Small Wars Journal

Women, Peace and Security in Professional Military Education

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 11:03am

Women, Peace and Security in Professional Military Education

Joan Johnson-Freese

The first US National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace & Security (WPS) was issued in 2011, as a call to action “to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peacebuilding activities, and conflict prevention and response; 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.” The NAP substantively drew its goals from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), passed with US support, and was updated in 2016.

Any call to action requires an implementation plan. Key elements of the WPS NAP include raising knowledge about the WPS agenda within the US Defense Department, including through educational curriculum at regional centers and senior service schools.  The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) in Honolulu, HI, for example, is cited in the 2016 NAP for having issued an implementation strategy in 2014 that includes objectives ensuring WPS elements “are incorporated into the curriculum, promoting and maintaining a WPS community of interest, and achieving a goal of 25 percent female participation in all resident courses.” The 2016 NAP also states, “Senior Service Schools have established WPS leads that work to enhance WPS coordination, implementation, and accountability within specific sectors and contexts.”

A prerequisite for the acceleration, institutionalization and coordination of WPS efforts into the mindsets of US officials generally and DOD specifically is widespread general knowledge and awareness of the “what and why” of the WPS agenda. A 2016 survey by the New American Foundation asked the question “How much do national security practitioners consider the ways policies and programs impact men and women differently?” The question was addressed through a series of in-depth interviews, focus groups and surveys regarding how the US national security community and elite influencers “understand the WPS agenda and perceive its core intellectual constructs.” The answer they found was: Not very much. In fact, basic knowledge about issues, terminology and how to make the case to others regarding the importance of WPS was found significantly lacking. Professional Military Education (PME) institutions offer the opportunity to increase that knowledge base. While progress has been made, there is still much to be done.

Current Status

Based on available curriculum information that we could identify through websites, little if anything on WPS is specifically and deliberately included in PME core curricula. Further, in only a few instances is WPS material directly or indirectly provided through elective courses.  The National Defense College (NDC) presumably offers the only PME elective that includes WPS in the course description and directly addresses the WPS issue: “Women, Peace & Security: Gender Perspective in National Security.”

Among the PME institutions offering Intermediate or Senior courses,[i] only two others offer PME electives addressing WPS-related material or gender issues more generally. The Naval War College (NWC) offers one elective, “The History of Women in War and Combat.” It has been cited as an example of achieving the goal of “Joint PME Special Area of Emphasis 1.2 Agencies enhance staff capacity for applying a gender-sensitive approach to diplomacy, development, and defense in conflict-affected environments,” in the Department of Defense (DoD) US National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security.  Air University offers “Sex and Guns: Women in the US Military.” Its stated purpose is to examine “the relationship between women and the US military in the twentieth century.” While both offerings are laudable, elective courses reach a relatively small number of students and often those who are already familiar with or amenable to the material.

Regarding the NAP requirement that Senior Service Schools have WPS leads “to enhance WPS coordination, implementation, and accountability within specific sectors and contexts,” it appears that unless through self-initiation of an interested faculty member or special projects, PME institutions have done little to further that directive.  Most positively, a WPS Conference has been annually held at the Naval War College (NWC) since 2012, with Working Papers published online, and an evening presentation to the student body on WPS was offered in 2016.  The conferences are extremely valuable in furthering the work of professionals interested in WPS issues. Also, the National Defense University published the excellent reader Women on the Frontlines of Peace & Security in 2014. What is really needed though is a full integration of WPS material into PME core curriculum. 

What is Needed and Why

Not understanding the religious Sunni-Shia aspects of Iraqi politics and tribalism in Afghanistan greatly hindered US policy and military action in those countries. So it is with gender inequality issues and the consequent effects on security. Failing to include women’s issues is akin to not recognizing the importance of globalization as a concept and process having political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, technological, and military aspects. Imagine a security assessment that ignored the existence and effects of globalization.  The assessment would be woefully incomplete and guarantee the failure of policies implemented without its consideration.

Only by including perspectives from both genders is a comprehensive picture of the security environment possible, as pointed out by Ambassador Rick Barton and Dr. Cindy Huang in their 2014 article from Women on the Frontlines of Peace and Security.

A gender lens requires looking at a situation from two angles: through one lens, we view the realities, needs, perspectives, interests, status, and behavior of men and boys, and through the other we view those of women and girls.  Combined, they help us understand gender dynamics and prove a comprehensive view of a situation of society.

Bringing the lens together provides strategic bifocals through which to more clearly see the world.  Doing that, however, requires basic knowledge about WPS issues, terminology, and how to make a case to others regarding the importance of WPS.  Without that, inclusion of a WPS “lens” as part of a security environment assessment is often missing, and those assessments are a first and critical step in the development of an effective security strategy.

An important step toward providing that basic knowledge could be achieved through integrating WPS education into PME core curriculum. It is there that US military officers study the wages of war and it is in these heavily male-dominated institutions that awareness is most lacking.  WPS has been designated as a “special area of emphasis” for PME. Areas such as nuclear deterrence and cyber threats have also been designated special areas of emphasis to increase officers’ depth of knowledge. As such, they are discussed as part of the core curriculum. However, a similar integration of WPS material, to broaden officers’ knowledge, remains lacking.

An understanding of the linkage between gendered issues and security is ignored at the peril of those seeking and supporting lasting peace and stability. It is the responsibility of all those involved with and responsible for PME to actively support and address implementation of the NAP and DOD implementation plans, through inclusion in core curricular materials. Action is needed beyond rhetoric and good intentions.

End Note

[i] The umbrella schools under National Defense University, the Army, Navy, Air Force War College, Marine University, Army, Navy & Air Force, Command & Staff College.


About the Author(s)

Joan Johnson-Freese is on the faculty of the Naval War College and teaches a course on Women, Peace and Security at Harvard Summer and Extension Schools. Mary Ann Blackmur studies Government/ International Relations at Harvard Extension School.



Wed, 07/14/2021 - 1:54am

A feminine lens needs to see a pace from multiple ways: via one lens, we look at the realities, interests, opinions, desires, status, and behavior of men and boys, and through the other, we look at those of women and girls. You can look for do my term papers now. Collectively, they help us understand gender stereotypes and reflect a holistic view of social status.


Mon, 05/17/2021 - 10:59am

This is the story that no one talks about, does not reflect. To prevent gender-based violence, we must talk about our history and the women who suffered from it during the war. Great article! Here is also collected similar materials about how at different periods of time in our history, we just can't solve this problem. And where all the inequality problems come from. We must educate our children to think and feel responsible for themselves and others.

Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and Lasting Peace, there is no such thing as a lasting peace. Who came up with that perverse false positive and why is it being considered something that is real?
We may strive to have a period of more peace including women in the process is necessary but in Germany today regressive liberal socialist women who once forwarded
women's rights now seem ready to put on the burqa and bow in sharia submission. Question is that this author's idea of peace?