AMBASSADOR RAO GUPTA: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Department of State. My name is Geeta Rao Gupta and I serve as ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues here in the State Department. It is my honor and privilege to kick off today’s event for the release of the Biden administration’s 2023 U.S. Strategy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.
I would like to offer a warm welcome to our extended WPS family gathered in the room today. Our colleagues in the diplomatic corps, members of Congress, civil society leaders, U.S. Government interagency colleagues – you are all critical to the advancement of the global WPS agenda, and I’m so pleased that you were able to join us today.
Last week, during the annual WPS open debate at the UN Security Council, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to implementing women, peace, and security as a priority of U.S. foreign policy. As the world grapples with the highest rate of conflict since World War II, ensuring women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all peace and security processes, especially in peace negotiations, is more critical than ever.
As our global community searches for ways to resolve the conflicts raging around us – Israel and Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan, Armenia, Afghanistan, DRC, just to name a few – each of which continues to disproportionately impact women and girls, I truly believe that the WPS agenda offers us a glimmer of hope. The agenda has tremendous power and potential to drive us towards sustainable peace for all.
Women’s participation before, during, and after conflict is critical to achieving lasting peace. The facts speak for themselves. Studies show that a peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years if women are involved. And I want to be clear: This is not because women are inherently peaceful or better at building peace than men, though maybe sometimes they are. (Laughter.) It is because we need diverse voices and perspectives in order to effectively address the root causes of violence and conflict. Women and girls, the LGBTQI+ community, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and other underrepresented groups that have historically been disenfranchised and oppressed have unique experiences and critical perspectives that are often ignored by those at the top of the patriarchal and power-holding ladder.
And frankly speaking, although we have built the necessary capacities and have more countries with WPS national action plans today than ever before, our previous U.S. women, peace, and security strategies have not realized their full potential. We have not yet succeeded in making women’s protection during conflicts and their meaningful participation in securing peace the norm. It is still the exception. There is much that remains, therefore, to be done. And the updated 2023 Strategy and National Action Plan on WPS gives us the opportunity to get things right, building on our past dedicated efforts to support civil society and government leaders on WPS initiatives.
With its deliberate participatory, locally driven, and evidence-informed approach, the 2023 strategy offers us a chance to fully realize the promise of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the potential of the WPS agenda. The development of this strategy has been truly a labor of love, and on behalf of the U.S. interagency partners who have tirelessly worked to implement WPS every day, we are excited to finally be able to share our new 2023 strategy and national action plan with you.
We cannot achieve the strategy’s objectives alone. A diverse coalition of champions must be mobilized to support its implementation. This includes national and local governments, parliaments, civil society leaders, international and multilateral organizations, the private sector, religious actors, and, of course, male allies and champions. We are very excited about our program today. I hope you will enjoy hearing the diversity of views and various perspectives that went into creating – into the creation of the 2023 strategy.
It is now my honor to welcome to the podium Director Jen Klein, assistant to the President and director of the Gender Policy Council. Jen has provided indispensable leadership on the WPS agenda during both her time at the global agenda policy council and during an entire career working on domestic and global agenda policy issues, including here at the State Department. Jen has represented the White House at all of our gender-focused strategy launch events at the department over the past year, and boy, have we been busy. (Laughter.) She joined us at the updated Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally in 2022, the first-ever U.S. Strategy for Global Women’s Economic Security earlier this year, and now it is my pleasure to welcome you, Director Klein, to the podium to speak about our updated Strategy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. (Applause.)
MS KLEIN: Thank you, Ambassador Rao Gupta, for that very warm introduction – I didn’t know that I had been at every single one; but of course, as I said to you back there, I do whatever you tell me to do – (laughter) – so that’s proof – and for your partnership.
I want to begin also by thanking Secretary Blinken for your leadership and for making the time to be with us today. Your presence here is testament to your commitment not only to addressing the impact of war and crisis on women, but also to recognizing the pivotal role they play in efforts to resolve conflict and achieve sustainable peace and security. Thank you.
