Integrating Gender Perspectives in the U.S. Global Fragility Act: Innovation and Implementation

On March 8, 2024, Women In International Security (WIIS) and the Embassy of Liechtenstein held an in-person discussion with State Department Assistant Secretary of State Anne Witkowsky, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and an expert panel on the U.S. Global Fragility Act (GFA) and approaches to integrating a gender perspective in the 10-year country implementation plans to stabilize conflict-affected states and prevent the escalation of violence in fragile contexts. In line with the GFA, the Biden administration presented the 10-year plans for advancing U.S. government efforts for conflict prevention and stabilization in four countries (Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea) and the region of Coastal West Africa (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). To be effective, however, the GFA’s Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) and country implementation plans must integrate a gender perspective in advancing gender equality and the principles enshrined in the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. The WIIS event discussion will focus on the GFA, and the detailed implementation plans released by the U.S. government to highlight how gender perspectives have been integrated into the detailed 10-year plans for the four partner countries and one region under the SPCPS.

Marvin Dee Mathelier and Tahina Montoya

The Global Fragility Act (GFA) and its subsequent Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) constitute a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. government will act to address the root causes of violence in fragile states and stabilize conflict-affected areas. Given bipartisan support and congressionally mandated funding, the GFA is designed to produce a coordinated strategy that builds on lessons learned and prioritizes building partnerships with local communities and civil society actors. In terms of implementation, the GFA requires a whole-of-government approach and interagency process with regular reporting mechanisms applied to five high-priority countries over a ten-year period.

In Spring 2023, four years after the passing of the GFA, the U.S. State Department released a 10-Year Strategic Plan for four priority countries and one priority region. Haiti is one of the SPCPS-designated priority states, along with Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea, as is the region of Coastal Western Africa (which includes Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). The SPCPS specifically links the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) to its work, recognizing that the root causes of violent extremism are gendered and thus intimately linked to structural inequalities and discriminations that must be addressed to reduce state fragility. Haiti’s own 10-Year Strategic Plan identifies severe gender inequality and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as elements that undermine Haiti’s stability. 

With the SPCPS specifically calling attention to drivers of conflict that are deeply gendered, this policy brief argues that country implementation plans must consider a whole-of-government (WOG) approach that integrates a gender perspective. Haiti’s implementation plan must also recognize Haiti’s complex history and how it has contributed to the gendered dimensions of Haiti’s current violence—political, economic, cultural, and structural—and integrate these factors into the tailored approach emphasized in the GFA’s strategic documents. 

The policy brief begins with an assessment of current conditions in Haiti and then turns to the question of why current conditions are so intractable. Using Haiti as a case study, the policy brief shows how consideration of a country’s history and gender-specific issues are factors that must be considered when developing tangible solutions, as doing so is necessary to promote long-term stability. The policy brief then presents a set of recommendations that can strengthen the Haiti implementation plan and programmatic objectives in critical areas: formalize the informal sector workforce to empower women, reform education policy, increase support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and mobilize the Haitian diaspora in support of U.S. assistance to Haiti.

Haiti: The Current Situation

In addition to the 2020 COVID pandemic, 2021 was a devastating year for Haiti. Multiple protests and demonstrations have since occurred in response to high inflation and rising food and gas prices. The poverty-stricken country also saw an alarming increase in criminal and gang activity, a sign of the weakening authority and the incapacity of the Haitian National Police to control the gangs. Tensions escalated when, on July 7, 2021, a group of 28 foreign mercenaries broke into the home of President Jovenel Moïse and assassinated him. Only five weeks later, on August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southern claw of Haiti, causing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage and affecting the lives of over 1.2 million people.  

In the wake of these political, economic, and social crises, human rights violations over the past two years have escalated and accelerated. Women and children are particularly vulnerable. The number of kidnappings and abductions has tripled since 2021 as gangs use women and children for financial gain or tactical advantage. Of the 5.2 million Haitians requiring humanitarian aid (nearly half the population), three million are children. Severe malnutrition and cholera outbreaks are overtaxing a failing healthcare system, and gender-based violence is rampant.

It is estimated that gangs control 90% of the capital, Port Au Prince, instilling fear through the use of violent tactics such as kidnapping, rape, and murder to control areas. Occasionally, to further aggravate the populace, and in an attempt to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry from power, these gangs block off access to fuel and goods, preventing access to other parts of the country. This further exacerbates food shortages that, if left unchecked, can lead to a man-made famine. The international community’s hesitancy to get involved has left citizens with few choices, leaving many to combat gangs on their own. Some citizens have retaliated by taking extreme actions of their own, such as burning gang members in the road as a deterrent.

On October 23, 2023, after intense pressure from both the Haitian government and human rights organizations, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved a Kenyan-led security mission to help the Haitian National Police combat gang violence. However, on October 24, 2023, Kenya’s High Court blocked the deployment of Kenyan police to Haiti after a petition was filed challenging the government’s deployment decision, and Kenya’s parliament has yet to schedule a debate on the issue, a ruling the High Court is expected to make on November 9.

Roots of Systemic Failure          

For Haiti, the current violence that handicaps efforts to stabilize the country and protect at-risk groups has roots in Haiti’s tumultuous history, which has been shaped by foreign intervention and occupation, crippling debts, weak governance structures, and devastating natural disasters.

Independence and Struggle: 1800-1900. Haiti became the first free Black republic on January 1, 1804, when a band of slaves raised an army to defeat France. To recoup and compensate for its economic losses, the French demanded reparations totaling 150 million francs ($20-30 billion in today’s currency). Debt payments consumed over 80% of Haiti’s revenues for the subsequent 122 years. The fear of political contagion from Haiti’s successful slave rebellion led countries, including the United States, to withhold recognition of Haiti’s sovereignty or offer any support for the young country.

U.S. Occupation: 1915-1934. The U.S. occupation of Haiti was designed to quell the political and economic turmoil plaguing Haiti and, through a campaign known as the Banana Wars, to protect U.S. financial assets and economic growth in the Western Hemisphere. Many atrocities and human rights violations, including torture, forced labor, and religious persecution against voodoo practitioners occurred during the U.S. occupation of Haiti. Additionally, under the guise of protecting Haiti’s financial assets, the U.S. took custody of over $500,000 from Haiti’s national bank, roughly equivalent to $15,351,300 billion in current dollars. The loss of these funds had significant impacts on the country’s economic development and stabilization, and especially on Haiti’s social fabric and education system.

Despite promoting the goal of creating 1,074 schools in Haiti, the U.S. built only 306, much lower in comparison to schools constructed by the U.S. in Cuba (2,600) and the Philippines (1,000). For children in those countries, this support resulted in a significant increase in access to both schools and education. Rather than develop schools to promote education for all Haitians, the U.S. provided agricultural training for predominantly black Haitians, while their mixed-race peers continued their education at the limited and exclusive French-based curriculum schools in Haiti. This specifically limited black Haitians’ ability to acquire critical skills and knowledge, further widening the education and socio-economic gaps for black Haitian children.

The Duvalier Regime: 1957-1986. The 30-year reign of terror of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier that led to the killing of over 50,000 men, women, and children contributed to a massive exodus of Haitian citizens. This “brain drain” of highly educated and skilled Haitians had a devastating effect on the country’s social and economic development and placed the country in a perpetual cycle of poverty. Haitian citizens continue to struggle while members of the Haitian diaspora secure more economic growth and send remittances back to Haiti, often the only income many families have. Women, in particular, were severely affected by the impacts of emigration and economic crises, as most were forced to work almost exclusively within the informal sector. Statistics show the staggering cost: in 2021, the World Bank reported that “vulnerable employment” among Haitian women had reached 83.5%. 

2004 and Beyond: 2004 ushered in a crushing series of humanitarian, political, and economic crises that continued to disproportionately impact women and children in Haiti. This began with the second coup of Haitian President Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004, which in the wake of Aristide’s ouster led to the establishment of the UN peacekeeping mission Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH). Peacekeeping forces worked with the Haitian National Police to support police efforts to reduce violence. Unfortunately, trust in MINUSTAH evaporated as tensions grew. Corruption and GBV were endemic; serious incidents of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers against local citizens occurred, but few were held accountable for their actions. A severe cholera outbreak traced back to a sewage leak from a MINUSTAH base resulted in the loss of over 10,000 lives, and the UN was slow to accept responsibility. The withdrawal of MINUSTAH troops in 2019 left much destruction, loss of life, and a glaring security gap, creating an opening for gangs to take control of the country.

Finally, with more than 96% of its population exposed to hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, Haiti has become even more vulnerable to natural disasters. A 2010 earthquake killed 222,570 people, injured over 300,000, and displaced 3.5 million Haitians. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed around 250,000 people and wiped out 120% of its GDP. The destructive earthquake that hit Haiti on August 14, 2021, was followed two days later by Tropical Storm Grace, causing massive flooding and landslides and worsening the already desperate conditions on the ground. 

All these systemic issues and intractable problems, combined with a lack of faith in the government, have forced Haitians to fend for themselves. For women, this meant relying increasingly on the informal sector, primarily selling goods on the street and making the hard decision to use their financial resources to feed their children, pay for medical bills, or decide which of their children was most eligible to go to private school. This overwhelming conundrum created a practice with serious repercussions for poorer Haitians. With little money to send their children to school, a legalized form of child labor or slavery called Restavèk developed. With the creation of this system, limited resources drove many families to send their children to other, presumably wealthier, families who had the relative means to provide education, shelter, and food in exchange for their children’s service.

Current Impact on Women and Children

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

With the ongoing turmoil in Haiti, marginalized groups such as women and children continue to be disproportionally impacted. GBV and violence against women and children are used as a deterrent to control a community. A Health Policy Watch study that evaluated the use of rape as a weapon of war in Haiti stated that “80% of the women and girls who participated in this research had been victims of one or multiple forms of sexual violence by one or more perpetrators. In 33% of the cases, the assailants were described as bandits, gang members, or kidnappers. 14% of the victims were only 10 to 18 years old.”  

Unemployment Rate & Informal Work Sector

Haiti’s unemployment rate is currently 15.73%. Women make up 62% of the labor force, and nearly half of the Haitian women are heads of households, but they do not work in the formal sector. Women constitute more than 75% of the informal economy in Haiti, where they sell produce and other items on roadsides to support their families with no benefits, health insurance, or other job protections.  

Lack of Representation in Politics

Unsurprisingly, women’s political representation in Haiti is negligent. In 2019, women constituted only 2.54% of the Haitian parliament, though as of January 2023, there is no functioning parliament at all in the country. Haiti established a Gender Equality Policy in 2014 and the Haitian Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights (MCFDF) in 1994. Nevertheless, the plan has not been effectively implemented, and the MCFDF faces chronic underfunding (0.01—0.05% of the national budget), government and parliamentary hostility, and little political will to change the status quo. 

Restavèk System

As noted, a modern version of child slavery known as Restavèk remains prevalent in Haiti. Studies have shown that male and female children who have been “restavèks” (more than half of whom are girls) likely never attended school and are more prone to experience sexual, physical, and emotional violence in childhood than non-restavèk children (See Figure 1). Some children do return home, but with few options available to them, many turn to prostitution, join gangs, or become beggars, which only continues the poverty-stricken cycle in Haiti. The Haitian government has attempted to crack down on this practice, but many families continue to resort to the only means they can afford to feed their children and families. 

                     Figure 1: Restavèk vs Non-Restavèk Children

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Access to Education

Education in Haiti is valued but not accessible to all since 85% of schools in Haiti are private schools. Families understand the power and opportunities an education can bring and, if they have the means, are willing to pay more than 40% of their income to send their children to school. In families with multiple children, children may skip a year to let their siblings go to school or, as is often the case, preference is given to boys under the assumption that it will be easier for them to find jobs. Parents often have no money to pay for their daughter’s education, and it has been known that some girls ask their male counterparts for money in exchange for sex in hopes they will make enough money to afford an education. Additionally, while the global average for “mean years of schooling” is 8.7 years, Haiti’s is a mere 5.6 years, placing it 124th out of 150 countries.

An Opportunity for Change: The Global Fragility Act

The U.S. 10-year Strategic Plan for Haiti identifies key factors that contribute to Haiti’s fragility (including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and increased criminal gang activity) and delves into gender-specific issues that continue to contribute to the countries’ instability, namely, GBV and gender inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls. It specifically highlights the creation of a working group that consulted 230 individuals from different facets of the Haitian government and civil society. But gaps remain. 

It is particularly important that a detailed implementation plan arising from interagency discussions successfully integrate a gender perspective. However, a growing list of documents referenced for GFA implementation (see Figure 3) has made an already complicated effort more onerous. 

Figure 3: U.S. Government Documents: WPS and GFA

December 2017The United States Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017
June 2019The United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security
December 2019Global Fragility Act
December 2020The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability
December 20202020-2024 The USAID Strategic Framework: Haiti
April 2022Announcement of GFA Priority Countries and Regions
March 2023U.S. Department of State Integrated Country Strategy
March 2023Publication of Country and Regional Plan Summaries

Despite multiple failed attempts by Haiti and the international community to address existing complex conflict dynamics, the Global Fragility Act and its 10-Year Strategic Plan for Haiti offers an opportunity to course-correct if implemented with a gender-sensitive lens alongside the people of Haiti. We offer four tangible recommendations that help codify how gender-conscious GFA implementation could look like in Haiti. They provide a unique and crucial approach to stabilizing Haiti’s fragile situation through the lens of gender-centric solutions.


Recommendation 1:  Increase Women’s Economic Agency in the Workforce

Through the support of the DoS, DoD, and USAID under the GFA, the Haitian government should create a joint coalition with the Haitian Ministry of the Economy, local government officials, and local NGOs to develop a pilot project for supporting the women-led informal sector. While most plans would center their efforts in the capital, specifically in Port-au-Prince, this plan is better suited for development and implementation in Cap Haitian, the second-largest city in the country.  With over 190,000 people, Cap Haitian is in the northern tip of Haiti and has thus far been shielded from the violence currently engulfing key cities in Haiti. Through monitoring mechanisms and data collection, a pilot case will provide lessons learned for implementing programs tailored to support women’s agency in more fragile and conflict-ridden environments. This approach has positive multiple effects, and it will address the persistent insecurity women face socially and economically and help ensure they are in a space that enables economic growth for their families and encourages career development.               

Recommendation 2:  Enhance the Ministry of Women’s Affairs

While the Haitian government has established laws addressing gender equality, policymakers are noncompliant with the laws. Enhancing the capability of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is needed to oversee and enforce these laws, though it is doubtful the Haitian government will extend the resources and staff to support the Ministry’s work. International assistance can provide financial support for the Ministry’s activities, such as developing education and gender awareness programs for men, women, and children or building women’s economic empowerment. Collaboration among diverse international stakeholders that provide training, business advice, and increased access to financial resources or that work to build women’s business leadership and ownership in emerging markets will strengthen the Ministry’s capacity to empower more women.

Recommendation 3:  Education for Children

Education is the key driver to economic growth within a country. A highly educated and skilled labor force will increase the quality of work in all sectors and will contribute to increased income, tax revenue, and better-quality public education. To get there, with the help of GFA entities, Haiti should establish an education initiative similar to the approach conducted in the High Performing Asian Economies (HPAE) that includes Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Although different in culture, government structure, and region, these countries were able to shift from developing countries to leading economies within half a decade. With high rates of investment in education, the governments were able to reallocate funds towards human capital such as schools and other necessary training, which helped each respective economy grow. This is a challenge for Haiti–not just because of government instability and scarce resources for education, but because of structural inequalities in the education system itself that must be eliminated to spur greater economic growth in the country. Nevertheless, making progress towards quality universal education must be a political priority.

Recommendation 4: Mobilizing the Haitian Diaspora

Despite significant international assistance to Haiti–$13 billion between 2011 and 2022 alone–Haiti remains an impoverished failed state. Earlier efforts have failed for many reasons, among them, poorly managed projects, local capacity limitations, corruption, and a political and economic elite complicit in gang violence and unwilling to implement structural changes to address state instability. An approach that has not been optimized is leveraging the Haitian diaspora to advance develop-driven, long-term solutions for Haiti, with the diaspora working hand in hand with the U.S. government and Haitians on the ground. Outside of the Haitians on the ground, there is no other group that understands the complexity and issues within the island nation or that contributes more to Haiti’s GDP: around two-thirds of Haiti’s GDP comes from remittances, showing that the Haitian diaspora not only influences but drives and deeply cares about Haiti’s success.

The Global Fragility Act and the 10-year strategic plan for Haiti can lead to novel implementation approaches by incorporating members of the diaspora while engaging with Haitian civil society organizations, and do so with the intent to leverage Haitian diaspora expertise. This includes engaging with organizations like the U.S. National Haitian Elected Officials Network (NHEON), a U.S.-based organization of Haitian-American politicians who can be an additional voice and liaison between Haitian citizens and U.S. organizations working towards implementing the GFA. We also recommend exploring the opportunity to grant voting rights to Haitians living abroad. While Haitians living abroad are eligible for dual citizenship, they cannot currently vote in Haitian elections. Doing so would insert a diversity of views and weaken the ability of corrupt politicians to manipulate voters, in the hope that diaspora voters would help to push the Haitian government to be more accountable to its citizens.


While Haiti’s history has contributed greatly to its current situation, and prior policies (with the best of intentions) have failed to alter Haiti’s current state, the Global Fragility Act is, undoubtedly, currently the best option to address fragility in Haiti. Though a challenge, cooperation between U.S. government agencies working with Haiti’s citizens and the diaspora to develop and implement the above-listed recommendations would contribute to addressing key concerns of GBV, employment, education, and safety, all of which are discussed in the guiding frameworks that have been identified as key documents for GFA implementation in Haiti. Despite the delay in implementation, the GFA is a policy that provides a significant opportunity for change. If implemented alongside the people of Haiti in a gender-sensitive way, the GFA can address fragility in innovative ways that will work for Haiti and its people.

By Tahina Montoya and Joan Johnson-Freese

With passage of the 2017 Women, Peace and Security Act, the United States became the first country to mandate implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) framework. In accordance with act requirements, Congress released a report in July 2022 evaluating the progress of the four US government agencies charged with implementation—the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and US Agency for International Development (USAID). While progress was noted across all agencies, it was inconsistent. According to the report, for example, the Department of States invested $110 million, USAID $239 million, and Department of Defense $5.5 million for execution. Setting aside the discussion of how much is the proper amount to spend to fulfill the requirements specified by Congress—a vital discussion that should continue and be informed by regular reviews of progress made by each agency—DoD is clearly lagging far behind, a fact that becomes even more apparent when considering the vastly larger budgets apportioned to it than either the Department of State or USAID. Moreover, the differences in budget allocations among the implementing organizations create and exacerbate a WPS implementation gap and hamper collaboration. They also reflect differing perspectives on WPS relevance to organizational mission success. Thus, understanding relevance is a prerequisite to successful WPS implementation and education becomes both a fiscally responsible and necessary step in moving WPS implementation forward within DoD.

In 1986, Congress passed the sweeping Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganization Act, designed to address issues associated with intraservice rivalries that hampered mission success during the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage crisis, and the invasion of Granada. In addition to establishing command structure changes, Goldwater-Nichols also mandated that military officers complete joint professional military education (JPME) as a prerequisite for certain joint assignments and promotion categories. Education was thereby recognized as the right means for instilling “jointness” both within and between services. Subsequently, through designations of special areas of emphasis and legislation, education has repeatedly been recognized as the right means for mainstreaming key concepts and topics relevant to the military into the forces. As the July 2022 congressional report section on professional military education (PME) states, “The Department has recognized that WPS is an important field of study and as such, must be incorporated into how the Department educates its commissioned and non-commissioned officers to think strategically and identify creative approaches to joint warfighting and sustaining momentum in the Department’s campaigns.” While the benefits of mainstreaming WPS relevance through JPME are clear, integrating WPS into JPME has been hampered by organizational silos and organizational cultures that often still see security as primarily linked to men.

The Benefits of Mainstreaming WPS Relevance Through JPME

There are multiple benefits to incorporating WPS into JPME. Doing so would not only help align DoD with its Department of States and USAID counterparts to alleviate the already widening WPS knowledge gap between the agencies, but would do so with minimal fiscal impact to the DoD budget. JPME institutions already exist, are fully staffed—many including a WPS chair or lead—and are increasingly working together on WPS implementation. Incorporation of WPS principles into the core curriculum of JPME organizations is a logical next step. Further, incorporation addresses Defense Objective 1 in the 2020 DoD WPS Strategic Framework Implementation Plan, to ensure that the DOD “exemplifies a diverse organization that allows for women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force,” and mandates that DoD do so through JPME. In addition to abiding by published directives, incorporating WPS principles into JPME provides the United States with a stronger voice when encouraging partner nations to do the same.

More directly, incorporating WPS principles into DoD through JPME enhances readiness. In other words, WPS enables a US military that is a more effective fighting force, one that is better equipped and more capable of fulfilling any of the broad range of mission it may be tasked with. Failure to have troops prepared in advance resulted in the United States’ initial struggle to engage and work with a key source in the Middle East, women. Rather than being ready for the fight, the United States was forced to play catch-up, driving the development of rushed, ad hoc, separate training for cultural support teams and female engagement teams, while already at war. Having WPS principles incorporated throughout JPME would ensure gender perspectives, empirically shown to be relevant to conflicts and DoD missions, are part of standard operating procedures in future engagements.

For example, during the resettlement of Afghan evacuees into the United States after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Operation Allies Welcome was the first time two specific roles—gender focal points (GFPs) and gender advisors (GENADs)—were part of the mission planning process, as opposed to being an afterthought. Trained gender advisors were deployed to each of the eight task forces established throughout the country to serve as a cultural bridge between Afghanistan and the United States. They were there, as stated by Northern Command, to “provide a gender perspective into decision making; build relationships and trust with female guests; ensure women had equitable access to information and were able to voice their issues, concerns and ideas; and provide English classes and education on US cultural norms and expectations.” Accounting for those considerations better situated the task forces to advance an otherwise hectic mission, enhance evacuees’ perceptions of the United States, and ultimately contribute to more positive diplomatic and national security benefits. Unfortunately, gender perspectives and considerations prevalent in Operation Allies Welcome remain operational exceptions, rather than the norm.

Additionally, mainstreaming WPS principles into DoD through JPME provides future forces, including US allies who attend JPME, with valuable threat assessment, strategy development, and force enhancement tools, like the consideration of gender, not available elsewhere. In essence, incorporating WPS in JPME will not only benefit the United States on a national level; educating international officers attending JPME (many of whom are the future leaders of their respective countries) will, undoubtedly, also benefit the United States from a diplomatic and international perspective.

On June 16, 2023, with the publication of its WPS Strategic Action Plan, the Department of the Air Force became the military department to establish how its services—the Air Force and the Space Force—would implement WPS. The plan specifically identifies training as the department’s first WPS objective. Within that objective, intermediate objectives are identified that explicitly state that the department “incorporates WPS principles and gender perspectives into all training and professional military education.” Formalizing a strategic action plan that recognizes the role PME plays in institutionalizing WPS is a step in the right direction, but DoD-wide implementation requires other services to commit to the same, and then follow through. Follow-through in this regard has been slow, at best.

Inhibitors: Educational Silos and Organizational Culture

Gender is not the first topic difficult to understand and implement through JPME. But the JPME enterprise has rightly tackled those difficult topics—topics that span multiple overlapping academic silos and are vital to US national defense—just as it must with gender.

One of those difficult topics has been jointness. Part of the rationale behind the Goldwater-Nichols JPME requirement was to promote jointness. Jointness is essentially a force enhancer, intended to improve military effectiveness, and thus is a topic overlapping all aspects of military operations. Consequently, instilling jointness required integration into multiple JPME lessons across multiple, often siloed, departments for it to become standard operating procedure and part of future operations and doctrine. In crises, military organizations execute how they train, and they train according to doctrine.

The requirement to integrate jointness throughout JPME curriculum meant that every faculty member had to understand and seamlessly integrate it into the curriculum. At times, and at some PME institutions, faculty had to be incentivized. For example, for a time, the Naval War College annual faculty ratings included considerations of how well individuals instilled jointness into their teaching. Being part of their annual ratings encouraged faculty to become familiar with and incorporate jointness into their courses. Incentivizing faculty might also need to be the case with WPS.

Space security provides another example of challenges that accompany integrating crosscutting topics into military studies. Space operations includes four mission areas: space force enhancement, space support, space control, and space force application. Within space force enhancement, space capabilities aren’t important somewhere, they are important everywhere. Space security also has highly technical aspects and classification issues, further complicating its understanding and teaching. Consequently, JPME institutions have long struggled with questions regarding how to teach its importance, uses, and limitations as those considerations require at least limited knowledge of physics, engineering, policy, law, strategy, and security considerations. DoD has worked to address these issues for decades, and became part of the impetus behind the 2019 creation of the Space Force. Creation ensured the development of a critical mass of individuals with the requisite knowledge, clearance, and access to decision-makers to make inclusion of space security considerations part of national security standard operating procedure.

