As Congress drafts this year’s defense spending bills amid pandemic, economic trauma, and uncertainty, lawmakers should increase their support for a proven, yet underused way to boost national security: fostering and drawing upon women’s contributions.
Evidence that such efforts prevent conflict, counter terrorism, improve intelligence collection, and promote stability led lawmakers to pass the 2017 Women, Peace, and Security Act, and to support it with dedicated appropriations (including $4 million in 2019 and $7 million in 2020 for the Pentagon). Provisions in recent defense authorization bills have also nudged the Pentagon to better incorporate a gender perspective and increase women’s participation. Congressional support has been critical to the Defense Department’s progress: all regional and most functional combatant commands have hired and trained gender advisors (assisted by Pentagon-based women, peace, and security coordinators). The commands are starting to integrate attention to gender perspectives in their campaign and contingency plans, and into some security cooperation efforts. As required by the 2017 law, the Department will soon release a plan that commits to specific policy and program steps to implement the White House’s own strategy on women, peace, and security.