The U.S. House of Representatives just signaled its commitment to women and girls globally. It took a historic step last week by passing the Women, Peace, and Security Act (H.R. 5332), which pledges that the United States act as a “global leader” in advancing the participation of women in preventing and resolving conflicts. The bipartisan legislation would require the United States to develop a government-wide strategy—including new efforts to train its personnel, consult with stakeholders on the ground, and coordinate with partners—in order to increase women’s participation in peace and security processes. As research shows, these steps would help the United States increase the effectiveness of its own security efforts and would set an example for others, contributing to more durable peace and security processes around the world.
The House’s commitment reflects a growing body of research suggesting that the inclusion of women in peace and security processes could reduce conflict and improve stability. For example, one study found that peace agreements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years when women participate in negotiations. At a hearing in March, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), reflected on “the lives saved and economies maintained by a 35 percent decrease in repeated conflicts,” adding that, “simply put, when women are at the negotiating table, success is more likely.”
A recent Council on Foreign Relations publication, How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests, presents the quantitative and qualitative evidence for this claim. From moderating violent extremism to negotiating peace agreements to making security forces more effective, women provide distinct contributions that improve peace and security processes. Research shows that women successfully disseminate antiterrorism messages throughout families and communities, and that, when they serve as security sector officials, they have access to venues and populations that men do not, allowing them to gather additional intelligence on security risks. Research also shows that, when women were involved in a negotiation process, parties were more likely to initiate talks and reach an agreement, and that, when women participate politically and socially in post-conflict societies, the chance of conflict relapse is diminished.
While more and more international leaders recognize women’s roles in security, female participation in peace and security processes remains low. Women served as less than 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements and 9 percent of negotiators between 1992 and 2011, and, in 2015, represented only 3 percent of UN military peacekeepers and 10 percent of UN police personnel. In the U.S. government, women represent 20 percent of the Defense Department’s officer corps, but hold less than 10 percent of leadership positions. Meanwhile, they represent one-third of senior foreign service officers at the State Department, and hold nearly half of mid- and senior-level management positions at USAID.
With research showing that standard peacemaking methods would more effectively address current security challenges if women are included, promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution merits a higher place on the U.S. agenda.
The House-passed Women, Peace, and Security Act would do just that. The bill was reintroduced in June with bipartisan support by Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY). If enacted into law, it would require the president to submit a government-wide strategy (which would build on the existing National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security), and to report regularly on progress. It would also require U.S. defense, diplomatic, and development personnel to receive training on effective strategies and best practices to ensure the meaningful participation of women in peace and security processes. In addition, U.S. personnel overseas would be required to consult with local women leaders and other stakeholders on peace and security, and to coordinate with partners across foreign governments and intergovernmental bodies to advance these goals.
It is now up to the Senate to help make the Women, Peace, and Security Act into law. The conversation is underway, with a similar bill introduced in January by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Urgent action is required if the bill is to pass during this session.
Successive Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that women’s participation in security efforts advances stability at home and abroad. Congress is now signaling that it considers women’s participation in peace and security to be a central component of U.S. foreign policy. If Congress passes the Women, Peace, and Security Act, it would position the United States to make smarter investments in preventing conflict and building peace, and thereby save lives and resources around the world.