Women in the security and peace process is not new, but they are becoming more appreciated in the international security community. There are many networks, NGO’s, and even government agencies around the world that are now trying to understand the gendering of security. The rise of female presidents, prime ministers, and even parliament members around the world also serves as a testament of recognition of the utility of having women in power. Comparing the rise of women in power with the increase of international security and even development is useful for assessing how gender in politics affects the international security system.
I have been extremely interested in how women affect the security system since a class that I took on Women in World Politics. Ignoring stereotypes (about the maternal nature of women making them biologically peaceful, or even the fact that women are by nature less aggressive), the numbers prove that countries in which there is higher gender equality and have women in positions of power are more secure.
The empowerment and mobilization of women in any society inevitably will lead to a more financially and politically secure environment. It has been argued that since women make up half of the global population, it makes not sense that they are continuously oppressed and exploited. Half of the population uneducated, unempowered, and without a voice means that countries are only reaching half of their economic and political potential (for the skeptics out that that don’t believe that women’s empowerment and liberation is important for a nation). Economically, it is detrimental to ignore women’s roles in different cultures and societies. Especially in agriculture-based countries, women are often the “breadwinners.” I don’t mean this just by how much money they make (because in most cases, they aren’t paid financially), but they bring in most of the agricultural earnings within the family. If countries find ways to economically support and compensate women who do most of the agricultural work, these women will not only be able contribute to their families’ economic wellbeing, but also to the economic wellbeing of the state. Politically, women need to be included and even have positions of power because as half of the population in any given country, their needs and welfare need to be met by legally-binding legislation. In many countries, gender equality is lacking especially politically. These countries have weak laws, if any, to protect women from economic exploitation and domestic abuse. Having women represented politically not only gets women at the table, but also inevitably leads to a change in political culture as men in politics now have to consider the ideas and initiatives of their co-legislators.
While I’d like to have a peachy-keene outlook on world politics and the involvement of women as inevitable. Economic and political empowerment cannot happen if women are not educated. Even in this day and age, the education ratio between men and women is lacking. Even if women make it to secondary education, in poorer countries they often drop out in order to take on more responsibilities (farming, helping to raise siblings, child marriage for financial compensation) for their families. This has an immense effect on the number of girls and young women who are able to receive higher education. An uneducated society is an unproductive society. It’s impossible for women to mobilize and become empowered if they aren’t exposed to their options in the world.
But, back to women in security.
Women often play a pivotal in the security process. When they are educated (or given opportunities to receive an education), and when there is a sense of economic and political empowerment, women have proven that they deserve a spot at the negotiation table when it comes to international security.
Two organizations that I would like to highlight that exemplify this rational are: the Women in Peace and Security Network (WIPSEN) and the Women In International Security (WIIS).
Women In Peace and Security Network (WIPSEN):
WIPSEN, founded in 2006 in Ghana is one of many emerging exemplary organizations that seeks to educate and empower women so that they can have larger roles in the peace process. As a Pan-African, women-led organization, it is clear that the founders of WIPSEN realized early on that security issues (war, political and financial instability) that plague almost every African nation at some point affect women differently than they do men. Because women often bear the brunt of violence and political instability, it makes perfect sense that the women who took the initiative to create WIPSEN and other organizations similar realized the power that women were lacking and should have in these situations when pertaining to peace building and stability. The women of WIPSEN seek to educate women on their options, as well as influence the policy that affects women every day, especially in times of political disarray. WIPSEN currently works with other organizations in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast. I personally believe in the mission of WIPSEN because looking back at history, it is obvious that in patriarchal societies that often oppress women, the men in power are not looking to advance women’s interests. The women of WIPSEN are women who are educated, are financially secure, and do have a sense of political leverage. Because they have made it their mission to enlighten women on their importance within society so that women can have the courage and even the opportunity to have their voices heard, these women are enabling the the mobilization of a section of the global population that is often ignored.
The work that WIPSEN does to mobilize and empower perfectly compliments the work that the Women In International Security Network does to utilize and advance women’s leadership.
Women in International Security (WIIS):
WIIS, founded in 1987 is a professional network that seeks to connect women in the security field and advance women’s leadership opportunities. WIIS seeks to empower women in international security professionally and academically. It is currently active in more than 47 countries with women from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The fact that WIIS has been able to expand shows the power of education and empowerment. The women of the WIIS network are in different stages of their academic and professional careers, but the fact that they all understand the importance of gendering security unites them. Using a broad definition of security, the women of WIIS deal with issues relating to war, working with men, international insecurity, and even peace-sustaining initiatives. These women, who come from various countries use their education and their political leverage to help other women trying to enter and succeed in the security field.
There are many examples of women in power and women in security that prove that giving women access to education, financial stability, and leadership opportunities is not only beneficial to individual families, but entire countries as well. I like to think that women are the cornerstone of society culturally, economically, and socially (even if their importance is not often recognized). Because of this, I find it insane that there are not more opportunities for women to lead especially politically. Women, as the predominant victims of political insecurity, should and need to have more of a say in how the peace process plays out. Negotiations about policies that affect women, especially after times of violence and war should not neglect them, but actually include- if not put women at the forefront of said negotiations. Because instability and war affect men and women different, I believe that countries should take a gendered approach when addressing security, both during and especially after instability.