To get a sense of a nation’s security,look at the state of its women. A plethora of research demonstrates that women’srights are entangled with a country’s stability and security.
While they mayappear to be separate issues, countries where women are empowered are vastlymore secure, whether the issue is food security, resolving disputes with othernations peacefully, or countering violent extremism (Hudson & Cohen, 2016).However, this knowledge has not been effectively utilized in counterterrorismor policymaking. To increase national security, the United States and theinternational community should combine military action with human rights considerationsand community development, while taking a stand to fight for women’s equalitynationally and internationally. This includes both putting an end to gender-basedviolence and opening the door for female leaders and decision makers. While the importance of women’s equalityas a moral issue should not be lost, women’s equality is a practical security strategy.Psychology Today explains how researchhas identified significant ways that the rights of women within nations areintricately linked to other critical dimensions, such as economic stability andsusceptibility to instability and violence (Aalai, 2016).
Although not the first person to make theconnection, this idea has been advanced most notably by Hillary Clinton duringher time as Secretary of State. The “Clinton Doctrine” explains that “countriesthat threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women andgirls are deprived of dignity and opportunity”. When women are upheld asequals, the society as a whole improves, enhancing national and global security(Hudson & Leidl, 2015). “What the research team found was that thebest predictor of a state’s peacefulness was not level of democracy, or wealth,or civilizational identity: The best predictor of a state’s peacefulness wasits level of violence against women. These findings cut across wealth, regimetype, and region” (Hudson & Liedel, 2015). Women’s issues need to beconsidered both independently and in a broader context of international conflict.
Women then need to be an active part of strategizing and decision making whendealing with conflict. A vast array of evidence shows that women’s empowerment is apowerful force for economic growth and creating long-lasting stability. Womendo more unpaid work than men in every single country in the world. This hasdramatic economic implications (Klein, 2017).
Women’s participation in theworkforce is connected to higher GDP per capita; equal access to land and otheragricultural inputs can increase agricultural productivity, (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015) resultingin monumental strides against world hunger. Nationally,this spurs American investment and expands the world economy. McKinsey Reportestimated that “if the global gender gap in workforce participation were toclose, global GDP would rise by $28 trillion by 2025.
That amounts to about aquarter of the world’s current GDP and almost half of the world’s current debt”(Russell & Donilon, 2017). While unlikely, this lesson is applicable to bothdeveloping and developed countries. The US economy would produce $4.3 trillionmore annually by 2025 if we eliminated gender barriers to the labor market(Russell & Donilon, 2017). Economic stability affects security, but womencan also contribute to security more directly. A comparative study of forty peace and transition processesfrom the Broadening Participation Project demonstrates that when women are ableto effectively influence a peace process, a peace agreement is almost alwaysreached and the agreement is more likely to be implemented (O’Reilly, et. al,2015).
Similarly, a recent statistical analysis of181 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 found that women are valuableleaders in conflict resolution: even when controlling for other variables,researchers found when peace processes meaningfully included women, they were35% more likely to last for 15 years or longer (Russell & Donilon, 2017). In negotiations, women are likely to raiseissues that are important to lasting peace, like health, education, and humansecurity issues (Klein, 2017). This makes sense: land divide or exchange of armsare temporary solutions that often lead to future tension. Enduring solutionsare especially important because much of conflict is conflict relapse: civilwars take on a cyclical nature as a result of unaddressed challenges. Civilconflict leads to national disruption. Lasting civil war in Syria has made theregion a home base for ISIS, allowing ISIS to continue its international reignof terror in the Western world (Issa.
2016). Lasting peace agreements are reached whenwomen have a seat at the table, championing issues like human rights, justice,and reconciliation (Russell & Donilon, 2017). These are the issues criticalto reforming a war-torn society. Importantly, women are not just addressingissues relevant to women, they are addressing lasting peace and security.Furthermore, women can be vital forces tobattle extremism. There isone thing virtually every extremist movement has in common: their advance is coupled with an assault onwomen and girls’ rights.
As Coomaraswamy and Mlambo-Ngcuka explain, the firstorder of business for these extremist groups is almost invariably to limit women’saccess to education and health services, restrict their participation ineconomic and political life, and violently enforce these restrictions.Extremist efforts always seem to focus on the suppression of women’s autonomy (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015).But while extremists place the subordinationof women at the forefront of their agenda, promoting gender equality has beenan afterthought in the international community’s response to extremism. Ignoringsuch an important aspect of violent extremism leaves a deficit in understandinghow to combat the problem.
“The international community must recognize, as theextremists do, that empowered women are the foundation of resilient and stablecommunities-communities that can stand firm against radicalization” (Mlambo-Ngcuka& Coomaraswamy, 2015).Extremism is linked to terrorism, a salientnational security concern. Marissa Conway says “experts agree that women arekey to restricting the proliferation of terrorism”. Studies have shown thatwomen are often key to detecting early signs of radicalization, and interveningbefore violence is inflicted (Conway, 2017). Paiman is an organization inPakistan; one of their main initiatives is a program to unite women in theirefforts to eradicate terrorism. The group goes from village to village toshare information with mothers about the danger of recruitment by radicalgroups, while also seeking out job opportunities for young men who are deemedat-risk.
