USIP recently partnered with New America to convene roundtable discussions with government, civil society, and humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations to learn from the past decade of women’s programming in fragile states such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on these discussions, this report provides guidance for improving future programming to not only integrate the needs of women but also recognize the role women play in transforming violent conflict and sustaining a durable peace.


  • Afghanistan and Iraq have long been embroiled in violent conflict fueled by deep-seated local grievances and international interests. In both countries, peacebuilding agendas and gender equality advancements have struggled to take hold. Local and international civil society, allied nations, and the US government need to continue their efforts while they fight public fatigue about international investment and financing in peacebuilding and development work.
  • To sustain peace in these countries, peacebuilding and development programs need to take seriously the opportunities for learning from years of previous implementation—especially decades of work to advance the rights, agency, and opportunities of women and girls.
  • Evidence supports the link between durable peace and women’s participation as peacebuilders. Women and girls need to be engaged as key partners for peace by local civil society, national governments, and international implementers in shaping and defining peace agendas.
  • For programs to be more effective in advancing gender equality and sustaining peace, they need to follow a participatory design with local voices and ownership, adopt a holistic approach to implementation, pursue long-term engagement, and move beyond traditional women’s programming by addressing gender dynamics and masculine identities through the engagement of families and communities.
  • To be more transformative in peacebuilding work, programs will need to address root drivers of gender inequality in societies and to simultaneously undertake targeted work to support the rights and needs of women and girls. Both approaches in tandem are essential to meaningfully pursue gender equality and sustain long-term peace.

About the Report

This report provides guidance to improve future peacebuilding and development programming and encourage transformational change by addressing gender dynamics at the community level. Lessons from women’s programming in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade were distilled to identify barriers and challenges to the effective implementation of the global Women, Peace, and Security agenda as well as to provide recommendations for future work.

About the Authors

Following his career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Steven E. Steiner served as an advisor to the United States Institute of Peace, with a focus on the integration of gender perspectives in peacebuilding. Danielle Robertson is the senior gender specialist in the Policy, Learning, and Strategy Center at USIP, where she develops tools and facilitates trainings on gender inclusion in peacebuilding.

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