Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this incredibly important plenary and inviting me to participate. It is an honor to do so as my first appearance at the Conference on Disarmament as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
I have had the pleasure of being at the CD several times during my career, the most memorable of them being as one of the attorneys for the U.S. Delegation negotiating the CTBT in the 1990’s. In fact, Geneva was the first place I traveled as an intern in the U.S. government a few years earlier than my CTBT engagements. I have many fond memories of the city and greatly appreciate the important work that takes place in Geneva and at the CD. I do wish we were there now so I could provide these remarks to all of you in a more personal setting.
Thank you also to Under Secretary Torres, for her insightful remarks and to my fellow distinguished panelists – UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Nakamitsu, Ambassador Villegas, and Ms. Dalaqua.
The vital topic of women’s meaningful participation and role in international security is personally close to my heart. The importance of including women in positions of influence and decision making on issues of peace and security cannot be understated. This is especially so in the field of international security, and particularly the areas of disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control. These are issues that affect everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The United States has been a proud supporter of the UNGA Resolution on “Women, Disarmament, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation” since its first introduction at the UNGA First Committee in 2010.
We currently face a complex global security environment characterized by instability, conflict, record levels of displacement, well-armed non-state actors, and renewed great power competition. State and non-state actors are contesting all domains of conflict and pursuing their interests with an ever-expanding variety of weapons. The concept of international security is also changing too. It now
includes policy areas as diverse as climate change, food and water security, and health security – all areas where women and other vulnerable populations are often disproportionately impacted, which makes their participation in the decision making process all the more important.
In the face of extremely difficult and complex challenges in conflict-affected regions, women have achieved significant success in moderating violent extremism; countering terrorism; resolving disputes through nonviolent mediation and negotiation; and stabilizing societies by enhancing the effectiveness of security services, peacekeeping efforts, institutions, and decision-making processes. However, women remain under-represented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict peace building efforts around the world, despite the fact that peace negotiations are more likely to succeed and to result in durable peace agreements when women participate.
This is truly unfortunate, because the meaningful participation of women in conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes promotes more inclusive and democratic societies, which is critical to the long-term stability of individual countries and regions as a whole. Furthermore, the political participation and leadership of women in fragile environments, particularly during democratic transitions, is critical to sustaining lasting democratic institutions.
Speaking about my country specifically, the United States has for many years been a leader in the struggle for gender equality and we have women at the center of our disarmament team.
My predecessor, former Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, did outstanding work during her tenure as the U.S. lead New START negotiator. And as the new Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs I was proud to join Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman and several other women who led the negotiating team for our recent Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia. I also salute the wonderful women of our Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament here in Geneva, whose work illustrates the vital contributions to peace and international security that women can make when they are given the opportunity, and when governments make gender equality a priority, as the United States has done.
For more than two decades, my agency, the Department of State, has made gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls a key component of U.S. foreign policy. This reflects American values and contributes to advancing democracy and human rights, economic development, and international peace and security. The Department has also worked to ensure that gender equality objectives are fully integrated into Department and interagency strategy, planning, and posture documents.
The 2017 passage of the Women, Peace, and Security Act enshrined the United States’ commitment to equal opportunity for women in law. As the first comprehensive national law of its kind, the WPS Act promotes the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts. Taken together, these measures demonstrate our efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict and fragility, prevent violence and atrocities, and promote stability through strategic policy guidance and training.
In April 2021, Secretary Blinken announced a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) who will lead a team to address historical Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) challenges within the Department and coordinate DEI efforts. More than 30 Bureaus and independent offices have established DEI Councils, as well as more than 130 U.S. Posts in every region of the world. I am pleased to report that the three Bureaus I oversee are also establishing such councils to advance DEI initiatives, such as Gender equity and LGBTQI+ rights protections.
Now let me highlight some of our efforts abroad. In its work on the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), the Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau, and our partner the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), have prioritized gender balance in participation of international partners in this project. Of the nine Co-chairs that lead the Partnership’s three Task Groups, fully one third are women. The same gender balance philosophy underpins our selection of panelists and moderators when conducting outreach activities. Finally, we actively encourage all 25+ Partner nations to diversify their respective delegations to engage more women in the important work of the IPNDV.
Just a few months ago, on March 8, President Biden established the White House Gender Policy Council to coordinate a government-wide approach to gender equity and equality, and create a federal Gender Strategy. Secretary of State Blinken designated the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues to be his representative on that Council and we at State will need to use our full diplomatic toolkit to meet the President’s mandate.
The United States has also advocated for policies that support women and girls’ full participation in the STEAM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, which are collectively the foundations of arms control. We have made significant progress, but we also know that many best practices have yet to be fully realized.
Women’s participation in the science and technology workforce remains a vast untapped source of potential economic growth for all nations. Women and girls globally should have equal opportunities to pursue an education and vocation in STEAM. Policy should advocate for investments in gender equitable STEAM education internationally.
Unfortunately, as is true in so many instances when we talk about gender and other equality, there is not universal recognition that women, people of color, and individuals from other historically underrepresented groups lack equal access to STEAM knowledge, education, related technologies, or career opportunities.
The systemic barriers which result from cultural and legal norms in all countries and regions must be overcome if there are to be women in positions to contribute to the policy areas of international security, arms control, and non-proliferation.
Such systemic barriers often exist in the details. Calling attention to and correcting those details is a critical part of overcoming this bias.
We saw this concept in action right here at the Conference on Disarmament when we tried to make a technical update to the Rules of Procedure to make them gender neutral – although we prefer the term gender inclusive!
The current language of the Rules of Procedure is a textbook example of the small barriers and discrimination that women and others in international security, arms control, and non-proliferation face every day. Updating this language should have taken five, maybe ten minutes. As Director General Valovaya said, like correcting a typo.
Instead, we were subjected to an incomprehensible display of obstructionism when a vocal minority blocked the decision. This is unacceptable and cannot stand.
At my most charitable, I could assume that those who objected to the update truly do not understand why it mattered. To that question, let me say that words matter.
Symbols matter. Referring to every officer of this conference as a “he” is not any more inclusive than referring to them all as “she” would be.
In the final analysis, however, I think that these objections were political ones. The delegates in the room were under the instruction of capitals who have an interest in disrupting any and all action by the Conference on Disarmament and who are threatened by the notion of any change. To those decision makers, let me say that change is inevitable. You can be part of it, or you will find yourself on the wrong side of history. It is your choice.
In closing, I am proud to be the African American to serve as an Undersecretary in the U.S. Department of State, and also therefore the first African American and Woman of Color to be the Under Secretary of Arms Control and International Security, and I plan on using my position to mentor the next generation of women and people of color who are seeking careers in national security. As the founder and former executive director of the NGO Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, I will continue to advocate tirelessly for the inclusion of women and girls in all aspects of peace, international security, disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation. This is a fight worth undertaking, and one that we cannot let rest.