5 Questions with Swanee Hunt

   •    January 13, 2016


This article originally appeared at IOP Now.

Swanee Hunt is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecurer in Public Policy and was the Founding Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Ambassador Hunt is also the founder and chair of The Institute for Inclusive Security. From January 8-14, the Institute hosts its 17th annual colloquium in Cambdridge. The IOP asked Ambassador Hunt five questions about women and security, and where U.S. politics should take a page from abroad.

Watch the JFK Jr. Forum conversation on “Inclusive Security: Standing Up to Violence” moderated by Ambassador Hunt live on January 13 at 6pm ET here.

1.     What are the benefits of including women in approaching peace and security?
Our traditional approach to peace and security reinforces perverse incentives: those who took up arms are rewarded. They get a seat at the table and they divide up power—and the conditions that led to war in the first place remain. When women are meaningfully included, they change the tone and content of the conversation. Not only are they more likely to foster compromise and keep the warring parties from walking away, they raise issues that men don’t. They talk about rebuilding relationships between police and the civilians who no longer trust them, they insist on educating kids from opposite sides of the war together so that reconciliation can flourish. And the end result of this approach is that peace is more likely to endure.

2.     In its 17th year, the “Inclusive Security” forum is bringing together experts from Iraq, Mexico, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan and Ukraine. What are some of the common strands that tie together experiences in all of these disparate places?
Since 1999, we’ve brought together women from vastly different points of the world, and we’ve found that—while their circumstances vary—their experiences are remarkably alike. Whether battling Iraq’s sectarian strife or Mexican cartel violence, they risk life and livelihood. In every country, they’re consistently excluded from formal peace processes, even though research shows agreements last longer when women are involved. Another commonality: their defiance and redefinition of “traditional” gender roles. While that may look different in Kiev than in Juba, women share these barriers in a way that men cannot. At the same time, these countries are at different stages in their peace processes, and can learn from those differences as much as the parallels. For instance, women in Iraq were deeply involved in reforming their constitution 10 years ago. Just think of the lessons they can offer the women of Myanmar, whose country is slowly opening up to democracy.

3.     What lessons from civil society leaders abroad would you most like to see happen here in the US?
I’ve always said that Americans are allergic to quotas; talking about them here is a non-starter. But we’re far behind in terms of women’s political representation, which has consequences across the board—for economic growth, social programs, and much more. The US is ranked 72nd in the world for women in national parliaments (in our case, Congress). We’re just below Saudi Arabia. Now, at the top of the list is Rwanda, which has staggering proportions of women in parliament: just under 64 percent in the lower house (compared to our 19.4 percent) and 38.5 percent in the upper house (compared with 20 percent in our Senate). That didn’t happen by accident. It’s because women leaders in civil society and government pushed for a 30 percent quota, and then they encouraged more established candidates to run for the non-quota seats. I’m not saying we need an electoral quota here, but we need to be willing to talk about the problems this disparity creates and get serious about correcting it.

4.     Can you talk about a turning point moment that defined you as a person and emboldened your choice of career?
For seven years before becoming US Ambassador to Austria in 1993, I’d been helping women achieve self-sufficiency through the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, which I co-founded. Then, when I arrived in Vienna, I spent hundreds of hours interviewing women leaders in the neighboring Balkans. Yet, when I took my seat at the White House signing of the Bosnian peace agreement, I looked out on a sea of grey suits and noticed, for the first time, that none of the scores of extraordinary Bosnian women I’d worked with had been at the peace table. And I had failed to see it, even though I’d hosted 14 days of those talks in my offices and my residence. That experience showed me that it’s all too easy to overlook important stakeholders. We founded The Institute for Inclusive Security in 1999 to elevate women leaders and educate policymakers about the value of their participation, so that future negotiations draw on the experiences and expertise of 100 percent of the population.

5.     What do you think the “Future of Politics” will look like?
I know what I want it to look like. I want it to move in a direction where people most affected by decisions will have a greater say in making them. I always show a photo to my class of a dozen US congressmen signing abortion legislation. Like the sea of grey suits at the peace table, there is something grossly wrong with that picture. This isn’t just about women, either. They’re the gateway to bringing in youth, minorities, the LGBTI community, and so many others whose voices matter. And reaching these heretofore marginalized groups is a must for both political parties if they want to survive. American demographics are changing, and parties have no choice but to adapt. But we need to see it not just as necessity, but opportunity. This diversity of voices will lead to better policies, and better lives for all.

Learn more about Inclusive Security at www.inclusivesecurity.org and follow @InclusvSecurity and @SwaneeHunt on Twitter. Watch past years’ Forums about Inclusive Security in the JFK Jr. Forum archive here.

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