The topic of “women” has become increasingly more and more popular. With movements like “MeToo” and “Times Up,” women have started to take a stance. In fact, in the United States 2018 midterm elections, more women were elected to political leadership positions than ever before. However, there is an area that is not commonly discussed concerning women: women and foreign policy.
For a long time, foreign policy was debated and implemented by men with little to no regard of how their decisions impacted women both in the United States and around the globe. However, the post-World War II era is often considered the beginning of true enforcement of human rights into international politics and foreign policy, and therefore can also be considered the time when women’s rights began to become a part of the international conversation.
In the years following the post-World War II era, the United States has made women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Not only is investing in women and girls the ethical decision, it is also a part of strategic thinking. It is healthy for development, for social, economic, and political progress, while advancing the interests of the United States.
In December 2011, President Barack Obama released a U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. The goal of these policies is to “empower half the world’s population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence and insecurity. Achieving this goal is critical to our national and global security. The plan included action to establish and improve policy and training on Women, Peace, and Security. For example, it advocated for the integration of women and gender perspectives in negotiations concerning conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and political transitions, including through delegations serving as a model. It also strived to build women’s capacity for roles in local and national government, the security sector, and civil society in conflict-affected environments, while supporting NGOs that advocate on behalf of women’s participation in decision-making. The Plan included several other objectives to achieve global security in a direct relation to women.
In March 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the first Secretarial Policy Guidance on Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve our National Security and Foreign Policy Objectives. In the report, the U.S. National Security states, “Countries are more powerful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity.” Evidence shows that investment in women’s health, employment, and education are correlated with greater economic growth and more successful development outcomes. The policy requests bureaus and embassies to strengthen participation and leadership opportunities for women in local and national government processes, civil society, and international and multilateral forums; to increase the potential of women to bolster economic development by addressing the structural and social impediments that stop women from contributing to economic systems. The report also requests the agencies to draw on both men and women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
Both of these policy plans serve as an excellent example of the United States’ commitment to a foreign policy that empowers both women and girls. The Obama administration heightened women’s issues on the United States foreign policy agenda based on the belief that expanding and ensuring women’s rights is consistent with American values and necessary to national security.
However, there is still more work to be done. In September 2017, the Department of Political Science and the Tisch College of Civic Life, explored how the public views the role of women’s rights in U.S. foreign policy by conducting a representative survey of 1,000 Americans. The results were staggering, 85 percent of those surveyed considered promoting the rights of women and girls a very high priority. When given a choice among the rights that the United States should promote, 51 percent ranked women’s rights as first or second, second only to “free and open elections” and ahead of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the rights of workers and unions. This survey exemplifies the importance women play in American opinions and preferences.
Closing the gap in foreign policy matters, and women being put in positions to make key foreign policy decisions is vital. But why? On a base line level, representation is an issue of fairness. Women should be hired, promoted, and invited when qualified and capable of doing the job. Women are still significantly underrepresented in foreign policy and national security positions in government.
The continuing progress in creating opportunities for women in leadership positions in national security has occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations. President Ronald Reagan appointed the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline K. Albright in 1997. Fifteen years earlier, Reagan appointed Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations. Since then, women have held positions of Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and USAID Administrator, as well as several other positions at State, Defense, and the NSC.
Significant progress has been made, and the key to continuing the upward trend is by mentoring and training younger women to demand a place in the foreign policy world. With an increasingly globalized and complex world demanding creative and varied solutions, there will be more and more opportunities and requirements for women to sit at the foreign policy decision-making table.