Two years into its Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan, the Defense Department's Women, Peace and Security program has made significant strides to promote the safety, equality and meaningful contributions of women around the globe, according to policy analysts in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Partnerships.
During fall 2021, DOD deployed its gender advisory workforce to support Operation Allies Welcome to aid in the evacuation of Afghan allies and partners and help them resettle throughout the United States. The gender advisors were placed to both recognize the unique needs of not just women and girls but the entire population on the ground; make adjustments with task force military personnel and U.S. interagency partners on how to allocate resources, implement programming, and deal with critical incident needs.
"Operation Allies Welcome was the first time we'd ever deployed our gender advisory workforce," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michelle Strucke, who oversees team leads on Women, Peace and Security implementation. "It's a testament to the sort of progress we've made in training additional personnel and expanding the Women, Peace and Security program, and has positively impacted Afghan families who are beginning their new lives in the United States."
In 2020, DOD stepped up its WPS efforts by releasing the first Women, Peace and Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan, a critical step in advancing the approach to promoting the meaningful inclusion of women across the spectrum of conflict.
The plan outlines DOD's internal and external focus areas for the next four years, including:
- Modeling WPS within the Defense Department through its development, management and employment of the Joint Force.
- Supporting DOD's partner nations to advance women's meaningful participation in their defense and security sectors; and
- Working with partner nation defense and security sectors to ensure women and girls are safe and secure and that their human rights are protected.
"We execute WPS in the services and at the combatant commands through our team of gender advisors, who are trained by DOD to implement women, peace and security principles into what the department is doing, both internally and then also in our relationships with partner nations," WPS policy analyst Siena Cicarelli explained of the process. Thanks to Congressional support, WPS has expanded in both its budget and in personnel since the passage of the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, having trained more than 500 people since 2019, she said.
"DOD has prioritized training Gender Focal Points & Gender Advisors over 2021 and continues to do so in 2022. Training and education have helped bridge a gap in operationalizing Women, Peace and Security across the department. The WPS courses ensure that DOD military, civilian and contractor personnel learn about important WPS guidance such as: the U.S. WPS Act & the DOD WPS Strategic Framework Implementation Plan SFIP, understand WPS's relevance to national security, and apply WPS principles and a gender analysis to their DOD mission areas," said Susan Radov, WPS advisor on the Joint Staff J5.
Cicarelli highlighted that, "we are currently working on a DOD Instruction that will codify the DOD WPS program and outline the department's roles and responsibilities for fulfilling the U.S. WPS legislation. This document will give instructions to the combatant commands, military departments and their services, and other DOD combat support agencies that explains requirements for developing gender advisory workforce personnel and defines what WPS execution looks like for their component. That is a foundational way of institutionalizing WPS and ensuring that WPS principles are woven into everything that our department is doing."
Additionally, another ongoing challenge is to ensure that a gender perspective is built into the security cooperation activities that DOD is engaged in with its partner nations, Cicarelli said, adding this is one core component of the DOD WPS program that the DOD security cooperation enterprise is working toward over the next few fiscal years.
"We're really starting to hit our stride," WPS policy analyst Erin Cooper said of the WPS effort, which is a whole-of-government approach.
Cooper highlighted the October 2021 National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality is the first national gender strategy to advance the full participation of all people — including women and girls — in the United States and around the world, according to the White House.
DOD is working on its action plan for the strategy, combining the ongoing implementation of Women, Peace and Security principles and the recommendations laid out by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, as well as other DOD diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility initiative.
Additionally, "the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally is something DOD's WPS team is working on from an interagency perspective [so that we understand] gender-based violence has a security impact as well," Cooper said.
"As we know, there is a strong correlation between gender equality and stability. Factors such as meaningful participation of women and incidence of gender-based violence are directly tied to whether or not a country has strong democratic institutions and whether or not they're more likely to engage in conflict," she added. "This is not just ensuring we're doing this to do it because it's 'the right thing to do,' but [because] it also impacts our national security as well as global stability," she noted.
"At this point in history, it's really wonderful to see the [path] Women, Peace and Security has been taking and how leadership continues to support the department's WPS efforts for meaningful change on the ground," Cooper said, "We're very much standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us, and we're trying to make sure the department is as strong and effective as it can be for the future."