If the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is to be more than words, Congress must stay engaged

On paper, proponents of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda in the U.S. have a lot to celebrate. Twenty years after the international community recognized the critically important role women play in the prevention, mitigation and reconstruction of violent conflicts by passing Security Council Resolution 1325, President Trump signed the Women, Peace and Security Act into law in October 2017. Requiring the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and USAID to develop a meaningful strategy to promote women’s participation and agency in conflict regions, a long-delayed strategy was indeed promulgated in June of this year.

With the U.S. WPS agenda still in its infancy, the very lawmakers who ensured the passage of the Women, Peace and Security Act must however remain vigilant. Passing the law was a tremendous achievement.

Congress at no other time could draw on such a high number of women leaders who have active combat experience. To harness this bipartisan expertise of female and male lawmakers who often serve on committees with unrelated jurisdiction, congressional leaders should immediately create a bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Caucus.

Laws and strategies are measured against their real-life implementation. Within a short few months after its proclamation, the WPS strategy is about to fail its first real-life test in Afghanistan.

With Taliban-driven violent attacks continuing during the longest running war in U.S. history, the administration has chosen to elevate the perpetrators of some of the most horrific violence directed against women and girls by negotiating directly and exclusively with the Taliban in Doha. In these rounds of ‘pre-negotiations’ in Doha, from which women and the Afghan government are excluded, the U.S. hopes to win key commitments from the Taliban.

These commitments are presumably meant to frame and inform a subsequent domestic Afghan peace negotiation process. As U.S. Special Represenative Zalmay Khalilzad embarks on ninth round of talks to hammer out ‘final details,’ an agreement is soon expected which would ensure the departure of some 14,000 U.S. troops and 8,000 NATO forces.

While Special Representative Khalilzad may be an able negotiator acting in good faith, his Taliban counterparts are not, as the ongoing attacks show. And to exclude Afghan women means silencing the very group which has disproportionally suffered the most under the Taliban. This can hardly be the outcome for which the U.S. has made immeasurable sacrifices in blood and treasure.

Sahana Dharmapuri is the Director of the Our Secure Future (OSF) program at the One Earth Future Foundation and former independent gender advisor on gender, peace, and security issues to USAID, NATO, The Swedish Armed Forces, the United States Institute for Peace, International Peace Institute, and other international development organizations. Hans Hogrefe is a Fellow at OSF and was a staff director of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Senior Professional Staff Member at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights at the Department of State.

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