What’s Missing from the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security?

   •    April 23, 2012

Sec. Clinton giving a speech from behind a podium. Sign on the podium says "US National Aciton Plan on Women, Peace, and Security

Secretary Clinton delivers a speech on the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security at Georgetown University in December 2011. Years of advocacy by civil society organizations and champions within the government culminated in the action plan. The Institute for Inclusive Security, along with the US Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, provided input and research that shaped the plan. (State Dept./Michael Gross)

The US administration made major headway in the area of women, peace, and security with the announcement of the National Action Plan in December 2011. But the NAP lacks a practical element it needs to be sustainable and successful. The administration is now creating implementation plans to accompany the NAP, but there’s a lot of progress to be made.

The key challenge for the US in moving forward is to ensure that managers and implementers of US development, diplomacy, and defense programs (including contractors), have the right tools and sufficient capacity to effectively execute assistance through a gender lens. That means each activity plan, such as a security sector program, would explicitly address what it means for men, women, boys, and girls.

The action plan serves as a guide for the US to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325. For an excellent summary and answers to common questions about the resolution and resulting action plan, see Jolynn Shoemaker’s article “The US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security,” found here.

Acknowledging that such capacity doesn’t currently exist, the national action plan requires that “…all relevant US personnel and contractors receive appropriate training on Women, Peace, and Security issues….”

The NAP further outlines the subjects that should be addressed by the training, such as:

  • The value of including women in conflict prevention, peace processes, and security initiatives
  • International human rights and humanitarian law
  • Protection of civilians, prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and combating trafficking in persons

While these subjects are important, this list lacks a practical component.  An approach that provides personnel with curricula that emphasizes the value of women’s inclusion and participation—essentially, why women—is only half of the picture.

When I speak with policymakers and implementers, they tell me they understand the value of women’s inclusion. It’s how to effectively include women, which is a wholly different and much more challenging question to answer.

So, how do we get beyond the “why” to the “how?”

To begin with, to develop effective training that is useful to the personnel charged with designing, developing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating foreign assistance, curricula must address how to effectively apply a gender lens to each of these activities. For example:

  • How do you complete a needs assessment that incorporates women’s perspectives?
  • How can you ensure that a security-sector reform program is inclusive in its design?
  • In measuring progress on a rule-of-law initiative, how do you ensure that your indicators—and thus your data—are inclusive?

The training the State, USAID, and Defense develop must address these questions. This isn’t a small endeavor. It will take time, effort, and collaboration across agencies.

It’s also not something that policymakers should undertake alone. Earlier this month, more than 90 civil society representatives and US policymakers came together for a consultation on the NAP, facilitated by the US Institute of Peace. This collaboration sent a strong, positive message about the value of such engagement.  Policymakers should continue to work closely with civil society in an effort across agencies for effective implementation of the NAP.

The US needs to become more comfortable and accustomed to working with civil society and academia. The consultation earlier this month was an excellent example of how productive such a partnership can be. The government doesn’t always have expertise on such specialized subjects, and rather than reinvent the wheel, the US should consider developing curricula as a cooperative effort with the myriad civil society experts that stand by at the ready.

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Angelic Young is a ten-year veteran of the State Department and now leads The Institute for Inclusive Security’s advocacy efforts and designs trainings for policymakers. She is a core faculty member at George Mason University.

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