The incorporation of both jointness and space security in JPME offers insights applicable to WPS. In the case of jointness, the limited technical or classification components involved eased its incorporation, which should similarly make JPME incorporation of WPS more achievable. Additionally, as with jointness, the will and faculty motivation to incorporate concepts into their classrooms is key to implementation. The space security example offers an example of how, with the creation of the Space Force, DoD looked externally, to different organizations, to attract the expertise required to successfully develop and achieve the mission. This could also be the case with WPS, at least initially. In both cases, jointness and space security were topics that encountered organizational friction in JPME integration. In the case of gender considerations, however, in addition to friction, despite presidential and congressional direction to implement WPS, there has been outright organizational resistance centered on outdated notions of whether and how gender is relevant to national security.

Though well-established empirically, the relationship between gender and security has been largely unrecognized in academic courses related to international relations or security studies in both civilian and PME academic institutions. In military commands and PME institutions, that knowledge gap inhibits WPS implementation, forcing WPS advocates to rely on individual access to senior leaders and those individual leaders’ willingness to learn about WPS. The creation of two courses, WPS 100 and WPS 200, offered through Joint Knowledge Online was intended to provide leadership an introduction to WPS, at times and in ways convenient to them, but it remains utilized predominantly by action officers—those specifically tasked with ensuring a unit or organization is fulfilling WPS requirements—rather than the broader cohort of leaders necessary to effect widespread cultural change.. WPS 100 and WPS 200 are currently prerequisites of GFP and GENAD training, training essential to building a formally trained cadre of experts that serves an entirely separate, but equally beneficial, purpose. Separate from GFP and GENAD training, broadly integrating WPS principles throughout JPME ensures all service members have a basic understanding of WPS relevance to security. One does not, and is not intended to, replace the other as both are essential to expand the understanding and relevance of gender to security and military operations within DoD.

The perspectives of authors whose works are being read, promoted on military reading lists, and included as core curriculum in JPME remain predominantly male authored. This, in itself, evidences that security is still seen as a primarily male field by leadership and JPME administrators. For context, among 2022 military reading lists, the Air Force list was the most diverse, with 8 of 21 of the recommended books authored by women; followed by the Navy, 4 of 12; the Marines, 7 of 46; and the Army, 1 of 113. Regarding core curriculum readings, based on two in-house surveys regarding articles used in JPME, women authored or coauthored only about 10 percent of students’ readings. Conversely, a quick review of articles in Foreign Affairs between May/June 2022 and May/June 2023 shows that women authored or coauthored nearly 37 percent of works published. Similarly, 55 percent of articles and editorials published by the Harvard International Review from April 2022 to April 2023 were authored by female scholars. The issue, then, is not a lack of women-authored security-related articles being available, but rather, a lack of recognition and endorsement of such work in military institutions.

Organizational cultures tied to gender stereotypes and adverse to thinking beyond those gender stereotypes are inherently skeptical of recognizing gender as a security factor tied to readiness and mission success. But, as with JMPE being effectively used to overcome service rivalries in favor of jointness, even if faculty had to be incentivized to do so, education can effectively drive the change that is required to effectively implement WPS.

Incremental Steps

It is laudable that many JPME institutions have hired WPS chairs, conducted workshops, and held conferences on WPS. But, like gender advisors and gender focal points within other commands, WPS chairs can only do as much as their personal access to amenable leaders allows. JPME offers a means to continuously reach and educate the fighting force as a whole. Further, one person (or even a handful of people) cannot integrate gender perspectives into a curriculum taught by multiple faculty members in various departments. It must be integrated by the entire faculty.

Understandably, however, many JPME faculty members are reluctant to integrate gender considerations into curriculum, as most are largely unfamiliar with the subject themselves. Ensuring integration of gender perspectives into course material requires offering faculty development opportunities to learn about WPS. Like jointness, gender is not a stand-alone topic, but one that permeates throughout security studies. Like space, gender considerations must be worked into wargaming, exercises, and doctrine. While this is beginning to happen, it is still only by exception. Development of a WPS primer outlining core elements of WPS that institutions can adapt to their circumstances, faculty, student body, and budget and that is flexible enough to be used by both domestic and international organizations is needed. This primer would provide guidance on what key topics need to be integrated into core curriculum, not how to teach it, and would facilitate WPS standardization across JPME.

Finally, but not inconsequentially, mainstreaming WPS into DoD through JPME serves as a mechanism to address the issues continually surrounding and negatively impacting the military regarding sexual assault. At a March 2023 briefing on the 28 percent rise in sexual assault and harassment reports at military service academies, a DoD official called the statistics “extremely upsetting and disappointing.” In April 2023, DoD provided Congress with its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2022, reporting a total of 8,942 sexual assault reports throughout DoD, a 1 percent increase from the previous year. In addition to the immeasurable trauma experienced by survivors, these statistics also represent a threat to maintaining an effective workforce and readiness, making sexual assault and sexual harassment a direct threat to US national security. While DoD is taking steps to counter sexual assault in the military (addressing the issues that already exist), WPS education at JPME would contribute to preventing sexual assault (taking steps to address issues before they develop).

DOD has an opportunity build on the successes noted in the July 2022 congressional report and JPME provides the mechanism to do so effectively. Failure to consider efficient implementation of WPS in JPME will only hamper opportunities to facilitate mission readiness and ensure mission success.

Tahina Montoya is an officer and gender advisor in the Air Force Reserve and a fellow at Women in International Security.

Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor emeritus at the Naval War College, senior fellow at Women in International Security, and author of Educating America’s Military and Women, Peace and Security: An Introduction.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense, or that of any organization the authors are affiliated with, including the Department of the Air Force and the Naval War College.

By Eric Rudberg

Female participation in both conflict prevention and conflict resolution enhances security interests. Studies have found that a significant inclusion of women and civil society groups in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years.[1]  Evidence has repeatedly illustrated that full and meaningful participation of women in peace operations broadens the perspective on conflict management, allows for more inclusive political resolutions, and, in the end, improves international peacebuilding strategies. It has also been shown that there is a direct correlation between the meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping and the performance and effectiveness of peacekeeping units.[2] This participation of uniformed women peacekeepers can be divided between the police component, justice and correction, and, finally, the military.  Of the three, this paper will exclusively examine the military component in depth.  It will explore the importance of meaningful participation of female peacekeepers as well as examine the current status of military women in peacekeeping operations. 

Importance of Meaningful Participation of Female Peacekeepers

The increase of women’s participation in global peacekeeping operations has been shown to improve the effectiveness and stability of a mission. Missions with more women personnel are more likely to achieve their mandate and bring sustainable peace.[3]  However, evidence strongly shows that it is the “meaningful” participation of women and not just numbers that matters. The Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations defines meaningful participation as “the presence and leadership of women in UN peace operations, across all ranks and functions.”  According to the Elsie Initiative, women can participate meaningfully “when they contribute to, and are included in, all aspects of operational and mission planning, and decision-making processes…[and] when they hold operational command and leadership positions, and non-traditional as well as non-stereotypical roles.” Additionally, women can participate meaningfully “when they have access to the same training, promotion and career advancement opportunities as their colleagues who are men;…when they hold positions that are in line with their training, rank and area of expertise; and when their workplace is free from all forms of harassment, bullying and intimidation.”[4]

Meaningful participation of female peacekeepers improves the operation and performance of a peacekeeping force. They enhance the overall holistic approach in today’s peacekeeping operations by contributing an additional perspective to the planning and key decision-making process, especially those affecting civilians, particularly women and girls.[5] A diversity of backgrounds and experiences has been proven to enhance a unit’s performance and ability to solve problems. This female perspective enables the peacekeeping operation to successfully address the needs of the entire civilian population it is there to serve.[6]  Female peacekeepers also bring a unique set of tactical skills that their male counterparts often do not possess, including the ability to physically screen/search females.[7]  Knowing that peacekeepers are supposed to abide by the cultural sensitivity of not having males searching females, it is not uncommon for spoilers, also known as the opposing force, to have females carry illicit items under their clothing since the females will probably not be screened and searched.

Women peacekeepers’ access to the local population is particularly valuable when there are cultural restrictions around interaction across gender lines and in venues that are closed to men.[8] Reflecting on her service in Afghanistan, Major General Kristin Lund pointed out that, “being a female, from my recent deployment in Afghanistan, I had access to 100% of the population, not only 50%.”[9] Locals often feel more comfortable liaising and sharing information with military troops that include women peacekeepers, giving them better situational awareness of the environment they are operating in.[10] The ability to gain the trust of local populations is a vital component of any peacekeeping operation.[11] It results in good intelligence and a reduction in violence in the communities that peacekeepers seek to protect.[12]

Female peacekeepers often cultivate trust and confidence with local communities which in turn encourages these populations to work with the peacekeeping force by reporting a variety of crimes, in particular, sexual violence. Major General Lund explains, “if a woman has been gang-raped by men, she will most likely approach a woman in uniform rather than a man. And men that are raped will, I think, also approach a woman soldier rather than a man.”[13] Women’s participation is also connected with fewer misconduct complaints lodged against the peacekeeping force since these women are perceived as being more effective at de-escalating potential violence and are less threatening.[14] Finally, the inclusion of female peacekeepers has been associated with fewer allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by the peacekeeping force.[15] Studies have found that an increase in the proportion of women from zero to five percent reduces the expected count of sexual allegations by half.[16]

Current Status of Women in Peacekeeping Operations

Despite evidence that the meaningful participation of women in the military contingent of  peacekeeping operations is both the right and smart thing to do, they are routinely underrepresented. For example, led by the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, there are currently twelve peacekeeping missions deployed worldwide to help countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.[17] According to the Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender spreadsheet for October 2022, out of 63,310 strictly military peacekeeping troops deployed to these twelve missions, only 3,789 are female, or roughly 6.0%.[18] However, this percentage has very slowly been increasing throughout the years.  In 1993, women comprised less than 1% of the uniformed personnel deployed.[19] In 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2242 encouraged the Secretary-General, in collaboration with member states, to “double the numbers of women in military and police contingents of UN peacekeeping operations over the next five years.”[20]  Regardless of this call to action, there has not been a significant increase in female participation since the end of 2009.[21] In 2018, UN member states adopted the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028, which set the goal of 15% for female participation in the military contingent by 2028.[22] It also established annual targets for the Secretariat to accomplish this lofty goal. The target for 2022 was 9% but fell short by 1,909 female peacekeepers.[23]

Nevertheless, some countries have managed to deploy significantly higher percentages of female peacekeepers.  As of October 2022, of the fifteen countries that deploy over 1,000 troops to peacekeeping operations, South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, and the United Republic of Tanzania exceeded the UN’s contribution target (9%) for the percentage of women deployed.  Additionally, multiple countries that deploy fewer troops have done better. Nigeria, for example, has 21.5% of women in their peacekeeping forces (14/65) and Estonia is at 100% (1/1). On the opposite end of the spectrum is India, which only deploys 51 women on their missions (0.9%), despite being the second largest troop-contributing country in the world, with 5,548 troops deployed.[24] As of October 2022, the top three UN peacekeeping missions with the highest number of female troops are the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) with 781, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) with 776, and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with 746.  In spite of those large numbers, relative to the proportion of the total force, female troops only made up 6.4% of MINUSCA, 5.9% of UNMISS, and 6.0% of MONUSCO. The top three missions with the highest proportion of female troops are the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) at 40.0% (8/20), the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) at 8.9% (66/740), and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at 7.3% (692/9490).[25]

Although the number of female peacekeepers and the proportion of the military contingent made up of women is slowly increasing, this does not mean that meaningful participation of women is rising in UN peacekeeping missions. Often, women peacekeepers who do serve are limited to stereotypical roles such as nursing, community engagement, administration, and domestic services, which include such tasks as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, irrespective of their skills and experience.[26] Missions with a higher percentage of combat-related forces tend to have the lowest percentages of women, in part because of a reluctance to send female peacekeepers to dangerous areas of conflict, where there are higher levels of sexual exploitation and abuse or higher numbers of peacekeeping deaths. The belief that women cannot protect themselves is still prevalent among peacekeeping forces today.[27]

  This tendency results in women peacekeepers being underutilized since they rarely conduct patrols or interact with locals, especially with the women and children in the community.  Even though their numbers and proportions are expanding, women might not be deploying to missions evenly or where they might be most needed. Consequently, these operations lack added benefits and the potential impact that meaningful participation of females brings to a mission.[28] Ambassador Melanne Verveer bluntly explained, “Inclusion is not enough for meaningful participation, which is what matters in the end.”[29]

There are numerous barriers and challenges women must overcome in order to participate in peace operations. Females experience similar stigmas and taboos throughout their military careers regardless of their rank, nationality, or background. These stigmas and taboos create challenges at the individual and community level, within women’s national defense structures, and within UN peace operations.[30] In July 2018, the Elsie Initiative published a baseline study which was the first attempt to systematically gather, analyze, and categorize the barriers female soldiers face in their pursuit of deploying on peacekeeping operations. Fourteen different barriers that can prevent women from deploying on peacekeeping operations were identified and organized into six main categories: equal access to opportunities, deployment criteria, the working environment, family constraints, equal treatment during deployment, and career-advancement opportunities.[31] Since the baseline study was published, further research has reduced and combined these fourteen barriers into ten: eligible pool, deployment selection, deployment criteria, household constraints, top-down leadership, inadequate accommodation and equipment, negative experiences, disincentives to redeploy, stereotypical gender roles, and social exclusion.[32]  Many of these barriers address cultural challenges women face in their home countries, both in society and within the military itself. Studies show that when a troop-contributing country has a better record of gender equality, it is more likely to send female peacekeepers. In other words, when a country strives to gender mainstream its own national military, it is more likely to send women to a peacekeeping mission, which, therefore, improves the gender balancing in said mission.[33] Ghana is an example of this since it was among one of the few countries globally to have started enlisting females as far back as 1958, barely a year into its independence. It is also given credit for having trained the first female officer pilots in the sub-region in 1965.[34] Thus, it is not surprising that Ghana’s contributing percentage for female peacekeepers in October 2022 was 14.1%.[35]

On October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 to address women, peace, and security. This groundbreaking resolution highlighted a shift in UN policy to engage more females in peacekeeping operations.[36] It stressed “the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”[37] In the two decades since Resolution 1325, the UN has continued to adopt numerous other resolutions and initiatives aimed to address the underrepresentation of women in UN peace operations. This includes both the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028 and Resolution 2242, which, among other things, encourages troop-contributing countries to hit targeted female participation percentages. Also, in August of 2018, 152 member states of the UN committed to “ensuring full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of the peace process” and “recommit[ted] to increasing the number of civilian and uniformed women in peacekeeping at all levels and in key positions” in their Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN

Peacekeeping Operation as part of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative.[38] This initiative was a call by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for a renewed collective engagement with UN peacekeeping and to mutually commit to reaching for excellence for all those involved.[39] Most recently, in August 2020, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2538 which unequivocally recognizes “the indispensable role of women in increasing the overall performance and effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.”[40] It also offers clear direction on how member states can increase the deployment of female peacekeepers. Finally, it supports the need to ensure that the working culture is gender-sensitive for women, and addresses threats and violence against them.[41] Despite all of these efforts, female military troops continue to be a rarity in UN peacekeeping operations. 


The meaningful participation of women is not only an extremely important issue for peacekeeping but also for gender equality. The benefit they bring to a mission can be the difference between success and failure. Because of this advantage, everything possible must be done to ensure that women are an integral part of every peacekeeping operations.  It is inspiring to imagine how the world will be once this is accomplished. The UN, along with all its member states, must continue to strive for this goal.

The opinions expressed here are solely the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates

After graduating from the United States Military Academy, Eric served as an Army infantry officer, which included two combat tours in Iraq. Wanting to share the hard lessons he had learned, once out of the Army, he began to train and mentor future peacekeepers across Africa through the State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). He then returned to academia and earned both a master’s in Security Policy Studies and a graduate certificate in Global Gender Policy from The George Washington University.  He now serves as the Finance and Operations Analysis for the African Team within GPOI where he works on increasing the meaningful participation of females in peacekeeping operations. 


United Nations Peacekeeping. “Action for Peacekeeping (A4P).” Accessed February 9, 2023.

Bigio, Jamille, and Rachel B. Vogelstein. “CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum Advocates for More Female Peacekeepers.” Council on Foreign Relations (blog), September 27, 2018.

———. “How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests.” Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2016.

———. “Increasing Female Participation in Peacekeeping Operations.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 26, 2018.

Brabant, Solene. “Assessing Barriers and Opportunities for Women’s Participation in Peacekeeping.” A Propos 162 (September 2019): 15–16.

Candela, Kacie. “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers: A Status Report.” PassBlue, August 7, 2018.

“Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.” United Nations Peacekeeping, 31 October 22.

Coulouris, Renee. “Why We Need More Women in Peacekeeping.” Foreign Policy Rising (blog), March 27, 2019.

“Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations,” August 16, 2018.

Government of Canada. “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations,” February 21, 2017.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Female Military.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

Gentry, Caron E., Laura J. Shepherd, and Laura Sjoberg, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

Ghana Web. “Ghana Attains UN Target of Women Deployment in Peacekeeping Missions,” October 13, 2020.

Ghittoni, Marta, Léa Lehouck, and Callum Watson. “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations: Baseline Study.” Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, July 2018.

Ivanovic, Alexandria. “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.” United Nations University, July 9, 2014.

Kenny, Charles. “The Elsie Fund: Good News for UN Peacekeeping.” Center For Global Development (blog), March 28, 2019.

———. “Wanted: More Women Peacekeepers.” Center For Global Development (blog), October 11, 2016.

Moditsi, Kleopatra, and Aditi Gorur. “Overcoming Hurdles for Women Peacekeepers in the Field.” Stimson Center (blog), May 29, 2020.

Security Women. “New Security Council Resolution on Women and Peacekeeping Announced,” September 7, 2020.

Phillimore, Arabella. “We Need More Female Peacekeepers in War Zones.” Financial Times, October 16, 2019.

Pulliam, Jennifer. “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace – and a U.S. Priority.” DipNote: Military and Security (blog), May 29, 2020.̶-and-a-u-s-priority/.

“Reducing Barriers for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: DCAF’s Contribution to the Elsie Initiative.” Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance. Accessed February 9, 2023.

“Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 31, 2000.

“Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 13, 2015.

“Security Council Resolution 2538 (2020).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, August 28, 2020.

Torres, Daniel de. “The UN Wants to Deploy More Women in Peacekeeping, so Why Are There so Few?” Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (blog), September 10, 2018. /un-wants-deploy-more-women-peacekeeping-so-why-are-there-so-few.

“Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028.” New York: Department of Peace Operations, January 2019.

Vermeij, Lotte. “Addressing Taboos and Stigmas Military Women in UN Peace Operations Experience.” IPI Global Observatory (blog), February 9, 2023.

Verveer, Melanne. “Championing Gender – Sensitive Security Sector Reform.” Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, October 13, 2020.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Where We Operate.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Women in Peacekeeping.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

“Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance.” United Nations Peacekeeping, October 2022.

[1] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Advances U.S. Interests” (Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2016), 1, .pdf.

[2] Jennifer Pulliam, “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace – and a U.S. Priority,” DipNote: Military and Security (blog), May 29, 2020,̶-and-a-u-s-priority/.

[3] Charles Kenny, “The Elsie Fund: Good News for UN Peacekeeping,” Center For Global Development (blog), March 28, 2019,

[4] “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations,” Government of Canada, February 21, 2017,

[5] “Female Military,” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[6] Renee Coulouris, “Why We Need More Women in Peacekeeping,” Foreign Policy Rising (blog), March 27, 2019,

[7] “Female Military.”

[8] Kacie Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers: A Status Report,” PassBlue, August 7, 2018,

[9] Alexandria Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers” (United Nations University, July 9, 2014), 11 “Female Military.”

[10] “Female Military.”

[11] Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.”

[12] Arabella Phillimore, “We Need More Female Peacekeepers in War Zones,” Financial Times, October 16, 2019,

[13] Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers.”

[14] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “Increasing Female Participation in Peacekeeping Operations,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 26, 2018,

[15] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum Advocates for More Female Peacekeepers,” Council on Foreign Relations (blog), September 27, 2018,

[16] Charles Kenny, “Wanted: More Women Peacekeepers,” Center For Global Development (blog), October 11, 2016,

[17] “Where We Operate,” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[18] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender” (United Nations Peacekeeping, 31 Oct 22),

[19] Kleopatra Moditsi and Aditi Gorur, “Overcoming Hurdles for Women Peacekeepers in the Field,” Stimson Center (blog), May 29, 2020,

[20] “Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 13, 2015), 5,

[21] Daniel de Torres, “The UN Wants to Deploy More Women in Peacekeeping, so Why Are There so Few?,” Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (blog), September 10, 2018, /un-wants-deploy-more-women-peacekeepingso-why-are-there-so-few.

[22] “Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028” (New York: Department of Peace Operations, January 2019), 4,

[23] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.”

[24] “Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance” (United Nations Peacekeeping, October 2022), 4–5,

[25] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.”

[26] “Reducing Barriers for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: DCAF’s Contribution to the Elsie Initiative” (Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance), 5, accessed February 9, 2023,

[27] Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers.”

[28] Caron E. Gentry, Laura J. Shepherd, and Laura Sjoberg, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security (London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019), 342.

[29] Melanne Verveer, “Championing Gender – Sensitive Security Sector Reform” (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, October 13, 2020),

[30] Lotte Vermeij, “Addressing Taboos and Stigmas Military Women in UN Peace Operations Experience,” IPI Global Observatory (blog), February 9, 2023,

[31] Marta Ghittoni, Léa Lehouck, and Callum Watson, “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations: Baseline Study” (Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, July 2018), 47,

[32] Solene Brabant, “Assessing Barriers and Opportunities for Women’s Participation in Peacekeeping,” A Propos 162 (September 2019): 16, .

[33] Gentry, Shepherd, and Sjoberg, The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security, 342.

[34] “Ghana Attains UN Target of Women Deployment in Peacekeeping Missions,” Ghana Web, October 13, 2020,

[35] “Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance,” 4.

[36] Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.”

[37] “Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 31, 2000), 1,

[38] “Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations,” August 16, 2018, 1,

[39] “Action for Peacekeeping (A4P),” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[40] “Security Council Resolution 2538 (2020)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, August 28, 2020), 1,

[41] “New Security Council Resolution on Women and Peacekeeping Announced,” Security Women, September 7, 2020,

By Joan Johnson-Freese & Alexandra Nicole Islas

The answer to this question is: not likely. The 118th Congress, extending from January 3, 2023 – January 3, 2025 includes 149 women (107D, 42R), two more than the previous record of 147, set in 2022, thereby constituting 27.9% of Congressional seats. However, beyond hyper-partisanship, differing views among Congresswomen regarding the meaning of “agency” is a neglected factor in the larger debate about women legislators and bipartisanship. Women have stepped forward in a bipartisan fashion on issues where there is no logical counterargument, such as the military needing to provide body armor appropriate to women soldier’s physiques or the need to keep the government open. But differing views on agency can be divisive. Understanding what agency is, differing views of how it is obtained and suppressed, as well as how agency affects gender relations and even violence provides a more granular view of what might be expected from the growing number of women legislators.

In 2013, a U.S. government shutdown seemed inevitable until a bipartisan group of 20 women senators saved the day. Time magazine heralded them as “the only adults left in Washington” for their willingness to reach across the aisle and find a compromise that avoided a costly shutdown. In that article Senator John McCain said, “Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them,” inferring that women lawmakers would act more cooperatively than their male counterparts.

Research indicates that men and women tend to act differently regarding how they approach conflict resolution. Of the five types of conflict resolution approaches—competing, avoidance, accommodating, compromise and collaboration—men favor the first two, and women the last three. But women are not always and inherently peacemakers. The 2013 example of bipartisanship may have been a one-off because the Senators saw it in everyone’s interest to keep the U.S. government open as both parties get blamed when the government shuts down.

The Importance of Personal Agency

Agency is an often overlooked and little understood concept of significant importance. Social science researchers have found that personal agency, simply stated as the ability to take meaningful action in your own interest, correlates with feelings of happiness and life satisfaction because it allows individuals to feel in control of their own lives. For example, a 2011 study found that conservatives were happier than liberals, in part because of their strong sense of personal agency. Recently, however, conservative—typically Republicans—have been described and describe themselves as angry, some even supportive of political violence, with many feeling a loss of agency (e.g. control over their personal circumstances) they once felt. A recent Secret Service report on mass violence in the U.S. cites men facing “major life stressors” as a key component in the dramatic rise in mass violence.

Feelings of loss of control among white, often poor, American men have given rise to the Great Replacement Theory, a racist, sexist, anti-immigration theory that blames negative circumstances on others and pushes authoritarian responses to address their woes. Men who believe this theory feel angry at women, believing they are among those “stealing their jobs” and robbing them of their masculinity, and control. Given the traditional dominance of men, including in writing and interpreting laws, they have been allowed to suppress women’s agency. Now, the shifting sands of who is gaining and losing personal agency has affected both men and women.

