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US Women, Peace, and Security Strategy is Too Little, Too Late

The Trump Administration has finally released the US Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (“WPS Strategy”). The WPS Strategy, mandated by the Women, Peace, and Security Act of October 2017, addresses the role of women in preventing and resolving conflict.

This Act ⁠— won thanks to a concerted effort by civil society and women peacebuilders — crucially recognizes that peace lasts longer when women are at the table. We are heartened to see that the WPS Strategy calls for supporting local women’s peacebuilding organizations, the application of a gender analysis to US programs, and consultation with grassroots women leaders in the design and implementation of government initiatives — all of which have been core demands of feminist and women’s movements for decades.

The WPS Strategy calls for empowering “women and girls with the tools and capabilities” they need to engage in peacebuilding. In fact, grassroots women peacebuilders are already doing vital work to secure peace at the local level, mobilizing aid and protection for war-impacted communities and organizing to lay the groundwork for lasting peace. They have consistently demonstrated their expertise and capacity to participate in peace processes — from solving water-related armed conflicts in Yemen to pushing for crucial gender and ethnic provisions in Colombia’s Peace Accords. In many cases, these are peacebuilding skills honed to confront wars worsened by US policies and military action. This is a brutal reality ignored by the WPS strategy.

Moreover, our analysis of the WPS Strategy reveals a number of dangers. In particular:

  • Unsurprisingly, the Strategy fails to meaningfully challenge US militarism. Rather, it focuses on approaches like integrating more women into security-sector initiatives funded by the US government and working with partner governments to “increase the opportunity for women to serve in security sector forces.” But the solution to conflict doesn’t lie in simply expanding the representation of women in a global military-industrial complex whose destabilizing footprint and pattern of attacks are increasing. It requires a feminist approach to peacebuilding, which fundamentally challenges the destructive assumptions underlying US foreign policy — that US military intervention is a global good, that a strong military is vital to maintaining American interests, and that the only goal of US foreign policy should be to expand US power. The WPS Strategy baldly states that “as with all matters of national security, the United States will continue to engage selectively, and in ways that advance America’s national interests.”
  • This Strategy follows a 2011 US National Action Plan, which was updated in 2016 and prepared in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) — a milestone UN document that includes a call for governments to ensure women’s participation in peace processes. Yet, Trump’s WPS Strategy relegates this history to a footnote, choosing to situate itself within a national security framework, while sidelining and diminishing international human rights.
  • For example, in reference to humanitarian assistance, it limits itself to merely the US government’s “interpretation of the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law.” This dangerous framing leaves the door open for new and problematic interpretations of human rights. One recent example is the State Department’s proposed Commission on Unalienable Rights, which is transparently an attempt by misogynists and homophobes to sidestep human rights in favor of so-called "natural law" and to further enable attacks on women, reproductive rights, and LGBTIQ rights.
  • Furthermore, the Strategy completely erases LGBTIQ communities and their role in building peace. This is in contrast with the US’s 2016 National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which called for the inclusion of a wide range of communities, crucially including LGBTIQ people.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s recent actions show the blatant hypocrisy at play. As recently as June 6, 75 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Pompeo, pushing for the inclusion of Afghan women in peace negotiations. During recent negotiations between the US and the Taliban, Afghan women were excluded. If the Trump Administration really cared about women’s inclusion in peace processes, they would push to ensure Afghan women were at the table.

What’s more, the US’s recent assaults on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, as we see through the Global Gag Rule, and its attempts to limit asylum access for survivors of gender-based violence directly counter the goals laid out in its WPS Strategy. In fact, this Administration’s economic nationalism, climate change denialism and expansion of US wars are directly at odds with a holistic Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Until the US adopts a real commitment to women’s rights across the spheres of domestic and foreign policy, the WPS Strategy will remain just words on paper.

Join us as we work to hold the Trump Administration and right-wing authoritarian regimes around the world accountable for the rights of women, girls and LGBTIQ communities.

June 19, 2019