The Missing Link: Gender and the 2015 UN Peacekeeping Review


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Photo: UNAMID/Sojoud Elgarrai | Source: UN News Centre

by Gabe Dayley

Last September, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon established a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations to undertake a comprehensive review of UN peacekeeping and political missions. The review is both timely and much needed, given that 15 years has passed since Lakhdar Brahimi conducted the last major review of UN peace operations.

This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace, and security, which called for the greater inclusion of women in all aspects of peace and security operations. Yet to the chagrin of many women’s rights activists, the initial Panel exhibited a stark gender imbalance: eleven men and just three women. Ironically, the announcement of the Panel’s composition came on the same day as the 14th anniversary of UNSCR 1325. Under pressure from civil society, the Secretary General added three more women—still a far cry from the UN’s goal of gender parity in its leadership.

Equally unsettling was the absence of a gendered perspective and of any key issues concerning women among the topics under review. Instead, the Secretary General’s remarks at a peacekeeping summit on September 26, 2014 highlighted “six critical necessities” for peacekeeping in the 21st century: (1) rapid response capabilities, (2) greater troop mobility, (3) enhanced medical support, (4) protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), (5) better information and analysis, and (6) stronger regional partnerships. One month later, when the Panel was formally announced, the following issues were identified: “the changing nature of conflict, evolving mandates, good offices and peacebuilding challenges, managerial and administrative arrangements, planning, partnerships, human rights and protection of civilians, uniformed capabilities for peacekeeping operations and performance.”

Although these are key topics, they omit equally “critical necessities” such as improving peacekeepers’ capacity to address the gendered dimensions of violent conflict—and to reduce sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers themselves. The panel’s mandate also fails to acknowledge the important participatory role that women ought to play both in leadership positions and in peace operations on the ground. The omission of gender in the key issues and necessities of peacekeeping is as gross a failure to implement UNSCR 1325 as the Panel’s lopsided composition. If UN peace operations are to fulfill their mandates and support the peaceful resolution of conflicts, addressing gender is as much a “critical necessity” as the six outlined by the Secretary General.

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UN Photo/Martine Perret | Source: UN News Centre

In addressing the issue of gender in peace operations, it is important to consider the challenges and limitations of past efforts to implement UNSCR 1325. It is equally important to explore creative approaches to integrating a gendered perspective in missions, taking into account the experience of women as both agents and objects of peace and violence. For example, UNSCR 1325’s call to increase women’s participation has been a major focus of stated UN policy—in rhetoric if less in practice. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that including more women peacekeepers enhances mission effectiveness. According to Sahana Dharmapuri, a respected independent gender advisor, boosting the numbers of female peacekeepers can make a UN force more acceptable to local communities, reduce sexual exploitation and abuse, and “improve the daily tactical level work of missions.”[1] Increasing participation thus supports the other pillars of UNSCR 1325, protection and prevention of violence against women.

Numbers, however, cannot stand alone; Dharmapuri argues that “the UN and member states’ focus on increasing the numbers of female uniformed personnel has obscured the equally important goal of integrating a gendered perspective into the work of peace operations.”[2] This focus mirrors civil society’s outcry over the Panel’s composition and relative silence on the issues under review. Moreover, it assumes a particular direction of influence: increasing the participation of women will lead to greater sensitivity to the experience of women on the ground in conflict. While this is likely true, the reverse effect may also exist; incorporating a gendered perspective into peace operations may be necessary to encourage the UN to hire more female mission experts and to persuade troop contributing countries (TCCs) to deploy more female troops. Ultimately, these elements reinforce each other and create a virtuous cycle. Hence, the failure to properly integrate a gendered perspective into peacekeeping may explain why the UN’s rhetorical focus on numbers has seen slow implementation.

In their article “Female Peacekeepers and Gender Balancing: Token Gestures or Informed Policymaking?”, Sabrina Karim and Kyle Beardsley illustrate Dharmapuri’s contention that a gendered perspective cannot be reduced to numbers alone. Analyzing data on peacekeeper deployment, Karim and Beardsley test the hypothesis that TCCs send their female troops to missions that present the least risk to their own safety, rather than deploying them where they are most needed.[3] The authors’ quantitative analysis strongly supports their hypothesis. Gender biases and stereotypes among TCCs constitute one possible explanation, suggesting a failure to mainstream the principles of UNSCR 1325. The data illustrate that transforming underlying attitudes and beliefs about women is as important as increasing the number of female troops. Indeed, peacekeepers, troop contributing countries, and the international system must come to see that women—and their unique perspectives—are vital to the pursuit of genuine peace.

