We Can Make National Security Policy More Inclusive—Classroom by Classroom

Over the summer of 2017, New America, a non-partisan nonprofit focused on researching and innovating policy, surveyed roughly 750 international relations and security professors on their efforts to apply gender theory into their courses. The same survey was then adapted for students of similar concentrations to get a well-rounded understanding of where and why there is a missing link between gender and national security.

Their findings make clear that gender is not included in the teachings of security policy and international relations in practical and applicable terms—and that both professors and students want the studies of gender theory and security policy to be more intersectional and comprehensive.

Despite widespread acknowledgement that the inclusion of women in developing, making and disseminating national security policy is key to its success, gender remains a blind spot for many policymakers. In a previous study, New America polled key figures in the national security apparatus and found that the consideration of gender, both in the making and impact of policy, was virtually nonexistent amongst U.S. policymakers.

“Across generational and political lines,” they wrote, “we found that policymakers were overwhelmingly unaware of the role gender differences play in shaping policy outcomes, and of the theoretical and practical tools gender offers to help improve U.S. policy outcomes in unstable societies and conflict areas.” What’s worse, the majority of those polled didn’t think gender was a relevant factor to consider in peace policy and could not ascertain how gender correlated to such processes when questioned further.

Paradoxically, the belief that gender-inclusivity is important for effective policy-making was found to be present in almost all of the participants of the study, thanks in part to the adoption of United Nations Resolution 1325—which states that “equal participation and full involvement [of women] in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” The actual practice and implementation of this belief, however, is where legislators fall short.

One of the more obvious reasons for the failure of gender-mainstreaming is a lack of gender diversity in the ranks of peace-making and conflict resolution. “The make or break is having a woman at the decision-making table who asks, ‘what about women?’” one respondent noted. “A table of only men will never ask that question.” Other reasons include the clear and present gender bias of male policymakers, and the constraints they place on women colleagues to conform to stereotypical gender roles.

“The hard thing for women is having a child, having to take time off to raise that child,” one woman told researchers. “This is a quandary to me because you have a kid because you want to bring on the next generation. While I feel a woman, obviously, has a professional role to play, but on the other hand having a mother there to raise that child in the formative years is so important. The way our society is set up, women only have so much time to take off before getting back to work, so then kids are left in the hands of [workers at] daycares—the greatest gift you can give a kid is more of you.”

Uncertainty, both of how to get more voices included in policy discussions, as well as how to measure the implementation and impact of gendered differences in security policy, was the most commonly-cited reason for persistent gender imbalances. “There’s a difference between being a champion for gender and being supportive of gender issues,” one respondent observed. “No one disagrees gender is an important issue, but what are they actually doing to champion it?”

Although left open-ended in that study, New America is now one step closer to answering that question.



Tiernan Hebron is a Los Angeles-based activist and writer and an Editorial Intern at Ms. Her work has appeared in LA Magazine, ATTN, Feministing, Galore, Tribe de Mama, LadyClever, Elite Daily and Adolescent. Tiernan is a sexual and reproductive rights peer educator for Amnesty International and manages digital communications for DIGDEEP and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. You can find her being very opinionated on Instagram.