Women, Peace, and Security

Women, Peace, and Security

from Academic and Higher Education Webinars

More on:



Human Rights

CFR Senior Fellow Jamille Bigio joins CFR’s Irina A. Faskianos to discuss the role of women in security, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping.

Learn more about CFR's resources for the classroom at CFR Campus.


Jamille Bigio

Adjunct Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Senior Director, Amida Technology Solutions


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, cfr.org, if you would like to share it with your colleagues.

We are delighted to have Jamille Bigio with us to talk about the role of women in security, peace-building, and peacemaking. Ms. Bigio is CFR’s adjunct senior fellow for Women and Foreign Policy.

Previously she served in the Obama Administration as director for human rights and gender on the National Security Council. Ms. Bigio also advised the White House Council on Women and Girls on its international priorities and First Lady Michelle Obama on adolescent girls’ education and the Let Girls Learn initiative. She was also senior adviser-at-large for global women’s issues and was detailed to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and to the Mission to the African Union.

She received the U.S. Department of State’s Superior Honor Award and the Department of Defense’s Secretary of Defense Honor Award for leading the interagency launch of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. She has also worked at the U.N. and the grassroots level for public health NGOs.

Welcome, Jamille. Thank you very much for being with us today to share your expertise. I thought it would be terrific if you could start by talking about the unique but often overlooked role that women can play in alleviating conflict and increasing stability.

BIGIO: Great. Thank you so much, Irina. And thank you to everyone who’s on the call. I’m really looking forward to this discussion.

Let’s look first at what some of the global security trends are of the 21st century -- recurrence in armed conflicts, expanded terrorist and extremist networks, and record levels of mass displacement.

Data shows that standard peacemaking methods have proven ineffective at addressing these trends. Nearly half of the conflict resolution agreements forged during the 1990s failed within five years, and 90 percent of civil wars in the 2000s occurred in countries that had already experienced civil war during the previous 30 years. I would argue that this data means that new thinking on peace and security is needed. So, what alternative options do we have?

A growing body of research suggests that standard peace and security processes routinely overlook a critical strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability: the inclusion of women. Several quantitative analyses have indicated that higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states. One study found that the substantial inclusion of women in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.

Now, if we look across the conflict continuum we find both quantitative research and qualitative case studies on the effect of women’s participation at each stage of a conflict. Looking first at conflict prevention and early warning, let’s take preventing violent extremism as one example.

Women are well placed to challenge extremist narratives in homes, schools, and social environments, and we know that they have particular influence among youth populations. But while the research shows that they effectively disseminate anti-terrorism messages throughout their families and their communities, governments and nonprofits rarely include them in efforts to combat radicalization, instead focusing on political or religious leaders, who are predominantly male. This is a missed opportunity on a critical issue.

The other thing we know is that women can help detect early signs of radicalization because their rights are often the first targets of fundamentalists. We’ve seen this with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, and with Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Now let’s look at peacemaking. This is where there’s a lot of research that is documenting the ways in which women’s participation in peace processes contribute to the achievement and longevity of peace agreements. A recent qualitative review of forty of these peace processes since 1990 found that parties were significantly more likely to agree to talks and to subsequently reach an agreement when women’s groups exercised strong influence on the process as compared to when they have little or no influence.

Let’s break down what the research says about why this is the case. Women often take a collaborative approach to peacemaking. They organize across cultural and sectarian divides. And this has helped them push specific priority issues in the agreements. We’ve seen this where women have built coalitions across ethnic, political, religious divides, including in Afghanistan, in Northern Ireland, and in Somalia.

Including women at the peace table can also increase the likelihood of reaching agreement because women are often viewed as honest brokers. This perception is, in part, informed by the reality of women’s exclusion. Women often operate outside existing power structures. They often do not control fighting forces themselves. So they’re often perceived by political parties as being more impartial mediators in the negotiations compared to men.

We’ve also seen in conflict contexts around the world that women use tactics to pressure parties to begin or recommit to peace negotiations, as well as to sign accords. We’ve seen them stage mass actions and mobilize public opinion campaigns to help get to and hold peace talks.

