Notes From The Field-Experts Weigh In On Women, Peace And Security

"I think that women in the peace & security fields have had enough. They are done staying silent. Once this reached a critical mass of voices, it was easier for others to speak out"- Jolynn Shoemaker

Our Secure Future sat down to get to know our newest Fellow Jolynn Shoemaker, find out what she is working on, and learn about what frustrates her and gives her hope in the field of Women, Peace and Security.

Ms. Shoemaker is an expert on gender equality in international peace and security. She has worked with numerous non-profit organizations engaged in policy research, advocacy, and training on women’s leadership and Women, Peace and Security. Ms. Shoemaker is a contributing writer for Ms. Magazine, focused on feminist foreign policy and peace and security. She is also an adjunct professor at California State University Sacramento, where she teaches national security, and works on global engagement strategy at University of California, Davis. She served as the Executive Director of Women in International Security (WIIS) for over 7 years where she developed studies on women's experiences in US government policy positions and women's leadership opportunities in the UN. She has led a number of research and advocacy initiatives on Women, Peace and Security for the Institute for Inclusive Security. Ms. Shoemaker has in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. She holds a J.D. and an M.A. (Security Studies) from Georgetown University and a B.A. from University of California, San Diego.

What are you currently working on?

This year, I’m very excited to be working with Our Secure Future as a fellow on Women, Peace and Security. In this role, I’m continuing to work with OSF Director Sahana Dharmapuri and the rest of the OSF team on a variety of fronts, including on engaging men in this agenda and leveraging the Women, Peace, and Security Act which was passed by Congress in October 2017.

In 2017, OSF published a report that Sahana and I wrote on engaging male champions of women, peace and security. This is an important and timely report. There is increasing interest and discussion about the need to involve men as allies in gender equality work. Of course, there is also significant attention on gender inequalities and men’s behaviors with the #MeToo movement. People are really looking for ways forward. Our report offers some ideas based on the insights of men who are supporting these principles in practice.

The Women, Peace, and Security Act is the first piece of US legislation on this issue and has bipartisan support. This is a big victory for civil society advocates and for champions in the US Government who recognize how critical women’s participation and gender awareness are to our foreign policy goals. Now that it is in place, we are thinking about how to continue to build the knowledge base of best practices for the US Government so that our policies and programs can be more equitable, participatory, and effective. 

On other fronts, I’m developing strategies to introduce Women, Peace, and Security to new audiences. Since relocating from Washington DC to Northern California, it’s apparent that this agenda is relatively unknown elsewhere and that’s a missed opportunity. I’m thinking about how to raise awareness, including in academic environments. I teach national security as an adjunct professor at a state university, where I am introducing gender analysis and the Women, Peace and Security policy agenda as part of the curriculum.

What is the thing you want to change most in the world?

My greatest motivator is tackling injustice. Sometimes the cruelty, violence, and misery in the world feel overwhelming to me. So much of it seems to fall on women and children. But I also know that humans have the capacity for peace and human rights. Working on Women, Peace and Security has given me the chance to see the good and brave things that human beings can do in the face of tremendous evil. These stories, unfortunately, are often invisible because they are often women’s stories. What women step up and do for their families and communities is courageous and transformative. But then, they are repeatedly shut out of the decisions about the future of their communities and countries. They are the ones bringing forward the human security concerns and the needs of the children, families, and communities. It is fundamentally unjust not to let them contribute. It is also extremely unwise, as we know from the research that women’s full inclusion and respect for women’s rights are closely connected with peace and pluralism – and better outcomes in every sector of society. I fully believe that the world will change once women are equally respected and involved. I can’t stop working towards that.

How do you use the Women, Peace and Security Act and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in your work?

I guess you could say I live and breathe Women, Peace and Security. After so many years thinking about how to move this forward in our US and international policies, I just look at issues through this lens.

