The Five Most Important Insights Hidden In This State Department Report

   •    April 10, 2015

In case you missed it, earlier this week, the US Department of State sent a powerful message: that investment in gender equality supports US foreign policy and national security. It publicly released an overview of key accomplishments and challenges encountered while implementing the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security throughout 2014. This important report conveys the Department’s commitment to transparency, as well as to continually improving efforts to implement the NAP. It also held valuable lessons for the upcoming interagency review of the US NAP, as well as for other countries designing or revising their own national policies.

Here are five important insights from the report:

Women attend a community mobilization session in Sierra Leone to learn proper clinical care and burial procedures for victims of Ebola. (UN/Martine Perret)

1. Investing in women’s leadership now can mitigate crises in the future.

Women proved a valuable resource in responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. One group supported by the US NAP used its convening power in unexpected ways: to reach out to health care providers and local populations. The women had unique knowledge of community practices and cultural behaviors that enabled them to make practical, meaningful recommendations to the government. As a result, the community was more resilient and able to bridge communication gaps between local authorities and the national government. This service, vital in the midst of the crisis, was possible because of existing investments in women’s leadership via the US NAP.

A media training for women journalists in Afghanistan, led by an interagency Provincial Reconstruction Team. (US Navy/HMC Josh Ives)

2. Supporting local civil society leads to longer-term impact.

The report acknowledges that limited capacity among civil society counterparts thwarted efforts to create projects that would outlive the grant cycle. Local organizations can’t always meet the administrative requirements necessary for them to receive funding from the US government. A participant at Inclusive Security’s July 2014 Nairobi Symposium put it this way: “Our English may not be as good – but the work we do on the ground is better than what we write in our proposals…we cannot cope with the conditions you give. These are conditions for women that live in cities, have offices, and have accountants….” Going forward, the State Department will further invest in the capacity of civil society organizations and empower them to be full partners in promoting the US NAP objectives.

Secretary John Kerry with women from the WEAmericas Entrepreneur Group, an international exchange that increases women’s economic participation throughout Latin America. (US State Department)

3. Strengthening women strengthens communities.

The State Department frequently brings international women leaders to the US for educational exchanges. These experiences are transformative for the participants themselves, but the effects extend far beyond the individual level. Alumni of these programs have brought women’s perspectives into city planning in Ukraine, delivered resettlement services to North Korean survivors of sexual violence, and promoted domestic violence legislation in the Marshall Islands. The report cites these and other successes that represent the multiplier effect of US NAP priorities.

A community policing volunteer liaises between internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north Darfur and the police officers responsible for patrolling and responding to crimes in the IDP camp. (UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

4. Responding to atrocities requires innovation.

Through the NAP, the State Department promotes accountability for conflict-related sexual violence and provides support and services to survivors. But it’s difficult to deter non-state actors or hold them to account. Traditional solutions—like creating or strengthening laws or publicly shaming offenders—simply don’t work in communities where the likelihood of prosecution by a weak state is next to nil. Outreach and education are necessary tools in this kind of environment. Research indicates that, whether the crime is sexual and gender-based violence, corruption, money laundering, or terrorism, non-state actors respond only to one thing: aggressive enforcement. That requires strong community-police relationships, shared understanding of the content and meaning of laws, and political will on the part of community leaders to enforce the laws. The State Department should collaborate with local communities to innovate ways to increase the likelihood that perpetrators can be identified and held to account.

Over three years have passed since former Secretary Hillary Clinton announced the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. (US State Department)

5. Integrating women, peace, and security goals into our DNA will take time.

The State Department made strides in deepening its commitment to the principles of women, peace, and security. More needs to be done to expand staff understanding, capacity, and ownership of the NAP. As the report notes, the 2015 review presents an excellent opportunity to examine ways to accomplish this objective. Perhaps it also offers an opportunity for a shift in mindset. Instead of training staff (preparing individuals for today’s to-do list), they can move toward developing staff (preparing individuals for tomorrow’s challenges). When the majority of employees see capacity in this field as integral to their professional advancement goals and understand its vital importance to national security, the US NAP will be a success.

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