Exclusive: U.S. Acts on Women, Peace and Security
A new action plan opens far-reaching possibilities to improve the security of women and the world. With some caution, women’s peace advocates plan to monitor its implementation.
The National Action Plan On Women, Peace and Security (NAP) issued by President Obama shortly before the end of last year has the potential of being a significant step forward in addressing the impact of military conflict on women and the necessity of women’s participation in conflict resolution. In response to a UN resolution, it provides a plan for the U.S. government to implement, “a gender responsive approach to its diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments” by mandating:
- Women’s participation in peace negotiations.
- Increased efforts to protect “women and children from harm, exploitation, discrimination, and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, and to hold perpetrators accountable in conflict-affected environments.”
- Increased efforts to promote women’s roles in conflict prevention.
- Post-conflict aid and recovery efforts that address the specific needs of women and children.
The order provides a blueprint for strengthened support and implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) and other resolutions concerning the effect of conflict on women and their role in peacemaking and recovery. The potential consequence of the National Action Plan order is huge, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in an address at Georgetown University:
This is not just a woman’s issue. It cannot be relegated to the margins of international affairs. It truly does cut to the heart of our national security and the security of people everywhere, because the sad fact is that the way the international community tries to build peace and security today just isn’t getting the job done. Dozens of active conflicts are raging around the world, undermining regional and global stability, and ravaging entire populations. And more than half of all peace agreements fail within five years. At the same time, women are too often excluded from both the negotiations that make peace and the institutions that maintain it.
The U.S. Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), one of the organizations that played a significant role in helping to define issues that needed to be addressed in the NAP, held civil society consultations in five cities with the Department of State, Office of Women’s Global Issues, resulting in a report identifying key topics that needed to be addressed, such as “immigration, refugee and asylum policies, and… the specific challenges of women serving in the military.” In a statement, WILPF expressed cautious optimism about the potential of the NAP:
As key advocates of women peace and security have argued, SCR 1325 must not be used merely as a tool to make war safe for women, but rather must serve to fully engage women in all aspects of building and securing sustainable peace.
Much of the National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security focuses on steps the U.S. will take to ensure gender sensitivity and equity in conflict-affected areas. This emphasis does nothing to address the insecurity experienced by women in the U.S. or disrupt the bloated military budget, which many feel drives U.S. foreign policy toward armed conflict rather than diplomacy or development. Most important, the U.S. NAP must honor the intention of SCR 1325 to prevent conflict. To use SCR 1325 as a justification for engaging more women in war, or to make war safer for women, is to misuse it.
Another organization that focuses on women’s involvement in peacemaking, The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, bluntly cautioned about the need to make sure that the NAP is not rendered ineffectual by political posturing and bureaucratic processes:
As the process takes shape we hope that bureaucratic markers of progress do not impede or replace actual progress and practice in crisis contexts. We look forward to seeing the U.S. NAP come to life vis-à-vis U.S. engagement in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, across Africa, Asia, Latin America and beyond.
We also offer one poignant thought: Where would we be, if such a plan had been adopted and implemented for the past decade? How many lives could have been saved? What lost opportunities for peacemaking could have been salvaged? This plan must be put into action immediately. In the next decade, its current promise must turn into reality.
There are other reasons to be somewhat guarded in being optimistic about the NAP. As I pointed out on the Feminist Peace Network blog:
It is worth noting that the U.S. does not consider itself subject to the International Criminal Court, which has the power to prosecute rape and sexual assault as a war crime, yet, it was very supportive of the ICC’s charges of rape by Libyan forces prior to the overthrow of Qaddafi, despite the fact that neither Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch could substantiate the charges.
And in an editorial in early January, The Boston Globe pointed out that the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) “sends the world a mixed message about where America stands on women’s rights.”
The National Action Plan On Women, Peace and Security offers a powerful opportunity to move towards a gender responsive and informed framework of peace and security, but it will require vigilance to insure that it is truly implemented in a way that assures women’s human rights.
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