Three years ago this week, the United States became a world leader in women’s empowerment. That’s when, in one of President Donald Trump’s first official acts in office, the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act was signed into law.
The United States now has a cabinet-level strategy to help women in underprivileged countries before conflicts, during the violence, and in the peace-building process. Yes, WPS is international in scope, but it is not some vanity nation-building exercise. Strict criteria determine when to engage and where. Activities are undertaken only in countries where it will advance U.S. national security interests.
The United States is the first—and so far only—country with such a law on its books. Yet waiting for other nations or international organizations to lead on this issue was not an option. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a women’s peace and security resolution in 2000. Twenty years and nine additional frivolous resolutions later, no UNSC member other than the United States has yet to translate the resolutions’ words into law, much less action.
Women’s empowerment is not a “feminist issue” or a “wedge issue” of gender politics. Conservatives understand the unique value of women in families and communities and why it should be tied to foreign policy.
Complementing the security portion of their women’s agenda, is the administration’s hallmark Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGDP). Through funding from United States and private sector sources, this initiative aims to economically empower 50 million women by 2025. Historically, U.S. assistance has often been channeled to ineffective non-governmental organizations or corrupt governments. This initiative by-passes those middlemen and bureaucracies, sending funds directly to dynamic, grassroots change-makers and allowing them to generate prosperity via free markets.
Women’s empowerment should not be viewed as a charitable contribution. Supporting them is based on a calculated, U.S. interests-driven assessment. Investing in their futures can prevent the rise of repressive regimes and extremist organizations.
How? As the primary caregivers, women are the first to see warning signs of radicalism and impending violence. If a problem or conflict does break out, women have historically been the first to speak out.
Need an example? When Al Qaeda terrorists occupied Timbuktu in Mali, local women rallied against the militants and their imposition of sharia law. After the terrorists ravaged and left the African city, women became politically engaged to prevent their return.
Closer to home, Mexico has found that replacing police officers with women was found to reduce corruption and increase action against drug cartels.
From these examples, we can see that WPS, implemented wisely, has the potential to be a low- investment, high-yield tool for advancing U.S. interests. As the old maxim tells us, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And promoting stability before conflicts emerge means keeping peace keepers and troops at home.
Of course, not every country is on board with such initiatives. Nations like the People’s Republic of China and the theocracy in Iran are dead set on challenging this agenda, and Beijing and their ideological allies are successfully co-opting the UN system to advance their destructive ideology.
China, Cuba, and Russia will once again win seats on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) this year. Like wolves in sheeps’ clothing, they don the cloak of UN legitimacy while violating human rights (up-to and including genocide against the Uighurs) and launching illegal military campaigns. Clearly, it is past time to get the UN back in order.
In the meanwhile, expect the current administration to continue leading the free world on women’s empowerment. Inconsequential forums and toothless resolutions are no measure of success. Vulnerable women and the American taxpayer deserve meaningful action and tangible, positive outcomes.
U.S. public diplomacy and civil society efforts are now making a difference. They have overcome legal barriers to women’s participation in the Colombia peace processes. They are staunching radicalization in countries like Nigeria. Their in-the-field programs in Burma, Somalia and Venezuela are strengthening women’s abilities to rebuild their countries.
This kind of foreign policy is long overdue.
A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign relations. Ana Quintana is a senior policy analyst in Heritage’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.