Agency can be suppressed through personal experience as well. In environments where “the system” isn’t trusted, and where women have seen others report harassment or assault and nothing was done or the woman suffered backlash, women who should have agency based on legal principles nevertheless often do not exercise it. In the United States, an estimated one in three women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but only 28% of sexual assault victims report their assault to the police. In the workplace specifically, the well-publicized U.S. example of sexual harassment at Fox News by CEO Roger Ailes was exposed only after years of fear-based toleration.

Agency Among Women Lawmakers

Regarding shaping and voting on legislation, important differences exist among women regarding how one “gets” and maintains agency.  Generally, liberal women support policies and laws advancing women’s rights and thereby seek to grant agency to women as a group. Conservative women, however, tend to support traditionally held conservative tenets of gender blindness, limited government, individualism and traditionalism, thereby making agency an individual issue and placing emphasis on personal tenacity and self-reliance. Conservatives believe that most people get ahead if they work hard. Conservative women often associate feminism with “victimization” and adamantly reject any such association, focusing instead on positive personal achievement. Rather than #MeToo, “moving on” is the mantra of conservative women, as a superior vision of female empowerment.

These differing views on agency shapes legislation. Liberals, for example, see reproductive health as a group issue and support legislation to require employers and insurance companies to cover contraception costs as part of health care. Conservatives, on the other hand, including conservative women, will more likely see cost coverage as a personal responsibility and vote against government intervention requiring employers or insurance carriers to provide such.

Regarding women in the workforce, views on agency can also intercede, evidenced in a 2020 fight in California over “gig work” at places like Uber and Lyft. All of the 21 women that voted yes on the bill were Democrat, while both of the two women that voted no were Republican. Whereas liberal women there supported efforts to mandate that gig work  pay benefits that help women as a group long-term, conservative women argued against such efforts as hindering individual women’s near-term opportunities to earn (flexible gig work often being attractive to women) if businesses pay workers less due to having to pay benefits.

Another aspect of workforce disagreement is found regarding the gender pay gap. Many Republican women see the gap as attributable to choices women freely make about professions and jobs that result in lower pay, part of what is frequently referred to as choice feminism. When the House voted on the Paycheck Fairness Act in December 2022 not one Republican woman voted in favor, arguing the bill would spur more litigation against employers and therefore hurt women in the workforce. The bill required employers to prove why pay disparities between sexes existed, banned employers from asking employees about their salary history and built in avenues for employee recourse if they thought they were being paid unfairly.  Republican Representative Elise Stefanik offered an alternative bill, the Wage Equity Act, that would encourage but not require employers to conduct voluntary pay analyses and protect workers who discuss their pay with colleagues, but under employer-set parameters.

Marginal Bipartisanship

Following a “Golden Age” of bipartisanship between 1969-79, U.S. Congressional bipartisanship has dropped significantly overall. The Lugar Center – McCourt School Bipartisan Index provides scores and rankings for Members of Congress that measure bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship data based on the degree to which members of opposite parties agree on the same issue with their votes. Looking at the data from 2021, of the 435 Members of Congress total, 24% had a positive bipartisan score, with women making up only 26% within that number. Women operating in a still male-dominated environment often feel especially bound to uphold the positions of their designated political party, thereby suppressing their agency as legislators.

Navigating voter and partisan constraints on agency has been an issue for women in both political parties.  Republican women lawmakers and 2022 candidates, for example, found reproductive rights a difficult minefield to navigate after the Republican-supported 2022 Supreme Court reversal of Roe v Wade and the subsequent landslide win for reproductive rights in Kansas. On the Democratic side, progressive women have found themselves at odds with their more conservative party leadership, which is largely motivated by a drive for party consensus, thus inhibiting their agency. Further, women frequently have less power than men to combat the backlash that is commonly present when straying across party lines, especially on highly polarized issues; witness Liz Cheney’s fall from grace in the Republican party.

But all is not lost. There are a number of issues of concern to all women ripe for addressing through legislation. A recent study found women politicians are more than three times as likely to be targeted by harassment or threats than their male counterparts. The anger and violence among white men spurred by their feelings of lost agency has been a trigger for women being targeted. With their numbers growing, Republican women politicians are finding themselves targets of misogynist colleagues and pundits much as Democratic women politicians long have experienced, giving both a vested interest in addressing the doxxing, trolling, sexual deepfakes, harassment, and violence that all women politicians suffer.

Mid-term elections evidenced many voters stepping away from extremism, which perhaps will open the door for cooperation or compromise among more women on more issues. And, as the number of women legislators increase, the pressures for them to conform to the masculine competitive ethos of their still-dominant male counterparts will wane. When that happens, the full extent of Senator McCain’s 2013 statement will be put to the test.  Sometimes, reframing issues away from ones of contention like correcting the gender wage gap towards those likely to get more women into non-traditional workforces, which both parties support, provides space for bipartisanship. A willingness to consider reframing issues to ones where cooperation can occur might prove the bipartisan difference women can make.

The opinions expressed here are solely the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates


Joan Johnson-Freese is a Senior Fellow with Women in International Security and the author of multiple books and articles on women and politics, her latest is Women vs Women, The Case for Cooperation (2022).

Alexandra Nicole Islas is pursuing a degree in the field of International Relations at Harvard Extension School, and is a Research Assistant for Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese on issues related to Women, Peace & Security. She is also an accomplished dancer, writer, and human rights advocate focusing on increased security through the development of arts and education programs internationally.

Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Ellen Haring, Diorella Islas, Ana Laura Velasco

Executive Summary

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, launched by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) adopted in October 2000, brought renewed attention to the importance of the integration of a gender perspective for the effectiveness of military and police operations. It also pointed to the importance of increasing the participation of women in security (military and police) forces.[1] 

This report examines to what extent the WPS agenda, and more generally the principles of gender equality, have been integrated in the security sector (military and national police) in 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The research was commissioned by the Women, Peace and Security Program at the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), with the objective: (a) to establish a baseline of data and best practices with regard to the integration of the WPS agenda in security forces in Latin America and the Caribbean; and (b) to provide a framework for future partnerships between US SOUTHCOM and security forces in the region. While US SOUTHCOM commissioned the research, the authors bear sole responsibility for the content of this report and any errors or omissions.

Our research draws on an assessment tool developed by Women In International Security (WIIS) that examines how countries have integrated the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in security institutions and operations. [2]  More specifically, the tool defines indicators that measure: (1) the level of political commitment to gender equality and the WPS agenda; (2) how that commitment is translated into practice; and (3) what accountability measures have been adopted—that is, how well policy and practice are monitored and evaluated.

This report is based on desk and literature research in Washington, DC and field research conducted by 14 volunteer country research teams composed of active and retired members of the police and the military, academics, government officials, policymakers, and members from civil society organizations.

The findings of our assessment examining the level of integration of the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in the security forces in Latin America and the Caribbean are outlined below.

Overall Regional Assessment

The overall integration of the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in security forces in the region (all countries combined) is robust, with an average score of 64.6 (on a scale of 1-100).

Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have strong normative frameworks for gender equality in place, are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and have professed support to the WPS agenda. It provides a strong backdrop for the integration of the gender equality and WPS agenda in the security sector. That said, in most countries political rhetoric is often not matched by consistent implementation. In addition, most countries lack systematic monitoring and evaluation mechanisms (see Figure 1).

Figure 4: Overall

Average Regional


Of the 14 countries examined for this report, four countries scored above the average regional score.

Four countries scored around the regional average, and six countries fell below the regional average. What is common to the countries that scored high is that they have strong scores across all 3 categories of assessment. (See Table 1)

For many police and military organizations in the region, gender equality and the integration of the WPS agenda is focused on the number of women in the forces. That said, gender mainstreaming and the integration of the WPS agenda in military and national police forces requires more than just adding women; it also requires the integration of a gender perspective in operations and addressing gender norms and gender stereotypes in the organizations themselves.  Military and police organizations are highly gendered—masculine—constructs. Introducing gender perspectives and increasing the number of women does not come naturally to these institutions. Change only comes about with strong leadership from the top and continuous and systematic attention at all levels of military and police organizations.

Country Political Will Policy & Practice Monitoring Reporting   & EvaluationTotal Score 
Costa Rica808810087
Dominican Republic63584858
Trinidad & Tobago55643660
Region Average686457.7064.60

Table 1: Average

National Scores by


Main Findings by Category

All countries were assessed using simple sets of indicators that measure political will, the institutionalization of WPS principles in policy and practice, and, whether monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have been put in place.

Political Will

The most important measure of political will is whether countries have adopted WPS National Action Plans (NAPs).

  • Of the 14 countries surveyed in our report, five have developed WPS National Action Plans and five are in the process of developing a WPS NAP.
  • In most countries the WPS agenda and WPS NAPs are seen in the context of external engagements, most notably UN peacekeeping operations. While most countries see the WPS agenda as applicable only to armed conflict, some countries in the region have integrated human security challenges, such as human trafficking (Argentina) or rights of refugees (Brazil).

Institutionalization (Policy and Practice)

NAPs are most effective when they are accompanied by detailed implementation plans.

  • Most countries lack specific implementation plans with clearly defined goals and resources for implementation.
  • In all countries in the region, women remain under-represented in the military and the police. Even fewer women reach senior ranks. Many security forces have policies that exclude or limit (through the imposition of caps) women’s participation in the police or military. Few countries have welldefined recruitment strategies or set targets to increase women’s participation in the security forces.
  • The prevention of sexual harassment and abuse is critical to create a women-friendly work place, but few countries have programs to address harassment or abuse in the ranks.
  • Knowledge about the WPS agenda remains limited, and training on gender and the WPS agenda is ad-hoc and unsystematic.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and reporting are critical for learning and identifying progress. Monitoring and evaluation practices must be an integral part of any NAP and implementation plan and include all stakeholders, including civil society organizations in the planning and implementation stages.

  • Few countries in the region have robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that involve civil society.
  • Sex-disaggregated data about women in the military and police are not systematically collected or published.

Main Recommendations

The report concludes with two sets of recommendations. One is for governments in the region and their military and police forces. The other is for the region as a whole and identifies specific actions countries in the region and the US government (including US DoD and US SOUTHCOM) can take to advance the WPS agenda and solidify partnerships in the region.

National Actions:

All countries in the region have strong normative gender equality frameworks in place. This should provide a solid basis for governments in the region to apply the political will necessary to develop WPS NAPs. The most effective NAPs are whole-of-government efforts that engage all governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders and cover the entire range of security challenges, including human security and non-military security challenges.

  • All government agencies, including military and police forces, should develop implementation plans with clear goals and benchmarks for measuring progress.
  • Governments must back up their commitment to NAPs and implementation plans by pledging the necessary resources—personnel and financial—to ensure effective implementation.
  • Legislatures must become actively involved in the development of WPS NAPs. They should require the executive to present NAP updates at regular intervals and pass budgets with dedicated funding streams for NAPs and implementation plans.
  • Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be transparent and include members of civil society. Civil society actors are critical to ensuring transparency and providing expertise in the effective implementation of WPS NAPs.

The increase of the number of women in police and military organizations and the integration of gender perspectives in operations require actions at different levels.

  • Military and police organizations should develop organization-specific WPS implementation plans. This can be accomplished even in the absence of a nation-wide WPS NAP. Countries, such as Argentina and Colombia, have developed and effectively implemented military implementation plans before NAPs were developed.
  • In terms of gender balance, the military and police should remove all exclusions and caps that limit women’s full participation in the security forces. They should also develop recruitment programs and establish targets to increase the number of women in the ranks. Military and police should regularly collect and publish sex-disaggregated data on women in the ranks.
  • In terms of integrating gender perspectives in operations, and more generally the development of a gender mainstreaming strategy, the military and police should appoint Gender Advisors (GENADs). GENADs help with the development of organizational gender mainstreaming strategies, make sure that police and military exercises and operations have integrated a gender analysis, and advise on the education and training of soldiers and officers with regard to the WPS agenda. To be effective, GENADs should be located at the highest command level. In addition to GENADs, military and police organizations should appoint Gender Focal Points (GFPs) at lower levels of the organization.

GFPs are key to ensuring that implementation takes place at all levels.

International and Regional Actions:

There is a great deal of expertise in Latin America and the Caribbean that should be capitalized on for the good of the entire region. Unfortunately, the exchange and learning among security forces in the region is ad-hoc, uneven, and non-systematic. Countries in the region, including the United States government (US DoD and US SOUTHCOM), should create a WPS Center of Excellence for security forces (military and police) that can support the integration of the WPS agenda throughout the region. The Center—a multilateral governmental venture—should seek to actively engage non-governmental stakeholders. The Center would function as a regional hub to support military and police forces in the region. Areas of responsibilities would include:  

  • Research: encourage national and regional collaborative research efforts and focus on topics supporting the integration of the WPS agenda into security forces, such as measures to eliminate barriers for women’s participation in military and police forces, monitoring and evaluation practices, collecting and publishing sex-disaggregated data on gender balances in the forces;
  • Education and Training: facilitate the development and delivery of WPS and gender curriculum and training for the military and police;
  • Convening of stakeholders: exchange best practices;
  • Technical support: for the development of WPS NAPs and implementation plans, particularly implementation plans for the military and police.

More specifically, the US government (US DoD and US SOUTHCOM) should embed WPS discussions in all engagements, including in all security and military senior leader engagements. They should also incentivize women’s participation in any externally funded training programs they provide to regional partners by requiring that a certain percentage of military and police women participate in the training.


The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda launched in October 2000 by the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 has been a key instrument in advancing the role of women in the peace and security arena.

The United States, including the US Department of Defense, has been engaged with the WPS agenda since 2011, when President Barack Obama launched the first National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS.[3] The US Congress adopted the WPS Act in 2017, which directed the US government to develop a national WPS Strategy.[4] The US WPS Strategy was released in 2019.[5] Subsequently, in  mid-2020, the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Department of Homeland Security, and the US Department of Defense published agency-specific implementation plans.

In its 2020 Implementation Plan, the US Department of Defense outlined the following lines of effort: 

  • Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crises;
  • Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights, their access to humanitarian assistance, and their safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world;
  • Adjust US international programs to improve outcomes in equality for, and the empowerment of, women; and
  • Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.[6]

The advancement of the WPS agenda is a key objective of US military partnerships, including in the Southern Hemisphere.[7] Yet there is very little data on how military and police forces in Latin America and the Caribbean have integrated women and gender perspectives in their operations and activities. As a result, the exchange and learning among security forces in the Western Hemisphere on how best to integrate gender perspectives in operations and activities is ad-hoc and non-systematic.

In the summer of 2020, WIIS was approached by the Gender Advisor of US SOUTHCOM, Lt. Col. (USAF) Duila M. Turner, to develop a tool that would provide baseline data on where security forces in the region stand with respect to the integration of the WPS agenda. The idea was to develop a tool that could structure and frame discussions on these issues with partner nations.

In consultation with the US SOUTHCOM Gender Advisor, we defined three main objectives for the WPS assessment tool:

Learning: Numerous studies show that there is still little awareness and understanding of the WPS framework. While there is an increasing awareness within security establishments that conflict affects men and women differently, military and police establishments have a hard time determining what this reality means for them in terms of operations and how to convey this to their security forces. By collecting data and examining best practices, the assessment tool should become a powerful analytical and hence educational and learning tool that helps develop a greater understanding of gender mainstreaming within military and police structures.

PartnershipsMany security challenges require regional and international cooperation. The development of military partnerships is a key objective of the US Combatant Commands. For states to work well together they need to share common standards. By exchanging data and best practices on gender mainstreaming, states will be able to work together in a more efficient and effective way across the region.

Monitoring and evaluationThe assessment tool should encompass a simple set of indicators that will allow states to evaluate how well they are implementing the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in their security structures and operations.

To develop the assessment tool, WIIS drew on its experience with the 1325 NATO Scorecard project.[8] WIIS adapted the tool from the NATO project to reflect the reality in Latin America and the Caribbean. Given the broad tasks of the military and the police in most countries in the region, and the fact that police in the region are sent to UN peacekeeping operations, we decided to include the police—that is, police that work at the national level and may be called upon to respond to cases of civil unrest, to protect the borders, or deal with in-country humanitarian emergencies.[9]

We organized three workshops between August and November 2020. The objectives of the workshops were threefold:

  • Identify people in the region interested in the integration of the WPS agenda in national security forces;
  • Create volunteer research country teams; and
  • Review progress, identify gaps, and develop national and regional recommendations for how best to advance the WPS agenda in security forces.

Our initial invitation to join this project and our first workshop led to the development of a diverse list of over 100 participants from government (military, police, defense, foreign affairs, women’s and gender equality ministries), academia, and civil society from 16 countries and the creation of 14 country research teams.

In total, over 90 people from 16 countries have participated in this project at various points. Initial findings were presented at the third workshop in November 2020. At this workshop, Ambassador Jean Manes, Foreign Policy Advisor and the Civilian Deputy to the US Southern Command Commander, made remarks. In her remarks, she signaled the strong commitment of US SOUTHCOM to this effort.

Over the course of the project, WIIS created a listserv for people involved and interested in the project. The listserv was formalized into a WIIS WPS Latin America and Caribbean network at the end of the third workshop.[10] For more information or to become a member of the network, visit: https://www.

As societies and nations across the world face unprecedented challenges to gender equality, human security, and lasting peace, implementation of the WPS agenda is more important than ever. Indeed, research shows that societies are more peaceful and prosperous when women and men enjoy the same rights, liberties, dignities, and access to resources.[11]

Policymakers around the world have made gender equality a top policy priority. This WPS assessment report highlights steps Latin American and Caribbean countries have taken to implement the WPS agenda and ensure gender equality. The need is to expand these efforts in the face of growing evidence of the strategic and operational advantages such an agenda presents to military and police forces in a country. However, the report also shows that while there is much rhetoric, there is little follow-though in implementation. The time to match rhetoric to action is now.


This project would not have seen the light of day without the support and help of many people. The project directors would like to thank key people whose support has been critical for the success of this project. First, we would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel (USAF) Duilia M. Turner, the Gender Advisor for US Southern Command, who first came to WIIS with the idea of this project and provided us with support to carry it out.

We would also like to thank all the participants in our three workshops. Over 90 participants from

16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean brought an array of perspectives from government (military, police, defense, foreign affairs, women’s and gender equality ministries), academia, and civil society. A very special thanks goes out to those who actively participated in the 14 research country teams. They were generous in sharing their expertise, time, and resources. This project would not have been possible without the dedicated support of these volunteers. They used their considerable government and non-government contacts to gather much of the data for this report. (See Annex I)

Special thanks is also due to Dr. Paula Drumond, Assistant Professor at the Pontificia Universidade

Catolica do Rio de Janeiro; Dr. Renata Giannini, Senior Researcher at the Igarapé Institute in Rio de

Janeiro; Dr. Fabiana Sofia Perera, Assistant Professor at the William J Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, DC; Dr. Tamya Rebelo, Professor at the Escola Superior de Popaganda e Marketing and the Centro Universitario Belas Artes de Sao Paulo, and Dr. Cristina Rodriguez-Acosta, Assistant Director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University, for their advice and support. We also thank Patricia Cepero of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for helping to navigate the administrative part of the project.

At WIIS, thanks is due to WIIS Fellows Dr. Diorella Islas and Ana Velasco. Many thanks also to Program Manager Kayla McGill and Program Assistants Allyn Anderson and Madison Beltz for their valuable research support. Lastly, thanks to WIIS member and retired Colonel Cornelia Weiss and Dr. Karin Johnston, Senior Fellow at WIIS, for their invaluable editorial support.

While this report is the product of a collective effort, we, the authors of this report, are responsible for any errors and omissions.

Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, President, WIIS

Dr. Ellen Haring, Senior Fellow and Project Director

Washington, DC, USA

November 2020


Gender equality has been recognized as a core principle of human rights in foundational international, regional, and national legal texts. The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) set human rights standards that explicitly apply to every human being “without distinction of any kind, such as (…) sex.” [12] Latin American diplomats, legal scholars, and activists have been at the forefront of the development of these global human rights frameworks.[13]

These legal instruments, as well as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of

Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Belem do Para Convention), have been the basis for the economic, social and political empowerment of women, including their entry in national security forces—defined here as constituting the military and the police.[14]

Support for the increased participation of women in the security sector received an important boost in 2000 when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). The resolution called on all UN member states to:

  • Increase the representation and participation of women in conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes, including in security institutions (military and police);
  • Integrate gender perspectives in the analysis of peace and security issues; and
  • Adopt special measures to protect women and girls from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict settings.

Since 2000, the UN Security Council has adopted nine more resolutions that have reinforced and refined what is now known as the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda.[15]

Regional and security organizations as diverse as the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have developed organizationwide policies and action plans to incorporate guidance from the WPS agenda into their deliberations and actions.[16] The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was an early adopter of the WPS agenda and issued Action Plans and Strategic Directives that committed to the WPS agenda.[17] For the Americas, the Organization of American States (OAS) has not yet formally adopted the WPS framework. However, the Inter-American Commission of Women has worked on all aspects of the WPS agenda, most notably the participation of women in political life, women’s human rights and gender violence, women’s economic empowerment, and a gendered approach to human or citizen security.[18]

At the national level, some 86 countries have developed National Action Plans (NAPs) and legislation to implement and advance the WPS agenda. In Latin America and the Caribbean, six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Paraguay) have developed NAPs. [19] Chile was an early adopter and global leader when it published one of the world’s first NAPs in 2009 and a second NAP in 2015. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay are in the process of developing a NAP.

Military and police security forces are important partners in the implementation of these NAPs. Indeed, the spread of NAPs in Latin America and the Caribbean has been spurred by increasing participation of countries in the region in UN Peace Operations.[20] Many countries and military leaders, particularly those who have been deployed in UN missions, have recognized that a more diverse force in terms of gender and gender perspectives increases operational effectiveness and readiness.[21] For many countries in the region, the adoption of the WPS framework has also meant greater attention to the role of women in their own security forces from both an operational and a rights points of view. In addition, many civil society organizations have advocated for NAPs that reflect a more inward-looking approach. This is particularly important in a region that no longer has traditional armed conflicts, yet faces high rates of violence, particularly against women and girls.[22]

Gender Balance, Gender Perspectives and Gender Mainstreaming

When considering gender equality and the WPS agenda within the security sector, three issues are key:

First, gender balance—that is, the equal representation of women within the force. Research has shown that more diverse organizations are more effective organizations.12 Military organizations are no different.[23] Yet, women remain grossly under-represented in security forces around the globe, including in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United Nations has repeatedly lamented the lack of women soldiers and police in its peacekeeping operations.[24] It is important to recognize the cultural and institutional barriers women may face in military and police forces.

Second, gender perspectives—that is, overlaying a lens that reveals gender differences when planning, executing, or evaluating military and police security force activities. The integration of a gender perspective involves the systematic and continuous process of assessing gender-based differences of men and women as reflected in their social roles and interactions. As explained by a commanding officer in the multi-national force deployed in Afghanistan, “a gender perspective is much more than female members in the team. It is about having and using knowledge about the gender roles and situation of both men and women in all activities of the mission.”[25] A good gender analysis before activities start will greatly enhance situational awareness that, in turn, will enhance operational effectiveness.

Third, gender mainstreaming—that is, an integrated strategy by which organizations implement the concepts of gender balancing and gender perspectives across their organizations and operations. NATO, for example, has defined gender mainstreaming as “a strategy to achieve gender equality by assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies and programs in all areas and at all levels.”[26] In other words, “gender mainstreaming is a set of specific, strategic approaches as well as technical and institutional processes adopted to achieve the goal of gender equality.”[27]

The Latin American and Caribbean WPS assessment tool helps to measure how security forces are doing along those three axes. More specifically, it measures gender balance, gender perspectives, and gender mainstreaming at two different levels: the political level and the institutional and operational level. Lastly, it measures to what extent practices of good governance—that is, monitoring and evaluation—have been integrated.

The Latin American And Caribbean WPS Assessment Tool

The Latin America and Caribbean WPS assessment tool measures progress along three main levels: political will, institutional policy and practice, and monitoring and evaluation. For each we defined a limited set of key indicators. 

The political level is a necessary first step. Is there political will and commitment to integrate the principles of the WPS agenda in the security forces—that is, is there political will to advance gender equality and gender perspectives in military and police forces? Political will can be measured in several ways. A first indicator is whether principles of gender equality have been incorporated in a country’s laws and regulations. In addition, we can measure to what extent political leaders refer to the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in their speeches. For the purposes of our project, a critical indicator of political will is whether a country has adopted a WPS NAP and whether implementation plans for the security sector have been drafted.  From our research on the integration of WPS principles in NATO countries, we know that countries that mention the defense department as a principal actor and those who outline clear lines of responsibility through an action or implementation plan generally score higher on implementation than countries whose plans fail to specifically call out the military as an implementing agency. Lastly, we examine whether any resources have been allocated. Indeed, the allocation of resources is often a good measure of political intent.

