Under Trump, Women Matter More in Foreign Policy than Domestic
By Sara Angevine | June 12, 2018
The Trump administration has made more legislative progress toward advancing women’s rights and well-being as a goal of U.S. foreign policy than the last two Democratic presidential administrations. This isn’t only surprising because of the partisan divide, but also because the Trump administration has cut foreign aid to women and left the position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues vacant. How can we make sense of the administration’s successes in this area when it has otherwise has shown little tangible policy progress in advancing women’s rights within the U.S. or elsewhere?
The answer appears to reside in a growing, strong bipartisan consensus that women need to be equal agents of peace and security in American foreign policy. Both this important policy advance and the consensus behind it are clear in the recent passage of the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 (WPSA).
The U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017
Not since the Afghan Women and Children Protection Act of 2001 has any American foreign policy legislation that places women squarely in the title of the bill been passed into law. The WPSA seeks to advance global women’s rights in three ways. First, it commits the U.S. to growing women’s participation in security efforts, from ensuring that women are included as peace-keeping soldiers to maintaining gender diversity in conflict resolution negotiations. Second, it recognizes that women’s political participation is critical to sustaining democratic institutions. Third, it acknowledges that women’s participation in conflict negotiation improves the lasting success of resulting peace agreements.
The first version of the Women, Peace, and Security Act, was introduced in the 112th Congress (2011-12) by a Democratic man, Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MS), under a Democratic-majority House, Democratic-majority Senate, and a Democratic President (Obama). The bill “died” in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and no companion bill was introduced to the Senate. The version that ultimately that passed into law (2017), by contrast, was introduced to the House by a Republican woman, Representative Kirsti Noem (R-SD), and to the Senate by a Democratic woman, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). It moved through a Republican-majority House and a Republican-majority Senate, and was signed by a Republican President (Trump). Between these two acts, four other versions had basically gone nowhere.
Was the difference watered-down content? I compared the language of the earlier Democratic and final Republican versions of the WPSA, using Kara Ellerby’s (2013) concept of “(en)gendered security”. Ellerby argues that security policies that successfully promote the well-being of women share four critical properties: women’s representation, incorporation, protection, and recognition. In my content analysis of the bills, searching for terms that echoed the four aspects Ellerby identifies, I found that all five versions had contained the (en)gendered security properties. The competing versions of the bills had far fewer differences than commonalities.
My findings suggest that the WPSA of 2017 will advance the meaningful representation, incorporation, protection, and recognition of women in the peace and security processes the U.S. helps facilitate.
An apparently sincere bipartisan agreement that women need to be a part of U.S. peace and security efforts carries through in my gender-analysis of the policy.
A True Advance
The 2017 WPSA underscores the value of women’s participation in peace and security processes. Under Section 4, it is now the official policy of the U.S. to “promote the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts, reinforced though diplomatic efforts and programs…”
The section describes seven tactics to achieve this aim, including integrating affected women’s perspectives, encouraging partner governments to improve women’s participation, promoting the physical safety and economic security of women and girls, and endeavoring to “collect and analyze gender data for the purpose of developing and enhancing early warning systems of conflict and violence” (Public Law 115-68).
Women’s right to “meaningfully participate” in peace and negotiation processes worldwide is now a permanent component of American foreign policy.
As with all laws, implementation is often a greater challenge than passage. Future research needs to track how these policy provisions are put into practice.
Trump Makes Women Great Again?
Trump is hardly the critical factor in these advances. Though they come to fruition under Trump, these policies are not his doing: the WSPA was working its way through the legislative pipeline for the greater part of a decade. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee added “Global Women’s Issues” to their legislative purview in 2009. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2009-2013) introduced multiple directives on recruiting women to help create “smart” foreign policy (the Hillary Doctrine). And the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) recently added “Women’s Empowerment” as one of their key issues (alongside Iran, ISIS/ISIL, North Korea, and International Broadcasting).
More likely, the continuing attention paid to the inclusion of women in international policy-making may have deepened commitments by members of Congress anxious to create strong policy in what feels like an increasingly fractured global society. This bipartisan consensus is also supported by research showing the significance of women’s participation in the effectiveness of peace agreements.
Partisanship, of course, affected several aspects of the WPSA legislation. For one, my bill comparison reveals partisan disagreements regarding how to best frame the interests of foreign women. Analyzing the policy language, I find the terms gender sensitivity, gender-based violence, and sexual violence in the Democratic versions of WPSA, but not in Republican versions. References to preventing violence and promoting physical safety remain.
Basically, the Republican version minimizes emphasis on “gender,” mentioning the term just four times to the 16 counted in the Democratic versions.
Another significant difference is that the Republican version removes all references to the United Nations, UN 1325, and Obama’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. UN 1325 is an October 2000 UN Security Council Resolution urging global actors to include women in peace and security efforts and take special measures to prevent gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict. The WPSA of 2017 puts many these principles and Obama’s National Action Plan into U.S. foreign policy statute; neither is credited.
The passage of the WPSA of 2017 shows that both Democrats and Republicans believe that foreign women need to be equal agents of peace and security in American foreign policy. Considering the nation’s expansive role within global affairs, this consensus may make substantial impacts on global diplomacy and gender equality efforts.
The consensus also may foreshadow other legislation that advances women’s interests.
The U.S. lags behind the global trend toward gender equality. It is one of only seven countries that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, referred to as the “global women’s rights treaty.” And nearly half a century since its passage, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has not yet been ratified to the U.S. Constitution; only 18 countries worldwide have no constitutional protections for their women citizens. Since Congress endorses the idea that foreign women’s equal participation and protection matter for our country’s security and peace abroad, perhaps the legislative body will soon become more responsive to the idea that U.S. women’s equal participation and protection matters for our domestic security and peace, too.