Women, Peace and Security: There's an Act for That! (Part II)

As of October 2017, the United States has domestic legislation that mandates women’s full and equal participation in peace and security issues. In the second installment of this three-part series, we highlight how the Act will boost gender equality.

In October 2017, the US Congress, and the President, officially passed the Women, Peace, and Security Act. The law is a major milestone in recognizing the link between gender equality and the security of states. Now that we have a law that mandates women’s meaningful participation in international peace and security, questions arise about where it came from, what it requires, and why it matters.


In this second installment of our three-part series, we discuss how this new law can be expected to help women and how it will be put into practice.

  1. How will this legislation help women?

The Women, Peace, and Security Act is the first piece of US legislation that focuses on women’s meaningful participation in international security decision-making and recognizes women as a key element of US foreign policy.  It is also the only piece of domestic legislation globally to address key issues of WPS, besides amendment 6C of Israel’s Women’s Equal Rights Law of 1951. This makes it a critical piece in the global movement to recognize the link between women’s participation and sustainable peacemaking, and advance the inclusion of women in global security. Furthermore, the law requires that the US develop a strategy that guarantees the participation of women in security and peacekeeping. This is a tangible step that requires training, accountability, and coordination across multiple US government agencies.                                                                                                                                            

  1. What will the WPS Act do?

Unlike Canada, which in 2017 committed $150 million to WPS policies and programs as a part of its National Action Plan, the US WPS Act does not have a budget attached to it. However, it does call for the following:

The President will be required to submit to the public a Women, Peace and Security strategy.  By the end of 2018, the law requires the President to submit a government-wide Women, Peace and Security Strategy, which must be updated four years later in 2022.  Furthermore, two years after each strategy is submitted, the President must provide reports summarizing and evaluating their progress. This requirement is significant, not only because it provides a natural accountability mechanism to the bill, but because it allows for learning and improvement.  The strategy proposed by the President must align with similar plans in other countries, and include metrics that ensure accountability and effectiveness.  This requirement goes beyond the US National Action Plan previously created by Executive Order.

The President should promote women’s participation in conflict prevention. 
This act is different from any other WPS legislation.  Rather than emphasizing women’s victimization (as with the International Violence Against Women Act, which calls for a comprehensive US strategy to end violence against women)—it promotes women’s agency. This act recognizes women’s full participation, leadership, and agency as essential to the success of peace and security missions worldwide.

The DoS and DoD must provide training in conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution
This is the first time in history that US agencies have been mandated by law to carry out trainings specifically on gender analysis.  The Department of State (DoS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are required to provide training on engaging women in conflict prevention and resolution, protecting civilians from violence and exploitation, and international human rights and humanitarian law.  The Department of Defense (DoD) is additionally mandated to emphasize training on gender considerations in participation and effective strategies for ensuring that participation.

The DoS and USAID will establish guidelines for use by overseas US personnel when consulting with appropriate stakeholders, ensuring the meaningful participation of women in the prevention, mitigation, and resolution of violent conflict.  In mandating that US overseas personnel engage in dialogue with a broader range of stakeholders, the law enables and prioritizes the meaningful participation of women and marginalized communities, and makes consultation with underrepresented groups a priority in US foreign policy. This directly allows for greater US support of women peacebuilders.

Ultimately, the spirit and the intent of the bill is to express:

the sense of Congress that: (1) the United States should be a global leader in promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention, management, and resolution and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts; and (2) the political participation and leadership of women in fragile environments, particularly during democratic transitions, is critical to sustaining democratic institutions.

The Act translates beyond a statement of support into actionable steps that guarantee better implementation of the WPS agenda throughout and across multiple government agencies.  It calls on several branches of government to make significant improvements in the name of Women, Peace and Security.

  1. How will the objectives of the WPS law be funded?

Despite not having a budget attached to the WPS law itself, government agencies such as the DoD, DoS, and USAID have already undertaken WPS programming in their budgets according to US NAP requirements. 

The US Congress has also allocated funding to a range of WPS issues, such as the training of women police in Afghanistan. For example, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision that established a goal that $25 million be available for programs and activities to support the recruitment, and retention of women in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

In addition, vital funding for gender programming is set aside in the FY 2018 State and Foreign Operations Bill (SFOPS). Section 7059 on Gender Equality explicitly states that: 

“funds appropriated by this Act shall be made available to promote gender equality in United States Government diplomatic and development efforts by raising the status, increasing the participation, and protecting the rights of women and girls worldwide.” 

Furthermore, the bill mandates that not less than $50,000,000 of funds appropriated under Title III be allocated to supporting women’s leadership, and not less than $150,000,000 of funds appropriated under Title III be allocated to addressing gender-based violence.

All funds appropriated under the headings “Development Assistance, Economic Support Fund, Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia, and “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement,” shall also be directed to supporting US efforts to meaningfully engage women as “equal partners” in peacebuilding, conflict prevention and response, and reconstruction efforts. 

Each of these allocations allow policy-makers to leverage the overlap between the SFOPS Appropriations Bill, and the WPS Act.  As the field moves forward, the WPS law provides a strong US policy framework that provides a more holistic approach to address WPS issues. 

If you want to learn more about the impact of this law, check out Jacqueline O’Neill’s piece Nine Things You Need to Know About the Women, Peace, and Security Act.

Keep an eye out for next week’s blog. We will be discussing three ways that advocates can micro-hack the Women, Peace, and Security Act.