To get a sense of a nation’s security,
look at the state of its women. A plethora of research demonstrates that women’s
rights are entangled with a country’s stability and security. While they may
appear to be separate issues, countries where women are empowered are vastly
more secure, whether the issue is food security, resolving disputes with other
nations peacefully, or countering violent extremism (Hudson & Cohen, 2016).
However, this knowledge has not been effectively utilized in counterterrorism
or policymaking. To increase national security, the United States and the
international community should combine military action with human rights considerations
and community development, while taking a stand to fight for women’s equality
nationally and internationally. This includes both putting an end to gender-based
violence and opening the door for female leaders and decision makers.

While the importance of women’s equality
as a moral issue should not be lost, women’s equality is a practical security strategy.
Psychology Today explains how research
has identified significant ways that the rights of women within nations are
intricately linked to other critical dimensions, such as economic stability and
susceptibility to instability and violence (Aalai, 2016).

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Although not the first person to make the
connection, this idea has been advanced most notably by Hillary Clinton during
her time as Secretary of State. The “Clinton Doctrine” explains that “countries
that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and
girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity”. When women are upheld as
equals, the society as a whole improves, enhancing national and global security
(Hudson & Leidl, 2015). “What the research team found was that the
best predictor of a state’s peacefulness was not level of democracy, or wealth,
or civilizational identity: The best predictor of a state’s peacefulness was
its level of violence against women. These findings cut across wealth, regime
type, and region” (Hudson & Liedel, 2015). Women’s issues need to be
considered both independently and in a broader context of international conflict.
Women then need to be an active part of strategizing and decision making when
dealing with conflict.

A vast array of evidence shows that women’s empowerment is a
powerful force for economic growth and creating long-lasting stability. Women
do more unpaid work than men in every single country in the world. This has
dramatic economic implications (Klein, 2017). Women’s participation in the
workforce is connected to higher GDP per capita; equal access to land and other
agricultural inputs can increase agricultural productivity, (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015) resulting
in monumental strides against world hunger. Nationally,
this spurs American investment and expands the world economy. McKinsey Report
estimated that “if the global gender gap in workforce participation were to
close, global GDP would rise by $28 trillion by 2025. That amounts to about a
quarter of the world’s current GDP and almost half of the world’s current debt”
(Russell & Donilon, 2017). While unlikely, this lesson is applicable to both
developing and developed countries. The US economy would produce $4.3 trillion
more annually by 2025 if we eliminated gender barriers to the labor market
(Russell & Donilon, 2017).

Economic stability affects security, but women
can also contribute to security more directly. A comparative study of forty peace and transition processes
from the Broadening Participation Project demonstrates that when women are able
to effectively influence a peace process, a peace agreement is almost always
reached and the agreement is more likely to be implemented (O’Reilly, et. al,
2015). Similarly, a recent statistical analysis of
181 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 found that women are valuable
leaders in conflict resolution: even when controlling for other variables,
researchers found when peace processes meaningfully included women, they were
35% more likely to last for 15 years or longer (Russell & Donilon, 2017).

In negotiations, women are likely to raise
issues that are important to lasting peace, like health, education, and human
security issues (Klein, 2017). This makes sense: land divide or exchange of arms
are temporary solutions that often lead to future tension. Enduring solutions
are especially important because much of conflict is conflict relapse: civil
wars take on a cyclical nature as a result of unaddressed challenges. Civil
conflict leads to national disruption. Lasting civil war in Syria has made the
region a home base for ISIS, allowing ISIS to continue its international reign
of terror in the Western world (Issa. 2016).  Lasting peace agreements are reached when
women have a seat at the table, championing issues like human rights, justice,
and reconciliation (Russell & Donilon, 2017). These are the issues critical
to reforming a war-torn society. Importantly, women are not just addressing
issues relevant to women, they are addressing lasting peace and security.

Furthermore, women can be vital forces to
battle extremism. There is
one thing virtually every extremist movement has in common:  their advance is coupled with an assault on
women and girls’ rights. As Coomaraswamy and Mlambo-Ngcuka explain, the first
order of business for these extremist groups is almost invariably to limit women’s
access to education and health services, restrict their participation in
economic and political life, and violently enforce these restrictions.
Extremist efforts always seem to focus on the suppression of women’s autonomy (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015).

But while extremists place the subordination
of women at the forefront of their agenda, promoting gender equality has been
an afterthought in the international community’s response to extremism. Ignoring
such an important aspect of violent extremism leaves a deficit in understanding
how to combat the problem. “The international community must recognize, as the
extremists do, that empowered women are the foundation of resilient and stable
communities-communities that can stand firm against radicalization” (Mlambo-Ngcuka
& Coomaraswamy, 2015).

Extremism is linked to terrorism, a salient
national security concern. Marissa Conway says “experts agree that women are
key to restricting the proliferation of terrorism”. Studies have shown that
women are often key to detecting early signs of radicalization, and intervening
before violence is inflicted (Conway, 2017). Paiman is an organization in
Pakistan; one of their main initiatives is a program to unite women in their
efforts to eradicate terrorism.  The group goes from village to village to
share information with mothers about the danger of recruitment by radical
groups, while also seeking out job opportunities for young men who are deemed
at-risk. Efforts like Paiman give women non-traditional, non-military roles in
countering extremism that do not have the effect of breeding more violence
(Conway, 2017).  

