12-22-2011By Robyn Lieberman
Senior Advocacy Strategist
Earlier this week during a speech at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that “too few (women) are empowered to be instruments of peace and security.” Her remarks came just hours after President Obama signed an executive order to establish the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security – a document designed to address this problem outlined by Secretary Clinton and give women’s issues a more prominent role in American foreign policy.
Of course, President Obama’s own commitment to women’s leadership is demonstrated in the national security team that he and Secretary Clinton appointed: A cadre of women leaders in the most senior positions at the State Department, United States Mission to the United Nations, the National Security staff, and even the Department of Defense. I remember a visit to Washington earlier this year by a prominent human rights defender, and our meetings with Mrs. Clinton, Under Secretary Maria Otero, and others were filled with mostly women officials on peace, security, and human rights.
According to the White House, the National Action Plan will help the United States fulfill its commitment to help women engage in peace processes, provide assistant to NGOs focused on women’s participation and help to integrate women into the security sectors of U.S. partner nations. It will also improve the United Nation’s capacity to combat sexual violence, hold development personnel and contractors to the highest standards for preventing human trafficking and ensure that humanitarian assistance is distributed equally to women as well as men.
This is a welcome and much-needed step. At Human Rights First, we know all too well the unique challenges that women human rights defenders and activists face each day. Just this week in Egypt, the world watched as thousands of women took to the streets and risked their own safety to decry military violence and demand an end to abuse and discrimination. Some were stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted in an attempt to silence them and scare them away from protests. To their credit, however, they did not turn in fear. They are more committed than ever to create a society in which all Egyptians – regardless of gender – have equal say and standing.
One of the groups on the forefront of this movement is Nazra for Feminist Studies. During a recent trip to Egypt, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley and Quinn O’Keefe learned about its work to keep women activists engaged and to establish a space in the public sphere that is free from harassment and violence against women. Human Rights First will partner with Nazra to establish peer-to-peer exchanges that will connect the women of Egypt with some of our other partners who are women activists from around the region and world wrestling with similar transitions and working to keep new women activists at the forefront of political and social change.
Nazra will certainly benefit from this peer-to-peer exchange, but this effort alone is not enough to overcome the problems that persist in Egypt and elsewhere around the world. The promises made in President Obama’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security will bring these women much closer to the future they desire and deserve. It will give them a place at the table as decisions about their nations’ futures are determined. It will protect them from violence and help to prevent conflicts that put them in harm’s way. It will, for the first time, put their needs at the forefront of American foreign policy.
As Secretary Clinton told those gathered at Georgetown, “Whether it’s ending conflict, managing a transition, or rebuilding a country, the world cannot afford to continue ignoring half the population. Not only can we do better; we have to do better, and now we have a path forward as to how we will do better.” Human Rights First welcome that commitment and look forward to working with the President to put his administration’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security into practice.