"As the world grapples with the highest rate of conflict since World War II, ensuring women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all peace and security processes, especially in peace negotiations, is more critical than ever." - U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta
On October 31, 2023, the Biden-Harris administration issued the U.S. Strategy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken opened the event, noting the critical role that women play in creating peace and stability around the world. He was followed by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, and Jennifer Klein, the Director of the White House Gender Policy Council.
Over 100 people gathered in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC to hear from Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta. Congressional staffers, representatives from the diplomatic corps, individuals from the U.S. government interagency, and civil society leaders were among those in attendance.
Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta acknowledged the strides made in advancing the WPS agenda, citing expanded U.S. capacities and the global proliferation of WPS National Action Plans. However, she also reflected on the shortcomings of previous U.S. strategies on Women, Peace and Security. Highlighting these challenges, Ambassador Rao Gupta emphasized, "We have not yet succeeded in making women’s protection during conflicts and their meaningful participation in securing peace the norm. It is still the exception. There is much that remains, therefore, to be done."
A Look Inside the Strategy
The U.S. Strategy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) offers a roadmap for how the United States plans to increase women’s meaningful participation, leadership, and engagement in decision-making. This updated approach considers changes in the global political landscape since the release of the 2019 U.S. Strategy on WPS.
The Strategy and National Action Plan acknowledges pressing challenges and opportunities, including persistent conflicts, rising migration and displacement, the escalating climate crisis, and advancements in technology, and underlines the need for gender integration and dynamic approaches to Women, Peace and Security.
Crucially, it identifies the implementation of the WPS agenda as a strategic priority for both U.S. domestic and foreign policy and national security. Secretary Blinken underscored this comprehensive approach:
“We developed this framework together with our colleagues at the White House, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, at the U.S. Agency for International Development. And their leaders are here with us today, reflecting that this is an all-of-government effort, it’s an all-of-government commitment.”
Addressing Policy Coherence, Reporting, and the Role of Gender Advisors
The Strategy and National Action Plan underscores the relevance of Women, Peace and Security commitments in other U.S. policy initiatives. The priorities outlined in this Strategy and National Action Plan align with the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (2020), the U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality (2021), and the National Cybersecurity Strategy (2023), among various other policy commitments.
In a departure from the previous WPS Strategy, this Strategy and National Action Plan introduces reporting requirements, aimed at rigorously tracking and sharing outcomes and impact. Further details on these requirements are included below.
The U.S. government has also pledged to integrate more Women, Peace, and Security experts and technical advisors throughout government policies, programs, and training initiatives. Allocating more resources to this priority is imperative as the small number of WPS experts across government departments and agencies and the need for more training has historically slowed progress on WPS.
Five Key Lines of Effort
The U.S. government engaged in consultations with civil society, women-led organizations, and women leaders to formulate this Strategy and National Action Plan that is centered on the following core lines of effort (LOEs):
“Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women and girls in civic and political leadership, in informal and formal decision-making processes, and in institutions related to peace and security.”
The first LOE is rooted in the knowledge that countries are more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous when women actively and equitably participate in society. The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index offers a multidimensional measure of women’s inclusion, justice, and security in each country. Analysis of WPS scores reveals a positive correlation between the well-being of women and the overall well-being of a country, highlighting the transformative impact that advancing women’s status can have on an entire society.
“Promote the protection of the human rights of women and girls, and prevent and respond to all forms of GBV across the continuum of peace, conflict, and crisis contexts, including conflict-related sexual violence.”
Advances in technology, marked by the growth of artificial intelligence, introduce new security threats and opportunities. While digital technologies carry the potential to empower women and girls, they simultaneously give rise to technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). TFGBV disproportionately affects women, girls, and LGBTQI+ persons, infringing on their human rights and fundamental freedoms. This challenge is compounded by AI, which has contributed to the spread of gendered and sexualized disinformation campaigns. The Strategy and National Action Plan acknowledges the need to create a “safe and enabling environment for women“ both on- and offline to further global peace and equality.
3. Relief, Response, and Recovery
“Prioritize gender-responsive policies and programs to support the safety, participation, and leadership of women and girls in U.S. government responses to conflict, crises, and disasters, and provide safe, equitable access to humanitarian assistance.”
The updated Strategy and National Action Plan also stands out for its localized approach. The U.S. government seeks to invest in and integrate local women leaders and organizations, which are often minimally funded despite being the first to respond in crises and conflict. U.S. peace and security policies and programs will be “informed by and implemented through local partners,” leveraging the expertise within affected communities.
4. Integration and Institutionalization
“Integrate WPS principles across U.S. policies and programs to strengthen the institutionalization of comprehensive gender analyses and improve gender equality outcomes.”
The integration and institutionalization of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda remains one of the biggest obstacles to achieving its full potential. This LOE outlines the United States’ commitment to challenging deeply ingrained gender norms and transforming traditional practices. Notably, it emphasizes a more “holistic, locally consulted and led, accessible, and inclusive approach” to policy and program planning and implementation.
“Encourage partners to mainstream WPS principles across policies and strategies, and strengthen capacity to improve gender equality in processes and institutions connected to peace and security decision-making.”
In addition to emphasizing the need for a strong domestic approach to WPS, the Strategy and National Action Plan highlights the vital role of international partnerships, including with allied governments, multilateral institutions, and community-level stakeholders. The U.S. will continue to serve as a global leader on WPS, engaging with the United Nations and NATO on key strategic priorities.
In the next nine months, the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, USAID, and Homeland Security will each develop an implementation plan. These plans will include department and agency specific objectives with associated actions and anticipated timelines, the expected technical and financial contributions of each department or agency, and roles and responsibilities for the implementation of the WPS Strategy, among other information.
Furthermore, to measure the outcomes and impact of the strategy, the U.S. government will track and report annually on metrics and indicators by departments and agencies, which align with the logic framework outlined in Annex I. The Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Plans will include both qualitative and quantitative information and use survivor-centered, localized, and data- and evidence-driven methods to evaluate if the policies and initiatives are effective at achieving strategic goals.
The 2023 Women, Peace and Security Strategy sets out an ambitious agenda to institutionalize the WPS agenda and broader foreign policy and security efforts to advance gender equality. The key to its success is in how effectively the strategy will be implemented and whether or not there will be adequate resources to support the agenda. Sahana Dharmapuri, Director of Our Secure Future, remarked, “We are thrilled to have this new WPS strategy. The next steps are to see how it will advance WPS beyond previous iterations, and address and mitigate the explosion of conflict we are seeing around the world today.”