On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, convened a hearing titled “Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security.” Rubio said the following in his opening statement:
Good morning. I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s hearing on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues. We’re going to have to come up with an acronym, this is way too long. It does not fit on letterhead, no.
Today’s hearing is on an important topic, “Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security.” We will have one panel today, but a great panel.
Ms. Andrea Bottner is the Senior Advisor to the Independent Women’s Forum and Founder of Bottner Strategies; Ms. Jamille Bigio is the Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Ms. Palwasha Kakar is the Senior Program Officer for Religion and Inclusive Societies at the United States Institute of Peace.
I want to thank you all for taking the time to be with us today to discuss an issue of critical importance to our national security and international stability.
I’d like to thank first my colleagues here today for their partnership and their individual work as well, on issues affecting women and girls around the world. The chairman of this committee Jim Risch, has been a great leader in the Senate and chairing the committee on this topic, as well as the Ranking member Senator Menendez.
I also want to note the work of Senator Shaheen, who has been a tireless advocate on ensuring women around the world have equal opportunities to succeed. She led the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 that was signed into law by President Trump last year– two years ago.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration rolled out the new “Women, Peace, and Security Strategy” as required by law. And the strategy seeks to ensure women’s meaningful participation and leadership in political and civil life and empower them to play key roles in decision-making and peace processes. It rightfully recognizes the critical role that women play in enacting change, resolving conflicts, counterterrorism, and advancing peace.
The United States is the first country in the world to enact a comprehensive law on this issue. I think this is an achievement we should be proud of and I look forward, now along with all of the members of this committee, of supporting its implementation in the years to come.
As we look at the map of the world today, unfortunately we have ongoing conflicts in almost every continent. From South Sudan to Afghanistan to Burma to Syria to the major humanitarian disaster in our own Hemisphere, Venezuela, it seems no region is untouched by conflict.
Though conflict inflicts suffering on everyone, women are particularly and uniquely affected by conflict. Women and girls are the most vulnerable when conflicts erupt, and are often targeted with violence, specifically sexual violence. These gender-based assaults are used as a weapon of war. The accounts are heartbreaking and harrowing.
In Burma, during the 2017 violence, Rohingya women were subjected to unspeakable horrors. They were lined up and brutally raped by Burmese military forces and in some cases their babies taken from them and murdered.
In Iraq, under ISIS, Yazidi women were forced to endure years of torture and rape. Girls were separated by eye color and sold as sex slaves, often sold multiple times, to ISIS fighters based on the ISIS fighters personal preferences.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants kidnap girls, forced them into marriages, and committed sexual violence, and deployed women and girls as “suicide bombers.”
I could go on for hours, unfortunately. But women are more often than not marginalized during the end of conflict. They are left out of discussions to find political solutions and peace-processes. They are barred from making decisions about their own future.
However, thankfully there is a growing recognition by international organizations, backed by research, by policymakers, and others of the links connecting economic, social, and political stability and security with the well-being of women.
The protection of women and girls in conflict and humanitarian settings should be a top priority for the United States and our partners, especially since this is where the risk of sexual and gender-based violence is highest.
But as we focus and prioritize the protections that must be in place, we need to also focus on ensuring that women are involved in preventing conflicts from breaking out in the first place and that they are active participants in resolving them. Because women play a key role in the prevention of conflict, during, and also post-conflict. Research has proven that when women are able to meaningfully participate in peace negotiations and processes, there is a higher likelihood of lasting stability.
Just to provide a few examples, one study found that “peace agreements are 20 percent more likely to last at least two years, and 35 percent more likely to last for more than 15 years when women are involved.”
Another study investigating 82 peace agreements in 42 armed conflicts between 1989 and 2011 found that peace agreements with women signatories are linked with durable peace. Research by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security finds that women from civil society help craft more comprehensive agreements in support of both ending war and building peace.
So the research is clear, we need women to play a role at the negotiating table not only exchanging ideas and leading discussions, but also as implementers of peace agreements.
Women in civil society tend to prioritize larger social issues beyond the cessation of hostilities. These include reconciliation, development, education, human rights, gender equality, justice, and democracy.
Even with all of this evidence, significant gaps remain in both the protection of women and girls in conflict as well as support for women’s involvement in peace initiatives and security.
It has been 19 years, since the U.N. Security Council adopted the landmark Resolution 1325, which calls on member states to increase women’s participation at all levels of decision-making. Sadly, we have not seen significant progress on women’s participation in those 19 years. Acknowledging that women should be part of these discussions is easy, but we have struggled to implement it.
It is in the national security interest of the United States to have stable partners around the world who respect the fundamental rights of their citizens, including women.
Gender equality, according to the Belfer Center, is associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states which is directly linked to U.S. security and global stability.
Currently, the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan provide us with an opportunity for the U.S. to prove its dedication to women’s participation in negotiations. And I hope we do all we can do ensure that women have a seat at that table.
In March 2019, more than 700 Afghan women gathered to advocate and make clear that while they support peace, they are fearful of losing the rights they have gained. The empowerment and equality of Afghan women are key to a more stable and sustainable Afghanistan.
So I look forward to discussing the role of women in the peace talks in Afghanistan further during this hearing.
But the bottom-line is if 50 percent of your population is left out of peace processes and is left out of key leadership and decision making roles, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Women are the backbone of society and must play an active role in securing long term peace and security.