Nine Things You Need to Know About the Women, Peace, and Security Act

   •    October 12, 2017

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Women across the world have been key to solving conflicts, forming women’s organizations, and calling for peace. Here, Pakistani activists demand an end to an ongoing war with India after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, 2002. Photo: AP Images/Mian Khaled Tanveer

The United States government has taken an enormous step toward involving women as decision-makers on matters of war and peace. In recent months, both chambers of the US Congress approved the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. President Trump signed it into law on Oct. 6. With this action, the federal government has made clear that meaningfully including women in preventing, ending, and rebuilding after deadly conflict is an American foreign policy imperative.

Here are nine things to know.

1) It requires a government-wide strategy.

The act says that within one year of its enactment, and again four years thereafter, the President, in consultation with the heads of relevant federal departments and agencies shall submit to Congress a women, peace, and security strategy.

The US currently implements the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was issued in 2011, then updated in 2016. However, the plan was created via an executive order, leaving it vulnerable to repeal by an unsupportive President. With this measure, Congress ensured that women’s inclusion is a focus, no matter who sits in the White House.

2) It increases accountability.

The act enables America’s elected officials to exercise better oversight. Whereas the current national strategy doesn’t call for reports to Congress, the act requires timely written reports from the President and regular reporting to relevant committees by the secretaries of state and defense, and the administrator of the US Agency for International Development. It also ensures transparency by stating that the strategy shall continue to be publicly available.

3) It requires collaboration across the federal government, and specific plans within departments and agencies.

The act names USAID and the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security as “relevant,” and notes the President could include in that definition any other department or agency. Relevant organizations are called upon to contribute to the overarching women, peace, and security strategy as well as have their own implementation plan.

4) It emphasizes women’s agency.

For too long, women have been largely viewed only as victims of violence or passive recipients of support. The Women, Peace, and Security Act emphasizes that women in communities around the world have valuable perspectives that should inform American priorities. It emphasizes the importance of integrating women’s interests into conflict-prevention activities and strategies, and of consulting women regarding new initiatives on peace negotiations, justice and accountability, violent extremism, and security sector reform.

5) It calls for direct support to women leaders.

Legislators listened to testimony from peacebuilders from around the world who described what they need to carry on their pathbreaking work. The act calls for the administration to “provide technical assistance, training, and logistical support to female negotiators, meditators, peacebuilders, and stakeholders.” It also urges support for “local organizations, especially women’s peacebuilding organizations.”

6) It requires training for diplomats, development professionals, and security personnel. 

Importantly, legislators understood that those responsible for implementing this law need guidance on how to do it. The act assigns responsibility to secretaries of state and defense, as well as the USAID administrator, to ensure relevant personnel receive training on issues and strategies for ensuring meaningful participation by women. Wisely, they specify that those requiring training range from contractors to top officials, such as special envoys.

7) It will contribute to a growing global emphasis on data collection.

Inclusive approaches to peace and security are too often insufficiently tracked or analyzed. The act says the women, peace, and security strategy shall “include specific and measurable goals, benchmarks, performance metrics, timetables, and monitoring and evaluation plans to ensure the accountability and effectiveness of all policies and initiatives.” It also urges the administration to “collect and analyze gender data for the purpose of developing and enhancing early warning systems of conflict and violence.”

8) It has bi-partisan support.

In the House, its champions included Kristi Noem (R-SD), Ed Royce (R-CA), and ten more Republican co-sponsors, as well as Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and three other Democratic co-sponsors. Members who helped advance previous versions include Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Mike Honda (D-CA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led support in the Senate, with co-sponsors Christopher Coons (D-DE), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Republicans Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) previously introduced similar legislation.

The measure won approval in both chambers on voice votes—without opposition.

9) It has support from women and men.

Of the 17 sponsors or co-sponsors in the House, the majority (11) were men. In the Senate, three were men, two were women.

The act itself calls for the administration to “support the training, education, and mobilization of men and boys as partners in support of the meaningful participation of women.”

Don’t forget to sign our thank you card to the members of Congress who made this possible.

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