The operational level is about gender mainstreaming and institutionalization, that is, how gender equality and WPS principles are integrated in institutional and bureaucratic processes. Institutionalization is critical, in that it safeguards gender equality and WPS initiatives from political turn-over and turmoil.[28]  Gender mainstreaming is about gender balance and gender perspectives. To what extent is women’s equal participation and integration in military and police forces a priority, and to what extent are institutional processes in place that are conducive to the integration of women in the military and police? This requires collecting baseline data about gender in the ranks. It also means examining measures taken to address gender imbalances, including the lifting of structural barriers and barriers related to the work environment.  Three types of indicators are particularly important in this respect: first, whether all jobs are open to women; second, the existence of policies that deal with family issues (in particular, pregnancies and child care); and third, the existence of policies that deal with harassment and abuse. To what extent gender perspectives are integrated in operational policies and plans can be measured by examining strategic operational documents, field manuals, and other similar publications. The appointment of Gender Advisors (GENADs), as well as their standing and position in the force, is an important indicator for institutional support for gender mainstreaming. From our research on gender mainstreaming in NATO militaries, we know that a Gender Advisor is a commander’s best resource for ensuring the integration of gender perspectives into the planning, execution, and evaluation of military operations.[29] Lastly, gender mainstreaming requires attention to training and education. Are soldiers and senior leaders being taught how to do a gender analysis, and are they aware of the national and international legal frameworks?

The last step in ensuring institutionalization of gender equality and WPS initiatives is monitoring and evaluating progress over time. The WPS assessment tool measures to what extent policies and operations are subject to monitoring and evaluation processes. Monitoring and evaluation are key to capturing best practices, establishing realistic benchmarks, identifying gaps in resources and structural challenges, framing strategic planning efforts, and supporting accountability measures. Two key indicators include the systematic collection of sex-disaggregated data and to what extent outside actors, including civil society organizations, are involved in assessment efforts.

The WPS assessment tool, by examining military and police forces from the political to the operational and from the strategic to the tactical levels, measures the progress of military and police organizations comprehensively. Assessments like these work best when they become part of iterative processes that allow for dialogue and learning among countries in the region.


In early August 2020, WIIS held its first Latin America and Caribbean WPS research workshop to assess interest in applying the assessment tool to countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The workshop also allowed us to review the draft assessment tool. Over 70 people from the region joined the workshop and eventually formed 14 volunteer research country teams. These research teams were composed of active and retired members of the security forces (military and police), government officials (foreign affairs, defense ministries, women’s agencies), the legislative branch, academics, and civil society. Each team elected a team coordinator who served as the main point of contact with WIIS.

As a result of the discussions at the workshop, the WIIS team further refined and adjusted the indicators of the assessment tool. (See Figure 1 and Annex 1) The revised assessment tool, containing 51 indicators, was subsequently sent to each of the country teams.

WPS Assessment Tool for Security Forces In Latin America and the Caribbean
Category                                                                                                      Indicators I:  National Importance and Political Will  11 II:  Institutional Policies and Practice      A.  Strategy, Plans and Policy  14   B.  Gender in the Ranks  6   C.  Training, Education and Exercises  6   D.  Work Environment  8 III:               Monitoring, Reporting and Evaluation                                             6

Figure 1: WPS Assessment 

Tool for Security Forces in Latin

America and the


By the end of September 2020, we had received data from 14 country teams. With that data, we were able to generate a scorecard for each country. That is, responses to the questions on the assessment tool received a predetermined numerical value following a scoring protocol.[30] These scores were then used to evaluate the relative importance attached to certain issue areas and to establish regional and national averages.

In addition to the quantitative assessment, we also prepared a qualitative assessment for each country. The qualitative assessment allowed us to contextualize the collected information. It also offers an overall assessment of where the country stands with regard to implementation of the gender equality and WPS agenda. Lastly, the qualitative reports contain a set of country specific recommendations detailing how the country and its security sector might move forward. The elaboration of quantitative and qualitative reports included many follow-up interviews with the country teams to ensure that we were accurately interpreting the data they provided. All country teams reviewed final country quantitative and qualitative reports. [31]

Figure 2: Sample Quantitative Assessment Tool        

Figure 3: Sample Qualitative Report

    Colombia – Summary Report   WPS National Action Plan (NAP) Status: Colombia has not developed a NAP. That said, the November 24, 2016 peace agreement includes many gender provisions. Additionally, in 2018 the Ministry of Defense (MoD) published its own transversal (intersectional) gender implementation plan for uniformed personnel in Colombia.   Overall Assessment: Colombia has a robust civil society network dedicated to advancing the WPS agenda, and many are lobbying the Colombian government to adopt a WPS NAP.1 Although the national government has made statements in support of gender equality and the MoD recognizes UNSCR 1325 and the WPS agenda, no NAP has been developed.   National Importance/Political Will: Gender equality is enshrined in the Colombian Constitution (See Articles 40 and 43).2 Colombia also has a Presidential Council for Women’s Equity, which collects and analyzes information related to the situation of women in Colombia. Gender equality, women’s rights, and the empowerment of women are also referred to in the 2018-2022 National Development Plan, an allinclusive policy document that addresses foreign and domestic security policies.3   In Colombia, the army, the air force, the navy, and the national police all fall under the authority of the (MoD). The MoD guidelines and policies apply to all four services. Its 2018 report, Public Policy for a Cross-Gender Approach for the Uniformed Personnel of the Public Force, explicitly refers to UNSCR 1325 and its related resolutions.4 The report, developed as a requirement of the 2016 peace agreement, is referred to as the military’s WPS implementation plan, and it includes the police under the umbrella term “public force.” It calls on the military and the police to make sure that women have equal access and opportunities. It also sets up Gender Observatories at the level of the MoD and General Command, as well as inside each military branch and the police.                                                   See Humanas Colombia, 20 Años Exigiendo que el Gobierno Colombiano se conecte con la Paz y la Seguridad de las Mujeres, Pronunciamiento (Bogotá, Colombia: Humanas, July 2020), at; Also from Humanas Colombia, see Observatorio Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad (a group actively lobbying for a WPS NAP), Cumplimiento del Estado Colombiano con la Resolución 1325 de 2000: Informe de monitoreo del año 2017 y primer semestre de 2018, (Bogotá, Colombia: Humanas, December 2018), at See Corte Constitucional, Constitución Política de Colombia 1991, Actualizada con los Actos Legislativos a 2016, (Bogota: Corte Constitutional), at See Departamento Nacional de Planeación (DNP), Colombia en la Escena Global: Política Exterior Responsable, Innovadora y Constructiva, (Bogotá: DNP, May 2019) at; and also from DNP, Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2018-2022 at Ministerio de Defensa, Política Pública Sectorial de Transversalizacion del Enfoque de Genero para el Personal Uniformado de la Fuerza Pública 2018-2027, (Bogotá: MinDefensa 2018), at genero.pdf   1  

WPS In Latin American And Caribbean Security Forces: 

Main Findings

In terms of the overall implementation of gender equality and WPS principles in the security forces, the region (all countries combined) had an average score of 64.6 (on a scale of 1-100). This robust showing is not surprising given the region’s strong adherence to international and regional legal human right instruments, such as CEDAW and the Belem do Para convention. The region has also been a strong supporter of the Beijing Platform of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Particularly important in this regard is the Montevideo Strategy for Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the Sustainable Development Framework by 2030, adopted in 2016 by countries of the region.[32] In the last five years, countries in the region have also prioritized access to political participation. Most countries in the region have instituted political quotas, which has increased women’s participation in decision-making institutions throughout the government.[33] Lastly, many countries in the region have established women’s or gender equality government agencies; in some cases, these agencies function at the ministerial level.

Despite a relatively strong score overall, many challenges remain. Indeed, this is a region where “patriarchal, discriminatory and violent cultural patterns remain in place, with gender stereotypes persisting in the education system, the media and political and cultural institutions.”[34] The security sector is, of course, not devoid of these stereotypes. As Ellen Haring has noted in a recent publication, “national military organization are quintessentially masculine constructs that rely on notions of men as warrior-protectors and women as the protected. (…) National militaries are set up to optimize men’s participation and rely on patriarchal social structures where women perform traditional family duties centered around caregiving while men go to war.”[35] Nicole Jenne and Fiorella Ulloa Bisshopp, in their study on the effectiveness of Chile’s efforts to promote a gender perspective in the military, emphasize how “resilient” gender stereotypes are in military organizations. For example, Chilean forces deployed in the UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti had a fair number of women. That said, the tasks these women were assigned hewed closely to traditional gender stereotypes: “Instead of performing the full range of peacekeeping tasks, women were often delegated to deal with issues concerning women and children and prevented from joining activities that were deemed to involve security risks.”[36] Gender mainstreaming in security forces requires more than just adding women; it also requires cultural and organizational change.[37]

When we examine the average performance of the region as a whole at the different levels of our assessment tool, the region scores highest at the political commitment level, with a score of 68. The score drops at the implementation level to 64 and at the monitoring and evaluation level to 57.7. 

(See Figure 4)

Figure 4: Overall

Average Regional


Figure 5: Overall

         49  76
       58      60  5866 66        72 4.4
                                      57      60

      Average National                             Argentina                                                                                                                         90

      Scores                                       Brazil



  Costa Rica                                                                               87  Dominican Republic

  Ecuador             Guatemala

  Mexico  Panama



                                      Trinidad & Tobago



When we examine the overall performance of individual countries in the region, four countries scored above the average regional score. Four countries scored around the regional average, and six countries fell below the regional average. On the high side, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay significantly outperformed other countries. What is common to these countries is that they have strong scores across all levels. (See Table 1)

Country            Political Will      Policy & Practice           Monitoring Reporting     Total Score                            & Evaluation      
Argentina                    98                         90                             68                        90 Brazil 44 51 48 49 Chile 85 75 64 76 Colombia 51 47 68 50 Costa Rica 80 88 100 87 Dominican Republic 63 58 48 58 Ecuador 72 56 60 60 Guatemala 78 52 36 55 Mexico 60 59 40 58 Panama 62 63 60 66 Paraguay 67 68 44 66 Peru 58 57 60 57 Trinidad & Tobago 55 64 36 60 Uruguay 78 70 76 72 Region Average           68                         64                           57.70                    64.60

Table 1: Average

National Scores by


Lastly, it may be noted that our results closely align with the scores of these countries in other gender equality indexes, such as the Women, Peace and Security Index published by the Georgetown University Institute on Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and the Fighting Inequality in the Time of

Covid-19: The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2020, published by Oxfam and Development

Finance International.[38] (See Table 2)

GIWPS Rank             Country                                                             Oxfam Rank
41 Trinidad & Tobago 16 45 Costa Rica 3 48 Argentina 2 49 Ecuador 8 55 Chile 1 58 Uruguay 11 68 Paraguay 15 69 Peru 18 70 Panama 22 74 Dominican Republic 23 98 Brazil 13 103 Mexico 14 104 Colombia 10 106                           Guatemala                                                                  24

Table 2: GIWPS and Oxfam Rankings

In sum, while there is broad regional commitment to the principles and ideas of the WPS agenda, commitment to actual implementation and monitoring and evaluation is considerably less robust. Rhetoric, generally, does not match action.

National Importance/Political Will

National importance and political will measures three main issues: (1) whether gender equality is recognized in a country’s main laws and regulations; (2) whether a country has adopted a WPS NAP; and (3) whether political leaders in their statements provide strong support to the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda.

All countries in the region have enshrined gender equality in their constitutions, and many have also established gender equality and women’s empowerment agencies. That said, an important indicator of political commitment is whether a country has adopted a WPS NAP. (See Table 3)

 Countries with NAPs     Countries with NAPs      Countries without NAPs                           under development
           Argentina Costa Rica Colombia              Brazil Ecuador Dominican Republic               Chile Mexico Panama           Guatemala Trinidad & Tobago Peru            Paraguay                                 Uruguay

Table 3: National

Action Plans –


Argentina and Chile—both with top scores overall and at this level—have developed and implemented WPS NAPs. However, the presence or absence of a NAP is not necessary or sufficient to score high. For example, Costa Rica, despite not having a NAP, scored high overall due to the government’s strong political commitment to advancing gender equality across the country and within its institutions.[39]On the other hand, Brazil fell below the regional average. Indeed, in the case of Brazil, a change in national level political leadership in 2019 resulted in diminished political will and commitment to gender equality and the WPS agenda.

The NAPs of the countries in the region have many similarities, but also significant differences. For most countries in the region, the WPS agenda is an external, rather than an internal, agenda. In most cases, the ministries of foreign affairs have lead responsibilities for the implementation of a NAP.[40] The extensive gender equality machinery established under CEDAW, the SDGs, or regional gender equality commitments is often seen as distinct from the WPS agenda. Guatemala is the exception and has adopted a whole-of-government approach. In Guatemala, the Women’s Ministry plays an important role in the development of a new NAP. In Costa Rica, the development of a NAP involves many government agencies, not just in the security sector, but also in the legislature. In addition, its National Institute for Women works at a ministerial level and has taken innovative steps to tackle structural gender inequalities at home, including machismo culture.

Most civil society organizations in the region advocate for whole-of-government efforts as well as a broadening of the agenda beyond traditional armed conflict.[41] They argue that the region grapples with many “gendered consequences of non-conventional armed violence,” and they point to high rates of femicide in the region.32 While several Latin American NAPs have integrated demands for a broader agenda, most remain very externally focused. Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo note that the Paraguayan NAP stands out with ambitious and long-term goals. The Paraguayan NAP defines one of its goals as “the elimination of cultural barriers that hinder the full participation of women in all areas of human society.”[42] The Argentinian NAP includes issues related to human trafficking. The Brazilian NAP includes gender-sensitive initiatives focused on the rights of refugees and refugee seekers in the country. The Chilean NAP expanded the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to include the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence.[43] The Argentinian, Brazilian, and Chilean NAPs all define protection as meaning not just physical security but also access to sexual and reproductive health.

                                        UN Ranking                  Total                    Male                  Female
  Uruguay 17 1,138 1,055 83 Argentina 42 304 276 28 El Salvador 45 292 263 29 Brazil 47 282 270 12 Peru 52 233 198 35 Guatemala 57 176 155 21 Paraguay 80 31 28 3 Chile 82 30 27 3 Bolivia 83 27 20 7 Mexico 94 13 6 7 Honduras 97 11 7 4 Ecuador 98 10 4 6 Dominican Republic 107 5 3 2 Colombia 108 4 3 1           Totals Region   2,556 2,315 241 Global Totals   81,820 76,596 5,328 Source: United Nations

Another positive driver for gender equality and the WPS agenda, including the development of a WPS NAP, is the extent of global—UN—engagements a country has. The participation in peacekeeping operations is particularly important in this regard. (See Table 4) For example, the Brazilian NAP expired at the end of 2018. Gender equality and the WPS agenda were not a priority for the new Brazilian administration that came to power in January 2019. Yet the administration decided to extend the NAP (developed under the previous administration) in March of 2019 for four years. Indeed, Brazil’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations was considered important and, in that context, the continuation of a NAP became significant.[44]Table 4: Participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations by Countries from Latin America and the Caribbean-Military and Police Combined – August 2020

However, while UN peacekeeping involvement is positively impacting the military, it does not appear to have a similar impact on the national police. Indeed, the police generally scored lower in most countries than did the military regarding implementation of the WPS agenda.

The engagement of international actors in the Colombia peace agreements has also been an important factor in pushing forward a gender equality and WPS agenda. For example, the 2018 Colombian Ministry of Defense’s report Public Policy for a Cross-Gender Approach for the Uniformed Personnel of the Public Force was developed as a requirement of the 2016 peace agreement. It is considered the military’s WPS implementation plan. It calls on the military and the police to make sure that women have equal access and opportunities. It also sets up Gender Observatories at the level of the Ministry of Defense and General Command, as well as inside each military branch and the police.

Other examples of international engagements and commitments that advance a gender equality and WPS agenda at home include: Uruguay, which co-chairs, with Canada, the United Nations GFP Network and is currently working on a WPS NAP; the Dominican Republic, which during 2020, together with Germany, co-chaired the UN Security Council Informal Expert Group (IEG) on WPS; or Mexico, which, since 2019, co-chairs with France the Generation Equality Forum—a global civil society-centered gathering for gender equality. Its work on the Generation Equality Forum, and the fact that Mexico launched a Feminist Foreign Policy in January 2020 and is currently developing a WPS NAP, are certainly not unrelated. High-level international engagements also help civil society organizations at home to press their governments to progress on the gender equality and WPS agendas.

Policy and Practice

Policy and practice examines how political commitment to gender equality and WPS principles is translated into practical action in the security sector. We distinguish four main areas: (1) policy, planning, and staffing, in particular the appointment of GENADs and GFPs; (2) women’s participation in the security forces (gender in the ranks); (3) policies and programs that support women’s participation in the security forces; and (4) training and education on WPS principles.

Policy, Planning and Staffing

Although national level commitment is critical in advancing the WPS agenda, it is not sufficient to realizing better outcomes in terms of gender mainstreaming. Even in countries that have published NAPs, these NAPs do not always require the participating ministries and departments to develop detailed implementation plans. Without such plans, including bureaucratic procedures and processes that mainstream gender in security institutions, change will be fleeting and easily reversible with changing political leadership.

Our analysis found that countries that developed military implementation plans even before or in the absence of a NAP have generally made significant progress in terms of gender mainstreaming. For example, in 2008 the Argentine Ministry of Defense adopted a WPS Action Plan (long before their 2015 NAP was published). It was developed in response to Argentina’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations and led to many “policy reforms in the field of defense and the armed forces.”[45] Participation in UN peacekeeping operations helped to strengthen pre-deployment training on gender issues. It also required the military to establish GENADs and GFPs.37

Indeed, a major indicator of progress with regard to the integration of gender equality and WPS principles is the appointment of GENADs and GFPs. They are critical in helping to mainstream the principles of the WPS agenda in all aspects of the operations of security forces. The role of a GENAD is to provide guidance and advice to senior level commanders on how to integrate gender perspectives into operations and missions, crisis and conflict analysis, concepts, doctrine, procedures, and education and training. GFPs are similarly trained but work at lower levels in the organization to mainstream the WPS agenda across occupational positions.[46]

Only a few countries in the region are systematically appointing, training and employing GENADs and GFPs. (See Table 5) Argentina has a robust GENAD and GFP program. It also provides gender training through its regional peacekeeping center—trainings that are open to other countries in the region as well. Uruguay, a top regional UN troop contributor, co-hosts, with Canada, the UN GFP network. It has appointed GFPs in both the military and the police, but these GENADs are all double-hatted—that is, they have other responsibilities as well. Neither the military nor the police have appointed full-time GENADS. In some countries, for example in Mexico and Peru, the security institutions have established gender equality institutions that have certain GENAD functions. However, most often these institutions work more in the human resources sphere, rather than the policy and planning spheres. Most often, they do not report directly to the highest command levels.

Gender in the Ranks: Women’s Participation in the Security Forces

All countries in our survey have low women’s participation rates in their military and police forces. (See Table 6) The promotion rates for women are even lower. In general, women have made greater inroads in the police than in the military. In the national police forces, all positions are officially open to women. That said, some of our investigators also reported that the practice does not always align with the formal rules. In some countries, women are not assigned to work “on the streets.” In addition, as women have made inroads within the police, some countries have begun to impose caps, thereby limiting women’s access. Such is the case in Trinidad and Tobago, where no more than 30% of the force is allowed to be women. There is also a waiting list for women who want to join the police.

In four out of 14 countries, women continue to be officially barred from some military occupations. (See Table 7) In addition, even if in theory all positions are open, women often face restrictions in practice, particularly in terms of where they are utilized. Many teams reported that data on military deployments reveal that women are far less likely to be deployed on operational missions.

Country            The country       The country       GENADs are     The country       has  appointed          has appointed    assigned for       has gender                             Gender Advisors         gender focal              pecific                 equality                                 (GENAD).            points (GFP).            missions.             offices/units.
Argentina                        Yes                        Yes                                                  Yes Brazil                                     Yes   Chile                                    Yes Yes Yes Colombia                                  Yes Costa Rica                                Yes Dominican Republic                 Yes Yes Ecuador                                    Yes Guatemala                                Yes Mexico                                     Yes Panama                                    Yes Paraguay                                  Yes Peru                                         Yes Trinidad and Tobago                   Yes Uruguay                                                       Yes                       Yes                       Yes

Table 5: Gender Advisors and

Gender Equity


Country                  Military        Percent of          Senior            Police             Senior                                                     Women          Military                                Police                                                   Deployed         Women                               Women
Argentina 17.3% 8% nd nd nd Brazil 7.6% 8% nd 9% nd Chile 10% 10% nd 34% 15% Colombia 6% 1.5% 1% 9% 2% Costa Rica na na na 18.7% di Dominican Republic 20.8% 5.1%-8% 4% 15% 4.7% Ecuador 2.7% di nd 15% di Guatemala nd 8% nd 16% nd Panama na na na 16.2% 14.9% Peru 10% di .5% 18% .4% Paraguay nd 10% nd Nd nd Mexico 12.4% 1-3% 2.5% 10% 19% Trinidad & Tobago 14.3% na nd 29% nd Uruguay                     11%                7%                1.7%             25.6%               3% nd=no data (data not provided or data not available) na=not applicable (these countries have no military forces or they do not deploy) di=data incomplete (not enough data to calculate percentage)

Table 6: Women’s

Participation as a Percentage of the

Total Force

Working on “the streets” and military deployments are generally career enhancing assignments;  the restrictions women face in this regard likely contributes to them being less competitive for promotions. These restrictions may explain why few women are represented at the highest levels in  the military or police.

Lastly, in terms of long-term policy and planning, we found that only four countries have active recruitment programs or set targets to raise the number of women in the force.

Table 7: Policy and Practice

Country Are all  Are there  Do they How much Is WPS Is  positions  recruitment  provide paid gender Monitoring  open to targets? uniforms &   maternity/ training & Evaluation  women (military/ equipment paternity provided ? conducted?  in the  police) adapted to leave  military?  women? is provided?   
Argentina Yes Yes/UNK Yes 90 days/10 days Yes Yes Brazil       No       No. There are  some caps/No.  There are local  caps No 180 days/5 days Yes No Chile No No/No Yes 126 days/UNK Yes Yes Colombia No No/No Yes 126 days/8 days Yes Yes Costa Rica Yes NA/No Yes 120 days/2 days Yes Yes Dominican Republic   Yes   Yes/Yes, but there are local caps No 98 days/7 days Yes Yes  Ecuador Yes No/No No 80 days/15 days Yes Yes Guatemala Yes No/No No 84 days/UNK Yes No Mexico Yes Yes/No No 90 days/10 days No No Panama Yes NA/ No Yes 98 days/3 days Yes Yes Paraguay No No/No Yes 126 days/UNK Yes Yes Peru Yes No/No No 98 days/UNK No Yes Trinidad and Tobago   Yes   No, there is a  30% cap Yes 90 days/3 days Yes No Uruguay                      Yes                 Yes/Yes                No             91 days/10 days            Yes                Yes NA=not applicable because they have no military forces UNK=unknown-data was not provided during data collection

More generally, it must be noted that data on women’s participation and promotion rates were elusive in many countries. Either the data are not being collected and tracked over time, or the country refuses to publish the data. One country indicated that data on women in the military were considered confidential and not publicly releasable.

Many organizations that track numbers and the composition of armed forces around the world, such as the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, generally do not collect sexdisaggregated data. The only known detailed survey of women in the armed forces and the police dates from 2010 and was carried out by the Argentine think tank RESDAL.[47]

Women-Friendly Policies and Programs

To increase women’s participation in the security forces, it is also important to have policies and programs that make military and police service possible on a personal level. Women tend to leave the military and police at higher rates than men when they have children or encounter a hostile work environment. Therefore, it is imperative that the military and police implement policies that make it possible for women to have a fulfilling career by ensuring that their organizations are inclusive, free of harassment, and accommodate family needs for women who often remain primary caregivers.

In all countries reviewed, both the military and police provide paid maternity leave for women, although the length of time varies greatly—from 80 days to 18 weeks. Many countries also provide a few days of paid paternity leave. Some countries offer varying levels of childcare and family leave, while others offer none.

A healthy and productive work environment also requires that sexual harassment and abuse is not tolerated, that it is strictly monitored, and that offenders are prosecuted. Most countries, particularly those involved in peacekeeping, provide basic human rights training, with a portion of the training directed specifically toward preventing sexual and gender-based violence in the areas of operations. However, the same level of training and attention is not being given to eradicating sexual harassment and abuse within a country’s own ranks. Data from countries that track and address harassment, including the US, Canada and Australia, show that sexual harassment and abuse of women in the ranks is pervasive in military organizations around the world.[48] Therefore, it is critical that military and police organizations address this behavior if they want to keep women in their organizations.

Finally, uniforms, equipment, and facilities must be adapted to accommodate women to optimize women’s performance and retention. Only half of the countries in our survey provide women-specific equipment. (Table 7 above). Requiring women to perform in uniforms and equipment designed by and for men degrades women’s performance, causes injuries, and can result in safety hazards. Furthermore, failing to provide bathrooms and safe billets also drives women out of military and police organizations.

In sum, security forces seeking to increase women’s participation must ensure that there are familyfriendly programs available to support women’s long-term participation, address sexual harassment and abuse within the ranks, and provide uniforms, equipment, and billets for women. While countries in the region score well in terms of maternity and paternity leave policies, much work remains to be accomplished in the other areas.

