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. On International Women’s Day, we are proud to recognize the growing leadership of women in preventing and ending conflicts, as well as the long-term investments the U.S. government, notably the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), has contributed to this effort.
U.S. Leadership in Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)
The Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 established as U.S. policy the importance of promoting the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution. As the first law of its kind in the world, the WPS Act provided a new avenue to channel the U.S. historical commitment to women’s empowerment across efforts to address peace and security threats around the world. The United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, released in June 2019, and the corollary Department of State Plan to Implement the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, released in June 2020, were developed in support of the WPS Act. It also provides further strategic direction to the U.S. commitment to advance women’s roles in peace and security.
Implementation of WPS Goals and Objectives
Working in partnership with the Department of Defense, PM advances the implementation of the goals and objectives outlined in the U.S. Strategy on WPS. Our work includes accelerating 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. PM’s programs, events, and activities focus on the political-military aspects of the Department’s specific commitments to the Strategy.
Contributions to WPS
The State Department has long recognized the positive impact of expanding meaningful opportunities for women to build strong diplomatic and defense partnerships worldwide. These long-term investments in WPS are made through PM’s management of the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), International Military Education and Training (IMET), the Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP), and Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) programs.
The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI)
The State Department manages GPOI, the world’s largest peace operations capacity-building program. GPOI’s training, equipment, and facilities construction activities with 55 partner countries enable them to contribute military and police units to United Nations (UN) and African Union peacekeeping missions. Implemented in concert with the Department of Defense, GPOI encourages women’s participation and leadership in peace operations, trains women peacekeepers, and integrates gender-related topics, such as preventing gender-based violence, into training for all peacekeepers. GPOI also conducts courses specifically focused on gender and women’s participation in peace operations.
Our investments have led to immense dividends. Since 2007, PM has trained more than 10,000 women peacekeepers; and in the past ten years, GPOI partners have increased the number of deployed female military peacekeepers by 109 percent, compared to a 38 percent increase among non-GPOI countries. GPOI also focuses on gender-inclusive facility upgrades, including accommodations, bathrooms, and showers at peace operations training centers. Additionally, GPOI conceived and funded a first-of-its-kind joint U.S.–UN training course for deploying units of National Investigation Officers (NIO). NIOs investigate misconduct with a focus on sexual exploitation and abuse. In 2018 – 2019, seven regional NIO courses were conducted, training over 170 students from 36 countries in the Africa, Latin America, and Indo-Pacific regions.
International Military Education Training (IMET)
The PM-managed IMET program supports foreign military personnel from 135 countries to attend professional military education courses at DoD schools alongside U.S. counterparts. This initiative helps to professionalize forces and develop leaders, deepen security partnerships, enhance the ties among U.S. and foreign partner personnel, and enhance mission efficacy. All Security Cooperation Officers working at U.S. embassies are encouraged to include women candidates for IMET-funded courses in at least the same percentage as they are present in their host country’s military. This encouragement has resulted in providing training to approximately 1,783 women over the past four years.
Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP)
Through GDRP, PM aims to enhance security sector governance, institutional capacity, and resilience of U.S. partner nations while advancing U.S. foreign policy priorities, including Women, Peace, and Security efforts. GDRP currently collaborates with more than 18 nations, including Brazil where GDRP engages senior defense officials through events at the Superior War College conducted in partnership with the U.S. National Defense University (NDU). On International Women’s Day 2021, GDRP and NDU co-hosted a WPS seminar with the Government of Brazil to examine how the involvement of women as leaders and decision makers in defense and security policy improves tactical and strategic outcomes. Additionally, the hosts aimed to develop recommendations for increasing women’s engagement on peace and security issues in Brazil.
In Kosovo, the GDRP Legislative Coordination project assisted the Kosovo Ministry of Defense in appointing its first Legislative Liaison Officer (LLO), a female Captain in the Kosovo Army. The LLO works to improve the coordination between the Ministry of Defense and the General Assembly. Acting President Osmani has hailed the appointment of a woman to the LLO position as a symbol of the country’s commitment to enhancing the empowerment of women in the security sector.
Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD)
Around the world, PM is also supporting women who are leading in a key aspect of post-conflict stabilization: they survey and clear landmines, improvised explosive devices, and other deadly hazards left behind in their communities. These operations not only save lives but allow for humanitarian aid deliveries, reconstruction, and economic development essential to post-conflict recovery. PM funds and manages CWD programs implemented by various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), through which women work as deminers or are employed to deliver mine risk education to affected communities. Since 2014, PM has funded all-female demining teams in Tajikistan, and a dozen all-female demining teams in Sri Lanka. In Cambodia, where three decades of armed conflict left the country littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance that limit access to farmland and development for communities, PM supports all-female teams of deminers in partnership with the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid. These all-women teams currently are surveying six million square meters in priority villages to identify hazard areas.
WPS United Nations Event in Hanoi
To share lessons learned, understand best practices, and advance WPS principles, the United States joined dozens of nations at the December 2020 Vietnam-UN co-hosted WPS Conference. The legitimacy of WPS principles had the effect of cementing formal commitments from nations to support the promotion of women’s roles in peace and security. WPS principles will continue to have the effect of strengthening bilateral relations, as we collectively advocate for women’s safety, access, and leadership on peace and security issues.
Why WPS Matters to the American People
I am proud to represent the State Department and its myriad efforts to implement the WPS agenda globally. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to a foreign policy that serves Americans, represents our diversity, and reflects our values. Our efforts to empower women across security initiatives has the effect of promoting peace and stability abroad, which serves the interest of all Americans. When our partnerships focus on elevating the perspectives and skill sets of women around the world, the world and the United States become safer and more secure.
About the Author: Timothy Betts serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.