Around the world, women are disproportionately affected by war and armed conflict, but they can also play an important part in helping to end conflicts and promote peace and security. Female peacekeepers can play a uniquely important role in helping to reduce conflict and confrontation, improving access and support for local women, empowering women in the community, providing a greater sense of security to local populations, and broadening the skills available within international peacekeeping operations. The Department of State’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) is working to expand training of female peacekeepers, including a focus on protecting vulnerable communities, such as women and girls, struggling to recover and rebuild from war's devastation as well as those exposed to ongoing conflict.
Building on years of efforts to empower women in global affairs, the international community first recognized the impact of conflict on women and their role in helping to secure peace in 2000 by passing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This was the first resolution to underscore the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in conflict prevention as well as peacebuilding and peacekeeping. It also provided a framework for curbing the use of sexual violence as an instrument of war. The UN Security Council has also called on member states to implement resolution 1325 by developing national action plans tailored to their own experiences and needs. In October 2010, on the tenth anniversary of resolution 1325, Secretary Clinton committed the U.S. to develop a National Action Plan to “accelerate the implementation of Resolution 1325 across our government and with our partners in civil society.” On December 3, 2011, the U.S. government released the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and President Obama issued Executive Order 13595 mandating its implementation.
GPOI is playing an important role in implementing the Action Plan. Created in 2005, GPOI is a U.S. Department of State security assistance program implemented in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense to enhance international capability to effectively conduct UN and regional organizations’ peacekeeping operations. As a peacekeeping capacity building program, GPOI recognizes and supports the critical role that women play in ensuring the success of peacekeeping efforts.
GPOI is invested in: (1) training peacekeepers to more effectively protect women from conflict related sexual violence and avoid sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict-affected areas; (2) promoting the participation of women in peacekeeping training and facilitating lessons learned and best practices on integrating women into contingents; and (3) supporting the UN’s and regional organizations’ efforts to develop and implement women, peace, and security-related training, guidance, and other operational tools for peacekeepers.
For example, GPOI is partnering with Chile to host a series of regional peacekeeping workshops on women, peace and security. Chile hosted the first two phases of the workshop in July 2013 and July 2014. These workshops are assisting the Chileans to develop a comprehensive program to provide training and operational tools to peacekeepers throughout the region on women, peace, and security issues. They are working to increase the capabilities of other countries in the region to advance the inclusion of women in peacekeeping, prepare deploying troops to protect civilians, and expand the participation of women in UN and regional organizations’ peace operations.
GPOI is also supporting the UN’s development of an integrated peacekeeping course on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence. Once developed, this course will be the first of its kind to bring together all mission components - military, police, and civilians (including Women Protection Advisors) - to learn how to better protect civilians from conflict-related sexual violence.
GPOI’s efforts were recognized by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on December 3, 2014 at a conference sponsored by Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) entitled, “Smart Power: Security through Inclusive Leadership.” Secretary Clinton stressed the importance of including women in peace processes and discussed international efforts to make this a reality. She highlighted GPOI as an example of the U.S.’s implementation of resolution 1325:
“Legal and structural barriers still prevent women from participating in conflict resolution and peace processes. Cultural norms, real or frankly imagined, often create physical threats that prevent them from attaining a formal role. But these barriers are not insurmountable. Nearly 50 countries have adopted national action plans to implement resolution 1325 and provide roadmaps for including women. A number of other countries are in the process of developing their plans, and we’re seeing some encouraging results. Here in the United States, for instance, the Pentagon and the State Department are working together to promote efforts like the Global Peace Operations Initiative to improve the effectiveness of United Nations peace operations.”
Representing over half of the world’s population and disproportionately affected by conflict, women are an essential building block of peace and security. GPOI is committed to promoting women’s protection and participation through its capacity building efforts.
About the Author: Dana Houk serves on the GPOI Division in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.