CNN: The Secret to Ending War

October 29, 2017

This week saw a great deal of discussion about America’s wars. But less has been said about its peace. And in an era of partisan rancor in which precious little wins over both Republicans and Democrats, legislation pushing to put one group in particular at the negotiating table managed to win bipartisan support: Women.

Indeed, President Trump recently signed into law the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 — a bill years in the making backed by Republicans and Democrats alike that aims to strengthen, support and promote the role of women in peace talks and post-war stability. The idea — backed by data-led research — is that when women are part of the discussions to end the fighting, wars are more likely to stay ended. And to bring a just peace that includes all the population, not just half.

This is a good idea, not just because half the population should have a say as their country fights for its future. The chances for securing stability and building peace grow when women are included. A study conducted by the International Peace Institute found that peace agreements are more likely to last at least 15 years when women are included in the process.

Women are often the canary in the coal mine when it comes to security: Two years ago — months before US military officials began speaking about the role of ISIS in Afghanistan and years before the “mother of all bombs” got dropped, Wazhma Frogh — a civil society leader and women’s rights activist who is now part of her country’s High Peace Council — wrote to tell me about ISIS leafleting in Nangarhar. Frogh told me that women activists in the area had written to say that extremism was taking hold in their neighborhood, with little to stop it.

But despite their presence on the front lines of extremism, peace talks have stubbornly excluded women. As Jamille Bigio wrote recently in Newsweek: “between 1992 and 2011, women were fewer than 4% of signatories to peace agreements and 9% of negotiators.” The most recent talks on Syria’s future have included no women at all.

The Women, Peace and Security Act aims to shift that balance. The legislation takes aim at the tradition of keeping women out of talks as a means of making peace more durable. Championed by Reps. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota; Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois; Ed Royce, R-California; and Eliot Engel, D-New York, the law calls for the US to “promote the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.”

To help make a reality of these lofty words, the legislation requires the State Department and Pentagon to train its team members on the importance of women’s participation in security. It also encourages the US to support more women at the peace table and promotes the increased participation of women in existing programs that provide training to foreign nationals regarding law enforcement, the rule of law and professional military education.

Indeed, Adm. Kurt Tidd, the head of US Southern Command, has been among the biggest champions of women in the security sector: “We know we must adapt in the face of complex missions facing our men and women. Experience has shown us that real success and our operational effectiveness depends on more than just our military capabilities. Our success and our effectiveness lie in accepting and valuing differences as strengths.”

The measure also calls for the US government to encourage its partner governments to adopt national action plans — joining the 69 countries that have already launched such plans aimed at increasing women’s participation in peace processes and improving their protection during post-conflict transitions.

This is a great start — with heartening support on both sides of the aisle. Yet it is just a start. As a recent report from my colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations urges, the US government should add wallet to its words and put 15% of conflict-related assistance toward promoting women’s participation and protection, report annually on its expenditures on women, peace, and security and ensure that women represent at least 30% of all US delegations to peace and security talks.

This is important not just for America, but for those in the nations where it is fighting and for the promotion of global stability that keeps Americans from having to serve overseas in the first place.

“The fact that Women, Peace and Security is a law and can be a law binding US government to allocate funding and resources is good news,” says Frogh, who says that US support is bringing Afghan women into the security sector and also improving conditions for them. “Right now there are a number of Afghan women who are part of the High Peace Council and community peace building and we look up to our international partners like US and others to ensure Afghan women have a voice at the table.”

As the US looks to play a role in ending wars in Afghanistan, Syria and beyond, it now has another tool at the ready in this legislation. And we all stand to benefit if the voices of women fighting for their own communities get heard on the way to forging a peace that doesn’t just take hold for a moment, but lasts long enough to give the next generation a chance.