Paper calls for holistic view of women in security

By Jennifer Brookland

September 10, 2013

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A draft discussion paper on the role of women in community security suggests that gaps and assumptions about their involvement has led to missed opportunities in peace building.

The authors of “Strategic Blindness: Women in Community Security,” produced for Creative Associates International, said recognizing the myriad roles women play is not merely for the sake of inclusion, but argued that will enable us to actually achieve better security results and ensure lasting peace.

Speaking at a meeting of the U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, authors Johanna Mendelson-Forman and Michelle Hughes explained women tend to be framed in security and development frameworks as victims—a form of “strategic blindness” that obscures their roles as producers of security.

They pointed out that in reality, women play a multitude of formal or informal roles in the security sector, from engaging with police to shaping their children’s views of honor and masculinity.

They used examples from Creative’s work in Honduras, Afghanistan and Jordan to illustrate the more diverse and nuanced affects women can have on local security—and the implications of overlooking them.

“When the picture is incomplete, foreign assistance can inadvertently undermine women’s traditional stabilization functions within the community,” the authors write.

Mendelson-Forman and Hughes suggested that outside organizations often miss women’s effect on local security because assessments and evaluations do not ask the right questions.

They hoped the draft, released at the Aug. 29 working group meeting, would solicit feedback and encourage dialogue on how to work towards broader inclusion and recognition of women in community security frameworks.

“What really works in the field in terms of including women in security—empirically?” asked Hughes. “We need to leverage the comparative advantage that women bring.”

A gap to be filled: The private sector

The private sector has also been notably absent from conversations about best practices in engaging women in community security.

“They offer lessons learned that are often not put in practice for those working in the field, and not included in the planning process,” Mendelson-Forman told the group.

Moreover, the private sector’s experience on the ground can inform the work of civil society organizations.

“The working group’s favorable response to engaging private sector groups in dialogue demonstrates an understanding about the need to include a wide range of actors in support of advancing women’s contributions to community security and development,” says Richard Jaskot, Director of Creative’s Stabilization and Development practice area.

Creative President and CEO Charito Kruvant agreed that while there is a strong community of interest that may include private sector groups, interested parties need to get better at sharing and analyzing information, and move toward collaborative action.

“There is not yet a community of practice,” said Creative President and CEO Charito Kruvant to the group. “We need to collect lessons learned and best practices about inclusion, exclusion and even just the passing-by of women.”

Kruvant—who has emphasized the role of women in development for nearly four decades—hoped that by inviting NGOs and other contractors into the discussion, they could share their own lessons learned and be incentivized to collaborate with like-minded organizations such as those represented at the working group.

Hughes agreed with Kruvant, and added: “We do not want any more lost opportunities. There have been two decades of work on this issue. But not a lot of gains in filling in some of these gaps.”

Now in its fourth year, the working group is a network of experts, NGOs and academics who convene to inform, support, and monitor the implementation of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.

Hughes is a lawyer and security professional with more than 27 years of experience in the Department of Defense and private sector as a Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform expert.

Mendelson-Forman is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Scholar-in-Residence at the American University who specializes on stabilization and reconstruction issues in transition societies.

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