Opinion | White House

America is poised to make a difference for vulnerable women

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

On Oct. 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump made history when he signed the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, making the United States the first country in the world with a comprehensive law on women, peace, and security.

In June 2019, the Trump administration followed up with the United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security which delivered the first whole-of-government strategy on women, peace, and security, and has its foundation in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America which declares " governments that fail to treat women equally do not allow their societies to reach their potential."

The administration's strategy to fully engage women is part of its new approach to post-conflict stabilization: Do well while doing good.

After the "money for nothing" years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration's Stabilization Assistance Review announced the U.S. is approaching post-conflict stabilization in a way that reduces the upfront cost to the taxpayer, and provides an off-ramp if the stabilization effort is not bearing fruit within five years. This will give Congress the opportunity to demand proof that local political actors are making real progress before it appropriates funds for large-scale (and expensive) reconstruction, saving American lives and dollars in the process.

Including women in the stabilization process will increase the chance for success by finally ensuring the participation of 100 percent of the population.

Aside from reflecting Americans' innate sense of fair play, including women in stabilization and peacebuilding has positive practical effects as research by International Peace Institute concluded: "In the short term, peace processes that included women as witnesses, signatories, mediators, and/or negotiators demonstrated a 20 percent increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years. This percentage continues to increase over time, with a 35 percent increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting fifteen years."

Which is good news for a war-weary Congress and taxpayers as it means American troops, aid workers, and money won't have to return to try to finish the job. Or, most likely, just drive on and hope for best. 

And the U.S. effort to increase women's participation will increase pressure on some female politicians to actually work for women.

Women have been elected to the highest office in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka with, in most cases, marginal improvement in the welfare of women. Those were notable achievements but many Western observers didn't note these women weren't breaking a glass ceiling but were dynastic politicians who had nothing in common with Margaret Thatcher, the grocer's daughter who became the British Prime Minister who helped end the Cold War.

Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, for example, was a rock star in the West but she wasn't a fighter for  Pakistani women as much as the heiress to the family business - Pakistan - and a representative of the feudal Sindhi landowning class, and those multi-generational obligations likely meant as much to her as the results of an upcoming by-election.

The administration's effort will protect the interests of the women who don't ever meet the visiting VIP delegations.

The military took early steps to ensure women's involvement in stabilization operations when it created the Female Engagement Team (FET) in Iraq and Afghanistan but this was on the initiative of officers in the field looking for solutions. Hopefully the military captured the experience of the FETs and will have it to share with the civil agencies as part of the government's strategy and not again have to rely on overworked junior officers in lieu of a real doctrine.

But the easy work - legislating and strategizing - is over and now comes the tough nut of appropriating.

Congress must identify funding for the effort or the executive will be forced to take it from somewhere else, angering Congress when another mission comes up short. As Congress won't ever tell the executive branch to stop doing something it previously insisted it do, the executive will have to do what it can and prepare for the inevitable hearings the first time it comes up short.

In order to get a fix on what this will all cost, and to publicly commit itself, Congress must convene with members of vulnerable groups, and other stakeholders in the military, the civil agencies, the NGOs, and industry leaders such as the standard-setting International Stability Operations Association, to put in place the final building block - the money - which  will determine if the new American policy succeeds or fails.

James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).