Small Wars Journal

Hurry Up and Work: DoD's Lack of Momentum on the Women, Peace and Security Act

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 2:03am

Hurry Up and Work: DoD's Lack of Momentum on the Women, Peace and Security Act


Jody L. Barth


The Defense Department may have fallen behind its interagency partners in a true “hurry up and wait” fashion characteristic of tactical military operations.


Background.  Seven years ago, President Obama released the inaugural United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS), a document that helped various institutions within our government coordinate efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peace building activities, and conflict prevention and response.  This document also helped organizations develop their independent strategies to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and to ensure safe, equitable access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.  This plan built on the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was ratified by the United Nations in 2000.  The 2016 United States National Action Plan updated these efforts and in 2017, President Trump signed the Women, Peace and Security Act into law.  This act confirms that inclusion of women in peace processes helps reduce conflict and advance stability.


This act, which is now the law, requires the interagency carry out a strategy to increase participation of women in peacekeeping and security operations.  With heavily defense-oriented propensities, one might think that the Department of Defense (DoD) would take the lead in this field.  It is, of course, the law and the DoD has the highest stake in promoting anything that would help military service members do their jobs as the arbiters of stability and security.


In August of 2012, the Department of State published its implementation plan of the National Action Plan outlining regional overviews, commitments, monitoring and evaluation, and included a matrix delineating responsibilities of each specific department within State.  The report is 83 pages long and very clearly shows a concerted effort on the State Department’s behalf.  The Department of State also created an “Office of Global Women’s Issues” with the responsibility to coordinate implementation of the National Action Plan.  One can take a quick glance at its website and speculate that this is an obvious priority for our nation’s diplomats, despite having their budget slashed recently.


…and then there is the Department of Defense.


Buried somewhere within the bowels of the behemoth Pentagon sits the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs issued a press release last month that basically said, “we’re working on it.”


More specifically, Mr. Mark Swayne, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs, was quoted as saying, “We have a well-integrated military.  Many of our allies and NATO partners are the same.  But we have many military partners around the world where females do not have the same level of representation.”  This is not groundbreaking news, mind you.  If you recall, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000.  In the United States, the first National Action Plan was signed in 2011.  Where has the Department of Defense been for the past decade as other American institutions have taken the “Women, Peace, and Security” ball and ran with it?


Mr. Swayne stated that the Department of Defense aims to have a new instruction in place by the end of 2018.


This lip service is clearly not one of the Department of Defense’s priorities considering how little effort has been put towards codifying an implementation plan. 


On the other hand, the Defense Department recently opened all combat jobs to women to include highly specialized special operations fields, which shows some level of commitment to reaching gender equality in the military.  It also drops the stigma that men would not be able to “carry on the fight” if they observed a woman injured in battle. 


In a Council on Foreign Relations discussion paper from 2016, the council recommends the following:  “The next U.S. administration should require women’s representation and meaningful participation in conflict resolution and post conflict processes, increase investment in efforts that promote women’s inclusion, reform U.S. diplomatic and security practices to incorporate the experiences of women in conflict-affected countries, improve staffing and coordination to deliver on government commitments, strengthen training on incorporating women in security efforts, and promote accountability.”  The recommendation of increasing investment in efforts that promote women’s inclusion and improve staffing would be simple and immediate remedies to ameliorate this abandoned issue.


As the most powerful and well-funded military in the world, the United States cannot continue to overlook its responsibility to adhere to both the recommendations of the United Nations and it’s own Women, Peace and Security law.  With understandably competing interests of war fighting in two separate theaters, the Department of Defense must allocate dedicated resources and have the support of senior military leaders in order to achieve such dynamic goals.  The Defense Department is behind the power curve. 


Despite this, it has demonstrated its ability to adapt and overcome in many previous quagmires.  The Department of Defense must take proactive efforts to build women’s capacities to help prevent war and promote stability.  It will alleviate the need for intervention in low intensity conflicts that now plague countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic.  It is not too late for the Defense Department – it just needs commitment from its senior military leaders as well as a change in attitude from “hurry up and wait” to “hurry up and work.”  Half the world’s population is depending on it.

About the Author(s)

Major Jody L. Barth is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army and soon to be graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of International Affairs (SAIS) with a Masters of International Public Policy (MIPP).  MAJ Barth is a Sub-Saharan African Foreign Area officer recently assigned to the Africa Command J-5 (Strategy, Engagement and Programs).  She also has a BA in International Affairs from the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.  She has served in Africa for the past decade including tours in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda.