Over the past few years, ISOA has been exploring the role of women in Stability Operations. The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act of 2017 was signed into law and is now a major initiative for ISOA in 2020. WPS was a reoccurring theme in the Annual Summit this past fall, and it was highlighted by a panel discussion and by the Keynote Speakers, Assistant Secretary of State, Denise Natali, and Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL). Former ISOA Chairman of the Board of Directors, Michelle Quinn, is the leader the ISOA WPS Working Group and was instrumental in coordinating the speakers and participants for the WPS panel at the Summit.
Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Senior Fellow for InterAction, and Our Secure Future Foundation gave a keynote speech addressing women’s roles in Stability Operations. Amb. Steinberg has a long history of supporting peace operations with over 40 years of experience in government and nongovernmental organizations. His international relations and development expertise focused primarily on marginalized groups. Serving as Deputy Administrator at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Amb. Steinberg developed organizational reforms under the USAID Forward Agenda, supported the inclusion of women, people with disabilities, LGBT persons, and other marginalized groups, while expanding dialogue with industry partners.
The presentation and subsequent discussion recognized the peace building profession as possibly the single most dangerous job for a woman. Extremists groups and authoritarian regimes constantly work to delegitimize peace efforts conducted by women. Stability Operators have a responsibility to support the rights, efforts, and endeavors of women in stability and contingency operations. Accomplishing the mission successfully brings tangible results that include protecting the lives of women and girls, involving women to lead peace processes, holding militaries and warlords accountable for sexual abuses, stopping human traffickers, and building strong civil societies for women and girls from previously marginalized groups.
Involving women in peace operations highlights the critical role they have engaging the whole of society in destabilized regions and specifically war zones. Men and women both face the risk of an exploding landmine or suicide bomber. The October 2000 UN resolution 1325 called for women to be full participants in Peacebuilding, human rights, and the recognition of crimes against women. With the 20th anniversary of this resolution on the horizon, the international community needs to follow up on promises made. It cannot rely on governments alone as civil society plays a key role holding groups accountable. Many ISOA member companies already institutionalize women’s role in peace and security.
Following the Ambassador’s remarks, summit attendees heard from a panel of professionals with years of experience in Stability Operations supporting the inclusion of women.
Brenda Oppermann, Founder of GameChangers 360 and Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval War College, moderated the panel entitled, “The Other WPS: Understanding and Implementing the Women, Peace, and Security Act.” On 6 October 2017, President Trump signed into law the “Women, Peace, and Security Act.” Its enactment, reflected a growing movement to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping efforts. The panel discussed the WPS Act and how
attendees might best incorporate women in their organizations. Speakers on the panel included Anne Witkowsky, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs; Jamille Bigio, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations; Patrick Antonietti, Director for Stabilization and Peace Operations (Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict); and Cori Fleser, National Security Expert with Booz Allen Hamilton, and former Gender Advisor with AFRICOM.
The panel highlighted the progress many ISOA members have already made to be inclusive. Advertising their stories would be extremely advantageous to policy makers as successful experiences in the private sector can and should be incorporated into government agencies.
Women provide critical viewpoints vital to stability operations and the panel was clear on the importance of hearing their insights. Women in destabilized regions can influence the local populace who foreign governments cannot reach. Every household with a woman provides an opportunity to stop the adult men from joining ISIS or other extremist groups. Women are inevitably on the frontlines of Stability Operations and should be recognized for their critical role.
The panel called for women to be integral in every aspect of the peace keeping process. The U.S. Government strongly supports the UN zero tolerance policy on sexual assault which is necessary to encourage and create a safe environment for women to work effectively in the stability operations field. Without creating protective barriers and norms, peacekeeping will continue to be an extremely dangerous profession for women. The panel highlighted the need to understand the importance of gender integration. Putting men and women leaders together creates a more comprehensive perspective. Integrating experiences and ideas allows peace operations to development faster and more effectively.
Attendees showed their interest in an engaged question and answer session. ISOA President Howie Lind, thanked the panelists while also noting that other speakers such as Rep. Michael Waltz and Dr. Denise Natali addressed the same topic. While a prominent theme at the 2019 Summit, the growing women’s involvement in peace and security brings significant value to stability operations. This trend will increasingly become an accepted and integral feature of effective international stability operations in 2020 and beyond.