guarantee their protection and full participation in the peace process can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security[.]

The Resolution was groundbreaking. Rather than frame women only as those “affected” by conflict, Resolution 1325 and its progeny recognize that women transcend “victim” labels and can be changemakers. Indeed, the resolutions seek to change the vocabulary of conflict prevention and resolution and empower women as active participants and decision-makers in the global order. As described by the UN’s Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women:

The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

In pursuit of these goals, all of the Resolution’s mandates relate to one of “four pillars” concerning women’s roles in the prevention and resolution of conflict:

Participation: Increasing women’s participation at all levels of decision-making in domestic and international institutions and conflict resolution efforts.

Protection: Protecting individuals from sexual and gender-based violence.

Prevention: Promoting and strengthening women’s legal rights, increasing accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence, and supporting law enforcement efforts to prevent sexual violence, including through domestic and international prosecutions for sexual violence.

Relief and Recovery: Advancing the ability of decision- and policy- makers to address crisis relief and recovery measures through a gendered lens.

The Security Council has passed 10 additional resolutions supporting these pillars since the Resolution’s passage in 2000. The “progeny” resolutions build on their predecessors and have been instrumental in shaping international and domestic conversations about improving human security. For example, they have:

  • Recognized rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war;
  • Called for expanded women’s leadership in post-conflict peace processes;
  • Called for an end to sexual violence in armed conflict and additional measures to end impunity for its perpetrators;
  • Underscored that men and boys are also victims of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict settings, detention settings, and in armed groups and affirmed the need to enlist them “in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women”;
  • Recognized that the enlistment of men and boys in these efforts is, along with women’s empowerment and gender equality, “central to long-term efforts to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations”;
  • Called for integrating counterterrorism and countering-violent extremism activities into national WPS agendas; and
  • Promoted efforts to collect more gender-sensitive research data to develop evidence-driven, targeted WPS programming. (2242)

Like the Beijing Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women that inspired it, much of the language of the WPS resolutions is aspirational in tone. But the Agenda resolutions are backstopped by international law frameworks, including the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, the latter of which expressly recognized sexual violence as an international crime punishable by imprisonment.

National Action Plans (“NAPs”)

Collectively, Resolution 1325 and its progeny constitute the “WPS Agenda” and have been instrumental in advancing gender equality efforts worldwide. The Agenda has elevated the conversations about women’s engagement in security roles as decision-makers empowered to take action and advance peace. It has also helped to create a new vocabulary for conversation and domestic policymaking. We see this vocabulary reflected in National Action Plans (NAPs), which States that commit to the WPS Agenda agree to develop to implement the Agenda.

Women are not a monolith, and neither are the National Action Plans. Different societies are at different stages of development and stability, and they have different security priorities reflecting their varied experiences. National Action Plans offer the flexibility for States to tailor their plans within the confines of international law and the spirit of the WPS Agenda while also recognizing such differences.

The number of WPS-committed States keeps growing. As of January 2020, 83 countries have adopted a National Action Plan in furtherance of Resolution 1325 and another nine have said they expect to develop their NAPs before October 2020.

United States Progress on WPS

The United States was late to the WPS table. Domestic implementation of Resolution 1325 initially faced significant hurdles, including Congressional concerns that implementation could allow the United Nations to infringe upon U.S. sovereignty. Nevertheless, the United States named its first Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, in 2009. After some additional years of Congressional obstinance on advancing WPS, in 2011 President Obama issued Executive Order 13595 instituting a U.S. National Action Plan. This NAP was formally updated in 2016. To solidify WPS’s place in long-term U.S. policy, in 2017 a bipartisan Congress passed—and President Trump signed—the Women, Peace, and Security Act. This made the United States the first country to codify the WPS Agenda into domestic law. The Act lays out timelines for the president, government agencies, and the Department of Defense to identify plans for WPS implementation, train their personnel on WPS, and ensure women’s participation in security efforts. In June 2019, President Trump issued a United States Strategy on WPS, which superseded the 2016 NAP.

What Now?

Against this backdrop, the first panel of today’s symposium brings together experts from numerous security stakeholders: government, military, academia, civil society, and think tanks. It addresses WPS initiatives in the United States, engaging in a status-check on the implementation and realization of the U.S. National WPS Action Plan, the 2019 U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, and recent U.S. WPS legislation.

But WPS is a global issue, and there is a great deal of variation as to how these issues have been approached and implemented around the world. Our second panel, moderated by Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, addresses international efforts to further Resolution 1325’s goals, reflecting on core recommendations of the 2015 UN study on the Resolution’s implementation and comparative global progress. The expert panelists will contribute a much needed on-the-ground perspective on implementation achievements and obstacles. In so doing they will discuss how countries like South Sudan are working to support victims of sexual violence and include women in peace-sustainability efforts.

Today’s symposium concludes with a keynote fireside chat with Michèle Flournoy. She is the former Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense and a leader in the national security space who has worked to promote gender equality and women’s participation in military and civilian national security positions at home and abroad. During her time in that position, the United States was debating the formulation of the U.S. National Action Plan and how to further integrate women into civilian and military national security operations.

These discussions of WPS initiatives could not be more timely. Just this week the White House announced its proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which included a 21% cut to foreign aid at a time when the number of armed conflicts in the world continues to grow and extremism is on the rise. As the United States and other countries plan their national security strategies to address these security challenges, they will need to consider how best to spend finite resources. Realizing WPS commitments can be a valuable part of that strategy.

To that end, as we are convening today in Philadelphia, I draw upon the words Abigail Adams used to caution her husband in 1776: “Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” I hope today’s discussions will increase awareness of the WPS Agenda and further the growing consensus that national security resources spent on women will secure future peace and security for all.

Thank you.

Alexandra A.K. Meise is a senior fellow at CERL. She teaches international human rights law at Georgetown University Law Center and is a non-resident fellow at the Center on Sustainable Investment (a Joint Center of Columbia Law School and The Earth Institute at Columbia University).

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