There is a great film on Liberia called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which captures the story of Leymah Gbowee, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the role that she played with others to help mobilize women’s groups across Liberia to put pressure on parties to go to peace talks. And then they put pressure on them not to leave the premises until they had reached a negotiated resolution.

Because women tend to have different social roles and responsibilities than men, they also have access to information and community networks that are different than their male counterparts.

We saw in 2006 there were negotiations in Darfur that had been deadlocked over control of a particular river. Local women advised their male negotiators, who themselves were rebel group leaders that were living in the diaspora, that, in fact, the river in question had actually dried up several years prior. Women had access to this knowledge because of their roles, because of where they were coming from, that helped the negotiation break this impasse.

We also see that women particularly raise issues in conflict resolution that goes beyond military action or power-sharing agreements or territorial gains, and they instead raise broader issues like political and legal reform, social and economic recovery issues, employment, education, health care—the kinds of things that are actually fundamental to a society rebuilding post-conflict. And that helps make the agreements more durable.

We also see women play a role in peacekeeping in the security sector. Female security officials, research has shown, are more likely than their male counterparts to de-escalate tensions without the use of excessive force. This contributes to fewer misconduct complaints and it also enhances the community’s perception of the security force’s integrity.

This is critical. Rebuilding the relationship between communities and security forces in a society’s post-conflict recovery is necessary, especially when communities may have felt abandoned or in some cases abused by security forces. It’s important to encourage representation of women in security forces, whether police, military, or peacekeepers.

In post-conflict recovery and rebuilding, we also see that women are more likely to direct post-conflict resources to the reconstruction of public institutions. And research has shown that strengthening women’s political and social participation after conflict actually diminishes the chance of a relapse of the conflict over time.

Building on all this evidence, there’s been growing international commitment to promote women’s leadership in peace and security. In 2000, the United Nations adopted Security Council Resolution 1325, which was the first of eight resolutions to date that has recognized and committed to the importance of women’s participation in security, as well as the importance of protecting them from conflict-related sexual violence.

As of 2016, over 60 countries, from developing nations like Afghanistan and Kenya to high-income countries like the United States and Japan, have developed national action plans on women, peace, and security. This is a tool that helps governments advance their national efforts to increase women’s participation in peace and security processes.

Regional and multilateral bodies like the African Union, NATO, the G-7 have also made commitments in this area. What we’ve seen though is that, despite this growing international recognition of the importance of women’s roles in security, their actual representation in peace and security processes still lags.  Between 1992 and 2011, women represented fewer than 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements and 9 percent of negotiators. In 2015, only 3 percent of U.N. military peacekeepers and 10 percent of U.N. police personnel were women, which is substantially lower than the U.N. target of 20 percent.

And despite the role that we know that local women’s groups play in their countries in helping to prevent and resolve conflicts, they received just .4 percent of the aid to fragile states from major donor countries in 2012 to 2013, as one example.

Now, one reason for these figures is that there is a significant gap in translating the rhetoric that we see now in the international space to action and to real investment. Part of the reason for this is that leaders are not sufficiently convinced by the evidence that it is necessary to spend time and resources on women’s participation, given competing priorities in the security space. They make a whole range of arguments. We can run through some of these quickly.

We’ve heard skeptical foreign policy experts say that involving new actors, including women’s groups, in a negotiation would threaten the already fragile deliberations. But evidence shows otherwise. We’ve actually found that women’s participation, in fact, decreases the threat of spoilers to negotiations, and it increases public perception of the legitimacy of the talks.

We also hear traditional culture as a reason that there are just not women in some of these societies who are in a position to participate. The fact is that there are women leaders from countries from Afghanistan to Yemen that have participated and want to participate. And there are local actors in these societies that are leading calls to find ways to help ensure that women are engaged in the dialogue.

Others claim that women just don’t have the technical expertise in some of these societies needed to effectively contribute to the process. It is true that women have limited experience in national politics and the armed forces in some of these societies because they’ve been dramatically under-represented, but this gap is actually closing. There has been a big focus on training and capacity-building. And in many of these peace and security processes, civil society organizations have actually identified a pool of qualified female experts that are ready and on hand, if given the opportunity, to participate in the negotiations.

