- How is being a WIIS member valuable to you?
I learned about WIIS when I was in graduate school. I was very fortunate to have mentors who were very involved in the organization. One of the first events I attended was a conference on women in peacebuilding. This was at the very beginning of my career as I was finishing law school and researching and writing about women and war for my master’s. It was before this became a recognized policy issue in Washington. That WIIS event was exciting because I saw that there were actual career paths examining the international security problems I cared about.
WIIS opened doors to meet amazing women with so many accomplishments in the international security field. The really special part about WIIS is the mentorship culture and the fact that the members at all levels and ages have the opportunity to interact and learn from one another. Entering this career field and finding your way can be intimidating and feel solitary sometimes, especially at stages of life where women are juggling many different priorities and struggling to find leadership paths in organizations that are oftentimes rigid in mentality and structure.
I was very honored to have the opportunity to lead the organization for more than seven years. It was a precarious time with the financial crises, and it was also a time when the organization had to adapt to new circumstances and remain relevant and helpful to the challenges women are now facing. But that presented opportunities to be creative and to listen to what members were saying. I met so many mentors and friends, and was able to mentor others and think about and respond to the needs. It was very fulfilling to be able to have those experiences.
I remain committed to WIIS because there is no other organization that is so open and nurturing to women in this field. WIIS is also unique in that it brings together so many people working on different issues who might otherwise never interact. I’ve seen the positive effects of this over and over again. I firmly believe that finding these intersections and fostering these relationships improves our international peace and security policy and practice, and makes good leaders. The vision of WIIS is still very critical as women struggle in many parts of the world for basic rights and security and have not achieved equality even in developed countries.
- How did you become involved in your current work?
I have always been drawn to issues surrounding women’s rights, peace, and justice. When I was in law school, I focused on international law. The idea of establishing commitments to uphold fundamental rights and dignity was very important to me. I was also interested in the notion of security and what that meant to the individual. When I decided to go to graduate school for security studies, I wanted to look at it from a different angle rather than the state-to-state type framework or the traditional national security lens. I wanted to understand how decisions were affecting people, families, communities on the ground and the potential for citizens to make peace where there was violence. This led me to the women, peace, and security movement. It was just beginning in the late 1990’s, and in 2000 with UN Security Council Resolution 1325. I went into government after law and graduate school. I worked on human rights first, but this agenda that was happening simultaneously was never mentioned, never part of the conversation among policymakers in Washington. Then I went to the Pentagon and worked on international agreements and then in a policy position on countries that were recovering from conflict. Trafficking in persons, governance, justice were all core dilemmas, but there was no space to incorporate these challenges into the defense policy. It was completely missing.
I left government to work directly on promoting women’s participation and gender perspectives in international peace and security. I had a fantastic opportunity to work with a foundation that was on the forefront of this issue. We were doing research and advocacy before anyone was really talking about this in Washington DC. I met so many inspirational women leaders who were building peace in very challenging environments. I worked with amazing, smart, passionate colleagues. Although it may have been risky to leave a secure government job, I am so grateful that I followed my instincts. I had to navigate a different career path because this topic was so new, but I have no regrets about doing it. It makes a huge difference to have voices from civil society and women’s perspectives included in policy discussions. It is a game-changer for international peace and security.
*First published by WIIS on August 25, 2016