An understanding of the ways in which everyday
women influence communities is essential to countering violent extremism. The
practice of women’s rights seems to act as deterrent to terrorism because it
weakens and reverses the conditions that breed terrorism (Salman, 2013). Gender
inequality is a strong indicator of power asymmetry: access to power and
resources is critical for a just society, and an absence of access leads
to conflict. Salman describes how her results suggest a causal
explanation: as women are provided equal opportunities, the society becomes
more just and inclusive. Peaceful, democratic
resolutions diminish the feelings of hopelessness and desperation
that motivate terrorist acts (Salman, 2013). Conflict and inequality motivate
terrorism; women can successfully curb terrorism and implement peace.

The struggle against extremism should not
exclusively be a function of the military. Using force in militarized
counterterrorism operations can disrupt economic and social activity. When governments
focus resources on military operations, social services like health and education
suffer, leaving women and girls particularly vulnerable. When women are
victimized, it leads to more poverty and radicalization (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy,
2015). Furthermore, militarized responses risk civilian casualties and threaten
to drive marginalized young people to extremist groups.

Military force can halt the advance of
extremist groups, but cannot defeat radical ideologies or build resilient communities.
Empowered women are the best drivers of growth and the best hope for
reconciliation in a post-conflict period. They are the best buffer against the
radicalization of youth, and the best warning system. Women and girls are the
first targets of attack – the promotion of their rights must be the first
priority in response (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015).

Some would criticize prioritizing women’s
equality as a national security issue because it is hard to establish
causation: there are a number of additional factors that confound gender
equality and stability. The information we have is predominantly from case
studies, not laboratory experiments. But as the evidence shows, women actively
and directly make countries safer through their contributions to economic
stability, peace negotiations, and battling extremism.

    In the aftermath
of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda serves as a case study in how the advancement and
empowerment of women directly helped to repair the culture after one of the
worst historical atrocities ever. Post-genocide imprisonment of men led to women’s
placement in significant roles, including business and politics. Rwanda became
the first country to have a female-majority Parliament in 2008. As a result, the
same year, the legislature adopted a law making
domestic violence illegal and mandating harsh prison terms for rape (Hunt
& Heaton, 2014). Judith Kanakuze, who led the
bill’s drafting, explained that the law is meant to be one element in a larger
strategy to change cultural expectations and ultimately change behavior. The
female majority in Parliament also played a central role in passing laws
enabling women to own land and inherit property, and passing a 2009 law
mandating basic education for all Rwandan children (Hunt & Heaton, 2014). Rwandan women have been credited with orchestrating national
healing and rehabilitating the economy since the genocide (Aalai, 2016). Reflective
of other developing countries, Rwanda is seeing progress in legal reform and
education. Other countries lacking gender equality are also seeing important
reforms on paper: for example, a royal decree from Saudi Arabia announced that it
will allow women to drive beginning in June 2018 (Klein, 2017).

Aneela Salman sums up research from 57
countries that demonstrates links between terrorism and gender inequality. Interestingly,
the results suggest that women’s actual advancement is more effective in
reducing terrorism than cultural attitudes supporting women’s advancement. For
example, equality in higher education, jobs and political representation are
more effective in reducing terrorism than cultural attitudes supporting these
rights. Positive outcomes, not just positive attitudes, for gender equality
curb terrorism. The distinction between outcomes and attitudes in regard to
gender equality is critical, because assuming that gender equality attitudes
reflect what people actually do in practice is inaccurate (Salman, 2013).

This has important implications for the
United States, where there is a disconnect between attitudes
and actions regarding gender equality. The 2010 US National Security Strategy
declares “Women should have access to the same opportunities and be able to make
the same choices as men. Experience shows that countries are more peaceful and
prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity” (National Security Strategy, 2010). Although
United States policy formally favors gender equality, statistics reflect a lack
of gender equality in a number of realms- and the actuality of gender equality is
more valuable than the attitude held. For example, while most people voice
support for women in the workforce, 43% of women say they’ve experienced gender
discrimination in the workplace, and women in the US are still paid 83 cents
for every dollar a man is paid (Brown& Patten, 2017). Women make up only 5%
of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than 20% of Congress (Brown & Patten, 2017). In
order to make the actuality of gender equality match our values, steps must be
taken nationally to advocate for women, especially in government and leadership
positions.

Women in the United States face a different
level of oppression than women elsewhere. But the United States also isn’t
doing enough to legitimize women’s issues and utilize women’s contributions. American Congresswomen make an excellent case for women’s
contributions to politics. In late 2013, after the federal government shut
down, women led the Senate in crossing party lines to find a solution. While
they made up 20 percent of the Senate, women made up half of the committee that
negotiated a way forward on the budget (Russell & Donilon, 2017). Political
polarization is increasing in our country. Women will be forces of mediation to
strive for communication and cooperation in government. This can only be beneficial
for national security.

The Obama administration took special care to elevate
women’s issues to the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. President Obama
addressed international women’s issues in a number of speeches around the
world, and signed executive orders that integrate women’s issues into US policy
(Russell & Donlion, 2017). In
2015, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2178. It called, for the first
time, for the promotion of women’s empowerment to halt the spread of violent
extremism (Mlambo-Ngcuka & Coomaraswamy, 2015).
 Trump doesn’t have a good record
with respect to gender equality: he has a number of sexual assault allegations,
regularly makes inappropriate comments regarding women, and has vowed to
de-fund Planned Parenthood. While Trump has not displayed the same zeal or
attentiveness for women’s rights as previous administrations, the US is still
under the obligation of a number of national policies and international
treaties that focus on women’s inclusion (Hudson & Cohen, 2016). Hopefully,
these obligations will maintain focus on gender equality. Advancing equality
for women domestically and internationally is pivotal to our nation’s security.

 

 

 

 

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