Studies show the meaningful participation of women in peace operations and conflict resolution, especially in leadership positions, makes for stronger, more effective peacebuilding. With the signing of the 2017 Women, Peace, and Security Act, President Trump and this Administration underscored its firm support for the comprehensive integration of women into conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, justice, and disaster recovery efforts worldwide. It also emphasized that the protection of women and girls from violence is critical to their meaningful participation in promoting security.
As International Women’s History Month draws to a close, we are proud to recognize the growing leadership of women in preventing and ending conflicts. We are also proud to recognize the long-term investments the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) is contributing to this effort through the Global Peace Operations Initiative, International Military Education and Training, and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs.
U.S. Leadership In Women, Peace, And Security
Both the U.S. National Security Strategy and the State-USAID Joint Strategic Plan assert women’s important roles in achieving U.S. peace and prosperity goals. In 2017, President Trump went a step further when he signed the Act, making the United States the first government in the world with a comprehensive law requiring a government-wide strategy to promote the participation of women in overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution, as well as post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.
In 2019, the Administration released the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS), an interagency plan directing the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security as well as USAID to outline the Administration’s objectives for promoting women’s empowerment and safety in areas tailored to each unique mission set. At the Department of State, we are modernizing foreign assistance, developing new tools, and updating training to develop the policies we need to be more effective at promoting women, peace, and security objectives into our daily work. Specifically, we are taking efforts to ensure we:
- Increase women’s meaningful participation in political, civic, and military processes to prevent and resolve conflicts, prepare for disasters, and set conditions for stability during post conflict and post-crisis efforts;
- Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights, access to aid, and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world; and
- Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.
The WPS Strategy aligns with the National Security Strategy, highlighting these efforts as crucial to improving women’s security and overall national security. The United States is leading by example by providing a strong foundation and durable commitments to empowering women globally.
PM Bureau Contributions To Women, Peace, And Security
The PM Bureau has long recognized the positive impact of expanding meaningful opportunities for women to building strong diplomatic and defense partnerships worldwide.
Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI)
Under GPOI, we manage the world’s largest peace operations capacity-building program. We partner with 55 countries that contribute personnel to United Nations (UN) and African Union peacekeeping missions.
GPOI has long encouraged women’s participation and leadership in peace operations; trained women peacekeepers; and integrated gender-related topics (such as preventing gender-based violence) into training for all peacekeepers. Since 2007, we have trained more than 9,800 women peacekeepers. Since 2010, GPOI partners have increased the number of deployed female military peacekeepers by 117%, as compared with non-GPOI partners, who increased their numbers by 34%. GPOI also works to remove barriers to women’s participation in training through gender-inclusive facility upgrades, including accommodations, bathrooms, and showers at partners’ peace operations training centers.
Through GPOI, we also work to ensure that the UN addresses failures to protect civilian populations or, worse, when peacekeepers sexually exploit or abuse the very populations they are deployed to protect. We assert that the UN and peacekeeping contributors must reinforce their commitment to uphold a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse. To support this effort, in 2018, we worked with the UN to fund and coordinate the first joint U.S.-UN National Investigation Officer (NIO) course to train the officers who investigate conduct and discipline issues, including allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military personnel serving with a UN peacekeeping operation. We continue our support for the NIO course, with seven iterations conducted over the last two years, including participants from 33 countries in the Africa, Latin America, and Indo-Pacific regions.
International Military Education and Training (IMET)
The PM Bureau manages the IMET program, which provides opportunities for foreign military personnel from 135 countries to receive professional military education at U.S. defense institutions alongside U.S. counterparts to build expertise, interoperability, and people-to-people ties that deepen security partnerships and enhance mission effectiveness. All Security Cooperation Officers working at U.S. embassies and missions overseas are encouraged to include qualified women candidates for IMET programs in at least the same percentage as they are present in their country’s military. This focus resulted in the Department providing education and training to approximately 1,783 women between fiscal years 2015 through 2019.
Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD)
Around the world, women are also leading in a key aspect of post-conflict stabilization: surveying and clearing landmines, improvised explosive devices, and other deadly hazards left behind in their communities. These operations not only save lives but allow for the humanitarian aid deliveries, reconstruction, and economic development essential to post-conflict recovery.
The PM Bureau funds CWD programs around the world that are implemented by various non-government organizations, through which women work as deminers or are employed to deliver mine risk education to affected communities. For example, we have funded all-female demining teams in Tajikistan since 2014 and a dozen all-female demining teams in Sri Lanka for nearly a decade.
Women in conflict-affected regions have achieved significant success in stabilizing societies by enhancing the effectiveness of security services, peacekeeping efforts, institutions, and decision-making processes. A long road remains ahead, however, as women are still under-represented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict peacebuilding efforts. Additionally, the PM Bureau created two new programs, the Global Defense Reform Program and the Security Force Professionalization Program, representing two prospects to further expand our contributions to efforts to promote WPS objectives. Initiative such as these ensure that the United States continues to be a global leader in our commitment to promoting women’s representation and participation in international peace and security.
WPS Advocacy on Behalf of the United States and the World
As a strong advocate of WPS principles, I will ensure our Bureau continues to make strides in our global efforts to improve the security of women in conflict zones and open opportunities for women to participate in their security institutions in leadership positions It was a proud moment this past autumn to represent the United States at the largest WPS event at the UN General Assembly, known as the Focal Points Network. Speaking before global WPS leadership, I presented the U.S. Strategy and underscored the importance of holding no tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. Later in the year during U.S. presidency of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Kelly Craft invited me to speak at a High-Level Event on peacekeeping to further emphasize our zero-tolerance efforts and strongly urge all troop- and police-contributing countries to enforce a similar zero-tolerance policy. As someone who trained and worked with peacekeepers during my military service, the strive to succeed in these efforts is personal and greatly bolstered by the State Department and interagency colleagues all marching forward to further enable the empowerment of women in peace and security.
About the Author: R. Clarke Cooper serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.