As it embarks on its review of peace operations, the High-Level Independent Panel should recognize that gender intersects all aspects of peace operations. Applying a gendered perspective to peacekeeping, therefore, is not merely an intellectual exercise or the fulfillment of abstract principles; it directly informs the issues that the Panel is charged with reviewing.[4] Integrating a holistic perspective on the experience of women in peace and conflict into peacekeeping operations will empower peacekeepers to maintain a more inclusive and sustainable peace. Ultimately, it will help the UN realize the aspirations of Security Council Resolution 1325 for women and men worldwide.

Gabe Dayley is a master’s candidate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University’s School of International Service. His focus is applied conflict resolution and peacebuilding.


[1] Sahana Dharmapuri, “Not Just a Numbers Game: Increasing Women’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping,” Providing for Peacekeeping No. 4, (New York: International Peace Institute, 2013), 7.

[2] Dharmapuri, 1.

[3] Sabrina Karim & Kyle Beardsley, “Female Peacekeepers and Gender Balancing: Token Gestures or Informed Policymaking?,” International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations 39, no. 4 (2013): 461-488.

[4] For example, accounting for the gendered dimensions of conflict arguably would lead to better information and analysis, one of the “six critical necessities” outlined in September. Dharmapuri (2013) notes that a gender perspective provides greater “situational awareness” and knowledge of local context (p. 7).

By Alex Paul

Law of Armed Conflict Expert, Human Rights Advisor, Gender Advisor… Cynthia Petrigh goes by many names. Throughout her career as an expert in conflict resolution and international law, Ms. Petrigh has worked to advance the implementation and understanding of human rights. She specializes in training soldiers, both state and non-state, and spent the last year training over half of the Malian army in international humanitarian law, with a focus on the prevention of sexual violence. In 2014 she was recognized for her significant contributions toward ending sexual violence by former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London.

Ms. Petrigh also has extensive experience training and advising actors in mediation and negotiations. She has supported the peace talks in Mindanao as a founding member of the International Contact Group and provided support to the National Dialogue in Yemen. She has also investigated violations of human rights and gender-based violence in Kyrgyzstan and established a rehabilitation center for victims of torture in Lebanon.

She sat down with WIIS Program Assistant, Alex Paul, to discuss her work and to reflect on the significance of gender in her work. Read the full interview within WIIS Community Online. 

What do you think is the importance of gender equality for peace and security in the 21st century?

CP: “People forgetthat women can contribute to security and have solutions for the community- this can hold back efforts to create and sustain peace processes.”

You spoke at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June 2014. What do you think was the biggest achievement of the summit?

CP: “When high-profile individuals campaign on these issues governments cannot ignore them and pretend they don’t exist – as is shown by the endorsement of the Summit by many governments. So that kind of attention and awareness is important…[Equally important were the] opportunities for exchanging ideas and communication between different people that operate at different levels… a contribution of women, [is that] they have informal ways to look for solutions, and the summit gave them a space to speak and exchange ideas.”

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leaders of the Survivors Action Network complained that survivors’ voices were absent, and the event focused too much on politicians promising to do things that are unlikely to happen. Is their criticism valid?

CP: “I saw lots of events organized by survivors – and all the official speeches highlighted how we have to be careful survivors are not just present at these kinds of events as the objects of curiosity.”

What is your opinion on the International Protocol? How can we ensure that survivors and witnesses testimony is effectively heard and recorded for posterity?

CP: “We should internationalize the problem but we also need to give space to national processes… We need to be careful and respect survivors and not only use them to come back with a good story and prosecute someone.”

You’ve worked in many different countries and on many different projects. Which one has been the most rewarding?

