Women, Peace, and Security: This Is How We Win

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya poses in front of a section of the Berlin Wall, which was repainted by Belarus activists during a rally to protest against police violence and to reject Belarus’ presidential election results, in Berlin, Germany, October 6, 2020. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)
Around the world, women are opposing tyranny, and the U.S. is helping them.

In recent years, we have seen courageous women mobilize for the ouster of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. Women are currently leading the challenge to Aleksander Lukashenko’s illegitimate rule in Belarus, hunger-striking to protest prison conditions under Iran’s repressive regime, and shaping the course of the Intra-Afghan  Negotiations underway in Doha. Brave women, stepping forward and refusing to be ignored, have been critical to shifting the trajectory of these knotty threats to international peace and security.

This idea — that women’s meaningful participation could strengthen conflict-prevention, resolution, and peace-building efforts — animated the passage, 20 years ago this month of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325.

We have seen tremendous progress over the past two decades, but in too many fragile states, conflict zones, and authoritarian regimes, women and girls continue to face violence, abuse, and powerlessness. This dynamic is often rooted in denial of basic human rights; weak, abusive, and ineffective governance; nonexistent rule of law; and the malign influence of outside powers seeking strategic or economic gains. The examples are heartbreaking in their geographic spread and commonality: a gutless terror attack on a Kabul maternity hospital; ISIS sexually enslaving Yezidi women and girls; armed groups in South Sudan kidnapping scores of young girls; and massive sexual violence against Rohingya women and members of other minority communities in Burma.

It is no coincidence that the places where women’s human rights are most egregiously violated are also the sources of regional instability and conflict, which can result in real costs to Americans — the costs of military deployments to defend our homeland from serious security threats. American taxpayers also provide billions of dollars annually in humanitarian assistance to those who are most in need, and we are justifiably proud of our nation’s generous and longstanding humanitarian and security commitments. Our generosity and strength save lives and protect the most vulnerable from the predation of evildoers. These efforts also ensure that much of this chaos stays far from American shores. But no amount of aid or military strength will cure the underlying pathologies that lead these societies to violently turn on themselves and one another. 

For countries to advance on their own journeys to peace and self-reliance, we know that full respect for women’s rights and meaningful participation is nonnegotiable. We need only to look at the strides America has made over the past century to see the tremendous store of value that awaits when countries empower and invest in women. Today, the lessons learned over the past 20 years, combined with American leadership, present an unprecedented opportunity. The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda calls on us to transform our foreign-policy and national-security institutions to make them more conscious of and responsive to women’s roles as survivors, leaders, rebuilders, peacemakers, and essential stakeholders. Fortunately, a strong bipartisan consensus has given us a growing array of tools to drive this transformation.  

When Congress passed and President Trump signed the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, we became the first country in the world to have such national-level legislation. Our 2019 Strategy on WPS, promulgated under our National Security Strategy, recognizes that empowering women to lead in preventing, resolving, and rebuilding from conflict is vital to American national-security policy. With the release of our 2020 implementation plan, the State Department threads that concept through our foreign-policy and national-security framework, empowering our diplomats and partners to act.

We know female leadership is a smart investment. We see it every day in my office, working to support women around the world as they help lead, rebuild, and strengthen their communities. Together with women’s economic-empowerment initiatives such as the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, our efforts advance American and international security and prosperity through cost-effective, sustainable engagement that has long-term multiplier effects.

True security for the American people comes from a world where other societies enjoy those unalienable rights and freedoms that animated our founding principles and permeate our social-political fabric.

A robust WPS agenda will not resolve all our national-security challenges, but it does give us more and better options. By investing in women, peace, and security, we are helping our global neighbors — women and men alike — become safer, more prosperous, and better able to stand on their own. Ultimately, that means we are investing in our own peace and security.

Kelley E. Currie is a senior adjunct fellow with the Indo-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security. She previously served as a deputy to Ambassador Nikki Haley at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.


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