In a historic change in how the U.S. government approaches peacebuilding in conflicts abroad, President Barack Obama on Dec. 19 signed an executive order creating a U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security—an initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described as “a comprehensive roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the United States government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace.”

In a historic change in how the U.S. government approaches peacebuilding in conflicts abroad, President Barack Obama on Dec. 19 signed an executive order creating a U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security—an initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described as “a comprehensive roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the United States government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace.”

“From Northern Ireland to Liberia to Nepal and many places in between, we have seen that when women participate in peace processes, they focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation and economic renewal that are critical to making peace, but often are overlooked in formal negotiations,” Clinton said in a same-day address at Georgetown University in Washington. “They build coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines, and they speak up for other marginalized groups. They act as mediators and help to foster compromise.”

The launch of the National Action Plan comes 11 years after the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Along with four subsequent Security Council resolutions, 1325 called on governments to take steps to ensure that women are included in conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction and that the rights and safety of women and girls in conflict are protected.

In 2010, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) began a series of activities aimed at refocusing attention on resolution 1325 and the need for the U.S. government to move forward on an action plan on women and peacebuilding. USIP came to serve as the central organizing vehicle for a large number of civil society groups interested in providing information and perspectives to support the administration in developing the action plan.

In July 2010, USIP organized a working meeting “Women, Peace, and Security: Fulfilling the Vision of 1325,” that brought together representatives from the U.S. government, the U.N. and nongovernmental groups. In October 2010, Clinton announced that the United States would develop a strategy for the promotion of women, peace and security embodied in an action plan.

The following month, USIP organized a three-day conference with the aim of exploring how the contours of resolution 1325 could be translated into U.S. policy. The event focused on the experiences of women in wartime and how to encourage the involvement of women in the service of peace and security. The conference led USIP to convene what was called the U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. It became the key forum for nongovernmental groups to consult with the U.S. officials who were developing the action plan.

In May 2011, USIP held a conference launching the book Women and War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century, a trans-Atlantic collaboration that highlighted innovative ways of ensuring greater participation of women at the negotiating table and elsewhere in security matters. Then, in November, the Civil Society Working Group released an Expert Statement on the action plan. Many of its recommendations are incorporated in the strategy unveiled on Dec. 19.

Kathleen Kuehnast, director of USIP’s Gender and Peacebuilding Center, said Clinton’s announcement of the National Action Plan “represents a long and hard-fought struggle to bring the concerns and strengths of women to the security agenda. President Obama’s executive order sets in motion not only a national commitment to inclusive approaches to promoting peace and security, but sends a message to the world that we are ‘walking our talk.’ Both actions together represent a huge leap forward for women in conflict and post-conflict countries, as well as for the overall quality of peace that may be achieved.” Kuehnast said that USIP will be supporting the implementation of the action plan through its gender work in such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and Libya. The Institute also plans to continue convening the civil society working group. In her Georgetown speech, Clinton laid out five areas for policy activity from the plan, which is to be implemented within five months:

  • Partnering with women to prevent conflicts. “Women are bellwethers of society and, in fact, sometimes they do play the role of canary in the coal mine,” Clinton remarked. The new plan calls for “early warning systems that incorporate gender analysis and monitor increases in violence and discrimination against women,” she said.
  • Strengthening protection for women and girls during and after conflict. Clinton said the United States will work with others on the ground to “crack down on rape as a tactic of war, hold perpetrators of violence accountable and support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.” It is also assisting the U.N. to recruit more female peacekeepers and provide better training for all peacekeepers.
  • Expanding women’s participation in peace processes and decision-making. “The United States will use the full weight of our diplomacy to push combatants and mediators to include women as equal partners in peace negotiations,” Clinton said.
  • Ensuring that relief and recovery address the needs of women and girls. “Women are the most vulnerable in crises, yet they rarely receive a proportionate share of assistance or have the chance to help set post-conflict priorities,” she said. Clinton said that all crisis response and recovery teams from the U.S. Agency for International Development will include gender advisers and that priority will be given to prevention of sexual violence and building humanitarian assistance around women and their needs.
  • Institutionalizing the plan across the U.S. government. Clinton said that training on human rights and humanitarian concerns will be stepped up for troops, diplomats and development specialists. “Our goal is to fundamentally change the way we do business,” she said. The State Department is already providing grants for programs assisting women in African conflict zones, and U.S. embassies in new democracies in the Middle East and North Africa are working on local strategies to help empower women politically and economically, she added.

“This is not just a woman’s issue. It cannot be relegated to the margins of international affairs,” said Clinton. “It truly does cut to the heart of our national security and the security of people everywhere, because the sad fact is that the way the international community tries to build peace and security today just isn’t getting the job done.”

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