CP: “I worked in a very difficult but very rewarding role at a center for victims of torture in Lebanon. After the civil war there was no sense of justice and no reconciliation process – everyone just said the war is over, don’t talk about it. If we don’t deal with the victims and help them we will never have peace as the cycle of violence will not be ended.”

I recently attended a talk by Ambassador Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, where she lamented that only 8{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of those involved in peace talks are women. In your experience, what is the best way of getting more women’s voices to the table?

CP: “The UN has been very vocal about UNSCR 1325 but almost all UN envoys and special representatives are still male, which is a problem as this sometimes translates into an unwillingness to have women in the peace processes. The UN have to lead the way if they are serious about inclusiveness and participation.”

And how, once they are at the table, do we make sure they are listened to and their needs considered and acted upon?

CP: “If a man turns up in a suit then he is already accepted by other men, but women have to prove their value and are scrutinized in a way that never happens for men in suits or uniforms – they are immediately accepted. This is the reality for all jobs, including supporting peace processes! Women have to overcome this and prove competent for the same positions in other ways. In peace talks we are very slowly seeing some progress and with a lot of patience and talent, women are able to make a significant contribution in several processes.”

I see that in the last year you trained 2,700 Malian soldiers on IHL, HR and prevention of sexual violence. What was this like – were they receptive to your message?

CP: “The Malians had no problem accepting me – in fact, they were very receptive. I trained half their army and never had an inappropriate word said to me. The areas I covered were new to them but through our training they understood a lot about international humanitarian law, sexual violence and human rights.”

Do you think this kind of international assistance to local forces will really make a difference in the long run?

CP: “Malians forces I helped train were fighting in the north of the country earlier this year, in Kidal. The camp commander of the mission where I worked told me afterwards that, despite the Malian Army being defeated in this specific incident, there were no human rights violations and this was to my credit! You could see a net improvement in the behavior of the troops. Of course, it will never be perfect; even armies trained for centuries commit violations and all I had was ten weeks. But it did sensitize them to a lot of issues.”

How does this work (contracted under UKG Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative) tally with the aims of the June 2014 Summit?

CP: “As I said before, it’s not enough to simply prosecute people. We need first to inform them about the rules and work on prevention. Training combatants on international humanitarian law, human rights, sexual violence –contributes to combating sexual violence.”

What needs to change in international peace and security processes to ensure women are fully included?

CP: “There needs to be a realization that you cannot have only half of the population making such important decisions – we are all affected by peace and security and men and women make different contributions to this.”

Alex Paul is a WIIS Program Assistant. He has just completed a Masters’ in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York. His research focuses on security provision and reform in post-conflict states.

By Alex Paul

Editor’s Note: This blog post is intended to provide WIIS members and others with a summary of the outcomes and key statements of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

WIIS would more than welcome blog posts by any of its members that examine the outcomes of the Summit and whether they believe the event will mark a turning point in the battle to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all.

“The greatest strategic prize for our century is the full social, political and economic empowerment of women everywhere” declared William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, at the end of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last week.

Helping the “thousands of people living in the shadow of sexual violence at this very moment” and who are suffering as a result of “conflicts where rape is openly incited” is one of the greatest challenges to realizing this goal, warned Angelina Jolie, UN Special Envoy at the three-day event in London.

But in order to “banish sexual violence to the dark ages where it belongs” the international community must establish “new norms that respect women, girls, men, and boys” warned John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State. Once the new norms exist, holding “those who commit these acts and those who condone them accountable” will become much more possible, he told audience members representing over 120 countries.

Four keys areas for change were focused on at the Summit. They were the improved accountability for sexual violence crimes; greater support for survivors of sexual violence; full integration of sexual and gender-based violence responses and promotion of gender equality into all security sector reforms and training programs; and improved international cooperation.

Participants at the Summit agreed to fund UN and NGO efforts to assist survivors and called for all states to redouble their efforts on implementing their obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions.

However, the biggest outcome of the Summit was the launch of the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, intended as a tool to support existing efforts by civil society groups, human rights lawyers and international justice forums to “document sexual violence as a crime under international law.”

Reporting and recording conclusive evidence of sexual violence in conflicts is a difficult process to get right. All too often, the failure to collect evidence hinders the successful prosecution of those guilty of such war crimes and creating a culture of impunity around sexual violence in conflict. The Protocol aims to destroy impunity by ensuring that evidence gathered during and after conflict is robust enough to successfully assist in future efforts to hold the perpetrators to account.

