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Opinion: Time for women to call the shots

Women’s participation in high-level foreign policy is a matter of global security.

United Nations Women Rights
A female member of the Japanese Self Defense Force waves as she arrives in Dili, April 11, 2002, to take part in the United Nations peacekeeping operation in East Timor. (Darren Whiteside/Reuters)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Ten years ago, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.

In short, “1325” (as the international law is known among advocates) seeks to elevate the decision-making of women in war zones and protect women during armed conflict.

This month, as the U.N. recognizes the anniversary of that historic action, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has seized the opportunity to enable women around the world to promote peace where more traditional players (often the combatants themselves) have failed. She did so by announcing specific commitments to women, peace and security, and funding to the tune of $44 million.

Unfortunately, examples of the U.N. member states promoting strong advocates for women are few and far between, and weak attention has prevented much progress towards protection. For a decade, I’ve watched tame efforts to drive 1325’s implementation. Meanwhile, as the world recoils from reports of brutal rape accompanied by genital mutilation as a weapon of war, few recognize the connection between those atrocities and insufficient women’s involvement in government, police, and the armed services.

When women are present in “critical mass” (somewhere around 30 percent) in cabinets and congresses, police forces and military units, those organizations behave differently. Leaders take human rights more seriously and do more to protect civilians. Conversely, when women are absent, those issues are regularly forgotten or ignored.

As examples, in negotiations to resolve the conflict in Darfur, 15 local women provided technical advice to negotiators and drew attention to previously neglected areas such as women’s economic empowerment, property ownership and other basic rights. All-female Indian peacekeeping brigades in Liberia have not only helped maintain order, they’ve dramatically increased local women’s interest in joining the national police and changing its image. U.S. Marine Corps Female Engagement Teams working alongside male Marines have developed better relationships with Afghan communities and improved understanding of local priorities by reaching out to Afghan women.

Despite these successes, few people have heard of the all-female peacekeeping brigade deployed in Haiti; or know that the U.S. now has a largely female nuclear nonproliferation negotiating team; or are aware that women recently graduated to become the first officers in the Afghan post-Taliban military; or appreciate that the top police officer for the entire U.N. system is a woman.

This lack of awareness is partly a result of the fact that women’s participation remains woefully anecdotal in the very organizations that determine whether deadly force is used, for how long and to what end. And it doesn’t help that when the U.N. General Assembly gathers, fewer than 15 percent of the permanent representatives are women.

Because women's role in peace negotiations is ad hoc rather than systematic, fewer than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements are female. It’s little surprise, then, that sexual violence remains unaddressed and that widespread rape as a tactic of war is ignored.

While the world can celebrate the successes of Secretary Clinton, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and former presidents Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Mary Robinson of Ireland, the occasional visionary leader is not enough. Governments must make sustained, measurable, time-bound commitments to transform their cultures. That being said, only one in 10 U.N. member states has created national action plans to guide and measure their implementation of Resolution 1325. Even the national action plan announced last week by Secretary Clinton puts the United States in the company of fewer than two dozen states.

At the recent Security Council meeting commemorating the 10th anniversary of 1325, the United States focused the world’s attention on the need for the strong presence of women in negotiations, reconstruction, transitional justice, post-conflict governance and more. Because of our leadership in peacekeeping, military deployments and diplomatic processes, commitments from the United States will inspire other nations to act.

Women of the world are now looking forward to the United States including them in vital decisions about their future. “Nothing about us without us,” a Ugandan parliamentarian insisted to me, speaking of negotiations between her government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The devil, of course, will be in the details. Changing the cultures of the U.S. military and diplomatic communities so that local women experts are regularly consulted is no small change. Fortunately, there is no lack of partners to work with or models to learn from when it comes to implementing more inclusive processes.

Secretary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice demonstrate the skills and perspective women bring to the highest levels of foreign policy formation. They have now ensured that part of their legacy will be generations of women using their own intelligence, courage, sensitivity and persuasion to create a more stable world for us all. In the end, our motivation need not be fairness: advancing women in peacebuilding is a matter of global security.

Swanee Hunt is the chair and founder of The Institute for Inclusive Security (including the Women Waging Peace Network), which advocates for the full participation of all stakeholders, particularly women, in peace processes. She served as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria from 1993-1997. Hunt is also an investor in GlobalPost.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/101105/united-nations-women-rights