Critics also maintain that the evidence just isn’t there to establish women’s contribution to peace and security.  And, yes, because there’s been a historical exclusion of women from these processes, there are fewer examples of women’s positive influence in this arena. But the empirical analysis is growing. And we think, as I’ve run through on this call, that there is enough evidence on the effect of women’s participation in peace and security that warrants a stronger investment in providing them opportunities to engage and contribute.

Let me close there and open the floor. I really look forward to any questions that you all have.

FASKIANOS: Thank you so much.

Let’s open up to the group for questions.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Munk foreign affairs, University of Toronto.

Q: So my question is, we talked a little bit beforehand about the necessity of including both top-down and bottom-up approaches to including women in the security process, but obviously there’s a certain level at which that marriage needs to take place. And I guess my question is, what level is that?

BIGIO: I think you’re spot-on that it is critical to have both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Let me take the example of an ongoing peace negotiation to highlight how these two frameworks work together.

The top-down approach advocates for opportunities for women to participate in peace negotiations as members and leaders of the negotiating and mediating teams, while also finding avenues for civil society to help inform the negotiation and the issues. It also provides training and resources to help make sure that local women’s groups and women in government or other parties have the opportunity to participate in the talks.

But at the same time, that work is really needed from the national level down to the grassroots level. Local women’s civil society groups need to network and advocate amongst themselves to raise the issues into the negotiating process. And, as I noted, in many societies that work is already going on by women. \The piece that’s missing and that’s needed is the top-down piece. In other words, both conflict-affected governments, as well as donor countries, need to support efforts to ensure that local women and women at national levels have an opportunity to contribute to the negotiating process in a meaningful way.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Fordham University.

Q: Hi. My name is Kelsey (sp), and I’m a master’s student in Fordham’s International Political Economy and Development program.

And we are working on an index to measure poverty, based off of Pope Francis’ views on international development and poverty. And we’ve found a lot of good indicators for measuring gender equity, but there hasn’t been enough widespread data across countries. So I was wondering if you had any recommendations for strong indicators to measure gender equity.

One possibility that we’ve discussed is political participation or peace negotiations, women being able to be involved in these, but I was wondering if you know of any good data or of anyone working on this.

BIGIO: We’re actually working on an interactive around women and security, here at CFR, that will draw from datasets that look at some of the questions you’re raising. And it’s wonderful to hear about the initiatives that you have underway.

There are a few strong indices that I would recommend that may have specific indicators that work for your purposes. UNDP has a Gender Inequality Index. The World Economic Forum has a Global Gender Gap Index. And the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, has a Social Institutions and Development Index. And some of those are either exclusively focused on gender equality issues or include strong indicators around gender equality.

Some of the indicators that the research in the empirical analysis have found to be linked to conflict onset or relapse include fertility rates, percentage of women in the labor force, rate of maternal mortality, and percentage of women in parliament.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Texas, Austin.

Q: Hi. My name is Emily Whalen and I am a doctoral student in the history department, focusing on issues of national security and U.S. foreign policy.

And my question is, to what degree can we attribute some of this hesitancy or skepticism about women’s participation in peacekeeping and state-building to the fact that the national security establishment in a lot of donor states, and more specifically the United States, is also overwhelmingly male and that there are not a lot of women security experts?

BIGIO: One factor that’s appeared not just in the security space but in other sectors is that people often give opportunities to people who look like them or have had similar experiences. This is an issue that has come up, for example, in research in corporate America as we look at steps to be taken to help advance economic opportunities for women and leadership roles for women in the private sector.

So I think you can certainly look at what some of these findings mean in the national security space as well, where there are questions about looking at the importance of different perspectives and different experiences in society, and the need to invest in opportunities for women to contribute to security forces. And there’s also a piece there of asking national security leaders to understand and give value to the experiences and perspectives of women in society.

Now, I think that there are male and female national security leaders who can and do give value to the experiences of many different groups in society. And we’re trying to encourage more leaders to do that.

