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trump women peace and security strategy

Where Are the Women? Who Are the Women?

A response to Trump’s US National Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security.

Words: Kelsey Coolidge
Pictures: Suhyeon Choi

This June, the Trump Administration released its Women, Peace, and Security strategy. If you’re like me, you grapple with the contradiction between “grab-them-by-the-pussy” President Trump and the shining achievement of advancing a strategy to reduce conflict by engaging more women. But, in all fairness, it is significant.

The agenda that led to this strategy emerged after civil wars in places like the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — where patterns of targeted violence against women were impossible to ignore. Women and girls have experienced conflict and violence in ways unique from men and boys, and in ways that were unacknowledged in the traditional discourse on war. After formal recognition by the United Nations Security Council, the movement to convince national governments to take seriously the protection and promotion of women and girls in conflict zones was driven by a global network of women’s civil society organizations.

For 20 years, a domestic women’s movement has worked tirelessly to push countries as powerful as the United States to show a strong commitment of support. The movement has focused on the promotion of women in peace and security, rather than just their protection. Protection advances problematic narratives of victimhood and the justification for militarized action. Participation is the mechanism to bring women’s voices and experience to the decision-making process, transforming a conflict scenario by shifting power structures.

Does that include female asylum seekers at the US southern border who are fleeing domestic violence, gang violence, or the threat of political violence in their home countries?

Put in context, however, Trump’s shining achievement feels cheap. The women who really need “empowerment,” the support and encouragement to be “changemakers” for peace, are not the women that this strategy targets.

Take for instance the second line of effort in the strategy: “promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights, access to aid, and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world.”

Does that include female asylum seekers at the US southern border who are fleeing domestic violence, gang violence, or the threat of political violence in their home countries? The Trump administration has tried repeatedly to deny asylum to victims of domestic violence, only to be prevented from doing so by a federal judge. The right to asylum is a human right and the policy of family separation — a policy that the Trump administration continues to practice — is a recognized human rights abuse.

What about women’s access to aid in the form of healthcare? One of the first executive orders signed by President Trump was the Mexico City policy – which denies foreign assistance to any organization that performs or offers information about abortion. But the Trump plan went a step further than previous Republican president’s versions. Trump expanded this policy to apply to the entire $8.8 billion in US global health aid, rather than just funding dedicated to family planning services. This move threatened billions in funding to women’s healthcare by forcing international health programs to either search for non-US sources of funding or strip any reproductive health counseling from their programming.

Unfortunately, most policies focused on women emanating from the Trump administration focus on the interests of already privileged women and feel good feminism. Not of poor or otherwise marginalized women from around the world for whom the WPS agenda theoretically should advocate.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising when you consider the demographic make-up of the Trump administration. Analyses from the Atlantic and ProPublica show that it’s very male. In fact twice as many men have been appointed to administration positions as women.

Trump’s strategy claims to, “support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in informal and formal decision-making processes related to conflict and crisis.” But given its regressive policies on women’s rights and outright sexist, racist, homophobic, and offensive language, I find it hard to trust this administration to support the “meaningful participation” of women in any strategy.

To parade the banner of women’s rights, participation, and empowerment while actively seeking policies that cause harm to so many women around the world is wrong. At the very least, the Trump administration’s strategy provides a platform for continued advocacy and calls for accountability from the same women’s movement that led to the strategy’s creation. Remember that participation is the mechanism by which women are brought to the decision-making table, and eventually shift power structures. We can never stop asking: Where are the women? Who are the women? What roles are they playing? That’s how we’ll achieve the transformation we so desperately need.

Kelsey Coolidge is a Program Manager with the War Prevention Initiative.

Kelsey Coolidge

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