And I’m grateful to be here with so many of you who have long worked to advance the rights and opportunities of women and girls in the United States and around the world. We know that the status of women and the stability of nations are inextricably linked, and that wherever the rights of women and girls are under threat, so too is democracy, peace, and stability. From Iran, where women are courageously demanding respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms in the face of oppression; to Ukraine, where we are once again seeing rape being used as a weapon of war in brutal – in Russia’s brutal and unjust war; to Afghanistan, where the Taliban persists in barring women and girls from attending school and fully participating in society.
But we also know that when women’s human rights are protected, and women of all kinds have the opportunity to participate and lead, societies are more secure and peace is longer-lasting. To quote my other favorite secretary of state, Secretary Clinton – (laughter) – “Women’s full participation is both a moral and a strategic imperative for U.S. foreign policy and national security.”
I want to take a moment to just highlight a few key actions that the Biden-Harris administration has already taken. We’ve made significant progress in addressing conflict-related sexual violence. In November 2022, President Biden signed a presidential memorandum directing the U.S. Government to use all existing tools to promote accountability for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence globally, including sanctions, visa eligibility, and security assistance. And in June 2023, we imposed sanctions for the first time against perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence in furtherance of this presidential memorandum.
We’ve also taken important steps to strengthen women’s meaningful participation in national security, defense, and political leadership. Just yesterday, the President signed an executive order taking a number of actions on artificial intelligence. That executive order takes on deepfakes and builds on the administration’s work to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence, which, as we all know, disproportionately impacts women and LGBTQI+ political and public figures, leaders, journalists, and activists, and can deter them from participation.
Second, the President and Vice President have made huge strides to eliminate obstacles to women’s military service and promote their safety, including by advancing historic military justice reform and expanding support for military survivors of gender-based violence through the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. And under the Biden-Harris administration, women commanders have risen to unprecedented levels, including the nomination of Admiral Lisa Franchetti, who will be the first woman to serve as the chief of naval operations and on the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Admiral Linda Fagan, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard’s first woman to hold the rank of four-star admiral and the first woman service chief of any U.S. military service.
Third, we’ve grown our support for women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention and resolution through the Women, Peace, and Security Incentive Fund, which invests in women’s leadership and empowerment to help break cycles of conflict and crisis, counter violent extremism, and build peace and stability. Since 2017 with support from USAID, that fund has provided more than $70 million in economic and development assistance for women in 17 countries.
Today on the 23rd anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the landmark resolution affirming the importance of women’s participation in peace and security efforts, we’re taking another important step to advance this strategic imperative through the release of the 2023 Women, Peace, and Security Strategy and National Action Plan. With valued partnerships – our valued partnerships with civil society, with women leaders, with other governments, with multilateral partners, and with all of you here today, that is what will make this strategy a reality.
And of course, the leadership and commitment of my good friend and our exceptional Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Thank you. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, everyone. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Welcome to the Ben Franklin Room.
We’ve now had several occasions to share a podium but also to share a commitment to women, peace, and security, and this day is an important day because it carries those efforts forward. But I really have to start by saying, first of all, yes, to my friend of so many years, Jen Klein, thank you for your exceptional leadership as our director at the White House Gender Policy Council. I’m so grateful to you for the collaboration that we have. And, of course, to our remarkable Ambassador-at-Large Geeta Rao Gupta, I knew you were going to hit the ground running, but it turned out to be a full sprint. (Laughter.) And we’re so grateful for that and for everything that you’re doing every day. And all of our partners who are here throughout the United States Government and throughout civil society, you’re all doing vital work to empower women and girls and to improve their communities and societies in the process.
Since day one, this administration has been working toward equality for women and girls in all of their diversity. Making sure that women across the globe are meaningfully included in efforts to build peace and maintain security is a critical part of that. And as we’ve heard, it was 23 years ago today that the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, recognizing the critical role that women can play in forging peace and security and in preventing and resolving conflict and crises.
