As we celebrate the 232nd anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Department of State, we additionally recognize 200+ years of continued advancement toward gender equity and equality. As a Latina, first-generation woman on track to becoming a Foreign Service Officer in 2023 through the Thomas R. Pickering Program, I have seen first-hand the steps that the Department has taken to continue its push to achieve gender equity internally.
We know that when women are empowered to play major roles in decision-making processes, including foreign policy decision-making, we are all safer and more secure as a result. Including women, in all their diversity, ensures that policy solutions are more sustainable and inclusive. You wouldn’t leave half your team on the bench when playing in the World Cup. We must ensure that women – who represent 50 percent of the world’s population – are empowered participants in all sectors of life. Over the years, the State Department has taken several initiatives to advance the rights and status of women and girls around the world. Most recently, the Biden-Harris Administration has created the White House Gender Policy Council consisting of the broad spectrum of U.S. Government agencies to coordinate efforts to advance gender equity and equality and issued the first ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality.
One of these central gender policy efforts, that spans the work of several administrations, is Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). Through WPS, the Department has made major strides in making women a longstanding priority in foreign policy, establishing their full, equal and meaningful participation as diverse mediators, peacekeepers, decision-makers, and stakeholders. Even before it was institutionalized through law in 2017, the United States has long supported WPS and the UN Resolution on WPS (UNHCR 1325). Under the Obama Administration, the first National Action Plan (NAP) was signed into existence through Executive Order 13595. It was then in 2017, with bipartisan support, the WPS Act was passed, codifying our country’s commitment to promoting women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention, management, peacekeeping and post-conflict efforts.
The State Department has since developed the first 2019 WPS National Strategy, which created U.S. Government-wide goals of women’s meaningful inclusion in peacekeeping and leadership. To ensure we were following through with these set goals, the Department led the creation of the 2020 WPS Implementation Plan, which took a whole-of-government approach to establish specific and measurable metrics focusing on four pillars: Participation, Protection, Internal Capacity, and Partnerships. These implementation mechanisms ensure that there is a holistic approach to WPS which was mainstreamed throughout the U.S. Government, with four key agencies implementing the Strategy — the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Since then, the Department has joined the other implementing agencies in publishing two congressional reports on U.S. implementation of the U.S. Strategy on WPS. One first threshold of accountability for the 2020 Fiscal Year (FY). This FY 2021-2022 is reflected in second-ever congressional Report which was recently released last week on July 18, 2022.
The United States has made some significant strides in advancing women’s leadership. One example outlined in the WPS Report is the efforts conducted by the U.S. Embassy Cairo to hold six monthly sessions with its senior leadership through the “Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise” (POWER) initiative for early and mid-career Egyptian women focused on overcoming corporate, social, and cultural barriers. Another example is the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ International Military Education & Training program in Mexico, in which the U.S. led several WPS courses. One of those courses, “Human Rights & Law of Armed Conflict,” trained more than 60 women and men to identify and address sexual exploitation and abuse.
In FY 2021-2022, the State Department increased its use of gender analysis in projects and strategic frameworks by 25 percent. Through our longstanding championship of WPS, the U.S. has learned that we must model WPS in our own organizations, and the Department has been working on improving its internal capacity, increasing the number of Foreign Service institute internal trainings which focused on WPS from 10 courses in 2020 to 24 in 2021. These are just a few of the numerous achievements made over the last FY on WPS—but, as the 2022 Congressional Report found, there is always more to do.
The Department had encountered some challenges in fully implementing the WPS agenda. While its efforts increased, we saw a 15 percent decrease in reporting during this FY. In recognition of this gap, the Department has already taken steps to improve its data collection practices for Stateside operations as well as those used by U.S. missions across the world to help mainstream reporting on WPS. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and other conflicts and crises around the world have created significant WPS implementation challenges. The United States recognizes that diplomacy is key to overcoming these barriers, and we are fully committed to working with bilateral, multilateral, and civil society partners at global, national, and local levels to adapt to the ever-changing global environment.
The United States is excited as ever to continue efforts to support the rights and empowerment women and girls in all their diversity, through Women, Peace, and Security and other strategic gender policy priorities. We know that reaching full gender equity is an ongoing and challenging process. On a day like today, reflecting on the 200-plus years of U.S. diplomacy, we celebrate the achievements made thus far, while committing to the continued building of the necessary foundation to further advance these efforts. Though we still have much to accomplish, both domestically and internationally, the United States Department of States remains steadfast in its commitment to including, empowering, and partnering with women and girls around the world — after all, advancing the status of women and girls is not just the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
About the Author: Claudia Kathia Rivera Garcia is a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow with the Secretary’s Global Women’s Issues Office, Women, Peace, and Security Team. She looks forward to completing her Master of Arts at American University, from which she will then begin her Foreign Service Career in the Fall of 2023.