Remarks at Reception Marking the 5th Anniversary of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Mayflower Hotel
Washington, DC
December 15, 2016

As prepared

Hi everyone. Thank you for being here this evening. I want to take a few moments to talk about our efforts to advance women in peace and security. Five years ago, President Obama released the first U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. It was one of many moments during this Administration that the President has championed the rights and roles of women globally. It was also a moment that underscored the lessons we’ve learned about women and U.S. foreign policy. We’ve seen time and again that the women, peace, and security agenda is simply common sense. It’s important to U.S. national security. And it’s important to who we are as a country and what we stand for around the world.

For more than two decades, the pillars of women, peace, and security have been a part of our global work, from defense, to development, to diplomacy. We’ve seen that women and girls need to be protected from violence, that they need to be able to participate in all aspects of society, and that they are critical to preventing conflict from happening in the first place.

The National Action Plan made this understanding an official part of U.S. foreign policy. Five years later, it’s most certainly a milestone worth celebrating. Because this policy document has led to real partnerships with women around the world —from police officers in Ukraine, to judges in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to peacekeepers from Bangladesh. As part of this policy, the United States has trained men and women to better respond to gender-based violence. We’ve pushed for more women to be at the table when peace is negotiated. And we’ve invested in the next generation by focusing on adolescent girls’ education and empowerment.

Last year, I met with a group of Bangladeshi women who were part of a UN peacekeeping mission. What stood out to me was that they spoke of themselves as pioneers. They told me young girls looked up to them as role models. And they believe their service is both a symbol and driver of change—both in their own society and the societies in which they served.

Tonight, we’re joined by women from 60 countries who are participating in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Like the Bangladeshi women I met, these women are making a significant impact in their communities every day. They work in government, in the security sector, and in civil society. And they are proof of how valuable and how varied women’s roles are around the world. As more and more women participate as police, as Parliamentarians, and as peace negotiators, the ideals of peace, and security, and justice are strengthened.

And that’s a story the United States wants to tell, which is why—as my colleague mentioned earlier—we are launching the hashtag Justice For All campaign. For the next week, we will highlight a few of the many women the State Department supports around the world and showcase how they contribute to peace and security in their communities. Many of the women we profiled are on the front lines of change. They are pioneers, going where no woman in their community has gone before. One woman said her male colleagues call her the “Iron Woman”, because she’s the only woman they’ve ever worked with. Another said that women make up just one percent of the police force she’s a part of.

In many ways, the Justice for All campaign is like the anniversary of the National Action Plan. It shows how far we’ve come in recognizing women’s contributions. And it shows how far we have yet to go. The National Action Plan took U.S. foreign policy to a place it hadn’t gone before. But it is a milestone on the path, not a destination in and of itself. We got to this point because we made it a priority: from the leadership of President Obama and members of Congress, to those of us working at the State Department, USAID, and the Defense Department, to our wonderful friends in civil society who have guided and pushed us.

Together, we built on the momentum of the American leadership that came before us. Now, as the Administration comes to a close, I can’t stress enough how necessary and how critical it is that this work continues. It’s up to all of us to make that happen. So keep pushing forward. Keep making gender equality a part of your work. Keep bending the arc toward justice. This work is too important, and too valuable, to end at a five-year anniversary. So let’s make it to 10 years, 20 years, and beyond. And let’s create a future where women and girls truly and finally enjoy peace and security.

Thank you.