Efforts like Paiman give women non-traditional, non-military roles incountering extremism that do not have the effect of breeding more violence(Conway, 2017). An understanding of the ways in which everydaywomen influence communities is essential to countering violent extremism. Thepractice of women’s rights seems to act as deterrent to terrorism because itweakens and reverses the conditions that breed terrorism (Salman, 2013). Genderinequality is a strong indicator of power asymmetry: access to power andresources is critical for a just society, and an absence of access leadsto conflict. Salman describes how her results suggest a causalexplanation: as women are provided equal opportunities, the society becomesmore just and inclusive. Peaceful, democraticresolutions diminish the feelings of hopelessness and desperationthat motivate terrorist acts (Salman, 2013). Conflict and inequality motivateterrorism; women can successfully curb terrorism and implement peace.The struggle against extremism should notexclusively be a function of the military.
Using force in militarizedcounterterrorism operations can disrupt economic and social activity. When governmentsfocus resources on military operations, social services like health and educationsuffer, leaving women and girls particularly vulnerable. When women arevictimized, it leads to more poverty and radicalization (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy,2015). Furthermore, militarized responses risk civilian casualties and threatento drive marginalized young people to extremist groups. Military force can halt the advance ofextremist groups, but cannot defeat radical ideologies or build resilient communities.Empowered women are the best drivers of growth and the best hope forreconciliation in a post-conflict period. They are the best buffer against theradicalization of youth, and the best warning system.
Women and girls are thefirst targets of attack – the promotion of their rights must be the firstpriority in response (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015).Some would criticize prioritizing women’sequality as a national security issue because it is hard to establishcausation: there are a number of additional factors that confound genderequality and stability. The information we have is predominantly from casestudies, not laboratory experiments. But as the evidence shows, women activelyand directly make countries safer through their contributions to economicstability, peace negotiations, and battling extremism. In the aftermathof the 1994 genocide, Rwanda serves as a case study in how the advancement andempowerment of women directly helped to repair the culture after one of theworst historical atrocities ever. Post-genocide imprisonment of men led to women’splacement in significant roles, including business and politics.
Rwanda becamethe first country to have a female-majority Parliament in 2008. As a result, thesame year, the legislature adopted a law makingdomestic violence illegal and mandating harsh prison terms for rape (Hunt& Heaton, 2014). Judith Kanakuze, who led thebill’s drafting, explained that the law is meant to be one element in a largerstrategy to change cultural expectations and ultimately change behavior. Thefemale majority in Parliament also played a central role in passing lawsenabling women to own land and inherit property, and passing a 2009 lawmandating basic education for all Rwandan children (Hunt & Heaton, 2014).
Rwandan women have been credited with orchestrating nationalhealing and rehabilitating the economy since the genocide (Aalai, 2016). Reflectiveof other developing countries, Rwanda is seeing progress in legal reform andeducation. Other countries lacking gender equality are also seeing importantreforms on paper: for example, a royal decree from Saudi Arabia announced that itwill allow women to drive beginning in June 2018 (Klein, 2017). Aneela Salman sums up research from 57countries that demonstrates links between terrorism and gender inequality. Interestingly,the results suggest that women’s actual advancement is more effective inreducing terrorism than cultural attitudes supporting women’s advancement. Forexample, equality in higher education, jobs and political representation aremore effective in reducing terrorism than cultural attitudes supporting theserights. Positive outcomes, not just positive attitudes, for gender equalitycurb terrorism. The distinction between outcomes and attitudes in regard togender equality is critical, because assuming that gender equality attitudesreflect what people actually do in practice is inaccurate (Salman, 2013).
This has important implications for theUnited States, where there is a disconnect between attitudesand actions regarding gender equality. The 2010 US National Security Strategydeclares “Women should have access to the same opportunities and be able to makethe same choices as men. Experience shows that countries are more peaceful andprosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity” (National Security Strategy, 2010). AlthoughUnited States policy formally favors gender equality, statistics reflect a lackof gender equality in a number of realms- and the actuality of gender equality ismore valuable than the attitude held. For example, while most people voicesupport for women in the workforce, 43% of women say they’ve experienced genderdiscrimination in the workplace, and women in the US are still paid 83 centsfor every dollar a man is paid (Brown& Patten, 2017).
Women make up only 5%of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than 20% of Congress (Brown & Patten, 2017). Inorder to make the actuality of gender equality match our values, steps must betaken nationally to advocate for women, especially in government and leadershippositions. Women in the United States face a differentlevel of oppression than women elsewhere. But the United States also isn’tdoing enough to legitimize women’s issues and utilize women’s contributions. American Congresswomen make an excellent case for women’scontributions to politics. In late 2013, after the federal government shutdown, women led the Senate in crossing party lines to find a solution. Whilethey made up 20 percent of the Senate, women made up half of the committee thatnegotiated a way forward on the budget (Russell & Donilon, 2017).
Politicalpolarization is increasing in our country. Women will be forces of mediation tostrive for communication and cooperation in government. This can only be beneficialfor national security. The Obama administration took special care to elevatewomen’s issues to the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. President Obamaaddressed international women’s issues in a number of speeches around theworld, and signed executive orders that integrate women’s issues into US policy(Russell & Donlion, 2017).
In2015, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2178. It called, for the firsttime, for the promotion of women’s empowerment to halt the spread of violentextremism (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015). Trump doesn’t have a good recordwith respect to gender equality: he has a number of sexual assault allegations,regularly makes inappropriate comments regarding women, and has vowed tode-fund Planned Parenthood. While Trump has not displayed the same zeal orattentiveness for women’s rights as previous administrations, the US is stillunder the obligation of a number of national policies and internationaltreaties that focus on women’s inclusion (Hudson & Cohen, 2016). Hopefully,these obligations will maintain focus on gender equality.
Advancing equalityfor women domestically and internationally is pivotal to our nation’s security.