WPS Training and Education

Applying a gender lens to military and police organizations and operations requires training and education. It is not an intuitive process. The countries that participate in UN peacekeeping operations receive human rights and WPS training during pre-deployment training. Indeed, when countries engage with the UN, particularly in the context of contributing troops to UN peacekeeping operations, they are expected to meet certain UN WPS training requirements. However, for many countries, gender and WPS training ends with UN missions.

Some countries have more systematically integrated gender training into their entry, mid- and senior-level training and education programs. That said, this training is more likely to be found in the military than the police. Police training generally focuses on responding to and preventing domestic, sexual, and genderbased violence.

GENADs and GFPs require specialized training. Such training remains limited. A few countries like Argentina provide WPS training for the military. Costa Rica has mainstreamed gender throughout police training programs. Costa Rica is unique in the region for creating a gender training program that addresses masculinity and machismo culture.

Figure 6:

Masculinity Flyer

Eleven countries in the region host peacekeeping training centers. Many of these centers have not integrated gender and the WPS agenda in their curriculum in a systematic manner.[49] Helping these centers build up their WPS and gender equality curriculum and provide specialized courses for GENADs would be an obvious first step towards more robust training on WPS and gender equality  in the region.

Monitoring, Reporting, and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation are critical for learning and understanding whether progress is being made in implementing the WPS agenda. Monitoring and evaluation also had the lowest average scores. There are three main reasons for the low scores. First, even when countries have developed NAPs, strategies or implementation plans, they are often written without clearly defined and measurable goals and benchmarks. Second, countries generally do not appoint or support independent oversight bodies. Most governments are wary of such bodies and/or the involvement of civil society in the oversight of policies. Third, there is a dearth of sex-disaggregated data being collected or made available for evaluation.

The best monitoring and evaluation programs are independent, transparent, and involve civil society. Some country teams reported that monitoring and evaluation does occur, but the reports and data produced by entities in these countries can only be accessed by requesting them through government transparency programs, or they may not be available at all.

Costa Rica has the most robust monitoring and evaluating systems in the region. They are provided by Costa Rica’s National Institute for Women, which functions as a ministry. This ministry-level Institute has a national council responsible for decision-making at the national level. Furthermore, the Institute provides advice and has oversight over gender mainstreaming in all of the government ministries, including the Ministry of Public Security.

Some countries have robust independent civil society networks that provide some external monitoring and evaluation functions and keep pressure on governments to advance gender equality and the WPS agenda. For example, Colombia has a robust civil society network with 57 distinct organizations that promote the principles of UNSCR 1325 and the WPS agenda. It also has a Women Peace and Security Observatory, a coalition of civil society organizations that is actively lobbying the government to adopt a WPS NAP.[50] In some countries, the think tank and academic community are important players. For example, in Brazil, the Igarapé Institute has a considerable amount of expertise with regard to the WPS agenda and women in the military. Similarly, in Argentina, RESDAL has undertaken important work in this regard. The analysis by these institutions are important in collecting best practices and advancing the WPS agenda in the region. More generally, the Gender Division of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC or CEPAL in Spanish) plays an important role in gender mainstreaming in the region and collecting data.

Recommendations and Concluding Remarks

To advance the gender equality and WPS agenda in the security forces in the region, the following actions should be taken at the national and regional levels.

National Actions

All countries in the region have strong normative gender equality frameworks in place. This should provide a solid basis for governments in the region to apply the political will necessary to develop WPS NAPs. The most effective NAPs are whole-of-government efforts that engage all governmental and  non-governmental stakeholders and cover the entire range of security challenges, including human security and non-military security challenges. More specifically:

  • All government agencies, including military and police forces, should develop implementation plans with clear goals and benchmarks for measuring progress;
  • Governments must back up their commitment to NAPs and implementation plans by pledging the necessary resources—personnel and financial—to ensure effective implementation;
  • Legislatures must become actively involved in the development of WPS NAPs. They should require the executive to present NAP updates at regular intervals and pass budgets with dedicated funding streams for NAPs and implementation plans;
  • Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be transparent and include members of civil society. Civil society actors are critical to ensuring transparency and providing expertise in the effective implementation of WPS NAPs.

The increase of the number of women in police and military organizations and the integration of gender perspectives in operations require actions at different levels.

  • Military and police organizations should develop organization-specific WPS implementation plans. This can be accomplished even in the absence of a nation-wide WPS NAP. Countries, such as Argentina and Colombia, have developed and effectively implemented military implementation plans before NAPs were developed.
  • In terms of gender balance, the military and police should remove all exclusions and caps that limit women’s full participation in the security forces. They should also develop recruitment programs and establish targets to increase the number of women in the ranks. Military and police should regularly collect and publish sex-disaggregated data on women in the ranks.
  • In terms of integrating gender perspectives in operations and more generally the development of a gender mainstreaming strategy, the military and police should appoint Gender Advisors (GENADs). GENADs help with the development of organizational gender mainstreaming strategies, make sure that police and military exercises and operations have integrated a gender analysis, and advise on the education and training of soldiers and officers with regard to the WPS agenda. To be effective GENADs should be located at the highest command level. In addition to GENADs, military and police organizations should appoint Gender Focal Points (GFPs) at lower levels of the organization.

GFPs are key to ensuring that implementation takes place at all levels.

International and Regional Actions

There is a great deal of expertise in Latin America and the Caribbean that should be capitalized on for the good of the entire region. Unfortunately, the exchange and learning among security forces in the region is ad-hoc, uneven, and non-systematic. Countries in the region, including the United States government (US DoD and US SOUTHCOM), should create a WPS Center of Excellence for military and police security forces that can support the integration of the WPS agenda throughout the region. The Center—a multilateral governmental venture—should seek to actively engage non-governmental stakeholders. The Center would function as a regional hub to support military and police forces in the region. Areas of responsibilities would include:  

  • Research: encourage national and regional collaborative research efforts and focus on topics supporting the integration of the WPS agenda into security forces, such as measures to eliminate barriers for women’s participation in military and police forces, monitoring and evaluation practices, collecting and publishing sex-disaggregated data on gender balances in the forces.
  • Education and Training: facilitate the development and delivery of WPS and gender curriculum and training for the military and police.
  • Convening of stakeholders:exchange best practices.
  • Technical support: for the development of WPS NAPs and implementation plans, particularly implementation plans for the military and police.

More specifically, the US Government (US DoD and US SOUTHCOM) should embed WPS discussions in all engagements, including in all security and military senior leader engagements. They should also incentivize women’s participation in any externally funded training programs they provide to regional partners by requiring that a certain percentage of military and police women participate in the training.

Concluding Remarks

It has been twenty years since UNSCR 1325 was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council.

In the subsequent years, there has been slow but steady progress in realizing the purpose and intent of 1325. Many nations around the world, and six in Latin America and the Caribbean, have adopted WPS National Action Plans.

The concepts and terms gender balance, gender perspective and gender mainstreaming are better understood and becoming embedded within the operational activities of security institutions. Nations that are further along with gender mainstreaming have begun to realize the value of adopting a gender perspective to achieve better security outcomes. That said, normative thinking and behavior on complex social issues is slow to change, but change does happen. It requires concerted, continuous and systematic efforts by all.

Lastly, the success of gender mainstreaming efforts is closely related to the involvement of civil society. Global studies have shown that the most successful WPS NAPs are those that have the active involvement of civil society organization at every step of the way. This finding is not surprising, since gender mainstreaming is ultimately about debunking regressive gender stereotypes that exist within  our societies.


1. Gender Equality, WPS and NAPs

Boutron, Camille, “Engendering Peacebuilding: The International Gender Nomenclature of Peace Politics and Women’s Participation in the Columbian Peace Process,” Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2018), pp. 115 – 121.

Davies, Sara E. and Jacqui True, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

De Jonge Oudraat, Chantal and Michael E. Brown, The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020).

Drumond, Paula and Tamya Rebelo, 1325 and Beyond: Moving Forward the WPS Agenda in Latin America, WIIS Policy Brief (July 2020).

Drumond, Paula and Tamya Rebelo, “Global Pathways or Local Spins? National Action Plans in South America,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No. 4 (2020), pp. 462 – 484.

Drumond, Paula and Tamya Rebelo, Implementing the “Women, Peace and Security” Agenda in Brazil: An Assessment of the National Action Plan, Strategic Paper 31 (Rio de Janeiro: Igarapé Institute, August 2019).

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Regional Report on the Review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action in Latin American and Caribbean Countries (Santiago: United Nations, 2019).

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, Gender Equality Plans in Latin America and the Caribbean: Road Maps for Development, Studies 1 (Santiago: United Nations January 2019).

Folly, Maiara and Giannini Renata, Achieving Gender Equality: Best Practices for the Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, Igarapé Institute Strategic Note (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Igarapé, March 2017).

Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Peace Research Institute Oslo, Women, Peace and Security Index 2019/2020: Tracking Sustainable Peace Through Inclusion, Justice, and Security for Women, (Washington D.C., USA; GIWPS and PRIO, 2019).

Giannini, Renata and Perola Pereira, Building Brazil’s National Action Plan: Lessons Learned and Opportunities, LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series, (London, UK; London School of Economics and Political Science, 2020).

Giannini, Renata et al., A agenda sobre mulheres, paz e segurança no contexto latino-americano: desafios e oportunidades, Igarapé Institute Strategic Article (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Igarapé, March 2018).

Hamilton, Caitlin et al, Twenty Years of Women, Peace and Security National Action Pland: Analysis and Lessons Learned (Sydney: University of Sydney, March 2020).

Humanas Colombia, 20 Años Exigiendo que el Gobierno Colombiano se conecte con la Paz y la Seguridad de las Mujeres, (Bogotá, Colombia: Humanas, July 2020).

Jacevic, Mirsad Niki, “WPS, States and the National Action Plans,” in Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 273 – 292.

Kurtenbach, Sabine, “The Limits of Peace in Latin America,” Peacebuilding, Vol. 7, No. 3, (2019),  pp. 283 – 296.

Marchetti, Ximena Gauche, “Planes de Acción Nacional sobre Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad: Experiencias Comparadas y Proyecciones para el Caso Chileno,” Revista de Derecho, Vol. 30 No. 2 (2017),  pp. 203 – 223.

Marín Carvajal, Isabela and Eduardo Álvarez-Vanegas, “Securing Participation and Protection in Peace Agreements: The Case of Colombia”, in Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 461 – 474.

Meyer Mcaleese, Mary K., “WPS and the Organization of American States,” in Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 413 – 427.

Swaine, Aisling, “Globalising Women, Peace and Security: Trends in National Action,” in Rethinking National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, edited by Sahla Aroussi (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2017), pp. 7 – 27.

Urrutia Arestizábal, Pamela; Ana Villelas Ariño y María Villegas Ariño, Seguridad Feminista: Aportaciones Conceptuales y Desarrollo Actual, (Barcelona: Institut Catalá Internacional per la Pau, 2020).

Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas, Por una Vida Plena con Libertad, Justicia y Paz: Consulta Latinoamericana para el Estudio Mundial sobre la Implementación de la Resolución 1325, (Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala; UNAMG, May 2015).

Velasco Ugalde, Ana Laura, UNSCR1325 and the WPS Agenda: A Feminist Response to Authoritarianism, WIIS Policy Brief (June 2020).

Women In International Security, 1325 and Beyond: Winning Essays, (Washington, DC: WIIS, 2020)

NAPs can be accessed at and https://

2. Women in the Military and Peacekeeping

Abdenur, Adrina Erthal, Enhancing Peacekeeping Training Through Cooperation: Lessons from Latin America, Policy Brief (Rio de Janeiro: Igarape Institute, June 2018).

Baldwin, Gretchen and Sarah Taylor, Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: challenging Assumptions and Transforming Approaches (New York: International Peace Institute, June 2020).

De Jonge Oudraat, Chantal, et al, Gender Mainstreaming: Indicators for the Implementation of UNSCR

1325 and its Related Resolutions – The 1325 Scorecard: Preliminary Findings (Brussels: NATO, 2015). For a description of the NATO project and the country scorecard reports see https://www.wiisglobal. org/programs/unscr-1325-nato/

Donadio, Marcela and Cecilia Mazzota, La Mujer en las instituciones armadas y policiales: Resolución 1325 y Operaciones de Paz en América Latina, (Buenos Aires: RESDAL, 2009).

Donadio, Marcela et al, Women in the Armed Forces and Police Forces: Resolution 1325 and Peace Operations in Latin America (Buenos Aires: RESDAL, 2010).

Egnell, Robert, et al, Gender, Military Effectiveness and Organizational Change: The Swedish Model (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

Esparza, Diego; Santiago Arca Henon & Hope Dewell Gentry, “Peacekeeping and civil–military relations in Uruguay,” Defense & Security Analysis, Vol. 36 No. 3 (2020), pp. 314-334.

Ghittoni, Marta, Lea Lehouck and Callum Watson, Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations:

Baseline Study ( Geneva: DECAF, July 2018).

Giannini, Renata; Maiara Folly and Mariana Lima, Situações Extraordinárias: a inclusão de mulheres na linha de frente das forças armadas, Igarapé Institute Strategic Article (Rio de Janeiro: Igarape Institute, August 2017).

Hardt, Heidi and Stefanie von Hlatky, “NATO’s About-Face: Adaptation to Gender mainstreaming in an Alliance Setting,” Journal of Global Security Studies, Vol. 5, No.1 (2020), pp. 136-159.

Haring, Ellen, “Gender and Military Organizations” in Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Michael E. Brown, eds., The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020), pp. 90 – 112.

Hurley, Matthew, “Watermelons and Weddings: Making Women, Peace and Security ‘Relevant: at NATO Through (Re)Telling Stories of Success,” Global Society, Vol. 32, No. 4 (2018), pp. 436-456.

Jenne, Nicole, “Civilianizing the armed forces? Peacekeeping, a traditional mission for the military,” Defence Studies, Vol. 20 No. 2 (2020), pp. 105 – 122.

Jenne, Nicole and Fiorella Ulloa Bisshopp, “Female Peacekeepers: UNSC Resolution 1325 and the Persistence of Gender Stereotypes in the Chilean Armed Forces,” International Peacekeeping (October 14, 2020).

Karim, Sabrina and Kyle Beardsley, Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping: Women, Peace and Security in PostConflict States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Perera, Fabiana Sofia; and Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Mora Turner, eds., Twenty Years, Twenty Stories: Women, Peace and Security in the Western Hemisphere (Washington, DC: William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, 2020).

Masson, Laura, Militares Argentinas: Evaluación de Políticas de Género en el Ámbito de la Defensa, (Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires: Universidad de la Defensa Nacional, 2020)

Newby, Vanessa F and Clotilde Sebag, “Gender Sidestreaming? Analyzing Gender Mainstreaming in National Militaries and International Peacekeeping,” European Journal of International Security (November, 2020), pp. 1-23.

Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations (NCGM), A Military Guide to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, (Stockholm, Sweden; NCGM,  April 2020)

Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations, Whose Security? Practical Examples of Gender Perspectives in Military Operations (Stockholm: Nordic Centre for Military Operations, 2015).

Razakamaharavo, Velomahaniha T., Luise Ryan and Leah Sherwood, Improving Gender Training in UN Peacekeeping Operations, WIIS Policy Brief (Washington, DC: WIIS, February 2018).

Wilén, Nina, “Female Peacekeepers’ Added Burden,” International Affairs, Vol. 96 No. 6, (November 2020), pp. 1585 – 1602.

3. Useful listservs and websites

Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF),,

Igarape Institute,

London School of Economics Centre for Women, Peace and Security,

NATO, Allied Command Transformation – Gender Advisor. The website contains on-line education and training modules and toolkits,

Pass Blue Women, press agency,

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina,

UN Women,

UN Peacekeeping, Department of Peace Operations,

WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security,

Women In International Security,

The WomenStats Project at

Women’s UN Report Network, listserve (also in Spanish, Portuguese, French),

WPS National Action Plans,

About the Authors

Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat is President of Women In International Security (WIIS) since February 2013. She has held senior positions at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

North America; the US Institute of Peace; Center for Transatlantic Relations, Paul H. Nitze School of

Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC; and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva. Dr. de Jonge Oudraat has published extensively on a wide array of international security issues. She is co-editor with Dr. Michael E. Brown of The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, July 2020). De Jonge Oudraat received her PhD in Political Science from the University of Paris II (Panthéon).

Dr. Ellen Haring is a Senior Fellow at Women In International Security where she directs the Combat Integration Initiative. She is the former CEO of the Service Women’s Action Network. Haring’s research and work focuses on women and gender in the military. She is a West Point graduate and a retired US Army colonel. She holds a PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and she has taught at the US Army Command and General Staff College, the US Army War College and Georgetown University. Haring has published numerous articles and papers on a wide array of military and security-related topics. She guest lectures, has testified before Congress as a subject matter expert, and has been a guest speaker on foreign and domestic news shows.

Dr. Diorella Islas Limiñana is a Fellow at Women In International Security and an independent security consultant on intelligence, transnational criminal organizations and national security policies. She is Adjunct Faculty member in the Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. She has worked as a consultant for the Royal United Service Institute in London, and as a security analyst at the Center for Information and National Security in Mexico City. She holds a PhD in Politics, Languages and International Studies from the University of Bath and a MA and a BA from Tec de

Monterrey, Mexico City Campus. She has taught at the Bader International Study Center of Queens University and delivered guest lectures at different universities and organizations around the world.

Ana Velasco is a Fellow at Women In International Security and a Researcher at Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, a leading Mexican NGO focused on issues of security and justice. Previously, she worked as an international news reporter in Mexico, and she has held a diplomatic position for the Mexican Secretariat of Economy in Germany. Velasco is the winner of the “1325 and Beyond” international essay competition organized by WIIS and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. She recently finished a MA in Gender, Violence and Conflict at the University of Sussex with Distinction, and she is about to start her PhD in International Relations at the same institution.

Project Participants*

Aguirre, Johanna (Panama)

Almeida, Katherine (Dominican Republic)

Aquino, Massiel (Dominican Republic)

Arboleda, Naomi (Dominican Republic)

Argueta, Ann Marie (Guatemala)

Arias, Jeannette (Costa Rica)

Baez Racalde, Maria Gloria (Paraguay)

Baires, Emily (Guatemala)

Balcazar, Mauel (Mexico)

Barriga Abarca, Lourdes Aurelia (Peru)

Barrios, Silvana (Argentina)

Beltran Del Portillo, Maria Fernanda (Colombia)

Broce, Rosa (Panama)

Canto, Maria Belen (Argentina)

Capellan, Belgica (Dominican Republic)

Cardenas Hidalgo, Maria Andrea (Ecuador)

Cerdas, Loreley (Costa Rica)

Chaves, Andrea (Argentina)

Colon, Victor (USA)

Cordon, Mireya (Colombia)

Dantas, Stela (Brazil)

Davila Calderon, Martha Jenneth (Colombia)

De Anda Martinez, Erika (USA)

Depaz, Leidy (Peru)

Donadio, Marela (Argentina)

Drumond, Paula (Brazil)

Espaillat, José Rafael (Dominican Republic)

Ferreira Costa, Ivana Mara (Brazil)

Ferreto, Yorleny (Costa Rica)

Fischer, Andrea (Chile)

Flores, Nancy (Guatemala)

Fundora, Cristobal (Panama)

Galan Paniagua, Sonia Maria (Guatemala)

Giannini, Renata (Brazil)

Gil Rosado, Maria Teresa (Dominican Republic)

Gonzalez, Pedro (Chile)

Henandez, Francia (Dominican Republic)

Hernandez, Brianna (USA)

Hormazábal, Javiera (Chile)

Ignacio, Mercedes (Dominican Republic)

Islas, Diorella (México)

Jarpa, Carolina (Chile)

Jeremias da Silva, Jessika Kelly (Brazil) Jiménez Morales, Karen (Costa Rica)

Jorge, Ramon (Dominican Republic) Justynski,

Ashley (USA)

Lancaster-Ellis, Karen (USA)

Layman, Matthew (USA)

Lopez Portillo, Ernesto (Mexico)

Made, Dominga (Dominican Republic) Manes,

Amb. Jean (USA)

Marcial, Cynthia (Argentina)

Marulanda Castano, Diana Marcela (Brazil)

McCann, Elizabeth (USA)

Méndez, Elvira (Panama)

Mendoza Cortes, Paloma (Mexico)

Miranda Vargas, Inaraquel (USA)

Montenegro, Nadia (Panama)

Ortiz, Nereyda (USA)

Otto, Fomina (Chile)

Pacheco, Gloria (Costa Rica)

Pagtakhan, Elisabet (USA)

Paredes Escobar, Byron Gabriel (Ecuador)

Parra, Veronica (Chile)

Pena, Elisama (Dominican Republic)

Perera, Fabiana (USA)

Placencia Almonte, Albania (Dominican Republic)

Porras, Silvia (Costa Rica)

Ramirez Herrera, Carolina (Dominican Republic)

Rebelo, Tamya (Brazil)

Rey Pinto, Eva María (Colombia)

Reynoso Barrera, Jonas (Dominican Republic)

Rivas, Reina Margarita (Colombia)

Rodriguez-Acosta, Cristina (USA)

Rogers, Rhea (Belize)

Rojas, Valeska (Chile)

Rojas Ballestero, Fiorella Andrea (Costa Rica)

Sahid Garnica, German (Colombia)

Salguero, Miguel (Argentina)

Sanabria, Diana (Ecuador)

Sancho, Carolina (Chile)

Sanjines, Karen (Jamaica)

Santolalla, Guillermo (USA)

Santos, Maria Dolores (Ecuador)

Seron, Christian (Chile)

Silva Freire, Maria Eduarda Laryssa (Brazil)

Sprinkle, Abby (USA)

Suarez, Hilda (Argentina)

Summers, Becky (USA)

Talamoni, Ana Florencia (Argentina)

Turner, Duilia (USA)

Typrowicz, Jennifer (USA)

Russ, Sarah (USA)

Velasco-Ugalde, Ana (Mexico)

Villalba, Laura     (USA)

Volia, Zoila (Costa Rica) Weiss, Cornelia (USA)

Williams, Dianna (USA)

* Project participants includes those who participated in at least one of our workshops and/or our country research teams.

[1] In this project we are examining military forces and national police forces (police that operate at the national level not at the local or municipal level).

[2] The methodology was developed by Women In International Security (WIIS) in the context of a NATO sponsored project that sought to assess how well NATO member and partner states had integrated the principles of gender equality and the WPS agenda in their military institutions and operations. See Chantal de Jonge Oudraat et al., Gender Mainstreaming: Indicators for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and its Related Resolutions- the 1325 Scorecard: Preliminary Findings (Brussels: NATO, 2015).

[3] See Executive Order, Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (Washington, DC: The White House, December 19, 2011). This Plan was subsequently updated in June 2016.

[4] See Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, Public Law 115-68-October 6, 2017 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017).

[5] See US Strategy on Women, Peace and Security (Washington, DC: White House, 2019).

[6] See US DOD, Women, Peace, and Security: Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan (Washington, DC: US DoD,  June 2020), p.7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Chantal de Jonge Oudraat et al., Gender Mainstreaming: Indicators for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and its Related Resolutions – The 1325 Scorecard: Preliminary Findings (Brussels: NATO, 2015). For a description of the NATO project and our country scorecard reports, see:

[9] The term “police” in this tool does not include local or municipal police. The police agencies that are included are those police agencies that also send police officers to UN peacekeeping operations.

[10] For more see

[11] This is a statement that has also been recognized and subscribed to by the US Department of Defense. See US DOD, Women, Peace and Security (2020), p.10.

[12] In the Southern Hemisphere the legal framework for human rights even predates the UDHR. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, (adopted in May 1948 in Bogota, Columbia) was the first human rights instrument that recognized equal rights for all people. It was followed in 1969 by the American Convention on Human Rights. The 1969 American Convention on Human Rights requires states to adopt domestic legislation to give effect to these rights.

[13] They were particularly important in integrating Human Rights in the UN Charter and the UDHR.

[14] For more see Marcela Donadio et al., Women in The Armed and Police Forces: Resolution 1325 and Peace Operations in Latin America (Buenos Aires: RESDAL, 2010). More generally see also Ellen Haring, “Gender and Military Organizations” in Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Michael E. Brown, eds., The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020), pp. 90 – 112.

[15] In October 2015, the UN Security Council, in Resolution 2242, called for the doubling of the number of female peacekeepers (military and police) within five years. In August 2020, the UN Security Council also adopted Resolution 2538 which recognized “the indispensable role of women in increasing the overall performance and effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.” It also stressed the need to increase the participation of uniformed women in peacekeeping operations.

[16] In 2013, CEDAW adopted General Recommendation 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict, and post-conflict situations. This strengthened the links between the WPS agenda and CEDAW.

[17] NATO/EAPC Women, Peace and Security Policy and Action Plan, 2018. NATO committed to the three “I”s: Integration: making sure that gender equality is considered as an integral part of NATO policies, programs, and projects guided by effective gender mainstreaming practices; Inclusiveness: promoting an increased representation of women across NATO and in national forces to enhance operational effectiveness and success; and Integrity: enhancing accountability with the intent to increase awareness and implementation of the WPS agenda in accordance with international frameworks.”

