Nel's New Day

October 6, 2017

Congress Supports Women–A Little

North Korea, hurricanes, mass shootings, anti-women and anti-LGBTQ rights’ bills and order—all these are the orders of the day during the past few weeks. Scouring the news, however, reveals the passage of the Women, Peace and Security Act, in both the House and Senate with voice votes and then signed by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) today.

For the first time, the U.S. is required to develop a strategy to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations and conflict prevention. The Department of Defense, State Department, and USAID are to strengthen the participation of women in peace and security processes along with post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.

The bill entered Congress five years ago because women have such a small part in conflict resolution. Only nine percent of negotiators at official peace talks were women between 1992 and 2011. Only five percent of police and military forces are women in many places throughout the world. In 2011, President Obama created a strategy on women’s participation in peace and security processes by executive order that was updated in 2016.  The order did not improve the situation much in the past six years: In 2015, only 3 percent of UN military peacekeepers and 10 percent of UN police personnel were women. DDT has nominated white men to almost all positions.

The new law not only requires that women’s participation be a priority in federal agencies but also mandates personnel for these agencies to train and consult with women in conflict areas. It also gives Congress the right to oversee that the law is enacted. The law requires the International Military Education and Training program, that brings foreign officers to U.S. military schools, to double the number of women in three years. Out of participants from 140 countries between 2011 and 2015, only seven percent were women. Also to be doubled is the number of female peacekeepers in five years and female participants in the State Department anti-terrorism training program within three years. Women must be at least ten percent of nominees for U.S.-funded police training programs around the world.

This new law may seem like a distraction to the various foreign policy challenges and security threats, but it does require gender diverse groups which can be better at preventing and resolving conflicts. In 2001, U.S. and allied NATO forces gave billions of dollars to stabilize the country and help to reconstruct it. Yet Afghan women had little involvement in decision-making, leaving procedures to men. Women stayed at home with no input into their fate as male soldiers and tribal elders determined what to do with them. Community needs, understood by women where terrorist groups and insurgents were embedded, were determined by men without any contribution by women.

How women move the world toward conflict resolution:

  • Syrian women have risked their lives to secure local ceasefires, mobilize campaigns for reconciliation, and open secret schools in ISIS-controlled territories.
  • Policewomen in Pakistan address grievances to rebuild trust with the civilian population.
  • Women in South Sudan are forming coalitions to resolve the conflict between government and opposition leaders.
  • Peace accords are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years if women take part in their development because women often bring up issues connected to causes of conflict and violence.

Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-NH), a founder of the bill, said:

“Women are disproportionally affected by violence and armed conflict around the world, yet far too often they are under-represented in the peace process. We know that when women are at the table in peace talks, conflict prevention, and conflict mediation, it increases the likelihood that these negotiations will succeed. Our legislation will help ensure that women have a meaningful role in security and peace around the world.”

According to research, female security forces are more likely than men to de-escalate tensions with excessive force. Women are better at providing a perception of a security force’s integrity. They can also get more information about security risks, and women are more likely to report gender-based violence to female personnel.

Congress has now passed the law, but DDT wants to slash the tiny budget for women, peace, and security efforts. This needs to be stopped. Other important steps forward are improved targets for all U.S.-offered training related to peace and security issues and outlines of specific steps to better use women’s skills and perspectives. Guidelines are necessary for recruitment, retention and outreach to involve women in prevention and peacebuilding efforts. Congress also needs to legislate the U.S. National Action Plan on women, peace, and security so that U.S. agencies are held accountable for the commitment shown in the Women, Peace and Security Act.

The law is a baby step, but it’s a start.

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