The Summit also saw the UK release its third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, in line with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Through a focus on five distinct outcomes, the Plan commits the UK to “pursue visible change for girls and women affected by conflict when building peace.”

The Plan highlights six countries, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Syria, where the UK will concentrate its efforts and confirms that an Implementation Plan, containing baseline data on the key indicators within the National Action Plan, will be published by the end of 2014.

Nevertheless, some criticized the Summit for focusing too much on policymakers, arguing that “all too often survivors’ voices are absent” from these debates, calling it “the missing link in the struggle to end rape and gender violence in conflict.” The Survivors Action Network was launched in response, with its first event on the sidelines of the Summit being attended by survivors, four Nobel Peace Prize winners and the foreign ministers of Norway and the Netherlands.

Other headlines from the summit:

U.N. Secretary General: “We have the tools, political momentum and clarity of purpose to turn the tide”

Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Conflict (U.S. Department of State fact sheet)

How do we end sexual violence in conflict? – interactive

Official website for the Summit

Must-read: Acting Time; Or, Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. More critical look at the outcomes discussed above.

AlexPaul_WIIS Profile picture




Alex Paul is a WIIS Program Assistant. He has just completed a Masters’ in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York. His research focuses on security provision and reform in post-conflict states.

Not only because of the individual tragedies of these girls and their families,

Not only because of the very real risk they might end up as sex slaves including in Europe, and other parts of the world,

Not only because they might not make it and die before there is any rescue,

Not only because other girls might suffer a similar fate,

Not only because parents are scared to send their daughters to school,

Not only because their abduction proves they have been failed by the very state that is meant to protect them,

Not only because this might mean that a girl’s life is worthless…


But also because each time a girl is targeted, her voice is silenced, society loses a degree of humanity and the world becomes less safe, not only locally, but for all of us!


WIIS – women for a safer world

By Carla Koppell and Allison Salyer

Syrian refugees walk along the outer perimeter of a refugee camp on the Syrian border. / Odd Andersen, AFP

The numbers are stark. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights currently estimates that some 150,000 Syrians have perished in that country’s ongoing conflict. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country, often multiple times; and approximately 2.7 million people have fled Syria, mostly into neighboring nations.

The majority of those are women and children, who have been exposed to serious risks during their flight, in camps, and in unfamiliar countries’ cities and towns.

The crisis in Syria presents humanitarian, developmental and demographic challenges that are seldom seen at this magnitude. We recently returned from Jordan and Turkey where we came away with very profound impressions regarding the gendered lens of the conflict; the challenge of gender-based violence (GBV); and, the roles that women are playing as agents of change.

It is hard to tell with any certainty exactly how many women are suffering various forms of sexual violence in Syria. Assessments, done by local and international organizations, do identify women and children as among the most vulnerable.

Anecdotally, many displaced Syrian women and girls report having experienced violence or knowing people that have suffered attacks, in particular rape.

A women carries food commodities in the Aleppo neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab. / Odd Andersen, AFP

But in spite of this horrifying situation, we also heard several heartening stories that humble us and provide the motivation to push forward and continue to elevate the voices of women enmeshed in this conflict:

  • Stories of women negotiating local cease fires in Zabadani and of removing armed actors from schools in Aleppo;
  • Stories of women delivering life-saving medical supplies despite the grave risks to themselves and their families;
  • Stories of women in eastern Syria who worked with merchants to stabilize commodity prices so that citizens could remain in their homes;
  • And stories of women in Latakia who convinced armed groups to permit establishment of a local civil society presence focused on peace-building.

Making sure these women are heard will be key to ending the violence.

These stories show some of the ways Syrian women are leading their communities. And USAID is working to create space for other fearless women across the country as we support the establishment of democratic processes and institutions in Syria that advance freedom, dignity, and development for all of its people.

Syrian women cook outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border. / Bulent Kilic, AFP

Consistent with our commitments under the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP) [pdf] we are seeking to increase the participation and representation of women, youth, and minorities in governing bodies, with a view to building confidence in peaceful and representative transitional political processes.

Our mission in Jordan is helping to create inclusive, effective and accountable institutions that serve all of its population. For example, one community and medical center that we visited in one of the largest and poorest urban areas in Jordan now serves a dynamic population of Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians — women, men, girls and boys — in the areas of computer literacy, job training, psycho-social care and basic education for young children. As a result of the far-reaching nature of the conflict and changing demographics of the neighborhood, the community has expanded its efforts to make services available to the entirety of the population.

USAID has stepped up commitments to meet the needs of women and girls, not only through our Implementation Plan for the NAP, but also in realizing the U.S. Government Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence Globally [pdf]; the joint State-USAID Safe from the Start initiative; and through our shared leadership in 2014 of the Call to Action to Protect Women and Girls in Emergencies. We strive daily to live up to those commitments and eagerly look to the broader international community for collaboration.

USAID’s response in Syria and elsewhere around the world must serve, protect and empower all of those affected by crisis and conflict, and ensure their voices and priorities shape the humanitarian response and the approach to recovery and reconstruction.




This piece was originally published by USAID.

By Jolynn Shoemaker

As political pundits and campaigns ramp up for the 2014 midterm elections, the media is focusing again on the female vote and female candidates. There is good reason for the attention on women. The 2012 elections brought more women than ever before into the halls of Congress. Even at a relatively paltry 18 percent, female participation is now at record-breaking levels for Congress. In 2012, exit poll results showed that women accounted for 53 percent of voters, showing that the female vote is a key determinant for winning an election in America today.

While the spotlight shines on female candidates and office holders, little is known about the state of women’s participation as key advisers to congressional leaders. Behind every member of Congress and every congressional committee are the staffers who wield tremendous power — formulating policy positions, drafting legislation and keeping their bosses informed on the key issues.

The number of women in Congress tells just part of the story about women’s advancement in American politics.

A new report by Women In International Security — an organization that supports women’s equal participation in international peace and security careers — provides a peek behind the curtain of congressional offices with a sampling of the views and experiences of women working on foreign policy and national security portfolios. The report shows that despite an increasing number of women on the Hill, key national security portfolios, such as national defense and intelligence, remain male-dominated. The study also points to the propensity for male staffers to advance further and faster than their female counterparts. For example, women still occupy less than 50 percent of chief of staff positions in either chamber of Congress. The disparity translates in considerable salary inequities. On average, female House staffers earn $5,863 less than their male counterparts and female Senate staffers earn $7,278 less.


To read the rest of this article, see Roll Call. Click here to see the new WIIS report.


Jolynn Shoemaker is the author of “Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Congressional Staffs” and a previous WIIS report, “Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Executive Branch.” She is a Non-Residential Fellow at SIPRI North America and CSIS. She was director of Women in International Security (WIIS) from January 2006 – January 2013. Before joining WIIS, she worked for the Institute for Inclusive Security, an organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in peace processes. Ms. Shoemaker has served in policy and legal positions in the U.S. government. She worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, focusing on the Balkans region. She also worked as an attorney in the General Counsel’s Office for International Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she negotiated international agreements to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Ms. Shoemaker was a Presidential Management Fellow in the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, where she was responsible for monitoring human rights and asylum issues in Africa. She holds a J.D. and an M.A. (security studies) from Georgetown University and a B.A. from University of California at San Diego. She has published extensively on women, peace, and security and women’s leadership, and she is a member of the New York Bar, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Truman National Security Fellow.

by Kelsey L. Campbell

Its hard to believe, but Women’s History Month 2014 has come to an end. The March news cycle was dominated by Vladimir Putin’s hostile takeover of Crimea, Recep Erdogan’s crackdown on democratic freedoms in Turkey, and continuing violence ahead of Afghanistan’s elections.

Apart from the chaos, issues predominately affecting women were highlighted in the media this past month. Maria Shriver’s documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck” clearly illustrated the daily trials and sacrifice single moms endure all across America. Through Devex’s social media campaign #SheBuilds, we were presented the myriad reasons for investing in girls and women. President Jimmy Carter released his latest book, “A Call to Action,” in which he demonstrates that discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most ignored human rights violation today.

For me, this past month has been about celebrating women’s achievements and also looking toward the future. In recent conversations with male colleagues, I am always struck when they say things like, “Why do you have to put gender into it?” or “It shouldn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman [when talking about a leadership position].” However, when a woman is selected for a top leadership position, they often ask how she is more qualified than the male candidates. Conversely, when a man is selected for a post, no one second-guesses his qualifications. Because of this lack of recognition of the existing biases, often times these inequities have been labeled women’s issues, effectively excluding men from the resolution. This places the entire burden on women for a problem that likely manifested from all parts of society. It goes without saying that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality, and even more so due to the absence of men in the process.

With a few standouts, there are very few American men who are gender equality activists. There are even fewer men who will proudly call themselves feminists. Perhaps the term is intimidating to many due to the stereotypical images it brings to mind. However, in its simplest form, feminism is the idea that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Why wouldn’t every coach, teacher, business owner, or military leader be a feminist? Doesn’t it make sense for them to want to support their employees or students to achieve their full potential? Don’t they desire to attract business from both men and women?

Like any major campaign, it is hard to achieve massive social change without bringing the men onboard. So how does a man lead in promoting equality? First, they must raise their daughters to be fearless and confident. They must coach and encourage their daughters, just as their sons, and must push their daughters to aim for the stars (and not pressure them to give up a career because its time to ‘settle down’).

Second, men must look for opportunities to be mentors, coaches, or give a hand-up in any way they can. This can be for colleagues, subordinates, neighbors, and even family members. I like to say that a smile and encouragement is a very cheap investment that pays big dividends. We all have highs and lows in our careers and personal lives; a nudge of encouragement may be what is needed to get through a low patch and aim at the far goal.

Third, men must be willing to call out sexist behavior or policies. Have a work policy that punishes a pregnant woman but is lenient to a man that injuries himself skiing? Call it out. Does a colleague of yours routinely question the authority of the new female VP in front of subordinates? Call him out. Is your agency debating a policy predominately affecting women, but has invited zero women to the strategy session? Alert management and include women colleagues.  When our society and workplaces are more inclusive and opportunities are more widespread, it creates better results for all.

We ALL have to take ownership for creating opportunities for all girls and boys, women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue, rather a human rights and societal issue. Even though the official Women’s History Month has come to an end, I urge all to embark on an operation for equality year round.


Kelsey L. Campbell is a Foreign Affairs Specialist in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and an Air Force veteran. The views expressed here are strictly her own.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we have asked some members of the Women In International Security Advisory Board to share their thoughts on this year’s theme: Equality for women is progress for all. After reading their posts, feel free to leave a comment sharing your view on International Women’s Day 2014!


Equality for women is progress for all

Carola Weil

Dean of the School of Professional and Extended Studies at American University


Women have made great strides across the globe by many measures. And yet fundamental inequalities remain. Although women make up the majority of students in higher education institutions, they remain underrepresented in high-paying and non-traditional careers, in board rooms and leadership positions. Women constitute more than 63 percent of household heads and primary breadwinners and yet continue to face persistent wage gaps, typically earning only half to three-quarters of what their male counterparts earn. More significantly though these inequalities are exasperated when we take into account intersectional identities – we are not just defined by gender but by other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and geography. Thus women of color experience higher wage gaps and fewer opportunities to advance in non-traditional careers such as in international security.

Why does this matter? Studies have shown that in a world of complex problems that exceed the capacities of any single individual or group to address, greater diversity leads to better, more sustainable problem-solving and outcomes. If we want to effectively address the conundrums of nuclear arms races, persistent ethnic and religious conflicts, or regional insecurity, we must ensure sufficient diversity among those confronting these challenges. Without women at the negotiating tables, in the ranks of decision makers or on the frontlines we are unlikely to overcome chronic insecurity at home or internationally.



Spotlight on Women in Foreign Policy Reveals Hidden Barriers

Pamela Aall

Treasurer of Women In International Security and Senior Associate, Facilitating Peace

Virginia Haufler

Director of Global Communities, Director of Graduate Placement, and Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland

Strong U.S. support for women’s role in peace and security policies in other countries has not been matched at home, as a forthcoming WIIS report makes clear.

The Obama administration has been vocal in calling for an inclusive political system in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It supports implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1352, which declares women’s participation as essential for sustainable peace. Both the U.S. Senate and House have, over the last decade, passed resolutions calling for Afghan women to be included in peace talks and protected under the constitution.  Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State, put women at the center of diplomatic initiatives, and in November launched a “No Ceilings” initiative to empower women and girls, whose full participation is “critical to global progress, development and security.”

However, championship of women abroad is not reflected in what we see at home. Indeed, support for women as political leaders in the U.S. tells a different story and reflects deep ambiguity over women’s positions and expertise. According to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, the 2012 elections brought  a record number of women to Congress—but at only 18{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of the House and 20{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of the Senate, these measly levels compare extremely poorly to other countries, from Sweden (45{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}) to Rwanda (54{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}). Despite women as political leaders, secretaries of state, and increasingly viable candidates for president, the larger picture shows how tenuous women’s participation in U.S. politics still is.

The high profile of Hilary Clinton and other successful women in foreign policy positions masks the scarcity of women’s input at lower levels. A forthcoming report by Women in International Security (WIIS), Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Congressional Staffs, delves into the situation of women working in congressional offices, and found a disappointing level of inequity and barriers to advancement behind the scenes of Congressional foreign policy work.

Jolynn Shoemaker and Marie-Laure Poire conducted focus groups and interviews in 2012 for this report. They note that men held the majority of positions as chief of staff for both parties in the House and the Senate. Women held only one-third of the chief of staff positions for Senate Democrats, and less than one-fifth of the positions for House and Senate Republicans. Taken as a whole, women staff members earn less than men in both chambers – as little as $1,500 less for House Democratic staff to a whopping $10,000 less for House Republican staff. The pay differential also showed up in the Senate—a  $5,000 difference for women Democratic Senatorial staff, and over $9,000 for Republicans. Women Congressional staff see men advancing more rapidly and to higher positions than women. While those interviewed recognized some degree of progress, there are still too few women on committees dealing with national security or U.S. intelligence. This creates the perception that women have less credibility as foreign policy experts, and they are invisible as a result.

The lack of women on Congressional staffs is not a trivial matter. Congressional staffs are a pipeline to higher office, both elective and in the executive branch, and excluding women from these positions becomes a barrier to their further advancement. Congressional staff are the often unseen force behind legislation, molding policy proposals and the wording of what becomes law. Women’s voices need to be heard at this stage or important considerations will be left out. For instance, they are more likely to consider violence against women as a barrier to lasting peace, as Laura Sjoberg has pointed out.

If we want to practice what we preach to countries across the globe, we need to ensure that our own political institutions are inclusive. If women are, as Time magazine declared during the government shutdown, the “only adults” left in Congress, then we need more of their voices both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

Jill Zabel

In January 2013, the Department of Defense officially opened combat roles to women for the first time. To some degree, this policy change is merely a formality: women have long been serving in combat roles, particularly in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, out of necessity. But in other ways, this policy is a fundamental shift and has touched off a justifiably rigorous debate on whether women should be in combat roles and the nature of the differences between men and women. I think it also opens the need for discussion of the draft and war costs on all Americans more generally, which is the thrust of the latter half of this post.

What are the pros and cons of having women in combat? The key pros boil down to fairness and facing reality. Many people, myself included, applauded the change to allow women in combat. No one should be barred from doing something they are capable of doing regardless of gender—with the implicit understanding that the bar should also not be lowered to allow women to participate. To my second point, women currently fight, and we need a wider and better pool of people to defend our interests. Women’s differences in thinking and communication may even be strengths, not weaknesses, in combat.

Allowing women in combat is not the same as engineering the force to be equal parts male and female. Indeed, affirmative action for women should not play any role whatsoever. Women, like everyone else, are best served when they earn their position and rank by their own steam: competence and merit must thus be front and center in order to raise the place of women on the battlefield. If a woman cannot make the combat cut physically, mentally, or emotionally, she should not be in combat; the same holds true for her male peers. This probably means that some elite segments of the military like the Navy Seals will remain off limits because of the intense physical requirements even if they are theoretically opened to women. There is no shame in this either: over 70 percent of men who try out do not make the cut. It is much more important for such groups to maintain their fitness than to have a few token women who cannot do the job.