[18] See Mary K. Meyer Mcaleese, “WPS and the Organization of American States,” in Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True, eds.,  The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 413 – 427.

[19] See, for example, Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo, “Global Pathways or Local Spins? National Action Plans in South America,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No. 4 (2020), pp. 462 – 484; See also Donadio, Women in the Armed and Police Forces (2010). In 2019 Brazilian Navy Lieutenant Commander Marcia Braga received the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year award for her work in the UN operation in the Central African Republic.

[20] See Drumond and Rebelo, Global Pathways or Local Spins?

[21] See for example, Fabiana Sofia Perera and Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Mora Turner, eds., Twenty Years, Twenty Stories: Women, Peace and Security in the Western Hemisphere (Washington, DC: William J. Perry Center for Hemsipheric Defense Studies, 2020). See also Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations, Whose Security? Practical Examples of Gender Perspectives in Military Operations (Stockholm: Nordic Centre for Military Operations, 2015).

[22] See Renata Avelar Giannini et al., A agenda sobre mulheres, paz e segurança no contexto latino-americano: desafios e oportunidades, Hemisphere (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil: Instituto Igarapé, March 2018). 12  See, for example, studies by the McKinsey Institute and the World Economic Forum.

[23] For many practical examples see Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations, Whose Security? Practical Examples of Gender Perspectives in Military Operations (Stockholm: Nordic Centre for Military Operations, 2015).

[24] The UN’s 2028 target for women in military contingents is 15% and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20% and 30% for individual police officers. In 2020, women constitute 4.8% of military contingents and 10.9 % of formed police units in UN peacekeeping missions. See

[25] Cited in Chantal de Jonge Oudraat et al., Gender Mainstreaming: Indicators for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and its Related Resolutions – The 1325 Scorecard: Preliminary Findings (Brussels: NATO, 2015), p. 7.

[26] This definition is based on the UN ECOSOC definition of 1997. See also Helene Lackenbauer and Richard Langlais, eds., Review of the Practical Implications of UNSCR 1325 for the Conduct of NATO-led Operations and Missions (Stockholm: Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOA), 2013), p. 55.

[27] See UN Women website “Gender Mainstreaming.”

[28] For example, in the United States and Brazil, the WPS agenda and gender equality efforts were not supported by the Donald J. Trump and Jair Bolsonaro administrations. Yet in both cases, the WPS agenda had gained some champions within the foreign affairs and defense establishments. These establishments had also put in place certain processes to integrate gender perspectives. Together, the champions and the institutional processes were able to safeguard some of the efforts that had been started before the advent of the new administrations. In addition, in the United States the US Congress had adopted the WPS Act in 2017, which had broad bi-partisan support. It was a big factor in safeguarding some of the WPS capacities that had been developed earlier. The Act also allowed the expansion of WPS activities in the military with regard to training and the appointment of GENADs in the Combatant Commands. The US Congress even set aside some money for the latter.

[29] See de Jonge Oudraat et al, Gender Mainstreaming (2015), p. 10-11.

[30] See scorecard template in Annex 2 and the scoring protocol in Annex 3.

[31] See country scorecards and narrative reports at the WIIS website (provide link here).

[32] See ECLAC, Regional Report on the Review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in Latin America and Caribbean countries, 25 years on, LC/CRM.14.4 (Santiago: United Nations, 2019).

[33] See IDEA, Gender Quotas Database (Stockholm: IDEA

[34] See ECLAC, Regional Report on the Review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in Latin America and Caribbean countries, 25 years on, LC/CRM.14.4 (Santiago: United Nations, 2019), p. 17.

[35] See Ellen Haring, “Gender and Military Organizations” in Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Michael E. Brown, The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020), p. 90.

[36] Nicole Jenne and Fiorella Ulloa Bisshopp, “Female Peacekeepers: UNSC Resolution 1325 and the Persistence of Gender Stereotypes in the Chilean Armed Forces,” International Peacekeeping, (October 14, 2020), p. 21.

[37] For strategies to increase women’s participation in national military organizations, see Haring, “Gender and Military Organizations.”

[38] See Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo, The WPS Index 2020 (Washington, DC: GIWPS, 2020); Oxfam and Development Finance International, Fighting Inequality in the Time of Covid-19:

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2020 (Oxford: Oxfam, 2020).

[39] Costa Rica is unique in the region as one of only a few countries with no military. It was assessed based on the security provided by the national police.

[40] See Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo, “Global Pathways or Local Spins? National Action Plans in South America,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No. 4 (2020), pp. 462 – 484.

[41] For more general analysis of NAPs globally see Caitlin Hamilton, Nyibeny Naam and Laura J. Shepherd, Twenty Years of Women, Peace and Security National Action Plans: Analysis and Lessons Learned (Sydney: Sydney University, March 2020). 32  Drumond and Rebelo, “Global Pathways or Local Spins?” p. 1. See also Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo, 1325 and Beyond:

Moving Forward the WPS Agenda in Latin America, WIIS Policy Brief (July 2020); and

Ana Laura Velasco Ugalde, UNSCR1325 and the WPS Agenda: A Feminist Response to Authoritarianism, WIIS Policy Brief (June 2020), p. 1. Velasco notes the Covid-19 crisis and the call for staying at home has exposed the violence at home.

[42] Cited in Drumond and Rebelo, Global Pathways or Local Spins? p. 12. See also Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo, 1325 and Beyond: Moving Forward the WPS Agenda in Latin America, WIIS Policy Brief (July 2020).

[43] Ibid.

[44] For more on Brazil’s NAP see Renata Avelar Giannini and Perola Abrue Pereira, Building Brazil’s National Action Plan: Lessons

Learned and Opportunities (London: LSE, March 3, 2020 – blog); Paula Drumond and Tamya Rebelo, Implementing the “Women,

Peace and Security” Agenda in Brazil: An Assessment of the National Action Plan, Strategic Paper 31 (Rio de Janeiro: Igarape Institute, August 2019). See also

[45] Argentine NAP: p. 10. Government of Argentina, National Action Plan of the Argentine Republic for the Implementation of Resolution Nº1325/2000 of the Security Council of the United Nations. (Argentina, 2015) at: sites/default/files/Argentina%20NAP%202015%20(English).pdf and see the Spanish version at: infolegInternet/anexos/250000-254999/252151/Dto1895.pdf. 37  Today Argentina leads the region in WPS implementation.

[46] See UN Secretary General, Departmental Focal Points for Women in the Secretariat, ST/SGB?2008/12 (New York: United Nations, August 1, 2008). See also UN Women, Gender Focal Points and Focal Points for Women @; and United Nations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Policy: Gender Responsive United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (New York: United Nations, February 1, 2018).

[47] RESDAL obtained much of its data through freedom of information mechanisms. See Marcela Donadio et al., Women in the

Armed Forces and Police in Latin America: Agender Approach to Peace Operations (Buenos Aires: RESDAL, 2010). See Renata Avilar Giannini, Maiara Folly and Mariana Fonseca Lima, Situacoes extraordinarias a entrada de mulheres na linha de frente das Forcas Armadas brasileiras (Rio de Janieri: Igarapé Institute: 2017). We do not know to what extent the US government is collecting data on the number of women in military forces around the world and how it applies that data to its International Military Training and Education (IMET) programs.

[48] The US DoD tracks the incidence rate of sexual harassment and assault in the ranks and publishes annual reports on their Sexual and Prevention Website. This is a Congressionally mandated annual requirement. See also Government of Canada, 2019 Sexual Misconduct Incident Tracking Report In Australia, the Chief of the Army came out strongly against sexual harassment and abuse. See Australia’s Chief of the Army addresses to soldiers on sexual assault in the ranks.

[49] Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. See Adriana Erthal Abdenur, Enhancing Peacekeeping Training Through Cooperation: Lessons from Latin America, Policy Brief (Rio de Janeiro: Igarape Institute, June 2018).

[50] See Humanas Colombia, 20 Años Exigiendo que el Gobierno Colombiano se conecte con la Paz y la Seguridad de las Mujeres, Pronunciamiento (Bogotá, Colombia: Humanas, July 2020) at i_e_73153_q_PRONUNCIAMIENTO_R1325.pdf; Also from Humanas Colombia, see Observatorio Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad (a group actively lobbying for a WPS NAP), Cumplimiento del Estado Colombiano con la Resolución 1325 de 2000: Informe de monitoreo del año 2017 y primer semestre de 2018, (Bogotá, Colombia: Humanas, December 2018) at co/alfa/dat_particular/ar/ar_9042_q_R1325informe.pdf.

Joan Johnson-Freese, Susan Markham 


There are currently two main frameworks regarding gender equality and women’s participation in international policy and conflict resolution: the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) framework, codified in the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in 2000, and the feminist foreign policy framework (FFP) that became prominent in 2014 when Sweden became the first government to formally adopt a feminist foreign policy. Over the past decade, a tension has existed between the civil society advocates who were/are involved in the development, passage, and implementation of UNSCR 1325 and those academics and practitioners who favor the newer, feminist framework. Surprisingly (or not), an unpublished mapping exercise in 2019 between the two groups found very few people who worked on both frameworks or who were using the WPS framework as a foundation for the newer FFP. What we argue here is that the goals of both frameworks—gender equality and peace—are the same, and that the tension largely rests on differences in approach. In this piece, we provide background on both frameworks, what they have in common, some critiques, how they might approach current events, and recommendations on a way forward. What we suggest is that while these differences in approach are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from greater acknowledgement of and closer coordination with the other, so that more progress can be made within the gender equality movement.


Women, Peace and Security

The opening for ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both in 1966, in many ways represented the heyday of human rights activity at the United Nations. Unfortunately, however, it was quickly realized that many of the countries that had voted in support of those treaties had not assumed and did not recognize that the treaty provisions would also apply to women. Human rights were not inherently considered women’s rights. The United Nations subsequently followed up with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Though as of 2015, 189 countries have signed and ratified CEDAW (the United States signed but never ratified), many have done so with qualifications that render their commitments toothless. Hence when First Lady Hillary Clinton declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are woman’s rights” at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, she was stating what many had thought obvious decades before but had since come to understand as a continuing battle. 

Civil society groups continued to carry on the battle for gender equality through the United Nations, doing so not “just” as a matter of social justice, but as a security issue as well. An increasing amount of case study and empirically-based research demonstrated the multiple roles of women in security-related affairs, the gendered differentiated effects of conflict on men, women, boys and girls, and the linkage between gender equality, stability, and good governance. Regrettably, social justice issues are too often considered “desirable” though expendable issues on governmental agendas, or “just too hard.” Security issues, however, tend to resonate more strongly with decisionmakers. Ultimately, through the efforts of civil society groups, UNSCR 1325 was unanimously passed in 2000.

Implementation of UNSCR 1325 was left to states, through National Action Plans (NAPs). As of 2021, 98 countries have adopted NAPs. Many of the early countries to adopt NAPs were Scandinavian countries already strong in gender equality. It took the United States 11 years to do so, finally accomplished while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Of those countries with NAPs, only 36 percent have budgets attached, evidencing that the Women, Peace and Security framework has seen much more rhetorical than actual support in many countries.

The first iteration of the Women, Peace and Security Act in the United States was introduced in 2012.  It was again initiated by a coalition of civil society organizations that championed the cause to bi-partisan congressional members and staffers. The Act was revised and reintroduced in both the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 sessions of Congress, eventually gaining bi-partisan sponsorship in both the House and the Senate. In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act. It was signed by President Donald Trump, making it the law of the land. Passage of the Act in 2017 was symbolically important as it provided support for those in government seeking to take action regarding gender equality. It gave them a “hook” on which to hang actions. The Act also required the president to submit a government-wide implementation strategy to Congress.  Initially, however, the Act was passed without funding attached. For a President who was confronted at the White House in 2017 by a crowd of protesting women estimated at three times the number who attended his inauguration, signing the Women, Peace and Security Act was a no-cost act of support for women.

After an implementation strategy for the Women, Peace and Security Act was delivered to Congress in 2019, the federal agencies charged with its execution (the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Homeland Security) began working on their individual implementation strategies. The Defense Department, for example, outlined three objectives: 1) to exemplify a diverse organization that allows for women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force; 2) that women in partner nations meaningfully participate and serve at all ranks and in all occupations in defense and security sectors; and 3) that partner nation defense and security sectors ensure women and girls are safe and secure and that their human rights are protected, especially during conflict and crisis.[1] Regrettably, in many instances support has been slow and often more rhetorical and performative than actual, as indicated by budgets, policies, and women’s representation in decision-making roles. In performative allyship, those with privilege and position profess solidarity with a cause or policy, often to distance themselves from potential scrutiny or to position themselves for praise. This vocalized support is disingenuous and potentially harmful to marginalized groups by signaling to subordinates that real action is neither needed nor sought and that no one will be held accountable for inaction. That makes active oversight by Congress imperative.

Feminist Foreign Policy

Feminist foreign policy theory was born of the academic ideas of ethical foreign policy and feminist international relations and became prominent in 2014 when the Swedish coalition government, led by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, adopted a feminist foreign policy.[2] In this first practical application, feminist foreign policy is posited on the conviction that sustainable peace, security, and development cannot be achieved if women, who comprise half the world’s population, are excluded. As the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s website states, “The policy is a response to the discrimination and systematic subordination that still characterises everyday life for countless women and girls all over the world. Feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change to strengthen the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls.”[3] Regarding rights, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes all women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights, which includes combating all forms of violence and discrimination that restrict freedom of action. Regarding representation, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes women’s participation and influence in decision-making processes at all levels and in all areas, and seeks dialogue with women representatives at all levels, including in civil society. With respect to resources, the Swedish Foreign Service works to ensure that government resources are allocated to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all.[4] In the first three years of implementation, Sweden worked to raise the visibility of and combat destructive masculine norms and to strengthen countries’ capacities to prosecute perpetrators, assist crime victims, and reintegrate soldiers. Sweden also contributed to a growing body of knowledge about the link between the uncontrolled spread of weapons and sexual violence against women.[5]

Since 2014, several countries have announced different versions of a feminist foreign policy. Norway has developed both an Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020 and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.[6]Canada’s feminist International Assistance Policy, announced in 2017, targets gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at its core: “This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women, overseas and here at home, makes families and countries more prosperous.”[7] The French government’s feminist foreign policy, adopted in 2019, says that gender equality should be considered in all issues, from poverty reduction to sustainable development, peace and security, defense and promotion of fundamental rights, and climate and economic issues.[8] Other countries have followed suit (Mexico in 2020, Luxembourg in 2021, Spain in 2021, and Germany in 2022).

In addition, there are discussions about incorporating a feminist approach to foreign policy taking place in the European Union, Chile, Denmark, Malaysia, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[9]Governments, however, are many-armed creatures, sometimes with activities of one arm having no relation to another. Interest in or adoption of a feminist foreign policy does not inherently mean a gender-equal society, or even full government support of women. Mexico, for example, has expressed interest in a feminist foreign policy, though it has one of the highest global rates of violence against women.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a non-profit center headquartered in Washington, D.C., hosts both the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States and the Global Partner Network, which consists of more than 30 governments and leading civil

society groups who are working to advance the field of feminist foreign policy. The working definition the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States uses for feminist foreign policy: “Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes peace, gender equality and environmental integrity; enshrines, promotes, and protects the human rights of all; seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures; and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist foreign policy is coherent in its approach across all  its levers of influence, anchored by the exercise of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups, and movements, at home and abroad.”[10]

In 2020, ICRW separately released a global framework for feminist foreign policy that was developed following more than a year of research and global consultations with over 100 organizations in more than 40 countries. In order to inform the fledgling field of feminist foreign policy, this framework attempts to provide an outline, including five key ingredients necessary for countries considering a feminist foreign policy: the purpose of the policy within the government’s specific context; the definition of feminist foreign policy for the government; the scope or reach of the policy (what parts of the government will be impacted?); the  intended outcomes of the policy and benchmarks to achieve over time; and a government plan to operationalize it.[11]


While there are differences in the WPS and FFP frameworks, both seek to expand global peace and security, increase women’s participation and leadership, integrate gender into humanitarian responses, and change the political and governance structures that reinforce gender inequality.

Peace and Security

One major commonality between the WPS and FFP frameworks is a redefinition of the concepts of peace and security. Norwegian peace activist Johan Galtung first differentiated negative peace and positive peace in the 1960’s. Negative peace is defined as the absence of violence but without a society’s tendencies toward harmony and stability, whereas positive peace is more lasting and built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions and characterized by societal attitudes that foster peace.[12] WPS exemplifies positive peace through inclusiveness and consideration of gendered perspectives of policies and programs that lead to increased stability of all political orders.  Yet a critique of the WPS framework is its focus on the protection of women and girls. The argument is that the WPS framework not only solidifies the militarized state but, in some cases, provides justification for conflict. The U.S.-led War on Terror, for example, was at least in part framed as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women.”[13]  University of Sydney Professor Laura Shepherd argues that multiple logics behind the “prevention” pillar—a logic of peace, a logic of militarism, and a logic of security—creates a paradox that “collapses back into a logic of security”[14] contrary to the ultimate goal of peace. That is, in order to have peace, security must be obtained and retained through a heavy military presence and potentially military action, thus justifying such.

In a similar vein, feminist foreign policy seeks to change the very definition of “security” to go beyond the absence of armed conflict to include economic and political security, freedom from a fear of a global pandemic and climate change, and the feeling of safety within one’s own community and home. The “security” issues discussed in FPP would be broadened to include access to drinkable water, the ability to walk home at night safely, the number of weapons in a country outside of the military, and many others. Likewise, the solutions considered would be more diverse. Data used to make those decisions would include information about human rights abuses, rates of child marriage, levels of gender-based violence, and other issues that Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson and other scholars have pointed to in several publications that show the connection between gender equality and state stability.[15] Decisions made to protect the interests of a country would cover not only military personnel but civilians on all sides. The voices of those impacted by military activities, sanctions, or other actions would be included. In response, WPS advocates argue that working first on the protection of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups is a necessary precondition to inclusive gender equality and diversity. Women’s safety—the goal of protection—is necessary to ensure that women and girls have the ability to work toward other goals of economic and political power and can use their agency to shape their lives.

Women’s Representation

To reach the goals of gender equality and peace, both the WPS and FFP frameworks aim to increase the representation of women in country and global policy-making processes and activities. One of the four core pillars of the Women, Peace and Security framework focuses on the increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making in conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and in post-conflict relief and recovery efforts. But the WPS framework works within conventional peacemaking and post-conflict governance structures that accept conflict as inevitable. Subsequently, this framework has been criticized by Melbourne Law School Professor Dianne Otto, who argues that “the WPS agenda has served to refocus feminist attention from … making armed conflict impossible, to making armed conflict safer for women … as an end in itself.”[16]Thereby, WPS can be perceived as a more incremental approach to positive peace, whereas FFP is more transformational.

Like WPS, the goal of FFP is to increase the number of women serving in elected and non-elected political and government positions, in peace processes, in military and peacekeeping missions, and in development and humanitarian activities. FFP seeks to increase the number of feminist voices that will advocate for gender equality in all sectors, beyond peace and security, such as in the economy and climate adaptation, including a country’s own government as well as its government partners. A critique of this approach is that feminist foreign policy is too broad; it can’t just add more women and change everything all at one time – change requires incrementalism. The real-world implications of executing a feminist foreign policy are complicated. For instance, in Sweden, even with female leadership and a feminist foreign policy, the government has struggled to find a balance between human rights and its own arms industry.[17]

Post-conflict and Humanitarian Settings

UNSCR 1325 urges local actors, Member States, and UN agencies to adopt gendered perspectives in peace operations, negotiations, and agreements, in acknowledgement that policies and programs affect men, women, boys and girls differently, and to include women in the resolution and recovery phase of conflict. It identifies women as active agents rather than passive recipients. This is important because it identifies women’s participation as a right, not something that men are giving women out of goodwill, and as a post-conflict benefit to all parties. Research has shown that including women in peace negotiations increases the potential of peace agreement lasting two or more years by 20 percent, and increases by 35 percent the probability of peace agreements lasting 15 years or longer.[18] Additionally, including women starts to erode the idea of women as weak, meaning that the feminine will no longer be synonymous with weakness and fragility. The resolution empowers women and allows them to demand that they are heard and incorporated into processes at all levels.[19] The critique here is that the considerations of women and girls are rarely included in peace negotiations and simply haven’t been taken into account, and that there is no mechanism for holding countries or other implementing organizations accountable for including women and gendered perspectives in peace negotiations.

Similarly, the FFP framework calls for a feminist approach to humanitarian response that at its core centers the experience of women and people subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This focus highlights a wider array of concerns than considered in traditional paradigms, including the threat of gender-based violence, access to sexual and reproductive health, access to education, and the burden of unpaid care responsibilities in times of crisis. It urges the U.S. government to take steps to change its own humanitarian approach as well as pushing for change throughout the global humanitarian system.

Institutional Change

Both frameworks agree that reframing the discussion of peace and security involves shaking the very foundations of the patriarchy, a system that until recently was the exclusive purview of men and that deploys decision-making power through warlords, political elites, government security communities, and the intricately linked military-industrial machine. Within the WPS framework, protection does not inherently or exclusively refer to women being physically (or any other way) being protected by men. It does, however, recognize that there are individuals made vulnerable through cultural, political, legal, economic, gender-related and sexual-orientation structures. It creates agency because it is only through agency that women will have the opportunity to participate in the kind of preventive actions that can lead to positive peace. 

In response, FFP would argue that this approach is too focused on the individual rather than the system. The FFP framework seeks to change the institutions and processes themselves. It wants to diversify more than just the voices in the room; it wants to expand the information collected, analysis conducted, and solutions considered to go beyond the traditional decision-making process. This strategy covers defense, development, and diplomacy programs conducted in other countries and how governments operate internally. Resources, both in terms of budget allocations and human investments, would be redistributed to reflect governments’ different priorities. Less would be spent on weapons and more would be spent on human infrastructure; more would go to multilateral organizations and those focused on global goals. WPS critics would say that even with provisions for structural agency, the entrenched nature of those in power through cultural norms and expectations forces a process of slower, more incremental change.



In 2021, the annual Democracy Index found that less than ten percent of countries worldwide were considered “full democracies” and rated the United States a “flawed democracy” for the fifth year in a row. Though countries leaning toward populism and authoritarianism vary in many aspects, what they share are leaders who identify as rebels, bullies, and tough guys who flaunt authority, disregard civility, and encourage others to do so as well, such as Presidents Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Further, as American journalist Peter Beinart pointed out, authoritarian leaders “use gender to discredit one political order and validate another.”[20] Many have targeted women, individually or as a group, as their evil-elite punching bags.

To address this issue, the WPS framework would return to concepts within UNSCR 1325 that have been fleshed out through nine additional security council resolutions: participation of women in all levels of decision-making, protection from sexual and gender-based violence, prevention of violence, and advancement of relief and recovery measures. Within this context, FFP would go beyond a focus on increasing individual women’s political participation to disrupt the colonial, racist, patriarchal, and male-dominated power structures. It would support human rights activists and civil society organizations engaged in women’s rights movements globally, alter patriarchal political institutions, including parties and parliaments, and address issues such as violence against women in politics that serve as barriers to women serving in public life. 

Reproductive Rights

The United States was considered a global leader in women’s reproductive rights five years ago, considered a critical aspect of women’s individual agency, but it became a global outliner with deep regression in that area during the Trump administration.[21] The Biden-Harris administration took several key actions to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in its first year, trying to reverse the Trump Administration rollback. In his second week in office, President Biden issued an executive memorandum on women’s health at home and abroad which stated that it is the policy of the U.S. government to support sexual and reproductive health and rights. It rescinded the global gag rule, withdrew the United States from the so-called Geneva Consensus Declaration, and directed the U.S. Secretary of State to restore funding for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).[22] But, based on the leaked Alito-authored draft court decision, Trump-appointed conservative Supreme Court justices appear ready to take American women’s reproductive rights back to the 1970’s by overturning Roe v Wade (1973).  The implications are staggering, not just regarding reproductive rights, but as a further indication of the U.S. moving away from democratic rule to populist authoritarianism.[23]

The WPS framework does not address reproductive rights or abortion in UNSCR 1325 or in any of the subsequent resolutions, or in the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Act. Feminist Foreign Policy, on the other hand, includes bodily autonomy and freedom from discrimination, violence, coercion, exploitation, and abuse as a key tenet. And while the current U.S. administration has taken steps to stop or reverse U.S. government backsliding on the issue, including potentially after the judicial demise of Roe v Wade, FFP advocates continue to push for more, such as a permanent repeal of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy.[24]


The U.S. government’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 was an utter failure by most accounts. While 124,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan before the last troops flew out on August 30, 90 percent of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders were left behind with their families. The number of Afghans who remain in danger because of their association with the 20-year American presence in their country must be counted in the hundreds of thousands.[25]Afghanistan is now facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Afghan economy has no cash to pay salaries or buy food. Western aid has been suspended because the Taliban government includes designated terrorists, and as a result, millions of Afghans face acute malnutrition and starvation in the coming months.[26]

In this case, within the WPS framework, the U.S. government would have included a push for women to be involved in the negotiations with the Taliban in 2019-2020. Many Afghan, global, and U.S. activists did make the case before and during the negotiation process, during which the Trump administration ignored implementing its own (bi-partisan, Trump-signed) WPS Act.[27] A Feminist Foreign Policy would have gone further. The scope of the issue would have been expanded from ending the war to ensuring strong Afghan institutions that serve its citizens and turning the country back over to its people. The balance of power and those engaged in the negotiation process would have been modified to include both the American and Afghan people rather than the U.S. military and the Taliban. 