I’d highlight an interview on our website, cfr.org, from a roundtable that I hosted with Michéle Flournoy, who is currently the CEO of Center for a New American Security and previously held a senior leadership role in the Defense Department. She reflected in our conversation on how and why women’s participation matters from the perspective of the defense community. Part of our conversation looked at the role of women in national security, as national security leaders, and how that’s influencing the debate.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Connecticut.

Q: Hello. I had a question about women’s physicality in combat.

I know that you focused a lot of on the cerebral portion of security and post-conflict, while mentioning women’s roles in practical security roles. I do know that women are able to compete physically, but most often the women that are volunteering for these roles have the standards lowered for physical fitness, and mostly in the military, as seen in the Army, even though we’ve recently opened up combat roles to women.

My question was, what do you think about these standards being lowered, and do you think that that hurts women’s ability to develop in combat roles overall because it kind of gives something for them to fight against?


One thing to note is that when the U.S. Defense Department announced in 2015 that it would open combat occupations in all branches of the U.S. armed forces to women, Defense Secretary Carter observed that fully integrating women into all military positions would make the U.S. armed forces better and stronger.

So, an important aspect of the decision to open all combat positions to women was based on the conclusion that it would improve the armed forces.

I think in the long run that’s the vision. And I think there are many military leaders who are speaking on this point and who understand that, in order to face the national security threats that we are facing today, we need to put the best team on the field. And to do that means we have to be able to tap from all potential actors, including 50 percent of the population that have a whole range of skills and perspectives that they can contribute, but have not always had the opportunity.

So I think the bottom line is that women, once given the opportunity, will prove themselves and prove what they can contribute and how they will make the U.S. armed forces better and stronger through their participation.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Tuskegee University.

Q: Hello, my name is Jordan Kurtz. I’m a junior political science major.

And I was wondering, as your research grows and you empower more people to be—or more women to be involved in these roles, what does that mean for our international security? And how do those things affect other people’s ways of life and when they are securing their nations?

BIGIO: Thank you. That’s a great question.

I think one step that is critical in the effort to shift U.S. government practice around peace and security to make it more inclusive, as well as to change the practices of partner nations and multilateral institutions, is to ensure that the rising generation of diplomats and security professionals recognizes that women’s participation in security helps; that it advances U.S. and global stability.

One area where we’re really targeting efforts is reaching and better training this rising generation of leaders so that, as they are studying national security issues and what tools and strategies the U.S. government has to address different national security risks, that these professionals have in their toolbox an understanding of the importance of engaging women’s participation and what women have to contribute if we more effectively include them in conflict prevention and resolution efforts.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of the South.

Q: Cool.

So you mentioned earlier that women that are, like, well-placed in societies have a significant impact on the youth there and that often women are the first targets of extremism. So my question is, is extremism less likely to occur or is it less prevalent in countries where there is greater gender equality?

BIGIO: That’s a great question. I don’t have at my fingertips the research on that But, if we think about  some of the hotbeds of terrorism and violent extremism today, from Afghanistan to Nigeria, these are certainly countries where we do not see high levels of gender equality. That said, there are certainly violent extremists and terrorist attacks in societies where there are higher levels of gender equality, from the United States to European countries. So it doesn’t protect fully, but gender equality is one of the contributing factors to stability in a society. This is one of the correlations that the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index has shown -- that societies with higher levels of gender equality are more stable and more prosperous societies.

If you look at work to prevent violent extremism, whether here in the United States or in European countries there too is where we’re encouraging that there’s more outreach to women. For example, in the United States, women are engaged in at-risk communities  to help combat radicalization by identifying early signs of radicalization so that our national efforts are stronger at preventing violent extremist attacks here at home.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from New College of Florida.

Q: All right. Hello.

BIGIO: Hello.

Q: Hello. (Laughs.) Our question is we heard you were talking about how women are generally perceived as honest brokers because they are traditionally excluded or, in a lot of cases, excluded from the political sphere. So our question is, is there any evidence to support the claim that women would still be considered honest brokers if they’re more actively involved in the political sphere? As we see in the U.S., especially right now in the presidential election, there’s a lot of controversy around Hillary Clinton in particular, despite the fact that she’s a woman. Just once you have someone involved in the political sphere, does that inherently make them perceived as less honest?

