Women, Peace, and Security
By Rep. Kristi Noem
We live in very troubling times. Groups like ISIL are determined to destroy us and our system of values. Our allies, including Israel and South Korea, endure unremitting military threats. Russia and China are using economic and military forces to expand their global influence. Middle East instability – particularly as it relates to the Syrian civil war – is pushing millions of refugees into Europe and raising questions about the impact such an influx will have on their borders, economy, and safety as well as America’s national security. With so much conflict occurring, it may go without saying that peace negotiations are ongoing.
One of the more interesting bits of research that’s been done on our conflict-resolution processes in recent years indicates that a peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years when women are involved. We’ve seen this to be true in places like Northern Ireland, Africa, and Asia, for instance. Still, women are often underrepresented when it comes to preventing conflicts and building peace. During recent talks in Afghanistan, Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda, for example, women have been asked to fill only small roles, if any at all. This strategy misses out on the important perspectives that women bring to the table.
Women can be very influential forces within a community. They are often times empowered to encourage healthy choices within the home and advocate for their children to be armed with an education – both of which help lead to greater stability by giving young people opportunity outside of conflict. Women’s roles in the global economy also help raise countries out of poverty, which again promotes stability. In fact, women are the sole income-earners in nearly one-third of all households worldwide. By bringing these perspectives to the negotiating table, different priorities often rise to the top, making peace negotiations more likely to address a conflict’s underlying causes.
With all this in mind, I introduced a bill called the Women, Peace, and Security Act recently. This bipartisan legislation – which has the support of the leading Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – ensures women have a seat at the table during peace negotiations through meaningful congressional oversight.
In 2011, the Obama administration issued a “National Action Plan” on women’s involvement in conflict resolution. However, despite pledges to work with Congress and monitor progress, the administration has provided very little visibility into what, if any, progress has been made and what has been done or spent in accordance with the plan. Our legislation will help introduce that necessary level of accountability and by doing so, I’m hopeful we can produce more sustainable outcomes during future conflict resolution and peace negotiation processes.
Particularly in areas where increased stability creates greater security for the United States, we need to make sure the work we are doing produces lasting results. My legislation is but one instrument in a toolbox our military and diplomatic leaders can use when looking to produce long-term peace. Nonetheless, given that about half of all peace agreements fail within the first five years, U.S. foreign policy and security interests could benefit from deploying this tool more consistently. If the Women, Peace, and Security Act is enacted, that’s something we’ll be able to much better monitor.