The United States National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security aims to make women equal partners in peace building and conflict prevention as well protect their rights during and after conflict. In light of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign and the upcoming third anniversary of the U.S. National Action Plan, here’s an overview of the plan, specifically highlighting its proposed measures to reduce gender-based violence in conflict.

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How did the plan come about?

The U.S. NAP was first launched in December 2011. It was developed as a means to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women, and addresses ways to remedy this impact and more thoroughly integrate women into both peace building and conflict prevention. The resolution calls on countries to create their own national action plans.

What is included in the plan and how does it relate to ending gender-based violence?

The U.S. NAP has five key objectives:

  1. National integration and institutionalization
  2. Participation in peace processes and decision-making
  3. Protection from violence
  4. Conflict prevention
  5. Access to relief and recovery

These objectives each have a variety of goals with the end result of providing women with equal rights as well as building more peaceful societies. They also all touch on the importance of eliminating and finding the most effective ways to eliminate gender-based violence in conflict.

The U.S. NAP objective on protection from violence most directly addresses gender-based violence, citing the need to protect women and children from violence, exploitation, and abuse in conflict, including sexual violence and human trafficking. It also stresses the importance of prosecuting those who perpetuate gender-based violence, as punishing offenders will help deter violence and create societal intolerance for it.

Much of the fifth objective, access to relief and recovery, also addresses diminishing gender-based violence in conflict, especially highlighting the need for high-quality medical and psychological care for women who have endured violence. Furthermore, this objective stresses the importance of providing women with access to quality reproductive healthcare before, during, and after conflict. This is especially imperative for women who have experienced rape in conflict.

Objectives two and four, participation in peace processes and conflict prevention, both highlight the importance of enhancing women’s equality in order to build more peaceful, less conflict-prone societies in the long-term. Equally including women in peace building processes will help build post-conflict societies in which women’s human rights are better respected and promoted. This in turn will likely make said societies more peaceful, as countries in which women’s rights are respected are less likely to engage in conflict or warfare. Ensuring that women are protected from gender-based violence and have legal and medical recourse if they experience violence are very important components of rights and equality promotion.

A Syrian mother holds her child outside of a refugee camp in Sofia, Bulgaria.

A Syrian mother holds her child outside of a refugee camp in Sofia, Bulgaria. The amount of gender-based violence still occurring in conflicts such as the one in Syria indicates that much work still needs to be done to fully implement Resolution 1325.

Finally, the first NAP objective, national integration and institutionalization, ensures that all U.S. agencies involved in foreign policy and conflict-centered decision-making incorporate a gendered perspective into their decision-making. This objective centers on building the capacity of US agencies, and training U.S. personnel in women, peace and security tenets, including how to protect women in conflict and provide treatment for and promote prevention of gender-based violence in conflict.

While the U.S. NAP addresses many facets of women’s rights promotion and roles in peace building and conflict prevention, it is important to recognize that ending gender-based violence is a key component in nearly all of these objectives. Since the U.S. NAP was established in 2011, the U.S. has introduced a number of strategies that complement its objectives, including the “United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally,”which is spearheaded by USAID and the Department of State and calls on other relevant agencies to take specific steps geared towards diminishing gender-based violence on an international scale.

What still needs to be done?

Though the U.S. and other countries have certainly taken significant steps to promote and protect women’s rights before, during, and after conflict via Resolution 1325 and National Action Plans, more rapid and concrete action must be taken. The amount of sexual violence still occurring in current conflicts around the world (Syria, South Sudan, and the DRC, to name a few) and the number of post–conflict societies where women remain unequal and experience regular violence (Egypt and Afghanistan, for example) indicate that much work still needs to be done. While careful implementation takes time, dire conflict situations affecting women around the world demand that NAPs are implemented both quickly and carefully. In the U.S.’s case, more needs to be done to move from written plans to tangible action. NAP objectives need to be made a priority throughout relevant U.S. agencies and better metrics for measuring and monitoring progress must be established.

As a country heavily invested in conflicts and humanitarian response to these crises around the world (monetarily, militarily, or both), and as one of the most powerful states in the world, the U.S. should show leadership in more actively implementing Resolution 1325 through its National Action Plan. The significant levels of conflict-derived gender-based violence in the world and the theme of this year’s 16 Days Campaign are a good reminder that much work still needs to be done.