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Diplomacy in Action

Leaning Forward: Gender Mainstreaming in the African Armed Forces

Patricia Haslach
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations
Special Plenary Luncheon During the Africa Center for Strategic Studies/AFRICOM Conference
Washington, DC
September 13, 2012


First, I want to thank AFRICOM and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies for inviting me to be part of this important workshop. It is a pleasure to be here and speak to you all about the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.

It‘s exciting to see the growing interest in women and peace. Though only 15 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize, I’m sure all of you can think of women you admire for their contributions in this arena.

Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah of Namibia, initiated UN Security Council Resolution 1325, passed unanimously in 2000. At the time, she was serving as her nation’s minister of women’s affairs. As you know, this landmark resolution calls for supporting the essential role played by women in all aspects of peace and security, recognizing their leadership in peacemaking, and ending sexual violence in conflict.

This cause has been near and dear to our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for many years. In 1997, as first lady, she co-founded the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative to promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy goal. She was instrumental in the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1888, one of the successors to Resolution 1325. As she puts it, “If half of the world’s population remains vulnerable to economic, political, legal, and social marginalization, our hope of advancing democracy and prosperity is in serious jeopardy. The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women’s rights in every country, on every continent.”

President Obama shares the Secretary’s commitment to promoting gender equality and women’s active political, economic, and civil society participation. His National Security Strategy states that “…countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries often lag behind.”

Reflecting this nation’s commitment to 1325, in December 2011 President Obama signed an executive order launching the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This plan provides a comprehensive roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the federal government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. The goal is as simple as it is profound: to empower half the world’s population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.

Achieving this goal is critical to our national and global security. The prospects for preventing deadly conflicts and forging sustainable peace will be much brighter when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention—when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard.

After the President issued the executive order, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said, “The fact that women have represented fewer than three percent of mediators and eight percent of negotiators to major peace processes since 1992 demonstrates that world leaders wage peace far too often with hands tied behind their backs.”

Ignoring half the people leads to partial and unsustainable peace that does not address the root causes of violence. A growing body of evidence shows that women offer unique contributions to making and keeping peace, and their contributions lead to better outcomes—not just for women, but for entire societies. Successful conflict prevention, management, resolution, and transformation strategies must not only include women, but also recognize the ways in which conflict affects them differently than men. Additionally, we must address women’s needs, interests, and roles in building a stable and peaceful society. “Around the world, the places that are the most dangerous for women also pose the greatest threats to international peace and security,” Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer testified before Congress in 2009. “The correlation is clear: where women are oppressed, governance is weak and extremism is more likely to take hold.”

The National Action Plan called upon several agencies—including the Department of State, USAID, and the Department of Defense—to develop detailed blueprints for putting the plan into action. Last month the Department of State unveiled its implementation plan. With leadership from Ambassador Verveer’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, the Department identified best practices and established commitments for each functional and regional office.

The National Action Plan contains five areas of focus, which we call “pillars:”

National Integration and Institutionalization: Through interagency coordination, policy development, enhanced professional training and education, and valuation, the United States Government will institutionalize a gender-responsive approach to its diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments.

Participation in Peace Processes and Decision-making: Supporting women as equal participants in conflict resolution, security policy development, and post-conflict reconstruction processes.

Protection from Violence: Protecting women and girls from violence and gender-based violence.

Conflict Prevention: Including women in conflict prevention and mitigation efforts and recognizing the linkages between the status of women and girls and stability of societies

Relief and Recovery: Women and children are particularly affected by conflicts, and as women are the primary caregivers in many families, their perspectives are crucial in ensuring that relief and recovery assistance addresses the entire population’s needs.

My organization, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), led the effort to implement the conflict-prevention pillar of the National Action Plan in the Department of State. CSO’s mission of breaking cycles of violent conflict and mitigating crises is closely linked with the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. It has become increasingly clear that gender inequality exacerbates conflict and reduces the potential for peace. As a result, CSO is committed to developing strategies that incorporate these two features: 1) Advancing of the status of women and girls, and 2) Increasing women’s participation in peace and security processes.

Around the world hundreds of millions of people are “silenced” by oppressive leaders and authoritarian governments. They are afraid to raise their voices publicly because they fear for their safety. Helping these people break through their fear would be a giant step forward for peace. CSO staff members—in Africa and elsewhere—are working hard to get out to places beyond the capitals to find emerging leaders and help them speak out. We believe that women represent a particularly large percentage of these untapped voices.

At CSO, gender mainstreaming is not an “add-on.” It is an integral component of our strategy in every country where we work. The core question in our gender mainstreaming efforts is this: How are men and women, boys and girls differently affected by the conflict because of their different roles, needs, responsibilities, and status? At the same time, CSO is committed to gender equality in operation of our own staff. For example, three of our four deputy undersecretaries are women.

In addition, our bureau has adopted a Gender Equality Policy. It institutionalizes our commitment to the National Action Plan. This policy makes every office within CSO responsible for advancing gender equality in all aspects of our work, from budget planning to designing in-country engagements.

Recently we created a Gender Working Group. It meets monthly to advance the Gender Equity Policy. The group, consisting of men and women, fosters discussion and creates tools to help each office, individual, and team mainstream gender considerations into their work.

I’d like to share a few examples to give you a flavor of this. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, CSO administrated the funds for a project training police to investigate sexual- and gender-based violence, built police stations in remote areas, and provided equipment enabling police to be more responsive. In South Sudan, we helped conduct a three-day media training session to empower women at the local political level.

Most recently, in Istanbul, we co-sponsored a transition planning workshop for 20 Syrian women, who discussed a vision for Syria focusing on health, education, economic development and civil society. Post-workshop proposals include a march with the theme "Yes to Peace, No to Revenge." One of the women, who had spent 11 years as a political prisoner, complimented the U.S. for efforts to develop women’s networks.

In Afghanistan, a CSO staff member has just completed a study on women serving in the Afghan National Police (ANP). In extensive interviews, she found that both male and female ANP believe that women are valuable assets to the ANP. Their service helps increase the effectiveness of the police, while still upholding Islamic values and protecting cultural and religious norms.

The police highlighted the ability of female ANP to search and speak directly with women. They were better suited to search individuals in burqas at checkpoints to ensure they were not male insurgents dressed as women. Some of those interviewed cited the value of sending female ANP to handle domestic violence.

Unfortunately, the women were not always accepted by the ANP men, who make up 99 percent of the ANP. One officer in eastern Afghanistan was reportedly forced by her commander to work in his house for two years cleaning, cooking, and caring for his children. Such resistance to equal treatment hurts recruitment and limits the effectiveness of those who end up on the force. We hope that studies like this one can shed light on gender problems and lead to improvement.

We are all gaining momentum and synergy on advancing Resolution 1325’s objectives. There are now 37 nations that have produced action plans to implement it. While there is much to be done in operationalizing 1325, this workshop is a superb example of international coordination and strong multi-lateral commitment to the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. I look forward to learning how your militaries are approaching gender mainstreaming. I also am eager to find ways for all our countries to collaborate on advancing women’s participation in peace and security. Thank you.

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