BIGIO: That’s a very interesting question. I’m going to take it and just focus on the peace and security side of the question. Part of the research on why women are seen as honest brokers relates to their marginalization in the political sphere. It is also because they are less likely to be leading armed forces or combatant groups, which are often the main groups negotiating at the table. But even when they may not be seen as honest brokers because they have more influence in the political sphere, or are in military leadership positions, there are other ways in which we see women contributing to peace negotiations that would still, I think, argue for their participation.

The other thing I want to note is that—and this is not directly related to your question—people say that women aren’t actually that peaceful because we have also seen them serve in or support war.

What is critical is that women are influential in whatever capacity they serve, whether it is as moderating and peaceful forces in a community or as armed combatants or military leaders. And therefore, we think it’s critical to involve them in both the prevention and resolution of conflicts, because they are going to be influential in whatever role they play. So it may take the trust issue away, as you noted. But it instead strengthens the argument of their influence and what they can contribute if provided a leadership role.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Chapman University Fowler School of Law.

Q: Hello. This is Tom Campbell. And thank you, Ms. Bigio, not only for an excellent presentation but also for your service to our country and our world.

I have two questions. One is, the Grameen Bank had quite a success in its microlending policies when the recipients were women. I think there’s an overwhelming proof that their microlending has had more success. And I wonder if—when the recipients have been women. And I wonder if the supervision of the financial aspects of peace arrangements begin given to women might be a positive and reinforcing step in the—in the reliability of those peace agreements, based on the Grameen Bank experience.

Second question is just a practical one, and maybe there’s other universities on the phone that would have a suggestion, for five years Chapman University, our school of law, participated in a State Department program for justice reform in Afghanistan. And we brought women to get over to our law school at Chapman to get LL.M degrees. And several have gone back. They’ve before professors. And we’re very proud of them. In fact, one of them was actually our valedictorian. But others have stayed. Others have sought political asylum. Others have gone to Canada. And that’s kind of the practical question to which you might have some insight. If American universities are going to be engaged in training, what steps can we do to make sure that the recipients of the training go back to the theaters where they are most needed? Thanks again.

BIGIO: Wonderful. Thank you for those questions. And thank you for the great work that your program has done. On the first part of your question, in terms of what was found in the Grameen Bank lending, and this has been found in studies of microlending around the world, is that women do have stronger rates of paying back the loans, and stronger returns on investment. And taking a step up from microlending, we also see it in terms of small- and medium-sized enterprises, that women-owned and run small- and medium-sized enterprises also contributed significantly to the economic growth of their countries.

And actually, research does find similar trends in post-conflict recovery and rebuilding. Women are more likely to direct post-conflict resources to the reconstruction of public institutions and the provision of services that are critical for stability. So again, where resources are directed to women in post-conflict societies, they in turn are more likely to invest it in areas that contribute to the overall stability and recovery of their society. Research also shows that high-levels of women’s participation in public sector positions—as police officers, judges, teachers, medical attendants—improves the quality of the service delivery for the entire community.

One study in India actually found that women-led villages were more likely than other villages to invest in—more in drinking water and infrastructure, they immunized more children, and they had lower gender gaps in school attendance. Another study in Kenya found that women’s participation in water infrastructure committees significantly improved community access to water, and that when women participated in these committees it resulted in a 44 percent decrease in the likelihood that access to drinking water would require more than a 60-minute walk.

These are all examples, like the one you shared from the Grameen Bank, that illustrate that when women are included in decision-making opportunities in post-conflict societies, there are stronger returns on investment for the societies at large.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Q: Hi. This is Todd Barry from USM. I got cut off before. I’m sorry if that caused any problems.

But my question: Do women’s negotiating styles differ from men’s? And if so, how? And for example, would you say that women are more willing to compromise, or would that be just considered a traditional stereotype?

BIGIO: In terms of women’s negotiating styles around peace negotiations, there are numerous case studies that have documented ways that women have taken a collaborative approach and build coalitions across the cultural and sectarian divide. Now, this does require the kind of compromise that you’re noting. But, at the end of the day it’s proved effective for women to get a seat at the table and advance some of their priorities.

