The Women, Peace and Security Act Guarantees Women a Seat at the Table

New legislation making its way to President Trump’s desk would guarantee women a seat at peace and security decision-making tables.

Karla Cote / Creative Commons

The Women, Peace and Security Act—passed by the Senate in August and the House in October—mandates that federal agencies make women’s participation a priority internally and in their work on-the-ground in conflict zones around the world. The legislation, which strengthens an Obama-era executive order on women’s participation in peace and security processes, gives Congress oversight of its implementation.

The WPS Act is five years in the making, but it has passed at a uniquely critical time. The Trump administration—one of the most male-dominated in modern history—has already shown a tendency to erase women from strategic frameworks related to peace and security. And around the world, while tensions rise, women remain vastly underrepresented at peace-making tables and in security forces.

Allison Peters, former Director of Policy and Security Programs at Inclusive Security and foreign policy and defense adviser in the U.S. Senate, penned an op-ed for USA Today presenting the comprehensive case for the historic legislation:

Critics might note that the U.S. is dealing with numerous foreign policy challenges and security threats and argue that focusing on women’s participation would be a “soft” distraction from these priorities. However, research shows us time and again that gender diverse groups are more likely to effectively prevent and resolve conflicts in the long-term.

Afghanistan is a strong example where the U.S. should learn from its mistakes. Back in 2001, U.S. and allied NATO forces put billions of dollars into stabilizing the country and assisting in reconstruction. But with little strategy at first for consulting with Afghan women and including them in decision-making, the rollout was an almost entirely all male affair.

Women were often left in homes while all-male circles of soldiers and tribal elders discussed their fate. Existing norms and stereotypes prevailed, and the men were hindered in their ability to gain access to a range of views in communities where terrorist groups and insurgents had embedded.

Women had a deep understanding of community needs and their participation in emerging government and security institutions is critical for long-term stability. But their contribution was initially left untapped.

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About

Carmen Rios is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. and has spent over a decade raising hell in feminist media. Her work has been published by outlets like the Atlantic's CityLab, BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Feministing, Girlboss, Mic, MEL and Everyday Feminism; and she also spent six years writing and editing for Autostraddle, was a founding blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement and was the inaugural managing editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen is additionally a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine.