With Outrage, the Values We’re Fighting for Become Clear

written by On September 24, 2014 in 2010-2016, WIIS Blog, Women Peace & Security

by Sahana Dharmapuri

The recent beheadings of U.S. journalists Steven Satloff and James Foley, as well as British aid worker David Haines by ISIS are a gruesome and tragic reminder of our relationship with extremists since 9/11. So far, public debate has focused on the motivations for this kind of extreme political violence and what to do about it.

What hasn’t been said is this: with every attack, our strategic advantage to combat extremism comes into sharper focus. We now know what we are fighting for.

We fight for security and peace in the presence of such horrors by increasing the effectiveness of our security operations through the inclusion of more women marines, more women police, and more women advisors in conflict zones. The U.S. lifted the ban on women in combat in January 2013, recognizing that “valor has no gender.”

American men and women have been fighting and dying together in at least two wars for the last 10 years.

We recognize that when women bring their talents, perspectives, expertise to the table they have saved lives and improved the chances for moving us toward peace. We know that talking to both women and men in conflict zones increases operational effectiveness and strengthens the physical security of everyone.

While the degradation of women is a major political objective of extremists, we know why supporting women in leadership positions is crucial to our success. When women are included in peace building processes the probability of ending violence increases by 24{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}.

This is great news considering the fact that 50{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of all peace agreements are prone to fail in the first five years.

We also know that when women hold political office they pass more and better legislation that helps their communities (both men and women) get jobs, access health care, improve the environment, and educate their children.

Surveys by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and others, reveal that when women hold office they privilege social and economic issues like health care and pensions, physical safety, livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

In contrast, it is well documented that Hamas and other extremist groups use social programs like education, health, jobs to recruit people to their cause.

We know that even if the girls in Nigeria don’t return from Boko Haram, even if acid is thrown on school girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if boys and girls are trafficked across borders on a daily basis globally, it’s our belief in equality, in the dignity of the person and in the respect for life that always wins in the end.

There’s something else we know for certain. The journalists who have died telling these stories have shown us how to fight: with the pen and not the sword. With the truth and not a gun.

To be sure, there will be more bloodshed as extremist groups continue to press their cause. But we will press our cause and honor our commitment to real power with equal force through our daily living.

We know that real power is not power of the few over the many.

Real power is millions of us, billions of us, making our tiny moves across the chessboard of life in ways that only each of us can do, knowing what is right and what is wrong, and what is worth fighting for. It’s keeping our commitment to the only thing worth fighting for, the dignity of all life.


Sahana Dharmapuri is an independent gender adviser and expert on women, peace and security issues. She is a former fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Her writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Women’s ENews, Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College, The Global Responsibility to Protect Journal, and other publications. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. The original piece can be found on CNN’s website.


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