As I’m teaching undergraduate students national security, I’m trying to emphasize to them that you don’t have to specifically work on Women, Peace and Security to make a contribution to gender equality and security. There are plenty of problems at the domestic, local levels in America that are affecting whether women and girls are vulnerable or have equal opportunities in life. I tell my students there are going to be numerous times when they will sit in meetings and look around and there will not be equal representation, or people who are affected by the decisions will be excluded. The first step is to be aware and recognize when there are problems with inclusion and diversity in decision-making settings. The second step is to speak up and become an advocate for changing this picture. I try to convey that each of us can play a role in making this a more equitable world, from where we sit and what we see.

Now that I also work in an academic setting, I recognize how gender is truly siloed as a women’s studies issue. It is not being incorporated into political science and other disciplines. This is the next frontier, in my opinion. I’ve been focusing for many years on how to get policymakers to think differently about peace and security – to acknowledge a diversity of experiences and to open space for new voices. But now I’m also looking at how to move this agenda – and gender analysis more broadly – into teaching and research environments. It is much harder to change mindsets and frameworks of senior policymakers who are relatively set in their ways. But there is huge potential to shift the viewpoints and introduce gender competencies to young people so that that they can bring this to all kinds of sectors and jobs in their future careers.

I’m so grateful to continue to have the opportunity to stay engaged in the policy discussions and research through my ongoing work with Our Secure Future. We are thinking about how to bring Women, Peace and Security to new audiences. There are many leaders in other sectors beyond foreign policy that have a role to play here. Strategizing about how to talk with those audiences – and how to generate passion for gender equality on a global scale - it’s very exciting to me.

What keeps you up at night?

For me, the global trend in anti-democratic sentiment and the extremist rhetoric are very worrying, both internationally and in America. Extremism in my view is the fundamental challenge to peace and security of our time. It is also a fundamental threat to the gains that have been made for gender equality.  These forces are trying to roll back rights, crush civil society, and oppress those who speak out. I know that brave activists are on the frontlines challenging these narratives and pushing for peace. Ultimately, I believe that good will defeat the evil, but the violence and injustice is causing so much misery for humankind. And that situation is what keeps me up at night.

What has surprised you the most about this work?

One thing that continues to surprise me is how much resistance there is to Women, Peace and Security – and to prioritizing gender equality principles in general across organizations and decision-making. As advocates, we are constantly asked to supply “evidence” that this matters. There is extensive research across disciplines and sectors that gender equality improves outcomes. However, the evidence has not been enough to create urgent change in organizations. I believe the only possible explanation is that “gender” is treated as an optional issue. Asking for more data to support it is a delay and resistance tactic. There is deep misunderstanding and bias around gender equality concepts. Organizations are typically led by managers and leaders who were never exposed to gender analysis as a skill-set or policy priority, and they often consider it of marginal importance. As advocates, we’ve been trying many approaches to demonstrate why it matters. It becomes frustrating to constantly hear lukewarm rhetoric from leadership, to see meager resources set aside, and to witness the constant marginalization of those who work on gender in organizations. I truly think we are going to start much earlier -- with youth and future leaders. I’m hopeful about the younger generation.

What should we pay attention to now?

In a way, despite the challenges, this is the moment for gender equality and Women, Peace and Security. With the increased attention from #MeToo, it has become impossible for organizations to ignore gender. Ten years ago when I was in Washington DC trying to get people involved and to put resources behind these issues, it was extremely difficult. Even very successful women were not always ready to rock the boat. Being known as a vocal feminist in male-dominated peace and security organizations was a risk. But #MeToo really upended that sentiment. I think that women in the peace and security career fields have had enough. They are done staying silent. Once this reached a critical mass of voices, it was easier for others to speak out.

At this point, I think we should be connecting the discussion about gender in the workplace to the larger discussion about gender in our policies. We should be looking at this problem – and developing strategies – in a more holistic way. There is a lot of expertise and data on the “how” of gender analysis – but the knowledge needs to be shared. We need more opportunities for dialogue. This isn’t just a #MeToo issue inside organizations and with leaders. There is a major blind spot in how we conceptualize and pursue peace and security goals internationally. It’s going to take a collective effort to change it.