Recognizing the unique contributions of women to peace, Congress just enacted the Women, Peace and Security Act (WPS)—requiring the U.S. to take on a leading role globally and develop a comprehensive strategy for increasing and strengthening women’s involvement in conflict prevention and peace negotiations.
For the past several years, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) has led the Senate effort to codify women’s inclusion as a core, operationalized priority in U.S. foreign policy, peace negotiations and security. “I’m proud that this bipartisan effort will sustain the U.S. commitment to promoting greater female representation in conflict resolution and peace building,” Shaheen says. Cosponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce (R-Calif.) joined Shaheen in urging lawmakers to recognize gender as a crosscutting, fundamental component of conflict resolution and prevention.
The legislation comes in an era defined by rising extremism and global crises. Evidence is mounting that for lasting peace, women must take part. Research compiled by the International Peace Institute shows that a peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to remain in place for at least 15 years if women are included in its creation. When there’s been very little contribution from women, roughly half of all peace agreements collapse within 10 years. Since women are left to navigate war’s aftermath, they possess knowledge and experience that is essential to peace discussions. Women bear the brunt of war’s collateral damage, and as such, they seek more permanent resolutions.
The WPS Act builds on the 17year-old U.N. resolution 1325 and President Barack Obama’s 2011 executive order. The new law requires the inclusion of women in conflict negotiation, humanitarian response and post-war reconstruction—regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
Among other requirements, the president must submit to Congress a yearly strategy for women, peace and security. The president, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the secretaries of state and defense must present timely reporting on specific benchmarks and goals to relevant committees, departments and agencies.
The law offers guidance on its implementation by requiring training for diplomats, security personnel and development professionals on facilitating women’s participation in security initiatives, conflict resolution and protecting civilians from violence and exploitation. This governmentwide strategy will bring the U.S. into alignment with other nations already working to mandate gender as a lens through which policy is made and implemented.
In Rwanda, women played a pivotal role in facilitating the post-1994genocide reconstruction, which led to a 2003 constitutional amendment requiring gender equality as a legal framework. In Liberia during the country’s second civil war, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace negotiated agreements between warring factions, effectively leading postwar reconciliation efforts. Around the world—in countries like Sri Lanka, Colombia and Afghanistan—the empowerment of women has been and continues to be key to combating the threat of violent extremism and preventing the re-establishment of extremist rule.
And we see the difference that women’s participation makes here as well. Research shows women police in the U.S. are more effective at responding to violence against women, de-escalating violence and communicating with citizens.
The WPS Act, which recognizes women’s essential role in eradicating extremism and establishing civil societies, now positions the U.S. to broaden the involvement of women in safeguarding peace and building lasting security. As Sen. Capito notes: “When it comes to peacekeeping and mediation, it just makes sense for women to have a seat at the table. We are natural and effective problem-solvers.”