Seventeen years after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, the United States has taken an important step toward advancing the women, peace, and security agenda. On October 6, the United States enacted the Women, Peace, and Security Act. The law aims to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict by strengthening efforts to promote the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes.
Besides the United States, almost 70 other countries have installed national action plans to put the goals of Resolution 1325 into practice. Resolution 1325 established the women, peace, and security agenda in recognition that conflict impacts women differently than men and that women can make unique contributions to peace and security efforts in post-conflict situations. Resolution 1325 and the national action plans that have followed have stressed the need to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations.
Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the United Nations, the United States has taken certain steps to advance the women, peace, and security agenda. The Bush administration promoted the participation of women in the peace processes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while the Obama administration pushed the agenda further by issuing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security in 2011 and by requiring a government-wide strategy for women’s inclusion in peace efforts and decision-making in countries affected by conflict.
Now, the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which is the product of a rare bipartisan effort in Congress, reflects a recognition that women’s participation contributes to more durable peace agreements and more stable and peaceful societies. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said that “the benefits of women’s participation—and the risks of their exclusion—in all aspects of governance and peacemaking are too great to ignore.” Women can bring crucial perspectives and experiences, and broader societal interests are more likely to be taken into account when women are at the table. Accordingly, when women participate in peace processes, negotiations are more likely to result in sustainable peace agreements. According to UN Women, peace agreements are 64% less likely to fail when women and civil society participate in peace negotiations. Women’s participation also contributes to the long-term stability of countries and regions. Studies suggest that countries with higher levels of gender equality are less likely to suffer from conflict.
Despite this, women continue to be underrepresented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict peace building. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, fewer than 8% of negotiators and 5% of signatories to peace agreements are women. Women make up only 3% of UN military peacekeepers and 10% of UN police personnel. Further, 23% of all senior peace operations staff and 13% of Under-Secretaries-General are women.
The Women, Peace, and Security Act seeks to promote the women, peace, and security agenda primarily through three components: First, the president, in consultation with the heads of the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security and USAID, must develop a single government-wide strategy within a year and again after four years. The law requires the strategy to include specific and measurable goals, benchmarks, and monitoring and evaluation plans. Additionally, the strategy must include an implementation plan from each relevant agency that describes the agency’s anticipated contributions to the strategy, including technical, financial, and in-kind contributions.
Second, the Department of State, USAID, and Department of Defense must provide personnel in countries at risk of, undergoing, or emerging from violent conflict with training on conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution initiatives that specifically address meaningful participation by women.
Third and lastly, these agencies must provide a briefing to the appropriate congressional committees within a year after the strategy is submitted on training their agencies have carried out. The president must submit a report within two years after the strategy is submitted summarizing and evaluating the implementation of the strategy and the coordination among the relevant agencies in carrying out the strategy.
The law represents a landmark step in the area of women, peace, and security for the United States. As a bipartisan effort, the law enjoys broad-based support from individuals who are invested in its success. The law includes several key features that will advance U.S. interests and security and will strengthen the United States’ efforts to improve women’s participation in peace processes. By requiring a government-wide strategy that addresses specific policy objectives and sets forth benchmarks to measure effectiveness, the law ensures policy continuity across administrations on women, peace, and security. The law promotes accountability by putting the onus on leadership at the relevant agencies to fulfil obligations under the law. The administration and relevant agencies must report on how they are advancing the strategy and meeting measures of effectiveness, and Congress is provided an oversight role to ensure the executive branch fulfills its obligations.
While the law represents a significant step forward for the women, peace, and security agenda, the ultimate success of the law will depend on the first component of the act: creation of a sound strategy. To this end, it is important that the strategy address the distinct manner in which conflict impacts women. During conflict, women suffer from gender-based violence, as combatants use sexual violence and slavery as a tool of war. Gender-based violence during conflict is a gross human rights violation and it presents a security challenge for conflict-torn countries. Violence also presents a high cost to family units, society, and institutions. It contributes to weakened confidence in local and multilateral institutions where officials and peacekeepers are unable to prevent violence against women and girls and are, in some instances, perpetrating and facilitating violence themselves.
Therefore, the strategy should include initiatives to prevent violence against women and girls. The U.S. Government should train and support the inclusion and advancement of women peacekeepers. Major General Kristin Lund, the first woman to command a UN peacekeeping operation, described women’s participation in peacekeeping forces as a “force multiplier.” Women peacekeepers can access and serve greater segments of society than men. Women victims of gender-based violence might feel more comfortable approaching and accepting assistance from women peacekeepers. Further, increasing women peacekeepers might reduce violence committed by peacekeepers themselves, which is key to restoring trust in peacekeepers after instances of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeepers in several countries.
It is also important that the strategy promote women in leadership positions in government institutions and political and economic processes. An increase in the number of women legislators has been demonstrated to result in improvements in the enforcement of sexual violence laws after conflict. Women are more likely to strengthen laws on gender-based violence and improve victims’ access to services.
Finally, the strategy should stress collaboration and coordination with international, regional, national, and local organizations. Of vital importance is support for local women’s organizations in their efforts to increase the meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping. Local women’s organizations understand the needs of their societies more intimately than international, foreign, and even local government actors. Amplifying the voices of women in peace processes would advance the policy objectives of the law by recognizing that women play crucial roles in addressing the impact that conflict has on women and girls.