Five years after the passage of the WPS Act in the United States, with the subsequent government-wide 2019 strategy and departmental strategies now in place, incremental progress in implementing the WPS framework is evident. Funding is being approved and allocated, for example, to offer meetings, workshops, and courses on Women, Peace and Security to members of security communities from many other countries, both in the U.S. and abroad. Those who participate in these events (men and women) say that attendance, and the gender push for gender empowerment from U.S. organizations, including the military, is making a slow but positive difference in their militaries and countries. A Women, Peace and Security Congressional Caucus was formed in 2020. Its focus is “to ensure that progress towards women’s empowerment and inclusion is a strong priority of U.S. foreign policy.”[28] Efforts of the Caucus have included receiving briefs from various departments on their efforts to implement the Women, Peace and Security framework and expressing support for women in Afghanistan during the evacuation operations in 2021. Ensuring progress of the WPS Act, at home and abroad, requires proactive measures and holding those responsible for implementation accountable.

As this work continues, those pressing the U.S. government to adopt a feminist foreign policy need to acknowledge the work of those who developed and implemented the WPS Act. That legislation took more than a decade to be created and passed in a bi-partisan fashion. Newer actors in this space might benefit by engaging with the activists who started their work around the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and then focused on the UN Security Council before turning to country-specific NAPs and legislation. There must be lessons learned about Hill staff and member relationships, allies in non-traditional departments and offices, messages that were effective, and budget strategies that have worked.

Moreover, the combined community can work together to increase women’s representation in U.S. foreign policy through the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS), the Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, or the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States. Research and advocacy must continue to make the link between both frameworks and the promotion of democracy. And both WPS and FFP advocates can continue to push for the integration of the needs of women and girls in humanitarian and post-conflict settings and programs.

So far, however, Women, Peace and Security framework implementation seems to have remained focused on work done or to be done “over there,” wherever outside of the United States that happens to be, neglecting the important point that there are internal as well as external components to WPS. Similarly, one of the core principles of FFP is that there is coherence across all aspects of foreign policy that extends across domestic and foreign policy, with both realms embracing the same feminist values. That means structural and cultural constraints to gender empowerment within U.S. institutions must be addressed as well. For example, while women in the military are no longer denied access to combat positions, they still do not receive the same encouragement and support necessary for success to join those previously prohibited positions as men do.

While differences in approach for WPS and FFP are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from closer coordination with the other. There are many opportunities to support the work of the other, as much progress is still needed in the United States and globally to reach gender equality, women’s empowerment, and a safer world.

This publication was prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of Women In International Security.

About the Authors

Joan Johnson-Freese is a Senior Fellow with Women in International Security, a University Professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI and teaches Women, Peace & Security at Harvard University. She is the author of multiple articles on the topic, as well as Women, Peace & Security: An Introduction (2018) and Women vs Women: The Case for Cooperation (April 2022). The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the U.S. government, Department of Defense or the Naval War College.

Susan Markham is a partner at Smash Strategies, a strategic advisory firm helping businesses, non-profit organizations, and philanthropists who want to leverage their commitment to empowering women and girls. She is the author of multiple articles on feminist foreign policy, gender equality, women’s political participation, and economic empowerment.

[1] Department of Defense, “Women, Peace & Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan,” June 2020, p. 7,


[2] Karin Aggestam, Rosamond A. Bergman, Annica Kronsell, “Theorising Feminist Foreign Policy,” International Relations. 2019;33(1):23-39. doi: 10.1177/0047117818811892.

[3] Government of Sweden:

[4] “Handbook for Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy,”—swedensfeminist-foreign-policy—english.pdf.

[5] Government of Sweden:–examples-from-three-years-of-implementation/.

[6] Norway, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality,”

[7] Government of Canada, “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,”

[8] France, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, “Feminist Diplomacy,”

[9] Soto, Daniela Sepulveda. “The Pandemic Underscores the Need for Feminist Foreign Policy,” The Gender Policy Report, University of Minnesota, July 27, 2021,

[10] Rachel Clement and Lyric Thompson. “Toward a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States,” ICRW,

[11] “Feminist Foreign Policy: A Framework,”

[12] “Our understanding of the term ‘peace’ has evolved significantly over the last 2,500 years,”

[13] “War on Terror as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women”: a discourse analysis of the U.S. ‘liberation’ campaign for Afghan women,”

[14] Laura J. Shepherd, “The paradox of prevention in the Women, Peace and Security agenda,” European Journal of International Security, September 30, 2020,

[15] Books by Valerie Hudson and others include Sex & World Peace (2012) and The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide (2020).

[16] Dianne Otto, “Women, Peace & Security: A Critical Analysis of the Security Council’s Vision,” LSE blog, January 9, 2017,

[17] “Major arms exporter Sweden to put human rights before weapon sales,” Reuters, June 26, 2015,

[18] UN Women, “Women’s Engagement in Peace, Security and Recovery,” %20Brief-Peace-security-recovery.pdf.


[20] Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 2019,

[21] Martha F. Davis and Fiona de Londras, “Most democracies are expanding abortion access. The U.S. is retracting it,” WBUR, October 21, 2021,

[22] “Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad,”

[23] Hanna Kozlowska, “Where Democracy Falters So Too Do Reproductive Rights,” Foreign Policy, March 16, 2022,

[24] “46 Senators Wage Campaign to End “Global Gag Rule” Restricting Abortion Access,”

[25] “The Betrayal,”

[26] United States institute of Peace, “Afghanistan,”,starvation%2 0in%20the%20coming%20months.

[27] Melissa Deehring, “Lessons Learned from Afghanistan: The First Political Order,” The Washington Quarterly, 44, 4, 2022, 7-28.

[28] Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, “Goals of the New Women, Peace and Security Congressional Caucus,” April 29, 2020,

By Claire Pamerleau, University of Pittsburgh WIIS Chapter

By Claire Pamerleau, University of Pittsburgh WIIS Chapter

Human agency is slipping out of Afghan women’s hands and into the Taliban’s as the group tightens their grip on women’s social, political, and financial freedoms. This devastating reversal of progress has affected even the youngest generation of Afghan women, as girls’ education is yet another casualty in the war on women’s rights under the Taliban.

Afghan girls in grades seven and above have been unable to go to class for more than nine months—most girls’ schools have been closed since the Taliban’s takeover in August of 2021.[1] The considerable advancements in women and girls’ education made in the 20 years since the Taliban’s first rule have thus been undone in one fell swoop. For perspective, in

2001, less than one million Afghan children were in school, and none of them were girls. By 2020, the number of children in school grew to approximately 10 million, with girls representing 40% of these students.[2] Now, after such progress and effort, millions of children will be robbed of an education by the Taliban.[3]

What makes this affront to women’s rights even more devastating for Afghan girls, though, is the disappointing trajectory of inconsistent messages that raised female students’ expectations. The Taliban had promised to allow women to study at schools and universities even before their takeover in 2021.[4] Senior Taliban leader Zabihullah Mujahid stated on January 15, 2022 that classes for all girls would commence by March 21, the beginning of the new school year in the North.[5] Expectations crumbled when the Taliban broke its promise and sent tens of thousands of adolescent girls home from school the same day classes were meant to reopen. The education ministry had planned on reopening schools for girls (contingent on the requirements that secondary school girls must be taught by women and in separate buildings than men), but higher levels of Taliban leadership canceled the plan and declared girls’ schools to remain closed until future notice.[6]

This sudden reversal of policy demonstrates the internal divisions within the Taliban leadership. The Taliban’s extremist and reformist factions have been unable to come to an agreement on whether women “should” study, as reported by US special envoy for Afghan women Rina Amiri.[7] While the extremist faction supports “original Taliban ideology” and rejects the education and employment of women, the reformist faction consists of many members who are themselves educated and have daughters who are attending school. These reformists therefore recognize the benefits of education and support “a different future” for Afghanistan.[8]

Divisions persist even months after the decision to close girls’ schools. In early June, the reformist line of Taliban thinking was emphasized by Deputy Minister of Education Sheikh Ahmad Shahidkhail, who argued that allowing access to education for “men, women, children and the elderly” is key to building a developing society.[9] Less than a month later, though, Kabul’s grand national assembly of over 4,000 clerics, religious scholars, and tribal leaders failed to address girls’ education, only suggesting that attention be given to religious and modern education.[10] The all-male assembly closed on July 2 after discussing multiple pressing issues and supporting the supreme leader while dancing around the question of whether to reopen schools for girls.[11]

While Taliban-backed news has claimed that girls’ school closures are congruent with “Sharia and Afghan tradition and culture,” many Afghans reject that idea.[12] As stated by one female student, the Taliban’s education policy is “unjust” because “Almighty God said in the Koran that education is mandatory for men and women.”[13] The female students of a Baghlan province religious school echo this sentiment: they have called on the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban’s governing body) and July’s grand assembly to reopen schools, saying both male and female Muslims “[have] the right to education.”[14] In fact, even official Taliban documents “endorse the principle of education for all.”[15]

The devastation that the closing of women and girls’ educational institutions has caused is evident in testimonies from female Afghan students. “Why shouldn’t we go to school? What crime have we committed” one female student cried.[16] Another woman, a university student two months away from graduating, described herself as “cheerful” when attending university but is now “weeping at home every morning” as she and fellow Afghan women “[mourn] their identities”[17] One 24-year-old woman, an agricultural engineer, pushed against her family for her education yet was “the happiest when [she] was going to school.” She later taught agricultural processing and distribution skills to women of different villages, but she must now abandon her teaching opportunity and marry a Talib relative. She laments that her “achievements, aspirations, and dreams are multiplied by zero.”[18]

Indeed, Afghan women and girls are not only losing the opportunity to learn, but also to teach. One woman who formerly taught karate to girls and religious subjects to boys remembers the anxiety that she and her colleagues felt when the Taliban allowed male students and teachers to return to school but remained silent about women. These teachers worried about their livelihoods and providing for their families. This woman decided to protest with her colleagues and draft a resolution for the “rights to study and work,” but she later fled the country for her safety.[19] In another instance, three teachers were fired based on an alleged 10 months of absenteeism, yet their students claim it had only been three months—the time since the new school year started in March after the Taliban took over.[20] Removing women from their teaching positions is stripping them of their livelihoods, and it is only making it harder for female students to obtain an education, as women can no longer be taught by men.

What’s more, as the Taliban restricts access to women and girls’ education, it is increasing access to religious education. The Taliban has turned dozens of secular public schools, universities, and training centers into Islamic seminaries called madrasahs. This plan will leave a devastating trail of students and teachers without education, jobs, and resources. For example, converting the prestigious Abdul Hai Habibi High School into a seminary left its 6,000 students and 130 teachers empty-handed and resulted in the loss of access to its modern library, computers, and science labs.[21] But this is only one high school. The Taliban are hoping to create a “vast network” of madrasahs as part of their overall education plan for Afghanistan. They aim to erase “modern secular education” and generate more Taliban members, as the word “Taliban” itself signifies “students of madrasahs.” This is eerily close to the Taliban’s plan from the 1990’s whereby radical madrasahs “promoted militant ideologies.”[22]

On top of everything, many of the secular schools that are still open are in very poor condition. The department of education for the Nuristan province reported that 70% of its schools are without buildings and must rely on tents.[23] Many classes lack materials like pens and paper in addition to any protection from the heat or rain. Furthermore, some students are risking their safety just to get to school due to poor road maintenance and great distances between villages and schools. One girl asked for help from the government because she and her classmates must climb a mountain with a damaged road to reach their school, and they are “afraid of falling.”[24] Thus, not only are Afghan girls unable to attend class after sixth grade, but for many, their education up until that point is significantly compromised by insufficient resources.

There is some cause for hope, though. Due to a combination of “pressure from parents” and agreements made with UNICEF, some girls’ schools remain open in certain parts of Afghanistan. Despite the lack of publicity, evidence suggests Kabul’s schools and universities are functioning and allowing girls and women to attend.[25] One educational center near Kabul was established for female students and teachers for grades one through twelve and teaches girls in subjects from computers to tailoring. The center provides schooling for around 300 girls, and the enrollment has “surged” since the Islamic Emirate’s establishment, according to one of the center’s teachers.[26] Additionally, the Nimroz province’s education department announced in May that it would “reinstate” the nearly 200 female teachers that lost their jobs during the Taliban’s takeover in August, sending these teachers to “schools in need.”[27]

Afghan women and girl’s education could also eventually improve as the international community applies “pressure tactics.”[28] The US canceled the talks on “key economic issues” with the Taliban after the group abandoned its promise to reopen girls’ schools in March. As Hamad Bin Khalifa University Professor Steven Wright remarked, the Taliban is at a “turning point” whereby they can enact “gradual change” and choose the “path of engagement [with the international community],” or they can instead choose the “path of isolation.”[29] But the Afghan people cannot afford to be subjected to the latter path. Afghanistan is experiencing a humanitarian crisis; the UN reports that “95% of the population is not eating enough food,” with about 58% facing “acute hunger.”[30] Consequently, there is reason to hope that the Taliban could eventually loosen restrictions if put under pressure.

The strategy of applying this pressure, however, is delicate. If all humanitarian aid is revoked, the people of Afghanistan—and the women and girls trapped at home, unable to learn and teach—will suffer.[31] To make sure the Afghan people receive aid while still maintaining economic pressure on the Taliban, the US can funnel its aid through the UN humanitarian organizations that can better relieve the Afghan people.[32]

As the Taliban’s rule advances, the women and girls of Afghanistan are facing more years without proper access to education. Education is not only a human right, but also the starting point for the formation of identities, passions, and careers. Afghan children are deprived of access to safe schools and educational materials, and their opportunities for secular education are being forcefully replaced by Taliban-controlled religious ones. Then, once girls reach the age of adolescence, they are deprived of any access to education unless they are fortunate enough to live in an area where certain centers are still operating. Now, Afghanistan is the world’s only country where secondary school girls are denied an education by their government.[33]

The Taliban has kept female teachers and students in a tortuous cycle of waiting and disappointment through its false promises and silence for too long. Justifications based on Afghan or Muslim tradition are patently untrue, and they act solely as lazy excuses for the Taliban. There are factions within the group that will allow for girls’ schooling, and both sides are desperate for economic relief. If the international community can continue to apply pressure tactics and donate through humanitarian organizations, then the divisions of the Taliban can be taken advantage of, and the women of Afghanistan can be given a chance to learn.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates. 

[1] Walizada, Toba, “Top UNHCR Official Voices Concerns over Closed Girls’ Schools,” TOLOnews, June 15, 2022,; “Taliban Says All Afghan Girls Will Be Back in School by March,” Al Jazeera, January 17, 2022, schools-for-girls-across-country.

[2] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open. There Is No Alternative,” Nature News, March 28, 2022,

[3] Eqbal, Saqalain, “UN: Millions of Children Under the Taliban Rule Have Been Deprived of Education,” The Khaama Press News Agency, June 14, 2022, been-deprived-of-education-57483/.

[4] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[5] Ibid; “Taliban Says All Afghan Girls Will Be Back in School by March, Al Jazeera, January 17, 2022, schools-for-girls-across-country.

[6] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[7] Eqbal, Saqalain, “UN: As the Weather Warms, ISIS and the Resistance Front Increase Their Attacks on the Taliban,” The Khaama Press News Agency, June 4, 2022, resistance-front-increase-their-attacks-on-the-taliban458409/.

[8] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[9] “Dep. Minister Calls Education ‘Vital’ for Everyone,” TOLOnews, June 7, 2022,

[10] “Tightly Controlled Afghan Assembly Closes with Call for Nations to Recognize Taliban Government,” Gandhara, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 2, 2022,

[11] Ahmadi, Arif. “Taliban Grand Meeting Did Not Lead to Breakthrough: HRW.” The Khaama Press News Agency, July 4, 2022,

[12] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[13] Walizada, “Top UNHCR Official Voices Concerns.”

[14] “Religious School Students in Baghlan Call to Reopen Girls’ Schools,” TOLOnews, July 3, 2022,

[15] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] “‘I Went Out and Shouted for Freedom,’” The Fuller Project, September 30, 2021, and-girls/.

[18] Omar, Nargis, “’Being Imprisoned at Home Is What Awaits Me’.” The Fuller Project, September 30, 2021, home-is-what-awaits-me/.

[19] Etemadi, Fatima, “‘Since the Taliban took over, I have lost almost everything,’” The Fuller Project, November 2, 2021, hazaras-women-protest-migrant/.

[20] “Questions Raised About Firing of 3 Female Professors,” TOLOnews, June 5, 2022,

[21] Siddique, Abubakar, “’War on Education’: Taliban Converting Secular Schools into Religious Seminaries,” Gandhara, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 25, 2022, education/31914672.html.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ghorzang, Sadaqat, “70% Of Nuristan Schools Lack Buildings,” TOLOnews, June 27, 2022,

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[26] Walizada, “Top UNHCR Official Voices Concerns.”

[27] “Female Teachers Called Back to Nimroz Schools,” TOLOnews, May 6, 2022,

[28] Mohnblatt, Debbie, “US Drops Economic Talks After Taliban Bans Girls’ Schooling. Millions Face Hunger as Islamists Seek International Aid, Recognition,” Jerusalem Post, Mar 29, 2022, economic-talks-after-taliban-bans-girls/docview/2645499321/se-2.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

[32] Mohnblatt, “US Drops Economic Talks.”

[33] “Afghanistan’s Girls’ Schools Can – and Must – Stay Open.”

Student Blog

By Claire Pamerleau, University of Pittsburgh WIIS Chapter 

The women of Afghanistan are living through oppression that most feared would only return in nightmares.

Since the withdrawal of US troops and the Taliban’s takeover in August of 2021, Afghan women have been left with few options: flee your own country, or stay and have your rights, livelihood, identity—and in some cases, your safety—taken from you.

Many of us around the world remember reading about and seeing pictures of the chaos in Kabul’s airport last fall when thousands of Afghans desperately tried to board the last flights out of the country.[1] For many Afghans, though, fleeing was not an option. The women of Afghanistan who stayed behind are now living through mounting social and economic restrictions.

In August of 2021, Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, promised the Taliban would respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic, or Sharia, law.[2] While this claim was vague, the Taliban did originally state that girls could return to school and that women could leave the house without any chaperones, “encourag[ing]” them to return to work.[3] Furthermore, the Taliban initially assured Afghans that revenge would not be taken, stating “all those who have served the state will be forgiven.”[4]

This tone quickly proved to be disingenuous. By late August, Talibs were seen going through female journalists’ neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and “making lists of women who worked in the media and government.”[5] The Taliban has shut down women-led human rights organizations, and they have replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry of Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, a ministry “notorious” for its violent enforcement of social restrictions.[6]

The social restrictions put in place include revoking freedom of speech for women and girls and limiting women’s means for independent travel.[7] As a result, it has been nearly impossible for most women to keep their jobs (if they have not already been fired). In March 2022, secondary education was banned for girls. Only female “teachers, government employees, and aid workers” have been able to keep their jobs, as these positions cannot be filled by men due to the necessary contact with women and girls. Even female government employees who have kept their jobs are not allowed in the office except to receive paychecks. What’s more, these paychecks are essential in a time of high unemployment; many women are widows and/or are the only providers for their families.[8]

The restrictions have implications for Afghan women’s health as well. Since November of 2021, in the Ghazni province, women cannot be examined by a medical professional without a male chaperone, or “mahram,” present. One story told of a woman who gave birth without a mahram present: she fled the hospital without her baby to escape punishment. Consequently, the 18 hospital employees who treated her were prosecuted by the Taliban for providing healthcare to a woman without a male chaperone.[9]

On May 7, 2022, restrictions tightened further. The Taliban ruled that women must have their faces covered and be accompanied by a mahram in public.[10] This practice is part of Sharia, and supporters see this rule as protection for the “dignity and chastity of women.”[11] The Taliban’s decree further stated that the best way to observe hijab is “not to leave the house” in the first place, and that male relatives of a woman are tasked with enforcing her compliance with this dress code.[12] Indeed, the woman’s guardian (a close male relative or her husband) will be warned if the woman is not obeying the hijab dress code. After the first warning, subsequent incidents of the woman without a hijab in public will result in the male guardian being summoned, imprisoned for three days, then sent to court.[13]

Many Afghan women predicted the implementation of these restrictions and, accordingly, went into hiding. Female judges (who lost their jobs after the Taliban’s takeover) fear they will be killed in a “revenge attack” by either the Taliban or by one of the ex-prisoners who were sentenced by these judges but have since been released by the Taliban.[14] It is believed that 80 female judges remain in hiding in Afghanistan. One former judge had sentenced ISIS and Taliban members to prison during her career and consequently could not safely leave hiding to take her daughter to the hospital for leukemia treatment. “I can’t put all my family at risk if the Taliban recognize me.” Unable to obtain healthcare, her daughter subsequently passed away from leukemia.[15]

Clearly, the state of women’s affairs in Afghanistan is suffering under the Taliban’s rule. While the economic and social restrictions tighten, the international community must search for solutions that consider all Afghan women: those who have fled, those in hiding, and those who have been barred from education, occupations, free movement, and healthcare. We are obligated to try to help awaken these women from their living nightmare.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates.


[1] “Kabul Breached: Taliban Seize Presidential Palace, Declare ‘War is Over’: The Taliban Said There Will be no Transitional Government and Demanded Immediate Control After Afghan President Asraf Ghani Fled the Country,” The Jerusalem Post, last modified August 16, 2021, English ed.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ferris-Rotman, Amie and Zahra Nader,“ What Afghanistan’s Women Stand to Lose,” The Fuller Project, August 20, 2021.

[6] Nader, Zahra, “’We Have to Fight Back.’ Afghan Women Are Losing Their Hard-Won Right to Work Under the Taliban,” The Fuller Project. TIME, May 17, 2022; Rasuli, Humaira, “I Will Never Stop Fighting for Afghan Women,” CognoscentiWBUR, June 13, 2022. taliban-human-rights-humaira-rasuli.

[7] Mehmood, Arshad, “Faces Erased,” Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2022, erased/docview/2671697115/se-2; Nader, “We Have to Fight Back.”

[8] Nader, “We Have to Fight Back.”

[9] Nader, Zahra and Nargis Amini, “The Taliban Are Harming Afghan Women’s Health,” The Fuller Project, March 2, 2022,

[10] Nader, “We Have to Fight Back.”

[11] Mehmood, “Faces Erased.”

[12] Nader, “We Have to Fight Back.”

[13] Mehmood, “Faces Erased.”

[14] Oppenheim, Maya, “Afghan Woman Dies of Leukemia While in Hiding from the Taliban,” Yahoo! NewsIndependent Asia Edition, June 9, 2022, 0v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAABijbutz7IznQNuMbBASrOMToePptsly4RIZJpQzeXMb EPtHb

tl7XJyNqxR4k5Pi1QcgMcXiM7loVQyh_vRsneQ5O7cxE6Supj8lS8Mhsaau_ODEP0jbV dkcPQA9NlmFoqQt5UvjbRF82L7WtmXrtu8pFpju0hWHWJkd2Ocz3iE.

[15] Ibid.

Student Blog

Jessica Margolis and Tahina Montoya


Over the past several decades, the United States (U.S.) has worked to develop conflict mitigation and prevention strategies in response to growing crises and poor governance in conflict-affected states. These stabilization missions have given significant attention and resources to women’s rights and gender programs, but U.S. gender policy has had varied and limited success.1 Well-intentioned programs were marred by poor coordination and expertise, as well as a lack of integration throughout all aspects of the stabilization process. The last twenty years of Afghanistan reconstruction offer numerous examples, and recent developments underscore an urgent need for the  U.S. to review its approach to stabilization, especially when it comes to gender and women’s rights, and assess how to implement new strategies more effectively.

Fortunately, comprehensive bipartisan legislation that promises to serve as a mechanism for better stabilization programs is inching toward implementation. The Global Fragility Act (GFA) was signed into law in December 2019 and lays out a transformative and innovative approach for the U.S. government to prevent violent conflict and address the root causes of state fragility.2 Though lauded for its efforts to revise stabilization, the GFA reflects old thinking regarding gender relations. The Act ignores countless studies that prove the vital role gender sensitivity can and should play in successful peace processes and stabilization programs, as well as the importance of gender inclusion for conflict prevention.

Gender-sensitivity attempts to understand how the social hierarchies attached to stereotypes of gender exclude or endanger certain groups. This includes an analysis of how gender intersects with inequalities stemming from other socio-economic factors (intersectionality). Applying a gendersensitive lens to GFA implementation will put gender issues at the forefront of the policy-making process and enhance U.S. stabilization programs. This is more than just an opportunity to make more durable gains for women’s rights; it is essential to achieving the U.S. government’s overall stabilization goals, including a secure environment, a stable economy, general social well-being, and the rule of law. It will also allow the  U.S. to re-establish its credibility and commitment to stabilization.