One example of this is in Northern Ireland, where Catholic and Protestant women formed a cross-religious political party. They won enough seats through an election held before the negotiations started, which earned them a formal seat at the negotiating table. They were then able to jointly negotiate for priorities like education and housing and transitional justice issues that related to some of the specific experiences that both Catholic and Protestant women were experiencing in Northern Ireland.

None of the male parties at the table, for example, had drawn so effectively from both Protestant and Catholic communities. And this is something that we’ve seen across conflict contexts.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Syracuse University.

Q: Thank you. My name is Symonia (sp). And I’m a Humphrey Fellow here at the Maxwell School.

And my question is: Do you think that in view of the work of scholars like Valerie Hudson, who studied the links between the security of women and the security of states, that there is a need to redefine or expand the way security is viewed? And also, do you think that the greater mainstreaming of gender as a pillar for equality is a mechanism to do this? Thank you.

BIGIO: Thank you. Yes, I do. I think there are efforts underway in the U.S. government, foreign governments, and at the international level, to bring more women into peace and security processes, and into our understanding of foreign policy and development more broadly. There’s certainly efforts to increase the understanding of the importance of investing in gender equality to achieve the sustainable development goals, to better adapt and mitigate climate change and, in this space specifically, to advance peace and security.

And I do think that as we bring more and different perspectives into the conversation about what the risks to stability are, and what potential solutions are to address them, that this will contribute to a shifting and evolving understanding about what security means. We’ve seen this happen over the last few decades, as there’s been growing attention to atrocity prevention and to protecting civilians in conflict as they face greater attacks, and to conflict-related sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity. These are examples of how we’ve already started to expand our understanding of national security, which in turn changes the conversation about how we can advance security and ensure that our stability efforts are as effective as possible.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Seton Hall University.

OK. Our next question comes from Kansas State University.

Q: Hi. I have a question just about how you would suggest giving practical ways to incorporate this just on, like, an ordinary person’s level, who doesn’t maybe have any pull specifically, like, in the government—like they don’t have any high roles.

BIGIO: There are efforts in Congress to pass different bills that relate to promoting women’s participation in peace and security. For example, right now there’s a bill that would affirm the U.S. national action plan on women, peace, and security and help hold U.S. agencies accountable for the commitments that they’ve made under this policy. Senators Boxer and Shaheen just last week introduced a bill that sets specific targets for the U.S. government, and specifically the U.S. State Department, to increase the participation of women in security sector training that the U.S. government provides to partner military, police, and peacekeeping forces.

And so one step that you and others across our country can do is to help encourage your representatives to support efforts by Congress to pass bills that would take steps like these to encourage the participation of women in security. And, if you’re interested in making individual donations, there are amazing organizations that work closely with local civil society—local women’s groups around the world, that are involved in peacebuilding efforts. To the point I highlighted earlier, little of overall donor aid goes to local women’s groups on the ground that are working to advance peace and security. There are a lot of efforts now to try to find ways to make sure more resources do get to them, so that they can do more of the important work that they are already doing.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Baltimore.

Q: Hi, there. This is Assistant Professor Carla Barqueiro, and I’m here with my wonderful international organization students. So thank you for this great discussion.

Our question really comes from the idea of institutional culture. So we were wondering whether or not there are increased efforts to change the institutional cultures around gender inclusion, discrimination, treatment. This comes really from comments we had about the high incident rate of assault within the U.S. military. Upward of 25 percent of women in the U.S. military are assaulted by officers in the military. And so our concern is, you know, representation and inclusion is one thing, but how do we start changing the institutional culture around women and how they’re treated? Thank you.

BIGIO: Thank you for that great question.

I think that’s totally right. As we look to encourage and increase women’s participation in peace and security processes—whether it’s in the United States or in conflict-affected countries—that there are potential risks to women as they come into these roles. And it is important for the institutions—whether it’s the Defense Department or ministries in other countries—to put into place policies and support systems that help respond to the risks that women may face, whether it’s sexual assault or also looking at where there is needed human resource policies to help increase the recruitment and retention of women and their promotion in addressing what some of the barriers may be that lead women to leave or not receive promotions that rate comparable to their male counterparts of equal experience and equal position in some of these contexts.

