Military and civilian experts convened at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) for the inaugural Women, Peace and Security Conference March 29-30, to discuss issues related to the current U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security.
"This is a very new and exciting time for the initiative - we're still in the idea phase," said Dr. Mary Raum, a professor in NWC's National Security Affairs Department. "We have everyone from U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets to senior academics and policy makers; from international and local officials to military officers who were part of Female Engagement Teams on the ground in Afghanistan. People are learning from each other in an informal way as well as through the exchange of ideas the official portion of the conference has to offer, and that is what it's all about."
The conference featured a number of panel discussions based on the NAP's five guiding principles as well as upon political, military, educational, institutional, sociological and anthropological viewpoints for attaining the goal of empowering women in conflict prevention and peace building.
The guiding principles include engagement and protection of women as agents of peace and stability, building on the goals of gender integration to complement and enhance existing initiatives, executing a policy that promotes inclusion of a variety of stakeholders and maximizing the impact of the plan by coordinating among a number of U.S. government agencies.
"Women are absolutely essential to the peace-building process," said keynote speaker Carla Koppell, the senior coordinator for gender equality and women's empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development. "The National Action Plan is a critical starting point for this process."
Koppell's words were resonated by discussion from military experts on the inclusion of women in environments of conflict and reconstruction. The focus was on Female Engagement and Cultural Support teams, where women embed into special operations units, actively engaging women and children in Afghanistan, which comprise 70 percent of the population. They described how females are selected, trained and their effectiveness on the battlefield in rural areas of Afghanistan, as well as the successes and failures of literacy programs, medical outreach and night raid support.
"Female Engagement Teams are reaching out to a large portion of the population in Afghanistan, bringing their wants and needs to the table and connecting them to their government," said U.S. Army Col. Robert Cassidy, a professor in NWC's Joint Military Operations Department. "This is a great concept that will require proper emphasis and sourcing for future success."