GFA implementation strategies are still being crafted, hence action now will enable a gender-sensitive approach to shape both the beginning of the bureaucratic process and the tenyear period allotted for GFA goals. In addition to improving gender outcomes for future stabilization operations, a gendersensitive GFA will enable the  U.S. to redefine its international image and lead the development of a feminist approach to international development.3

This policy brief analyzes the shortcomings in the GFA process and policies regarding gender with specific reference to previous stabilization efforts, before outlining how a gendersensitive GFA can improve future U.S. stabilization and reconstruction programs. Gender issues are, of course, broader than just the experiences of women and girls; however, this brief focuses primarily on women because most U.S. “gender” programs are designed for women and girls. The GFA itself also specifically singles out women as a marginalized group to support because violence is so often perpetrated against women in fragile contexts.  It is our hope that enhanced programming for women and girls spurs more support for other underrepresented gender groups. Our analysis and recommendations emphasize actionable next steps for gendersensitive implementation, ensuring the GFA is effective and transformative. These recommendations include using gender-focused indices to identify GFA priority countries and analysis; enhancing coordination and gender integration through an interagency task force; applying intersectional analysis to ensure diverse civil society engagement; leveraging existing policies; and employing gender-inclusive language.

The GFA: Opportunity for Change

U.S. foreign policy has relied on a disparate, reactionary approach to assistance rather than a coordinated and proactive strategy that addresses the underpinnings of armed conflict. Short-term incentives have outweighed long-term goals. The difficulties experienced in countries like Afghanistan forced a revaluation of U.S. stabilization strategies in fragile and conflict-ridden countries. A new approach was needed.

Seventeen years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. government formally recognized that past stabilization efforts were limited by a “lack of strategic clarity, organizational discipline, and unity of effort.”4

The Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), approved by the State Department (DOS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Defense Department (DOD) in 2018, was the government’s first joint step to reconsider stabilization and move towards a whole of government approach. The SAR defines stabilization as “a political endeavor involving an integrated civilian-military process to create conditions where locally legitimate authorities and systems can peaceably manage conflict and prevent a resurgence of violence.”5 This was followed by the GFA’s passage as part of the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019.6 As novel legislation that prioritized long-term strategy over short-term solutions, the Act sought to improve global, regional, and local coordination of multilateral development; expand and enhance the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs; support research efforts; and improve the tools for proper assessment and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).7

The Act mandates the U.S. government select at least three countries or regions for stabilization and three countries or regions for conflict prevention, guided by data in existing global fragility indices and U.S. watch lists.8 These sources address specific categories and levels of violence, including violence committed by state actors and extremist organizations, as well as violence committed against children and youth.9 The GFA also requires interagency coordination to streamline government efforts to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence and fragility globally.10 Lastly, the Act earmarks $230 million annually for five fiscal years to fund these efforts.11

Enacted in December 2019, the GFA was to be implemented along three key deadlines, all of which have been missed, postponing overall implementation.12  First, within 270 days after the GFA was enacted, in September 2020, lead organizations were to submit: a detailed strategy with department and staff roles and responsibilities; the identification of authorities, organizational steps, and processes; and a list of priority countries.13 Second, within one year after the establishment of the Act, in December 2020, the executive branch was required to submit to Congress a report detailing a ten-year plan for each country selected, along with updated conflict analyses and interagency plans, policies, and tools to implement the GFA.14 Third, within two years after submission of the ten-year plan, in December 2022, and every two years thereafter (for ten years), the president is to submit a biennial, unclassified report on progress and lessons learned with assessments to the Government Accountability Office for review.15

Excluding Gender: The Crucial Flaw

While the GFA is innovative in driving interagency coordination and requiring transparent reviews and reporting, it has one major flaw: it largely overlooks gender. The Act only mentions women once, when listing violence against women and girls as an area of concern in fragile countries, and never mentions the concept of gender more broadly. Box 1 provides an example of poorly coordinated gender programming during stabilization to contextualize the following discussion of how GFA implementation has fallen short on gender.

The September Report and Global Fragility Strategy

The GFA strategy documents offer some improvements from the Act regarding women and girls but neglect to consider their rights in a way that will catalyze durable change. Furthermore, implementation of the GFA has been slow, and priority countries are yet to be identified.

Box 1: Afghanistan’s Troubled Gender Policy
Afghanistan offers many lessons for why gender— specifically the experiences of women and girls—needs to be better integrated into U.S. stabilization policy and practice. The reconstruction and stabilization process in Afghanistan was well-funded, extensive, and explicitly mandated to incorporate gender mainstreaming, though almost all its gender programs were built for women and girls. This led to some achievements in education, employment, and health. Women were able to attend universities and girls’ access to education expanded, with a 23% increase in the number of girls enrolled in primary school between 2003 and 2017.16 By 2019, 25% of civil service jobs were held by women, and maternal mortality had declined significantly, moving from 1,100 to 396 per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2015.17 However, despite the attention and resources, U.S. government gender policy in Afghanistan had limited success overall. Reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reveal that the  U.S. lacked a comprehensive and coordinated gender strategy as well as staff with gender expertise. It took more than ten years for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to create the first mission-wide gender policy and a unified understanding of gender priorities.18 Along with poor coordination was a shortage of gender expertise. USAID only required that gender be addressed in its programs in 2008, and “it was not until 2014 that USAID placed staff with gender expertise in each of the agency’s technical offices in Kabul.”19 This meant that gender analysis was often delayed or ineffective.20 Conditions improved with the creation of an Afghanistan Gender Task Force in Washington, D.C. and a Gender Working Group in Kabul, but the utility of this system was impaired by inconsistent support from senior leadership.21 U.S. officials often failed to understand and address the underlying social and cultural context that fueled gender inequality in Afghanistan, consequently designing programs that did not reach a diversity of women.22 Gains were primarily felt by women in elite urban areas, while many women in conservative, rural, and ethnic minority communities continued to live with genderbased restrictions that limited their access to services.23 Furthermore, Afghan women were often excluded from leadership or decision-making roles, especially at the local level where decisions can have a more immediate impact on daily life. Analysts sometimes highlight women’s participation in Loya Jirgas (“grand council”) meetings of the country’s regional leaders and the national parliament as evidence that they held positions of power.24 However, even when women were in decision-making positions, they comprised a significant minority and had difficulty gaining respect or garnering support for their ideas.25

To comply with the GFA, the “Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act” (hereafter referred to as the September Report) was sent to Congress on September 17, 2020.26 The September Report was supposed to present a comprehensive strategy but, on many levels, failed to do so.27 Only five pages long, it briefly summarized the 2017 National Security Strategy and identified four goals—prevention, stabilization, burden-sharing (multilateral coordination), and management (internal coordination)—but did not provide details on how to achieve these goals.28 Additionally, while the September Report mentions both “women” and “gender,” it does so in a cursory, and arguably performative, manner.

A second document, “The  U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability,” also known as the Global Fragility Strategy (GFS), was released on December 18, 2020. This marked “the first time that the  U.S. has had a strategy, an enduring—a 10-year strategy—to address conflict prevention and stabilization.”29 This unique strategy was intended to address fragility at its core and encourage the development of strong and secure countries that could be U.S. partners.30 The GFS elaborates on the four goals mentioned in the September Report by committing to developing new partnerships with civil society, the private sector, regional partners, and bilateral and multilateral contributors, with an emphasis on “supporting locally driven political solutions.”31 Though it still does not widely address gender, the GFS specifically highlights the need to meaningfully engage women and girls and promote their rights, which is more detail than contained in the GFA and September Report. It also describes the need to strengthen local civil society organizations that are inclusive of women, address the WPS strategy, and consider the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Inequality


Here, the GFS provides needed details on, for example, the creation of a working-level secretariat and a senior-level GFA Steering Committee composed of USAID, DOS, DOD, the Department of Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget, convened by the National Security Council. Additionally, it identifies the Chief of Mission as the lead for field-level planning and declares U.S. embassies responsible for coordination of national government counterparts and local civil society organizations.33 Finally, the GFS highlights “compact-style country and regional partnerships” to promote mutual accountability and the facilitation of political dialogue.34

As a stabilization document, the GFS is far more promising in bringing women and gender to the forefront. However, a strategy is meant to have implementation guidance, and despite a greater emphasis on gender, the GFS fails to address how the GFA will integrate gender throughout its activities.

Gender-Sensitive Implementation Can Close the Current GFA Gap

The gender gaps in the GFA and GFS include using genderblind language, confusing gender-based terminology, and using indices that do not measure gender. As a starting point, using language that acknowledges different gender groups and their needs when implementing the GFA will prove critical for the legislation’s success, because fragility and conflict affect women and girls differently than men and boys.35 Failure to deliberately consider the needs of women specifically will stymie intended change. Researching the lived experiences of underserved groups helps “fill a gap in the understanding of conflict and instability and improve[s] conflict-sensitivity of policies and programs.”36 This type of analysis is necessary to understand the consequences of outside intervention on stopping or changing an ongoing conflict, which is vital to the GFA’s goals.37 Paired with gender, this will reveal how “women’s everyday experiences with broader regional and global political processes and structures inform violence.”38

As a final example of how the GFA overlooks gender, countries or regions for GFA implementation are to be selected based upon several sources, including U.S. government conflict and atrocity early warning lists, levels of in-country violence, and five indices (see Box 2), referred to as “recognized global fragility lists.”39 A careful review of these five indices reveals that while some of them mention gender-related information, none of them use gender-related indicators to determine their country rankings. For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) States of Fragility Report cites gender statistics for fragile states, like maternal mortality ratios, in its infographics, but it sources this information from other databases and does not actually gather its own data on gender.40 More specifically, none of these indices directly measure gender equality or genderbased violence (GBV).41 The Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index mentions countering GBV as one of its organizational missions, but the index itself does not include data or GBV as an indicator.

Improving on the GFA, the GFS adds seven additional indices to be referenced when selecting countries (see Box 2).42 However, while these indices consider women’s wellbeing in their mission statements or vision, none of them gather detailed gender-disaggregated data on women’s safety. Further, the GFS document does not highlight rates of GBV as indicators of violence, meaning GBV may not be meaningfully integrated into implementation strategies. Reliance on indices that do not measure GBV or violence against children means that these forms of violence will not substantially influence country selection.

Box 2: Recognized Global Fragility Lists
GFA Listed Indices: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development States of Fragility ReportFund for Peace Fragile States IndexThe World Bank Harmonized List of Fragile SituationsThe Institute for Economic and Peace Global Peace IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk Assessment GFS Listed Indices: The Armed Conflict and Location Event Data ProjectFund for Peace Fragile States IndexFreedom House Freedom in the World IndexLegatum Institute’s Prosperity IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk AssessmentVarieties of Democracy ProjectUNDP’s Gender Inequality IndexWorld Bank’s Worldwide Governance IndicatorsWorld Justice Project Rule of Law Index

Why Focus on Women?

Put bluntly, gender does not equal women. However, policymakers often focus on women as victims during stabilization and reconstruction, instead of also considering their contributions to peace negotiations or the duration of peace settlements. In fact, data show a positive link between women’s activities and conflict stabilization:43

  • Peace Negotiations Succeed More Often. Peace deals that include women in negotiations have higher chances of success and are more likely to bring armed groups to the negotiating table. An Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative study of 40 peace deals since 1990 has shown that parties were significantly more likely to reach an agreement when women’s groups had strong influence on the negotiation process.44
  • Peace Settlements Last Longer. Women’s participation had a statistically significant and positive impact on the duration of peace.45 After analyzing 181 peace agreements signed since 1989, researchers found that agreements resulting from negotiations that directly included women were 35% more likely to last beyond 15 years.46 This is because women who are actively involved in negotiations often have decision-making authority or access to those involved in peace implementation.47
  • Women’s Advocacy Yields Direct Benefits for All. Women advocate for specific provisions or work that addresses the roots of conflict or builds programs for other social groups in need. This is because, in addition to advocating for women’s rights, women also advocate for measures that help prevent relapse into violence, contributing to a broader change in power relations and benefiting the broader community.48 As an example, “in Burundi women succeeded in inserting into the peace agreement provisions on freedom of marriage and the right to choose one’s partner [regardless of gender].”49

The active participation of women in all aspects of stability and development increases the likelihood of positive change. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize that there are societalbased differences in gender, reflected in practices, customs, and law that have important political consequences for nation-states.50 The  U.S. will not succeed in achieving basic stabilization goals if its implementation strategy does not integrate critical gender components.

Policy Recommendations

Integrating a gender-sensitive approach into GFA implementation will improve conflict prevention and stabilization and set ground-breaking precedent for future missions. The ten-year plans presented to Congress for each selected country should integrate the following recommendations, taking care to customize them to each country’s cultural context rather than apply a one size fits all approach.

1. Use Gender-focused Indices to Identify GFA Priority Countries and Inform Analysis

A gender-focused index with gender-disaggregated data should be used in identifying priority regions and countries for GFA implementation. None of the country selection indices listed in the GFA or GFS account for rates of GBV or violence against women (VAW) and do not present genderdisaggregated data.51 Relying solely on the existing indices will make it impossible for analysts to gain a comprehensive picture of the status of women in different countries, especially in relation to conflict and violence. Fortunately, the GFS leaves an opening for other “third-party data sources and indicators to help inform selection of priority countries and/or regions and monitor overall progress.”52

We recommend including the WomenStats Database, the Women Peace and Security Index, and the World Bank Gender Data Portal. The WomenStats Database assesses the relationship between security, stability, and gender and proves it is possible to predict organized violence based on the mistreatment of women.53 Vetted at the UN, the DOD, and Congress, with over 350 indicators for 176 countries, the WomanStats Database is “the largest cross-national compilation of data, statistics, and maps on the status of women worldwide.”54 The Women Peace and Security Index, maintained by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Centre for Gender Peace and Security, measures inclusion, justice, and security for women using 11 indicators for 170 countries.55 This index is unique in that it offers a snapshot of women’s status in a country based on numerous social realities and could directly inform progress on WPS commitments made by the  U.S. and partner countries. A third option is the World Bank Gender Data Portal, which is the World Bank Group’s most comprehensive source for “sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics covering demography, education, health, access to economic opportunities, public life, and decision-making and agency.”56 Mandating the inclusion of one or more gender-specific indices will ensure that gender programming is informed by a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between women and country-specific violence.

In addition to using the indices listed in the GFA, researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs suggest establishing “critical criteria” to guide country selection.57 Establishing critical criteria that are deliberately gender-inclusive (like rates of GBV) would take analysis one step further by ensuring that the treatment of all gender identities, not just women, are included in GFA decisions.

  • Enhance Coordination and Gender Integration Through a New Interagency Task Force

The GFA requires robust interagency coordination, and the GFS outlines a senior-level steering committee for oversight, the creation of a working-level secretariat—managed by DOS with members from relevant implementing agencies—and one in-country designee for field-level planning, nominated by the chief of mission.58 However, this plan needs details on tactical and operational level personnel, and on the type of expertise the in-country designee should have. It also neglects to address gender training. To enhance interagency coordination and efficiency, the secretariat should also establish an interagency task force composed of teams both in Washington, D.C. and in each chosen country. In addition to adding gender and M&E leads, task force teams should include leads from the three primary implementing departments.

Under the staffing structure currently proposed in the GFS, personnel would undertake GFA activities as additional or collateral duties. In contrast, task force personnel will be dedicated to GFA activity, serving as full-time staff focused on overall implementation that are independent from individual programs. This will empower a centralized group to gather best practices and guarantee more continuity of bandwidth and institutional knowledge throughout the ten-year duration of GFA. It will also prevent the shortage of coordination, gender expertise, and M&E resources that has plagued gender programs in stabilization missions, such as Afghanistan. Together a steering committee, secretariat, and interagency task force will fulfill strategic, operational, and tactical dimensions of implementation.

  • Apply Intersectional Analysis to Ensure Diverse Civil Society Engagement

The GFA and GFS require engagement and consultations with civil society in the development of in-country programming, offering the chance to amplify intersectionality along with gender-inclusivity. The GFA and GFS specifically acknowledge the need to work with civil society and local groups led by underserved populations, like women and youth, to advance inclusive peace and women’s leadership “in all aspects of conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.”59 This is important, but the ten-year plans should mandate that consultations be held with intersectional groups made up of diverse women of various races, ethnicities, religions, classes, and sexual orientations.60 Utilizing intersectionality in this way will meaningfully incorporate different perspectives in the design of programming, ultimately enabling programs to reach and benefit women from more backgrounds, an achievement missing from past conflict and stabilization efforts but crucial for the future. It will also create space for more women to influence decision-making at the local level.

In order to do this correctly, U.S. personnel should hire local representatives who understand the intersecting identities within the communities where programming is conducted. Local consultants will be able to provide crucial background knowledge on community identities and more easily secure participation from targeted groups than foreign officials. The GFA provides for this in its calls for future strategies to identify the “authorities, staffing, and other resources” needed to effectively implement the GFS.61

  • Leverage and Connect Existing PoliciesStrategically and efficiently, the GFS asserts it will draw on existing U.S. legislation and directives throughout its programming process, which creates a chance to streamline gender agendas across government entities and policy topics. The GFS already mentions the 2019 U.S. Women, Peace and Security (WPS) strategy, which is a great start.62 The process would also benefit from including the comprehensive WPS implementation plans that the USAID, DOS, and DOD each created in response to the passage of the WPS Act of 2017. The DOS plan, for example, sets clear objectives for increasing women and girls’ safety and participation in peace efforts and lays out M&E metrics to achieve these objectives.63 Thus far, GFA implementation strategies do not include this degree of specificity; they lack clear objectives or indicators for women’s rights, empowerment or safety, and details on how these will be measured to determine GFA programming success. Relying on existing policies that have already been integrated into the three primary implementing departments would be a tactical way to take a more gender-sensitive approach.64

The GFA should also build upon the recently released National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, drawing on the White House, its resources, and the attention of the current administration to advance gender equality. This first-of-itskind gender strategy also emphasizes a whole of government approach, stating: “in order to mainstream gender equity and equality across our domestic and foreign policy, we will elevate gender in strategic planning and budgeting, policy development, management and training, and monitoring and evaluation efforts.”65 The strategy is especially forwardthinking in that it promotes a focus on intersectional identities, something currently lacking from the GFA, and interprets them broadly to include sexual orientation.66 In fact, one of the strategy’s objectives—to elevate gender equality in security and humanitarian relief—is already poised to correct a GFA gap by committing to using diplomatic fora and resources to support the leadership of local civil society groups led by women.67 Building on this strategy, a stated priority of the Biden administration, will make for more harmonious domestic and foreign policy.

  • Employ Gender-inclusive Language in Future Strategy Documents and Reports

This brief has largely focused on women because U.S. gender policies usually target women’s issues. However, GFA strategy documents, including revisions made to the GFS, country plans, or biennial reports, should use language that serves people belonging to all marginalized gender identities. For example, the Act should have stated that it serves to empower “groups underserved for their gender” rather than just “women” in GFA programming implementation.68 More inclusive language will encourage gender programming to be designed for any group that may need protection or empowerment because of its gender identity or expression. Additionally, to prevent GBV from being conflated with VAW and to acknowledge that all genders can experience violence, future documents should define each term and use them deliberately.

Lastly, language that essentializes groups, such as use of the word “vulnerable,” should be left out of future documents.69 Using the word “underserved,” for example, instead of “vulnerable” better showcases that certain groups face difficult circumstances not because of their own actions but because a system or society has failed to adequately support them. This kind of language underscores a structural problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a group that needs to be saved.


U.S. efforts to integrate and implement gender programming in conflict settings need a new approach to improve the lives of women and other marginalized gender groups. The GFA is an innovative policy with a progressive approach to solving violent conflict, but thus far the implementation process is predominantly gender blind. A course correction is still possible. The GFA’s ability to drive change will be determined by its implementation, and country strategies that incorporate intersectional and gender-sensitive lenses will strengthen the Act’s efficacy and better serve groups in need. This unique lens will also promote more accurate conflict analysis because women are important contributors to conflict resolution, despite also being targets of violence. If implemented properly, a gender-sensitive GFA promises a fresh start for stabilization efforts and, hopefully, human rights on the ground.

This policy brief was prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of WIIS or the Embassy of Liechtenstein.


  1. This report employs the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of gender as “the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed […] gender interacts with but is different from sex, which refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons.” See “Gender and Health,” World Health Organization, 2021, gender#tab=tab_1.
  2. Addressed hereafter as GFA or The Act.
  3. This also coincides with Biden-Harris Administration’s immediate priorities, which include COVID-19, climate, racial equity, economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing. See “The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities,” The White House, n.d.,
  4. A Framework for Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Government Efforts to Stabilize Conflict-Affected Areas (U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Department of Defense, 2018), p. 1,
  5. Framework for Maximizing Effectiveness, p. 4.
  6. Pascrell, Bill Jr., Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116–94, § 502, 1321 (2019), STAT. 3060, bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1865/text.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  9. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  10. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  11. Pascrell, STAT. 3066.
  12. Pascrell, STAT. 3065-3066.
  13. Ibid.14. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Deniz Kandiyoti, “Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women’s Rights,” Third World Quarterly, 28:3 (2007): 503-517,
  16. John R. Allen and Vanda Felbab-Brown, “The Fate of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan,” Brookings Institution, September 16, 2020, https://www.
  17. Bateman, Kate, Samantha Hay, Mariam Jalalzada, Matthew Rubin, and Sarah Rababy, Support for Gender Equality: Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan Lessons Learned Reports. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), February 2021, p. xxii; Haque, Tobias, Afghanistan’s Development Gains: Progress and Challenges, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 2020, p. 10, https://
  18. Bateman et. al., p. 28.
  19. Ibid; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021, p. 79, pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Bateman et. al, p. 29.
  22. SIGAR, What We Need to Learn, p. 79.
  23. Allen and Felbab-Brown. “The Fate of Women in Afghanistan.”
  24. Greg Myre, “Everything You Wanted To Know About An Afghan Loya Jirga,” National Public Radio (NPR), November 21, 2013, https://
  25. Cheryl Benard et. al., Women and Nation-Building (RAND Cooperation, 2008), p. 120, pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG579.pdf.
  26. U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act (September 15, 2020), p. 1, https://www.
  27. Alliance for Peacebuilding, No Time to Waste to Implement the Global Fragility Act, September 16, 2020, no-time-to-waste-to-implement-the-global-fragility-act-b3c79f7bceae.
  28. Teresa Welsh, “U.S. State Department Releases Global Fragility Strategy,” Devex, December 19, 2020,
  29. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, December 18, 2020, pp. 1-2, https://www.state. gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/us-strategy-to-prevent-conflict-andpromote-stability.pdf.
  30. Ibid., p. 3.
  31. The WPS Strategy emphasizes proactively integrating the needs and perspectives of women and ensuring their participation in the prevention and resolution of conflict.
  32. Ibid., p. 15.
  33. Ibid., p.14.
  34. Christine Pedersen, How to Center Women in the Global Fragility Act (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, March 13, 2020),
  35. Ibid.
  36. “Fact Sheet Conflict Sensitivity,” Center for Peacebuilding (Swiss Peace, 2004), pp. 2-3, pdf/KOFF/KOFF_Documents/KOFF_Factsheet_Conflictsensitivity.pdf.
  37. Heidi Hudson Source.
  38. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  39. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, States of Fragility 2020 (OECD), September 17, 2020), ba7c22e7-en.
  40. Gender-based violence (GBV) is “violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.” See Women for Women International, What Does That Mean? Gender-Based Violence, June 4, 2021, https://www.
  41. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

  • Valerie M. Hudson et. al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security, 33:3 (2008): p. 12,
  • Hannah Beswick, Increasing the Participation of Women in Peace Processes: Reaching a Sustainable Durable Peace (EastWest Institute, June 20, 2018),
  • Marie O’Reilly, Andrea O Suilleabhain, and Thania Paffenholz, Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes International Peace Institute, March 2014, p. 12, uploads/2015/06/IPI-E-pub-Reimagining-Peacemaking.pdf.
  • “Women’s Participation and a Better Understanding of the Political,” in Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace, UN Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 2015),
  • Council on Foreign Relations, Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Why It Matters. (n.d.)., accessed December 11, 2020, https://
  • O’Reilly, et. al., p. 11.
  • Ibid.
  • Hudson et. al., p. 12.
  • The United Nations recognizes violence against women (VAW) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” It is important to understand the difference between VAW and GBV; the former refers to violence committed against individuals that identify with the specific gender group “women,” while the latter includes violence committed against any individuals because of their gender identity or expression, not just women. See United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Again Women,” December 20, 1993, pages/violenceagainstwomen.aspx.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

p. 12.

  • Ibid., p. 7.
  • Civil society engagement is essential to equitable GFA implementation, but care should be taken not to further endanger underserved groups with overtly public consultations. Consideration of the health and safety of local groups should drive methods of engagement.
  • Pascrell, STAT. 3062.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 20.