On March 12, 2014, the Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies hosted a Hemispheric Forum on US engagement related to women in peace and security issues at Abraham Lincoln Hall Auditorium at the National Defense University on Ft. McNair.
The Forum was a collaborative effort between the Perry Center, USNORTHCOM, USSOUTHCOM, the National Defense University (NDU), and the NDU Foundation. The event focused on the theme of Defense, Diplomacy, Development & the Way Ahead, and highlighted the DOD implementation of the 2011 US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. The event was scheduled to commemorate the observance of International Women’s Day, which was on March 8, 2014.
NDU President MG Gregg Martin kicked off the event affirming that there is no better venue than the University for an open dialogue on such an important and timely topic as the increasing roles women are playing in shaping national security strategy. SOUTHCOM Commander General John F. Kelly followed with remarks underscoring the importance of ensuring the security and empowerment of women in the pursuit and respect of human rights. Reflecting on his time in Afghanistan, he related examples of the positive impact of female Marine engagement teams under his command who connected with local women in way prohibited to male soldiers; these interactions vastly improved communication and trust between the local Afghans and the soldiers. He acknowledged that although major hurdles remain, there have been promising developments in recent years in promoting women in peace and security, thanks to an increased focus on those goals by the US and other governments.
Prior to the panel discussion, the event featured a short video of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the 2013 NDU Foundation Patriot Award Gala, in which she called for more focus and initiatives promoting women in peace and security and stated there was no better place than NDU for dialogue and advancement on the important global issue of women in peace and security.
The prestigious panel of discussants was moderated by Perry Center Professor Celina Realuyo and included representatives of the diplomacy, defense, and development pillars of US national security strategy. The panelists were U.S. Ambassador Wanda Nesbitt, NDU Senior Vice President; Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs (DASD-WHA); Dr. Johanna Mendelson Forman, President of the Board of Visitors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation; and Mr. Robert Kravinsky, Director of International Humanitarian Policy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
Ambassador Nesbitt, whose career in the US Foreign Service has taken her all over the world, including 12 years of service in Africa, spoke about the power of diplomatic engagement for furthering women’s rights around the world. She outlined several of the key components of the State Department’s initiatives supporting women, many of which have been active foreign policy objectives for decades. In addition to USAID-funded maternal/child health education programs, which contribute significantly to the decline of global infant and maternal mortality rates, the State Department also promotes dialogues and initiatives targeting gender-based violence. The Ambassador also mentioned the Secretary of State International Women of Courage Award, established in 2007, which honors women around the globe who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk. This is the only Department of State award that pays tribute to emerging women leaders worldwide.
One of this year’s Women of Courage Award recipients is Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios Aguilar from Guatemala, who is recognized for her work as the president of one of Guatemala’s two High Risk Court Tribunals.
Ambassador Nesbitt informed the audience that State Department’s initiatives were designed to support the four pillars of UN Security Council Resolution 1325: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery. She stressed that one of the foundational principles of any female empowerment is education. Women who are confident in their knowledge and skills are more likely to advocate for their own rights and those of others, thus acting as agents of peace and change in even the most unstable environments.
Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, the newly appointed DASD-WHA, shared her views on US Defense Department programs for women in peace and security and the opportunities for enhancing them in the future. Moved by the example of demobilization and reintegration experts in Colombia working with former female FARC insurgents, she expressed how surprising it still is to hear stories of women as agents rather than just victims. Dr. Chavez underscored the need for a paradigm shift with regard to the role of women in defense and security, from solely victims of insecurity or consumers of security to active contributors to peace. By promoting participation of women in local and national security institutions, and focusing on getting women into leadership roles, their important perspectives and skills will become part of the security and defense conversation rather than one point in a meeting agenda. She offered statistics that are both promising and disheartening, overall showing a great deal of room for improvement: while 8 of the world’s 29 standing female presidents are from Latin American countries and 25 percent of legislators in Latin America are women, they comprise only 4–7 percent of the military members in the region, and only 3 percent of the UN global forces dedicated to the MINUSTAH peacekeeping operation in Haiti.
