In honor of International Women’s Day, we have asked some members of the Women In International Security Advisory Board to share their thoughts on this year’s theme: Equality for women is progress for all. After reading their posts, feel free to leave a comment sharing your view on International Women’s Day 2014!
Equality for women is progress for all
Dean of the School of Professional and Extended Studies at American University
Women have made great strides across the globe by many measures. And yet fundamental inequalities remain. Although women make up the majority of students in higher education institutions, they remain underrepresented in high-paying and non-traditional careers, in board rooms and leadership positions. Women constitute more than 63 percent of household heads and primary breadwinners and yet continue to face persistent wage gaps, typically earning only half to three-quarters of what their male counterparts earn. More significantly though these inequalities are exasperated when we take into account intersectional identities – we are not just defined by gender but by other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and geography. Thus women of color experience higher wage gaps and fewer opportunities to advance in non-traditional careers such as in international security.
Why does this matter? Studies have shown that in a world of complex problems that exceed the capacities of any single individual or group to address, greater diversity leads to better, more sustainable problem-solving and outcomes. If we want to effectively address the conundrums of nuclear arms races, persistent ethnic and religious conflicts, or regional insecurity, we must ensure sufficient diversity among those confronting these challenges. Without women at the negotiating tables, in the ranks of decision makers or on the frontlines we are unlikely to overcome chronic insecurity at home or internationally.
Spotlight on Women in Foreign Policy Reveals Hidden Barriers
Treasurer of Women In International Security and Senior Associate, Facilitating Peace
Director of Global Communities, Director of Graduate Placement, and Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland
Strong U.S. support for women’s role in peace and security policies in other countries has not been matched at home, as a forthcoming WIIS report makes clear.
The Obama administration has been vocal in calling for an inclusive political system in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It supports implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1352, which declares women’s participation as essential for sustainable peace. Both the U.S. Senate and House have, over the last decade, passed resolutions calling for Afghan women to be included in peace talks and protected under the constitution. Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State, put women at the center of diplomatic initiatives, and in November launched a “No Ceilings” initiative to empower women and girls, whose full participation is “critical to global progress, development and security.”
However, championship of women abroad is not reflected in what we see at home. Indeed, support for women as political leaders in the U.S. tells a different story and reflects deep ambiguity over women’s positions and expertise. According to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, the 2012 elections brought a record number of women to Congress—but at only 18% of the House and 20% of the Senate, these measly levels compare extremely poorly to other countries, from Sweden (45%) to Rwanda (54%). Despite women as political leaders, secretaries of state, and increasingly viable candidates for president, the larger picture shows how tenuous women’s participation in U.S. politics still is.
The high profile of Hilary Clinton and other successful women in foreign policy positions masks the scarcity of women’s input at lower levels. A forthcoming report by Women in International Security (WIIS), Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Congressional Staffs, delves into the situation of women working in congressional offices, and found a disappointing level of inequity and barriers to advancement behind the scenes of Congressional foreign policy work.
Jolynn Shoemaker and Marie-Laure Poire conducted focus groups and interviews in 2012 for this report. They note that men held the majority of positions as chief of staff for both parties in the House and the Senate. Women held only one-third of the chief of staff positions for Senate Democrats, and less than one-fifth of the positions for House and Senate Republicans. Taken as a whole, women staff members earn less than men in both chambers – as little as $1,500 less for House Democratic staff to a whopping $10,000 less for House Republican staff. The pay differential also showed up in the Senate—a $5,000 difference for women Democratic Senatorial staff, and over $9,000 for Republicans. Women Congressional staff see men advancing more rapidly and to higher positions than women. While those interviewed recognized some degree of progress, there are still too few women on committees dealing with national security or U.S. intelligence. This creates the perception that women have less credibility as foreign policy experts, and they are invisible as a result.
The lack of women on Congressional staffs is not a trivial matter. Congressional staffs are a pipeline to higher office, both elective and in the executive branch, and excluding women from these positions becomes a barrier to their further advancement. Congressional staff are the often unseen force behind legislation, molding policy proposals and the wording of what becomes law. Women’s voices need to be heard at this stage or important considerations will be left out. For instance, they are more likely to consider violence against women as a barrier to lasting peace, as Laura Sjoberg has pointed out.
If we want to practice what we preach to countries across the globe, we need to ensure that our own political institutions are inclusive. If women are, as Time magazine declared during the government shutdown, the “only adults” left in Congress, then we need more of their voices both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.