The Department of Defense’s Moment to Integrate Gender Perspective
by Andrea Goldstein
Gender and power are inseparable in understanding the dynamics of the local population—human terrain—in any given operating environment. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, relationships, and opportunities for and between men, women, boys, and girls.  Holistically integrating gender perspective into planning, policy, and operations is urgently needed to reframe conventionally held assumptions regarding understanding and exploiting human terrain.
Signed into law by President Trump in October 2017, The Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 details broad responsibilities across government in implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda (including implementation as outlined in the National Action Plan of 2016 ), as set forth by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and related subsequent resolutions.  In the next year, agencies across government, including the executive branch, Department of State, USAID, and Department of Homeland Security, will be mandated to develop implementation plans to present to Congress. The Department of Defense (DOD) will be required to update its implementation plan, which has not been updated since 2013 (while other branches of government released action plans annually).  This process presents an opportunity for expanding the role of gender perspectives in the missions and functions of DOD and the U.S. military, as many NATO nations already do, rather than solely relying on the Department of State and USAID for execution.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, incorporating “gender perspective” does not simply mean including more women in planning and executing operations. Materials on Women, Peace, and Security from DOD suggest that the department conflates “gender” with “women and children,” and, according to the 2013 implementation guide, the only required action is to expand the role of servicewomen.  Deliberately deploying female troops and working with local women leaders is significant, but only one component of gender and military operations. Gender perspective is a means of “assessing gender-based differences in social roles and interactions of women and men [as well as boys and girls] as reflected in the distribution of power and access to resources.”  Institutionalizing integration of gender perspective into the analysis, planning, execution, and assessment of U.S.-led operations, missions, training, and exercises will transform understanding of operational contexts.
Gender-related early warning indicators can provide indications and warnings of conflict, and help better understand the operating environment when conflict is ongoing. Restrictions placed upon women’s behavior and dress is often a reliable means of measuring both positive and negative trends. Empirical research indicates, “One of the earliest signs of the spread of less tolerant forms of Islam is the noticeable increase in Muslim women wearing head scarves in public, and the decrease in their participation in public affairs.” In Syria and in Syrian refugee communities in neighboring countries, child marriage of young girls to much older men increased from 12 percent to 32 percent in a three-year period, as parents responded to increasingly desperate circumstances by effectively selling their daughters. In Iran, “women have been the barometers of society, as the regime systematically sought to curtail their rights”; increasing numbers of women seeking higher education and dressing less conservatively indicate slow erosion of the religious regime. Understanding cultural definitions of masculinity can deepen understanding of how these norms may be exploited to motivate men to commit violence; the idea that a “true Muslim man” should commit violence against non-believers is central to ISIL’s ideology.
The Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 makes now the moment for the DOD to take the lead on integrating gender perspectives for greater operational effectiveness. Understanding effects of gender in a dynamic threat environment cannot solely be solved by diversity on planning teams; it requires the institutionalized education of U.S. military personnel. Integrating gender perspective into the analysis, planning, execution, and assessment of U.S.-led operations, missions, training, and exercises will transform understanding of operational contexts. In addition, DOD support for and understanding of the utility of gender mainstreaming may help raise the profile of efforts for the under-funded and under-resourced Department of State and USAID.
The mainstreaming of gender across DOD’s structure will move the concept of gender perspectives from a political nicety to an ingrained, required component of military planning, exercises and operations that cuts across all staff functions, from intelligence to logistics. Just as nuclear weapons, space and cyber operations, and unmanned systems fundamentally changed the nature of defense, gender perspective as a discipline has the potential to transform understanding of human terrain and the entire battlespace, and therefore has the potential to completely shift how the Department of Defense and U.S. military operate.
- UN Women, “Gender Mainstreaming: Concepts and Definitions” Accessed December 17, 2017. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm
- The White House, “United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security,” (June 2016)
- United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), and 2242 (2015)
- Department of Defense, “2013 Defense Implementation Guide for the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security” 2013. Available at https://pksoi.armywarcollege.edu/conferences/psotew/documents/wg5/2013%20DoD%20Implementation%20Guide%20for%20the%20U%20S%20%20National%20Action%20Plan%20on%20Women%20Peace%20and%20Security.pdf
- See: Defense Implementation Plan, 2013, and 2017 “a Strategic Opportunity”
- NATO Bi-Strategic Directive 40-1, Integrating A Gender Perspective and UNSCR 1325 Into the NATO Command Structure” (2017): 5.
Andrea N. Goldstein (MALD '18) served on active duty 2009-2016 in the US Navy, and serves as a military Gender Advisor as a Reservist with NATO Allied Command Transformation. She is one of the founding writers for major military blog Task & Purpose. At Fletcher, her research focuses on the experiences of American servicewomen. She is a Class of 2016 Pat Tillman Scholar. The opinions presented in this article are the author's own. Follow her on Twitter @AN_Goldstein