There is no lasting peace and security without continuous and meaningful participation of women in every facet of society: from political and economic leadership, to providing for its defense. For this reason, a key element of my work as the U.S. Department of State’s Civilian Deputy to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is promoting Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) initiatives as a cornerstone to our mission of furthering robust security partnerships across the Americas. Our U.S. embassies and missions in the region work with the U.S. Department of Defense to achieve this goal through several types of U.S. security sector assistance programs, from military training and educational exchanges to capacity building programs that help partners contribute to international peacekeeping operations.
U.S. Leadership in Women, Peace, and Security
As featured on SOUTHCOM’s Breaking Barriers podcast series, a growing body of evidence shows that the meaningful participation of women in peace operations and conflict resolution, especially in leadership positions, makes for stronger, more effective peacebuilding. Women bring different life experiences and perspectives to meeting emerging security challenges. Their insights are extraordinarily valuable, and they are in an ideal position to encourage and empower other women to follow in their footsteps.
The Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 established the importance of promoting the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution as a U.S. policy priority. As the first comprehensive law of its kind, the WPS Act provided a new avenue to channel the U.S. historical commitment to women’s empowerment in all efforts that address peace and security threats around the world. WPS initiatives accelerate the mainstreaming of women’s participation and gender perspectives – especially at leadership and decision-making levels – within the security institutions of U.S. partner nations.
Uruguay: U.S. Security Cooperation Furthers Women, Peace, and Security Goals
I recently traveled with SOUTHCOM’s Commander Admiral Craig Faller to Uruguay, a country at the forefront of incorporating WPS initiatives. On this visit, we highlighted our strong bilateral relationship and partnership in confronting the COVID pandemic, as well as our cooperation on peacekeeping and training.
One engagement that stands out for me from our visit was a roundtable discussion with members of Uruguay’s military that have received professional military education in the United States. This training was facilitated under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which is managed by the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM). It was inspiring to see so many Uruguayan women military leaders making important contributions to their country’s defense sector and to international peacekeeping operations.
Women comprise 11 percent of the Uruguayan military, serving across its Army, Navy, and Air Force. From 2015 to 2019, Uruguay had 299 IMET participants; 39 of whom were women. It is our hope that women continue to be nominated and selected to participate in IMET and special programs throughout all our partner countries and encourage leaders to continue efforts to nominate more women.
Uruguay is also a regional leader in peacekeeping and currently deploys 88 women peacekeepers to UN peace operations. As a long-standing partner in the U.S. Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), Uruguay and the United States have cooperated to promote gender integration in peace operations. For example, Uruguay provided instructors in GPOI-funded WPS mobile training team. Additionally, they hosted and participated in a joint U.S.-UN multilateral training course designed to train national investigation officers to investigate allegations of misconduct against peacekeepers in UN peace operations. These forms of misconduct include allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. GPOI is another capacity building program managed by PM in cooperation with the Department of Defense, working to strengthen international capacity and capabilities to implement United Nations and regional peacekeeping operations. A key objective of the program is to expand the role of women and enhance gender integration in peace operations.
In addition to our bilateral security partnership, Uruguay has also proven a WPS trailblazer internationally. In 2019, Uruguay was among the founding ten countries for the Canadian/UN Women Elsie Initiative Fund to promote the participation of women in peacekeeping operation (PKO) missions. The Elsie Initiative is an innovative, multilateral pilot project that works to develop, apply, and test a combination of approaches to help overcome barriers to increasing women’s meaningful participation in peace operations, such as cultural perceptions or norms.
In 2020, the Uruguayan Army achieved a great milestone by promoting its first woman to command a basic combat unit. Lieutenant Colonel Lorena Cardozo became chief of the 8th Armored Cavalry Regiment, located in Cerro Largo department. Following the promotion of Lieutenant Colonel Cardozo, the Uruguayan Ministry of Defense reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing policies of equality and respect for women’s rights and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination.
El Salvador: U.S. Peacekeeping Capacity Building Partnership
El Salvador is a leader and role model to many other countries seeking to step up to the challenge of international peacekeeping. With support from GPOI and SOUTHCOM, El Salvador emphasizes the meaningful participation of women in key positions, consistently deploying the only female attack helicopter pilots in the country’s contingent of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
As a country with armed conflict in its own past, El Salvador appreciates the importance of international peacekeeping. Today, El Salvador is doing its part to help other countries around the world on the path to peace. The United States is proud to partner with El Salvador and other GPOI partner countries to meet the growing global demand for trained peacekeeping personnel.
Brazil: Enduring Challenges for Women in Peacekeeping
Brazil is another leader in peacekeeping operations among our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. Brazil has a long history of contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. For example, Brazilian troops have served in ten UN missions globally in locations as diverse as Darfur, Cyprus, Lebanon, and Haiti. Additionally, there has been an increasing number of Brazilian women deployed to UN missions. Brazil also provided the backbone of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. Its troops were present for the duration of the mission between 2004-2017.
Recently, I spoke with Brazilian Lt. Col. Ivana Mara who participated in MINUSTAH in 2013 and 2017. She noted that while the number of women participating in peacekeeping operations has improved, women still constitute only about six percent of uniformed personnel in deployed UN missions.
The integration of a greater number of women peacekeepers can strengthen the effectiveness of peace operations in several ways. These include helping address the needs of women ex-combatants during the process of demobilization and reintegration into civilian life, interviewing survivors of gender-based violence, and making the peacekeeping force more approachable to the entire population. In addition, when peacekeepers apply a gender perspective, they can gain a better understanding of local women’s concerns and needs. Women peacekeepers improve overall peacekeeping performance, have greater access to communities, help in promoting human rights and the protection of civilians, and encourage women to become a meaningful part of peace and political processes.
The United States is proud to be the world’s largest financial supporter of international peacekeeping and to have the opportunity to collaborate with champions worldwide like Uruguay, El Salvador, and Brazil. These countries, among many others, continue to build a network of trusted partners to advocate for peace and conflict resolution. At SOUTHCOM, we are committed to promoting structural changes that lead to a more secure and resilient Western Hemisphere for all.
About the Author: Ambassador Jean Manes serves as the Civilian Deputy to the Commander at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). On May 26, 2021, Ambassador Manes was also appointed as Chargé d’ affaires ad interim to the Republic of El Salvador, where she previously served as Chief of Mission from 2016 to 2019.