The United States hopes to prevent and defuse conflicts by getting more women seated at negotiating tables around the world, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Clinton said a new U.S. plan, signed by President Barack Obama, would help train and give more voice to female community members who often have a strong sense of how to address dangers and strains in conflict zones.
"Some women wield weapons of war, that's true, and many more are victims of it but too few are empowered to be instruments of peace and security," Clinton said. "That is an unacceptable waste of talent and of opportunity."
U.N. data last year found women represent less than 10 percent of those working as peace negotiators or mediators in the world's major conflicts.
Clinton, who often champions women's rights issues in her role as the top U.S. diplomat, said more than half of all peace agreements currently fail within five years.
Women are "too often excluded" from talks that bring an end to conflict and from the military, police and other institutions tasked with maintaining order, she said, also suggesting they could provide useful insights on how to make peace stick.
"Women are bellwethers of society and, in fact, sometimes they do play the role of canary in the coal mine. They know when communities are fraying and when citizens fear for their safety," she told a Georgetown University event.
With its new focus, the United States joins some 30 other countries that have developed plans on women, peace and stability since a 2000 U.N. Security Council resolution that required women's rights to be respected in peace negotiations.
It follows Obama's decision on Dec. 6 to instruct U.S. diplomats and foreign aid workers to do more to advance gay rights abroad as part of his administration's efforts to increase U.S. leadership in human rights.
The latest executive order directs key agencies, including the military, State Department and U.S. Agency for International development, to appoint senior officers to monitor progress and report back to the president's national security adviser, anchoring the process at a senior level in the White House.
White House officials said the goal was to ensure the United States consistently includes and involves women in post-conflict work and in its assessments of regional and other threats.
As a result, U.S. combatant commanders will have an officer dedicated to gender issues to ensure protecting women is central to planning, and American diplomats will focus on bringing women into the political process as a core part of their work.
"Enabling women to have a voice alongside those of men in matters of international peace and security is the right thing to do," a senior administration official said.
The action plan is not expected to require any immediate additional funding requests. (Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Trott)