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Women's Perspectives Important in New DOD Strategy Push

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Women make up more than half of the people on Earth, and militaries that do not consider gender perspectives in their strategies will be at a distinct disadvantage.

That is the impetus behind the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Policy that President Donald J. Trump released last month. The strategy recognizes the diverse roles women play in preventing and resolving conflicts. It also notes the women's contributions in countering terrorism and violent extremism and recognizes the key role they play in rebuilding societies and ensuring areas do not fall back into conflict.

Officers sit around a table.
Partnerships Policy
Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Whitlock, Joint Staff deputy director for global policy and partnerships, speaks with gender advisors from across the Defense Department and its combatant commands during a Women, Peace and Security workshop at the Pentagon, July 16, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. James K. McCann
VIRIN: 190716-D-SW162-1029C

DOD, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency for International Development will implement the strategy. The U.S. military is working to ensure that gender considerations are part of strategy, said Army Maj. Erica Courtney at the Joint Staff's global policy and plans office. Officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the combatant commands met at the Pentagon this week to chart the way forward.

The strategy looks to build a "gender network" that will be trained from the tactical to the strategic level to take into consideration women's perspectives, problems, opportunities and concerns.

Women with guns.
Female Team
Marine Corps Cpl. Erin Thomas, left, a law enforcement Marine with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Female Engagement Team, looks on as a Jordanian soldier sights in on a target during a shooting drill. Marines and Jordanian soldiers participate in a marksmanship range to sharpen their skills and exchange combat tactics, techniques and procedures.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Tawanya Norwood
VIRIN: 190421-M-YD783-1312C

The U.S. military has done this in the past. Women's outreach teams worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Portions of the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan aimed at empowering women. In many conflict zones, women have had to step into roles they have not held before in business, politics and security. Understanding the cultures and history in a region has become more important, and the role of women in the societies can truly be a game changer, Courtney said.

An airmen sits in the grass holding a weapon while another airmen sits behind
Perfect Position
Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Spell takes a defensive position during training at the Camp Gilbert C. Grafton, N.D., July 16, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Lipp
VIRIN: 190716-Z-WA217-1169C

Women pay a disproportionate price in these conflict zones as well, she said. The violent extremist organizations fund themselves out of the women and children in these areas — from the child brides of Boko Haram, to the trafficking of Yazidi women by ISIS in Syria and Iraq to  the child soldiers of Somalia. "If we are not paying attention to what's happening [to the women and children], and how it affects the guys with guns, then we are missing the picture," she said.

The U.S. military has been doing this, but it has never been institutionalized, Courtney said. "What we are working on now … is a women's peace and security implementation plan, which is much more than words on paper," she said. "This is roles and responsibilities. This is metrics. Everybody is going to have equities from training to the implementation of training."

Woman speaks at conference.
Gender Advisors
Lisa W. Hershman, performing the duties of the Defense Department’s chief management officer, speaks with gender advisors from across the Defense Department and its combatant commands during a Women, Peace and Security workshop at the Pentagon, July 16, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. James K. McCann
VIRIN: 190716-D-SW162-1101C

The Pentagon meeting brought together gender advisors from the combatant commands and the Joint Staff with representatives from State and USAID. "There was a consensus on what we have to concentrate on as a community, and as DOD," Courtney said.

The deadline for the plan is Sept. 11, and the secretary of defense has ultimate responsibility for the plan within the department and will brief Congress each year on progress in the effort.

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