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What is Women, Peace, and Security?

Women, Peace and Security (WPS) is the title given to the body of research and policy practices that seeks to more fully integrate women into security and conflict resolution processes. For the United States, WPS implementation formally began with United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, continues with the WPS Agenda and the National Action Plan on WPS, and extends to the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017.

UNSCR 1325 and the WPS Agenda:

The WPS Agenda starts with UNSCR 1325 and continues through eight follow-on Resolutions. UNSCR 1325, adopted in 2000, recognizes that women and girls are impacted by conflict and war in ways that men and boys are not. With the lived experiences of all humans in conflict in mind, 1325 recognizes that women and girls play a critical role in conflict negotiation, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping efforts. 1325 also recognizes that peace and security are more achievable and sustainable when women are part of conflict solutions and security processes.

1325 includes a swath of mandates that fall into four pillars for Member States to take action on:

1) Participation – increase participation of women at all levels of decision-making, in mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict, and in peace negotiations and operations.

2) Protection – protect women and girls from sexual- and gender-based violence, including in emergency and humanitarian situations such as refugee camps.

3) Prevention – improve intervention strategies in prevention of violence against women.

4) Relief and recovery – address international crises via the application of a gender lens to relief and recovery measures.

In the wake of 1325, eight more Security Council resolutions concerning women, gender, and international security were adopted. These are called the WPS Agenda. These resolutions cover a wide range of issues, to include sexual violence and youth leadership.

WPS National Action Plans:

In order to implement 1325 and the WPS Agenda, UN  Member States have developed National Action Plans (NAPs). NAPs allow a country to figure out where to act and how that activity will be shaped, led, and funded. As of last year, 72 states have developed NAPs, with some on their second or third NAP. In 2011, the U.S. developed its first NAP on WPS, which was revised and re-released in 2016. The next review and revision should be in 2021.

Key Provisions of the U.S. NAP

In 2011 the Obama Administration issued the first NAP for WPS, updating it in 2016. The NAP recognized the U.S.’ role as an international leader and included both domestic and international components. These provisions represent a whole-of- government approach and contain particular provisions for the Department of Defense.

While the NAP has been in existence for 9 years, there is no comprehensive mechanism for oversight of its implementation. Meaningful oversight represents an opportunity for impact on the security of women in the U.S. and around the world. The WPS Act of 2017 creates more oversight mechanisms, but the NAP has expanded provisions not covered in the Act that would still benefit from increased oversight. These provisions include:

  1. National Integration and Institutionalization: Interagency and integrated gender-responsive approach in conflict-affected environments.
  2. Participation in Peace Processes and Decision-making: A dedicated focus on promoting and strengthening women’s rights and effective leadership and substantive participation in peace processes, conflict prevention, peacebuilding, transitional processes, and decision-making institutions in conflict-affected environments. 
  3. Protection from Violence: Strengthen efforts to prevent and protect women and children from harm, exploitation, discrimination, and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, and to hold perpetrators accountable.
  4. Conflict Prevention: Promote women’s roles in conflict prevention, improve conflict early-warning and response systems through the integration of gender perspectives, and invest in women and girls’ health, education, and economic opportunity to create conditions for stable societies and lasting peace.
  5. Access to Relief and Recovery: Respond to the distinct needs of women and children in conflict-affected disasters and crises, including by providing safe, equitable access to humanitarian assistance.

The WPS Act of 2017

The WPS Act was signed into law on October 6, 2017. The Act strengthens the U.S. government’s efforts to ensure women’s inclusion and participation in peace and security processes. It ensures Congressional oversight of government efforts to integrate gender perspectives across diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments, and it represents a government-wide strategy implemented through the interagency process – to include coordination, policy development, professional training and education, and evaluation.

In June 2019, the National Security Council adopted the U.S. Strategy on WPS, which requires the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and the Agency for International Development to implement the WPS Act and seek change in strategic objectives by 2023. Successful implementation can improve national security. Poor implementation can have the opposite effect. Having leaders who understand WPS and why it matters will be critical for implementation and compliance with the WPS Act.