Earlier this month, leaders came together for the Fifth Capital-Level Meeting of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Focal Points Network, co-hosted by the United States and Romania. Our ambition was to highlight avenues to turn shared WPS commitments into action. From my vantage point at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), that means focusing on partnerships crucial for positive change in communities affected by violence, fragility, and conflict.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has identified the as one of the most significant multi-dimensional risk factors present in the majority of conflict-affected fragile contexts. Similarly, the has consistently found that high levels of inequality between men and women more than double a country’s chances of being a fragile state. The data also reveals that promoting more equitable laws, customs, and practices builds security, stability, governance, and economic growth – effectively improving outcomes for all.
There have been notable steps and many gains over the past two-plus decades in advancing WPS principles. These advances would not have been possible without the dedicated advocacy – and moral compass – of civil society, which serves as a vital source of policy analysis, critical perspectives, and essential partnerships. Just as importantly, civil society can also hold governments accountable for their commitments.
Around the world, women leaders and women-serving civil society organizations are risking their lives every day to defend democratic values, advance human rights, and build peace in their communities. It is imperative that we take to heart the priorities of local women leaders and take tangible steps to deepen meaningful partnerships with civil society.
For us in CSO, this matters a great deal as we advance implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) with our priority partner countries of Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea and the five countries within the Coastal West Africa region: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. The SPCPS aims to address the drivers of instability and conflict through long-term support to partner countries’ efforts to build resilience and forge a more peaceful future together.
From enhancing local gender-responsive early warning systems and community dialogue to strengthening human rights and economic inclusion, the SPCPS reflects an understanding that empowering women is a critical part of building sustainable peace in fragile regions. Advancing the WPS agenda is consequently woven into our innovative approaches for every country and region.
We have developed 10-year plans for each partner country and region under the SPCPS. These plans mark a commitment to more meaningful and deeper partnerships with local governments, civil society organizations, and international stakeholders. In effect, we aim to advance U.S. foreign policy by placing greater priority on participatory, locally driven solutions. For instance, we know from hard-learned lessons that it is essential to respect and support the agency of local actors, especially women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, who can drive change in their communities.
During my recent trip to Papua New Guinea, I met with local human rights advocates, women’s groups, and grassroots organizations. They detailed the vital frontline services organized within their communities, including those that aid survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and expand networks for women’s economic security in agriculture. This work is essential to improving gender equality in Papua New Guinea, which the UN Development Program ranks as having the in the world.
These groups relayed to me powerful stories of civil society leaders developing local solutions to meet the needs of women and to build more inclusive systems. And they do this despite having limited resources and opportunities to safely participate in the political, social, and economic sectors of society.
To me, this example highlights how important it is for policymakers to recognize, work with, and learn from community leaders and women-led organizations. Civil society groups in Papua New Guinea are playing a crucial role in identifying and responding to the needs of their communities and thereby advancing core WPS principles on the ground. We must work in tandem with them as we seek to ensure local ownership and foster long-term stability.
Overall, in each of the SPCPS partner countries, we are striving for a shared vision on how best to approach local challenges. We conducted hundreds of consultations to develop the 10-year plans, and we intend to continue this consultative approach to deepening our partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders as we implement the plans.
These partnerships with local civil society will drive tailored, tangible, on-the-ground solutions that we believe will have lasting effects. My CSO team and I are committed to playing our part, and we will continue to advance WPS principles in every way we can.
About the Author: Anne A. Witkowsky is the Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. She previously served in leadership positions in the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Policy, the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, and at the White House National Security Council.