I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen and that is happening. And it’s a space where there needs to be more exchange of lessons learned between countries about what it takes to help make sure that once women do come into these opportunities that the institutions are addressing the risks that women may face.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the CREES, Center for Russian and Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.

Q: Oh, hello. My name is Polly (sp).

And I have a question about—so when women reach these leadership and social change roles, do you think there’s still, like, resistance and doubt from their male counterparts that may cause women to maybe work independently or maybe band with other women? Like, do you think that’s still a prevalent issue? And how should we overcome this on both sides of—both sexes—from both sexes?

BIGIO: I think it really depends on the context. In conflict-affected countries and national security sectors around the world, we’ve seen that women leaders, once they reach leadership levels are still often outnumbered. And to get anything done that they want to accomplish does take strong relationships and coalitions with men across the national security fields. We also see women using their leadership roles to encourage the participation of other women in peace and security processes. And we see across contexts that women are really effective in these roles, in working with their male counterparts to accomplish the priorities that they’re pursuing around peace and security.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Our last question comes from the University of the South.

Q: My name is Jackson Smith. I’m an undergraduate student at the University of the South.

And my question is, do you feel that women negotiators could actually hinder dialogue with many Middle Eastern countries, as women do not traditionally engage in societal functions due to religious-based discrimination?

BIGIO: This is one of the arguments that we’ve heard about how traditional culture is a reason for women not to take a stronger leadership role. I think that in these different societies there are solutions that enable women’s leadership and participation, while working within the cultural contexts. And we’ve seen that as the U.S. government has sent female leaders, whether foreign policy or national security or specifically military leaders, to countries all around the world that have different cultural practices and norms around gender roles. Solutions are found that still help get business done. And this was certainly the experience of the female secretaries of state that we’ve had in the last decade or so, as well as senior U.S. military leaders that are working in and have traveled to more conservative societies.

The other piece is that, in these societies, there are also female leaders that are looking to contribute to the peace and security process. And there are creative ways that they can advise and that their male counterparts can help make sure that women have an opportunity to contribute. I think that it’s important not to take the norm of exclusion.

The other piece that I’ll note is that it’s important for us to encourage women’s participation because we’ve seen that in post-conflict societies women’s participation can actually present an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a more equitable and prosperous future, given the link between women participation in economic, political, and social lives with prosperity and growth. In fact, we’re finding opportunities to encourage women’s participation and their contribution. This will help the society in the long run, if they’re able to more effectively engage women across their economic and political and social spaces, and see more prosperity and growth from that.

FASKIANOS: Well, Jamille Bigio, thank you very much for today’s calls, for sharing your insights with us, and for everybody’s terrific questions. We really appreciate it.

BIGIO: My pleasure.

FASKIANOS: So follow on our website our women and foreign policy blog, to which Jamille contributes. If you go to the front of our homepage, CFR.org, you will find it there. And do you also tweet, Jamille?

BIGIO: I do, yes.

FASKIANOS: What is your handle?

BIGIO: My handle is at @JamilleBigio.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful. So you should follow her there as well. So thank you, again.

Our next call will be on Wednesday, October 12th at noon eastern time, with James Lindsay, our senior vice president director of studies here at CFR. And he will talk about the role of foreign policy in this presidential campaign. And so I hope you will join us for that. You can follow us on our handle on Twitter at @CFR_Academic for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events. So thank you all again.

BIGIO: Thank you.

Top Stories on CFR


Myanmar's military has recently suffered a string of defeats—but the U.S. government seems unprepared to face the country's potential state collapse.


The authors, including a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, UN Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs, Founding Chief Prosecutor of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the inaugural U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, urge the imperative of prosecuting alleged Russian crimes of aggression in Ukraine, and present two practical options for doing so.


The passing of America’s preeminent foreign-policy thinker and practitioner marks the end of an era. Throughout his long and extraordinarily influential career, Henry Kissinger built a legacy that Americans would be wise to heed in this new era of great-power politics and global disarray.