Dr. Chavez drew attention to the programs of both NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM that highlight the vital role of women and support integration of women into the defense and security establishments in the region. Both Combatant Commands have instituted training modules for their service members and regional counterparts on the importance of protecting human rights and female empowerment, and they actively support the inclusion of women in defense. Despite these initiatives, Dr. Chavez still sees room for improvement in the Defense Department’s approach to women in peace and security. The statistics on violence against women and female participation in defense and security decision making are still appalling around the world, including in the Western Hemisphere. Through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach that mandates the protection and integration of women, the US can lead by example in championing women in peace and security.
Dr. Mendelson Forman, whose career in international affairs includes senior positions at the State Department and USAID, think tanks, and academic institutions, spoke on the important role development plays in bolstering women in peace and security and the positive correlation between development, female empowerment, and economic competitiveness. According to Dr. Mendelson Forman, data indicates that the best predictor of the level of stability and peacefulness in a country is directly correlated to how that society treats its women. This suggests that gender equality is not only a women’s issue but also a national economic and security issue. She also pointed to the fact that women are both consumers and producers of security in their environments. Programs like Alianza Joven Regional in Honduras provide resources for mothers and grandmothers struggling to protect their families from widespread violence and insecurity in that country. By giving women tools to prevent conflict, programs like these allow women to become more active agents for peace in their communities. Women are an important component of public security, and program models that champion gender inclusion lead to more information sharing, conflict prevention, and positive interaction between families and security institutions.
Dr. Mendelson Forman concluded by reaffirming the continued need for more programs focused on women and development assistance. By establishing knowledge-based communities of practice, development approaches that leverage civil society in support of security goals, and continuing to educate policymakers on the importance of eradicating the gender gap in security and defense decision making, leaders in the region will see the results as a decrease in crime and insecurity, which affect all citizens.
Mr. Kravinsky, Director of International Humanitarian Policy at OSD, currently guides the Defense Department implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security and provided details on those initiatives. He outlined the five objectives of the NAP: national integration and institutionalization, participation in peace processes and decision making, protection from violence, conflict prevention, and access to relief and recovery.
Mr. Kravinsky shared examples of how the NAP has already been implemented, including the groundbreaking decision in 2013 to open combat positions to US female service members. He explained the Department’s desire to lead by example, building an inclusive and powerful fighting force that actively leverages the contributions and skills of all members of the military. The NAP is being implemented through education initiatives (at the regional centers including the Africa Center, the Asia-Pacific Center, and the Perry Center, and directly through military training programs), assisting partner nations in the integration of women into decision making roles in defense issues and assisting in partner capacity building that reinforces gender equality as a foundation of sound defense institutions. He recounted the story of a woman from Afghanistan who had told him that the US capacity-building programs in that country were especially helpful to women, who still face many challenges as the country searches for stability; such examples point out how women have the most to lose when governments disintegrate. He affirmed that female empowerment and women’s rights are not only important to women, but are a strategic necessity for establishing peace and security throughout the world.
The panel concluded with a robust question-and-answer session. Acting Director Ken LaPlante provided closing remarks and reiterated the Perry Center’s support for the NAP, the initiatives of SOUTHCOM and NORTHCOM, and bolstering the role of women in peace and security.
At the reception, NDU Foundation President Cathleen Pearl presented the newly established Women, Peace, and Security Writing Award to Ms. Charito Kruvant, President and CEO of Creative Associates International, Inc. The Award is part of NDU’s implementation of the NAP and serves to highlight important research on various issues related to female empowerment and protection in the security and defense arena. Ms. Kruvant’s organization is a minority, women-owned and managed professional and technical services firm based in Washington, DC, that works in partnership with networks of governments, organizations, and universities to further the development, economic, security, and humanitarian assistance goals of the United States. For example, Creative played an integral role in lowering insecurity and violence in Honduras through a community-based crime prevention plan that leveraged both local governments and organizations. Creative, with ongoing projects in more than 20 countries, is a force for female empowerment and security not only in the Western Hemisphere, but throughout the developing world.