On August 12, 2017, neo-Nazis and white supremacists shocked the United States and the world alike with a deadly display of domestic terrorism. Tiki-torches, firearms, and fists overwhelmed the University of Virginia’s campus and the streets of downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, leaving an activist and two state police officers dead and dozens injured.

Women who seek to participate in peace processes and political decision-making face many obstacles. To achieve sustainable peace and development, societies emerging from conflict must remove these obstacles. In so doing, they must recognize and prioritize that women are fully capable of active participation in all political processes. Women’s equal participation in leadership at every level and in every sector is imperative to eliminating gender-based violence, poverty and enabling sustainable peace. Across the globe, women are increasingly assuming political leadership. For example, Ethiopia elected a woman president in 2018, and half of the nation’s parliamentarians are women. In the Republic of Rwanda, women make up 78 percent of the representation in parliament.1 Leadership in politics and peacebuilding are linked. That is, women’s political leadership paves the way for women’s participation in peacebuilding processes and vice versa.

For over 30 years, Women In International Security (WIIS) has worked to advance the role of women in national and international security. While much progress has been made, the number of women occupying prominent positions in foreign and defense policy remains limited. As a result, the role of women in decision making in foreign and defense policies is under-developed.

The international community has taken a strong stance against conflict-related sexual violence, deeming it a war crime. However, international actors are paying scant attention to sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) in refugee settings. Urban refugee women and girls and those in refugee camps often grapple with SGBV in their countries of asylum, long after they have fled their homes and communities. Our research among refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo currently in Kenya and Uganda has unearthed a high incidence of SGBV against refugee women and girls. Research by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) indicates that one in five refugee and displaced women experience sexual violence. Many of the survivors often have no one to turn to for protection and resort to sex work and other risky means to survive.

At the UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial Conference, Canada announced the launch of the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations. Through tailored technical support, the initiative aims to help troop-contributing countries recruit and retain female soldiers. It is one of the first initiatives to directly address the lack of female personnel at the deploying country level.

United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 expressed a global commitment to the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Many policy statements and guidance on gender mainstreaming have followed in the 17 years since UNSCR 1325’s passage, yet peace operations on the ground appear little affected. They continue to overlook the many roles women play in conflict and conflict resolution, fail to engage fully with women’s organizations, and fail to include women fighters in reintegration and security sector reform programs. They even perpetrate exploitation: Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) continues to be widespread within peace missions themselves, despite increased SEA and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) training for operation forces.

Missing Figures

While the cybersecurity industry will require approximately six million workers to meet its projected job demand by 2019, many positions will remain unfilled without more female cybersecurity professionals. Currently, women comprise only 11 percent of global cybersecurity professionals. Women’s underrepresentation in cybersecurity is not just an economic workplace issue, but also has a profound impact on the type of technologies being developed and hence impacts everyone in the digital age.

Many scholarly works on women in jihadi organizations emphasize women’s lack of agency. Authors of these works argue women have fallen victim to these male-dominated organizations and thus have lost control over their actions. However, certain groups of women in some jihadi organizations—for example, Islamic State (or IS), Jaish al-Fatah, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—enjoy a degree of agency within the scope of their duties.

This policy brief examines the extent to which women in jihadi organizations have agency—that is, to which extent they are able to make independent decisions. Understanding the conditions under which women have agency, allows policymakers to recognize the diversity of roles and contributions of women within jihadi organizations and design appropriate policy responses.

As the idea that women can and should play pivotal roles in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) gains greater traction, decision makers and scholars must keep striving toward a more nuanced understanding of the historical, cultural, and gendered contexts that enable extremist movements and organizations to grow. Without study, research, discussion, and stronger links with local actors and scholars to gain contextual understanding, U.S. analysts and policymakers risk creating a catalog of programs and policies internationally that include and empower women but fail to stem the tide of extremism and violence. Increasing women’s empowerment and strengthening their roles in community life, peace, and security are important steps, but even these can fail or backfire without deep cultural understanding.

In July 2016 at Fort Benning, Georgia, US women for the first time began training to become Army infantry and armor officers. This first cohort of women has neither been issued women-specific equipment to accommodate smaller physical frames. In addition, while some equipment challenges can be addressed through modifications in training, others require equipment modifications and new procurement. To optimize women’s performance in this uncharted terrain, the Army must ensure they receive appropriate training and equipment also collect, monitor, and evaluate data on the performance of all its soldiers.

In recent years, policymakers and international actors have begun to recognize the important role of women and women’s organizations in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). In October 2015, the UNSecurity Council adopted Resolution 2242, which linked the women, peace and security (WPS) and the P/CVE agendas and called for synergies between efforts aimed at countering violent extremism and those furthering the WPS agenda. In 2016, the US government incorporated P/CVE in its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

As the idea that women can and should play pivotal roles in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) gains greater traction, decision makers and scholars must keep striving toward a more nuanced understanding of the historical, cultural, and gendered contexts that enable extremist movements and organizations to grow.

The rise of groups like ISIS has galvanized the expansion of the global terrorism problem. While ISIS is hardly the first extremist organization to attract women and to use gendered tactics for recruitment, its formation and growth has paralleled the explosion of social media, bringing unprecedented attention to the problem. As scholars and policymakers attempt to develop coherent responses to the threats that groups like ISIS pose, three critical issues need to be addressed.

In March 2016, WIIS launched the Women, Terrorism, and Violent Extremism program. With the generous support of the Embassy of Liechtenstein in Washington, D.C., WIIS will facilitate a series of expert roundtables to explore the role of women in terrorist and violent extremist organizations, including the gendered dimensions of radicalization. These round tables will provide a forum for bringing together an international group of experts and policymakers from the counter-terrorism and Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) communities. Key takeaways and recommendations of expert roundtables will be captured and disseminated in the form of policy briefs.

On 12-14 July 2015, Women in International Security (WIIS) conducted a three-day data-gathering workshop with over twenty women from the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Cultural Support Team (CST) program—the all-female teams that deployed with U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan from 2010 until 2014. Approximately 200 women participated in this program over 5 years. In addition to the workshop, we surveyed over 25 CST members from various years and several men whose teams the CSTs supported. Following is a report of the initial findings from the workshop.

Status of 1325

This report, Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Congressional Staffs, is intended to raise awareness among the policy community about how women are faring on Capitol Hill and what needs to be done to support more women in leadership positions in the legislative policy environment. This is the third WIIS study in the Women In Peace and Security Careers series. Since 2008, WIIS has documented the status of women in leadership positions and women’s perspectives on career advancement in United Nations Peace Operations and in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government. These studies are based on qualitative data gathered from individual interviews and focus groups. The series highlights gaps in women’s representation and the voices and experiences of women who are navigating paths to advancement. The series also offers recommendations for peace and security institutions to better support women’s participation.