Today, women’s equity, participation, and leadership are no less crucial for international peace and security. In fact, I would argue they’re even more crucial. When women’s rights are respected, we know societies are safer. They’re more stable. They’re more prosperous. Peacekeeping and security forces that include women can better build trust with the communities that they’re protecting. And the research shows this clearly: When women participate in negotiating peace agreements, those deals are 35 percent more likely to endure. So I really do have to say I think women may just be better at this. (Laughter.)
With President Biden’s leadership, we’ve invested in concrete efforts around the world to make real the commitment in Resolution 1325. Over the last year, the State Department has increased our own budget to provide more than $120 million to these initiatives. We’re supporting civil society and government leaders as they collaborate on women, peace, and security initiatives in countries from Kosovo to Colombia to Indonesia.
In Southeast Asia, we’re helping improve access to justice for women environmental defenders who’ve received violent threats because of the work that they’re doing. We’ve provided robust support to assist survivors of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated in Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. And as always, we’re honored by the presence of Ukraine’s remarkable ambassador to the United States. Oksana, it’s great to have you here today. Thank you. (Applause.)
All of this work has been guided by the 2019 U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security. And today, as you’ve heard, we’re releasing an updated strategy that will drive our work forward for years to come. We developed this framework together with our colleagues at the White House, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And their leaders are here with us today, reflecting that this is an all-of-government effort, it’s an all-of-government commitment.
The roadmap that we have also draws on quite literally decades of research and extensive input from more than 300 civil society experts from the United States but also from around the world, including a number of you who are here today. And I thank you, thank you, thank you for the incredible effort and for the incredible input.
At a time, as we all know, of ongoing conflicts, from Europe to the Levant to the Sahel, the heart of the Middle East, this strategy reaffirms the importance of increasing women’s meaningful participation in future peace processes and negotiations to effectively reduce violence, to effectively rebuild societies. Let me just quickly mention the five lines of effort that are at the heart of this strategy.
First, we will boost women’s leadership and participation in peace and security initiatives within the U.S. Government and also across the globe.
Second, we’ll defend and promote the human rights of women and girls and help prevent and address gender-based violence during conflicts and during other crises.
Third, we will do more to incorporate women’s views and voices as we provide relief after conflicts and after natural disasters, and we’ll make sure that our humanitarian assistance initiatives are more equitable and also more accessible.
Fourth, we will make U.S. foreign affairs and national security policies more inclusive by further integrating the perspective of women and girls into the decision-making process. We’ll also increase gender equality in our diplomacy, in our defense, and in our development workforces, something that we’ve been working on from day one of this administration.
Finally, we will deepen our collaboration with partners around the world, not just in government but also in academia and civil society, in multilateral organizations, the private sector, to strengthen gender equality in matters of peace and security.
And it’s important that we’ll pursue all of these goals by elevating local leaders, by combating historic and systemic inequities, by addressing the unique and overlapping forms of discrimination that are faced by women of color, women with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and other underserved and under-represented groups.
As we work to actually implement the strategy – because a strategy is only as good as its implementation – what we’re really counting on is this: We’re counting on virtually everyone in this room to continue your essential work. All of this has to go and flow together. And our hope is that you will continue to partner with us, indeed, to deepen and strengthen these partnerships. It simply doesn’t happen without all of us being in this together.
President Biden put it this way earlier this year: History tells us again and again when women are safe and free to – and treated like equal human beings, the whole world is better off. It’s as simple and as powerful as that. So by working together, I am convinced that we can actually build a better world. I am grateful to each and every one of you for the role that you’re playing in doing that.
Thank you for being here today. Thank you for the work ahead. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR RAO GUPTA: Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken, for those remarks, for your leadership, for being with us on the WPS agenda, and for making gender equality a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. And thank you so much, Director Klein. We’re grateful to you for the work that you do to integrate gender equality across all of the administration’s priorities domestically and internationally. We truly appreciate the Biden administration’s leadership in amplifying and elevating the voices of women and girls in areas of conflict and crisis to achieve a more equitable future for all.