Have standards been lowered to allow women in the military? The honest answer is yes, but mostly because of physical differences between men and women. Because they are smaller and built differently, military women have their own separate standards for everything from weight and height requirements to acceptable run times. (Modern warfighting technology also helps balance out these differences, making ladies as lethal as their male counterparts.) Standards slippage cannot be pinned on women alone either. As Americans have grown up leading more sedentary lifestyles with less educational mastery, the military has lowered its physical and intellectual ideals to swell its ranks; thus, the U.S. military has grown a bit pudgier, shorter, and slower over time.

Unlike some (primarily male) commentators, I do not see an unresolvable tension between women’s tendency to nurture and the ability to fight successfully in combat. It is an overgeneralization to assume women are maternal and nurturing anyway; there is a spectrum. Not all women are warm and fuzzy, just like not all guys are ruthless and tough. The complaints that women in combat would increase the rate of sexual assaults in the military frankly call into question the discipline and ethics of our combat forces. When detractors charge the psychological dynamic would change from a “band of brothers” mentality in the presence of fighting females, what I hear is “the real military is an old boys’ club— and we like it that way.”

Arguments about women’s greater need for hygiene for health reasons have some legitimacy, but the sheer and utter horror of men having to use the bathroom in front of ladies is less compelling. (A female veteran friend told me that one of things she was looking forward to the most as a civilian was guys not going to the bathroom in front of her!) In case anyone missed this fact, everyone poops. The harrowing conditions described in former Marine Ryan Smith’s Wall Street Journal op-ed do not militate against women in combat. Instead, they underscore that we are all human, and war is hell. It is gritty, messy, horrifying, and should never be entered in lightly or without purpose. Thousands of brave men and women will never come home to their loved ones, and war’s consequences can leave returning warriors broken in body, mind, and spirit.

This brings me back to the draft and how we as Americans should grapple with the cost of war. In an ideal world, no person—man or woman—would have to shoulder the burdens of war. Since we are dismally far from that peace, the opposite is true: everyone should share the burden of funding US military engagements. If one does not know soldiers or follow the news regularly (hard to imagine in DC, I know), it has been far too easy to forget that our people are fighting and dying on our behalf in what is now the longest war in our history. Everyone knows on a theoretical level, but it has no almost palpable impact on one’s life safe at home. If a war is worth fighting and funding, it is worth at least a financial imposition—war tax—on everyone across the board. It is the least we can do when our fellow Americans are in harm’s way and could stand as a proxy for the weightiness of waging war. In addition to increasing Americans’ burden sharing, it would also add gravity to the decision to resort to war at all.

Now that women are allowed in combat—traditionally the argument against their participation in the draft—should the United States revise its draft policies? I think the answer is probably so. We could introduce either national service of some sort for all or do away with the draft altogether. The argument that adding women to the draft would forever tie our hands from using war as a policy option seems paternalistic and false: after all, sons are every bit as precious as daughters. Given the types of problems we use force to confront, it seems extremely unlikely that the United States will ever use the draft again. When we fight second-class militaries or overrun the likes of Afghanistan, we do not officially declare war. Our modern enemies are more likely to be shadowy non-government actors like al Qaeda, and our battles are more likely to be cyberwar than a full scale ground invasion. This is not to say we do not face threats. We do, but we have chosen to confront them in ways that have obviated the need for tremendous force on the ground like in WWII. This is a positive change because it has resulted in a professional military that is unmatched in human history, thanks to its sons and daughters.

Jill Zabel is an international security analyst with a BA from Vanderbilt University and an MA from Georgetown University in International Security. She is a regular contributor to the WIIS blog.

Selected Sources:

Jezebel. “Women Have Been in Combat all Along.” January 24, 2013.
Psychology Today Blog. “How the Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates.” (November 9, 2009)
The Atlantic. “The Feminist Objection to Women in Combat.”  January 25, 2013.
The Wall Street Journal.  “Ryan Smith: The Reality That Awaits Women in Combat.” (January 23, 2013)
YouTube. “General Robert H. Barrow’s June 1991 Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”