Regional Overviews

August 15, 2012

Regional Overviews

The Department works within a diverse set of regional and country contexts, each with unique challenges and opportunities in their pursuit of peace and stability. This section highlights Women, Peace, and Security issues within each regional context.


Department efforts to promote and advance women in peace and security issues will help contribute to long-term stability and prosperity in Africa. In several conflicts, such as those in Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, women played a key role in productive peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. In other post-conflict countries, recent or upcoming elections and constitutional reform processes present opportunities for advancing women’s leadership and representation in government bodies. However, despite these noteworthy gains, many underlying structural challenges continue, including pervasive gender-based violence and complex regional crises, which magnify human insecurity, particularly for women.

Throughout Africa, the Department is partnering with other agencies, national governments, civil society, and multilateral organizations to address these issues. In several countries, the Department is engaged or has engaged diplomatically to encourage the inclusion of women in peace or stability discussions. In other countries, the Department works directly with government and civil society to reform criminal laws and to strengthen the justice system, human rights, and women’s rights institutions. The Department also addresses these issues in public diplomacy outreach to non-governmental organizations, women, and other key African publics.

East Asia and the Pacific

East Asia and the Pacific experiences a range of issues that could contribute to instability, including economic injustice, political repression, the loss of natural resources due to climate change, food insecurity, cross-border tensions, and ecological disasters. Trafficking in persons and gender-based violence are also pervasive.

The Department relies on a broad spectrum of approaches to conflict prevention and resolution in the region, including engaging and protecting women as agents of peace and stability. The Department has developed pragmatic and inventive actions, tailored to the unique qualities of each country and based on the principles of enhancing regional ownership and ensuring authentic grassroots-level support. They include support to peace and order councils that develop early warning mechanisms and promote women’s participation; support to non-governmental organizations providing political leadership and awareness training to young women; and support for efforts to strengthen local governments’ capacity to deliver basic social services in health, water, and education in conflict areas. To address gender-based violence, the Department will work directly with legal aid providers to offer assistance to survivors; with the justice sector to ensure access to and enforcement of justice for women and members of vulnerable groups; and with parliaments to advocate for the passage of relevant legislation, such as on anti-trafficking. The Department also addresses these issues in public diplomacy outreach to non-governmental organizations, women, and other key East Asian and Pacific publics.

Europe and Eurasia

Europe and Eurasia has varying levels of stability, including some countries in internal or external conflict. The Department’s overall engagement focuses on fostering Euro-Atlantic integration and on strengthening countries’ ability to respond to new or persistent threats to stability through a range of efforts to bolster democratic institutions, strengthen the rule of law, encourage tolerance among different communities, promote economic development, and respond to issues of mutual national concern such as trafficking in persons. Women, Peace, and Security issues are an important consideration for these activities, as well as for targeted conflict management and mitigation programming in the region.

The Department seeks active diplomatic and programmatic steps to promote the inclusion of women in decision-making processes at all levels of government and society as well as to empower women to be more economically active, as poor economic conditions and inequality have often exacerbated conflict in the region or served as a primary conflict driver. Regional and country-specific grant programs have and will continue to support women’s civil society organizations and to empower women actively participating in conflict prevention activities.

Recognizing the particular challenges that post-conflict countries in Europe and Eurasia face in fighting gender-based violence, the Department’s assistance efforts have focused resources on local efforts to provide social services for survivors and witnesses; on improving the justice sector’s response; and on the policy and legislative development essential to expanding the legal remedies, protections and coordination necessary to prevent, investigate, and prosecute gender-based violence.

The Near East

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are undergoing either post-authoritarian or post-conflict transitions, or a combination of the two, while others continue to experience long-standing conflict or instability. The uprisings that began in Tunisia in January 2011 and spread across the region have transformed the power dynamics in several countries, and women have played a role in all of the protest movements from Tunis to Sana’a. The long-term outcomes of these changes remain uncertain, and the region as a whole faces many structural changes, including income inequality, stagnant economic growth, explosive demographics, continued political repression, and limited educational opportunities.

Transitions to democracy and peace cannot be successful without women’s meaningful engagement in the political and economic life of their societies, yet the fluid transitional environment presents both opportunities and obstacles. The Department will continue to focus its diplomatic engagement and communication on encouraging necessary political reforms. The development of new constitutions and legislative frameworks provides an opportunity for governments to advance and enshrine women’s rights. Elections provide opportunities to enhance women’s participation in government. Unfortunately, some countries have already witnessed backsliding on previous gains in women’s rights. In many countries, women have felt the impact of economic upheaval most acutely, and their roles in peacebuilding and transitional processes have been limited.

Across the region, the Department will continue to focus programs and outreach on women’s political and economic empowerment. The Department emphasizes security sector reform and rule of law, tailoring programs to individual country needs. Whether emerging from conflict or in the throes of uncertain political transitions, the region faces opportunities to defend and advance women’s rights and roles, and the Department is embracing these opportunities to support and encourage the advancement of Women, Peace, and Security objectives during this moment of historic change. 

South and Central Asia

South and Central Asia has a complex history that includes instability that has disproportionally impacted women and children. Ethnic divisions, economic injustice, political repression, the loss of natural resources due to climate change, food insecurity, cross-border tensions, natural and ecological disasters, trafficking in persons and gender-based violence are pervasive. In Central Asia women are often confronted with similar human rights challenges as males including corruption and weak rule of law, but face additional significant challenges of gender-based discrimination, domestic violence and under-representation in government institutions. In South Asia, Nepal and Sri Lanka are in transition from conflict towards sustainable peace, development and democracy. Women are playing an important role in the transitions, but they continue to confront systemic discrimination.

In order to promote peace and stability in the region, the Department is committed to support and expand substantive participation by women in peace, stabilization and recovery processes. In addition, the Department has promoted women’s entrepreneurship in the region and continues to see this approach as extremely important to foster gender equality, reduce vulnerability to gender-based violence and foster stability.

Though both Afghanistan and Pakistan have made some strides towards gender equality, whether through legislation or marked health care and education improvements, they still rank poorly in all major gender and human development indices. Violence and insecurity are an everyday reality for women in both countries. In this critical time, the Department will focus on preserving and building on gains for women in each country. As Afghanistan’s own security forces transition to the lead on security, support and vigilance will be required to ensure that security sector institutions are prioritizing the protection of women and girls and promoting the effective participation of women in the ranks of the security forces, for example, as police officers.

Western Hemisphere

Despite positive trends in the Western Hemisphere region in the last two decades, dramatic increases in crime and violence, as well as slow recoveries from natural disasters and internal conflicts pose concerns for well-being, economic growth, and democracy. One of the most pressing issues in the region, citizen security, affects young men and boys differently from women and girls, although the issues are interlinked. Gender-based violence and particularly violence against women is a well-documented cause and effect of increased criminality, insecurity, and the growing violence in the region. Insecurity contributes directly to increased femicide levels, increased risks for women human rights defenders, and ongoing domestic violence, as well as indirectly to increased teenage pregnancies, and increased poverty and insecurity for women-led households. Furthermore, women remain underrepresented in political and economic spheres, especially when they belong to a marginalized and/or minority group.

The Department will work to increase gender awareness and integration of gender-sensitivity training within the security, law enforcement, and judicial sectors, including through such security frameworks as the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). The Department will work to increase women’s leadership in political processes and women’s participation in the violence prevention and peace-building initiatives such as community policing and mediation programs, as well as to strengthen cooperation and respect for gender equality between both sexes.