Time for Congress to take the lead on inclusive security

Consider an all-too-familiar scenario. A civil war smolders, hundreds of thousands have died. With U.S. interests at stake, we’ve invested billions of dollars and countless hours of diplomacy to convince the warring parties to reach an agreement. These negotiations aren’t just about securing a temporary ceasefire; they will lay the foundations for long-term peace. Yet half the population is missing. How likely is it that these efforts will end the conflict for good? Tomorrow peace and security experts will tell the House Foreign Affairs Committee the chances are slim. 

Women’s inclusion in peace and security processes is vital to the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of these efforts, yet by and large women continue to be systematically excluded. This is not just an issue of women’s rights; it hurts the U.S.’s ability to address the many global challenges that are key to our diplomatic, development, and defense work. Decades of research shows us: From negotiating a peace agreement in Syria to combating the spread of ISIS, women’s inclusion must be a core priority.

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Don’t believe me? Between 1992 and 2011, only nine percent of negotiators at peace tables were women. The outcome of this low representation: nearly half of all peace agreements collapse within ten years. One the other hand, women’s inclusion leads to greater success and long-term sustainability of an accord. In fact, new research compiled by the International Peace Institute has found an accord is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years if women participate in its creation.

Women often raise the issues that are most critical for peace. They move beyond laying down arms and dividing up land, and bring up issues related to the root causes of the conflict -- insufficient rule of law, exclusive governance structures, discrimination.  They propose solutions grounded in their knowledge of community needs and priorities.

And as the entire spring issue of the U.S. National Defense University’s journal PRISM has just documented, women’s role in building peace and security goes far beyond the negotiating table. Take the example of Syria. This month marks the fifth anniversary since the start of protests that launched a devastating civil war. The horrendous violence and human rights abuses inflicted on the Syrian people have been documented on Capitol Hill through numerous hearings and closed-door briefings. Yet with little attention, scores of Syrian women have been fighting for peace since the conflict began. Risking their lives, they’ve helped to secure local ceasefires, mobilized campaigns for reconciliation, and opened secret schools in ISIS-controlled territories.

These women are not exceptions—they are examples of women around the globe who are working to promote stability and security in their homes, communities, and countries. In Afghanistan, for more than a decade, women have been pushing for inclusive state institutions that address the needs and grievances of the Afghan people. In Pakistan, a group of policewomen is rebuilding trust with the civilian population by addressing grievances that have fostered radicalization. In South Sudan, women are forming coalitions across ethnic and tribal lines to resolve the conflict between government and opposition leaders amid a massive humanitarian crisis and ongoing horrific violence.

Leaders such as these must be involved in US efforts to promote sustainable peace and security, regardless of who sits in the White House. On Capitol Hill, it’s time for women’s inclusion to be treated as what it is: a core US national security interest. Tomorrow’s hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee led by Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), is a big step forward in elevating this issue before members of the full Committee.

Congress can do even more.

First, members must provide legislative support for the U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security.  Launched in 2011 by President Obama, this is a whole-of-government strategy with the goal of ensuring that women are equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace. The NAP is a significant policy tool that has already had a tremendous impact on institutionalizing and prioritizing women’s participation and protection in the implementing agencies, particularly the Departments of State, Defense, and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Members can support the NAP by cosponsoring and passing the bipartisan “Women, Peace, and Security Act,” which Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Calif. Dem missed votes, sit-in on trip to Spain Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 MORE (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: US blames ISIS for Turkey attack | Afghan visas in spending bill | Army rolls up its sleeves Senate panel passes bill that would create 4K visas for Afghans GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call MORE (D-N.H.) and Mark KirkMark KirkSenate panel approves 0M for international climate fund Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding MORE (R-Ill.) have introduced in the Senate and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) will soon be introducing in the House. If passed, the act would ensure that the NAP continues to be U.S. policy by providing it with legislative authority. The bill would also strengthen the ability of Congress to oversee NAP implementation and coordinate the funding that has already been employed to resource it.

Second, committed State and Foreign Operations, as well as Defense appropriations, are also critical to advancing these efforts. However, these resources must be specifically targeted at those accounts and regions where women’s inclusion is severely lacking. For example, the U.S. spends billions of dollars on security assistance, yet within the security sector women remain wholly and often systematically excluded. We know that women’s inclusion vastly enhances the operational effectiveness of these forces and ensures they are more representative of the populations they are protecting. It is time U.S. security assistance programs reflect that.

With a multitude of evidence proving that inclusive approaches deliver more lasting peace, we can’t afford to conduct business as usual. Congress must lead the way by prioritizing and institutionalizing women’s inclusion as a core element of U.S. policy. Our national security, and the world’s stability, is at stake.

Peters is senior policy adviser at Inclusive Security Action and previously served as a foreign policy and defense adviser in the U.S. Senate. Inclusive Security Action partners with the Institute for Inclusive Security to increase the participation of all stakeholders — particularly women — in preventing, resolving, and rebuilding after deadly conflict.

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