Remarks to the 2015 Institute for Inclusive Security Forum

John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL 
Washington, DC
October 15, 2015

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good Afternoon! I join you at a time when the peace and security of men and women around the world have never been in greater peril.

Last year President Obama called on the international community at the UN General Assembly to recognize the world was “at a crossroads,” … a period where the old order is passing and a new order is coming into being.

And again just two weeks ago, President Obama convened Heads of State from more than 100 nations to tackle violent extremism and specifically the abomination of ISIL, which I will refer to hereafter by its Arabic acronym Da’esh.

The leadership of women and their full inclusion is core to that new order. And in the work I have been honored to perform over the past year as the President’s Special Envoy to Counter Da’esh, I have personally emphasized to Prime Ministers, Generals, and ambassadors in the over 30 capitals to which I’ve traveled, one simple message: no nation can emerge from conflict into development and beyond without embracing and harnessing the stabilizing, the creative, and the intellectual forces of 50 percent of its the population … the women.

I made that point repeatedly with Hamid Karzai over the 18 months I commanded our forces in Afghanistan … that sustaining and increasing women’s rights were and remain at the center of preventing the Taliban from re-imposing a radical form of Islam after the drawdown of ISAF forces.

And I continue to make this point now in Coalition capitals around the world in our fight against Da’esh. And during this past year we have joined with 65 nations and international organizations, welcoming Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia just last month … three key countries as Da’esh seeks to expand its global influence and footprint.

I am continually impressed by the diverse group of partners who have taken up this campaign and by the willingness of so many to step up and assume leading roles. We have sent a clear message to Da’esh and to the world:

We refuse to stand idly by its atrocities. We reject its toxic, false ideology. And we abhor its vicious and continued assault on the dignity of men and women, boys and girls alike.

Role of Women and Girls

While the Coalition’s military actions often receive the most attention, it is the aggregate effect of the Coalition’s activities across multiple lines of effort that will … in the end … determine the Coalition’s success. And a central part of that success across our whole strategy to defeat Da’esh is harnessing the power and ensuring the security of women and girls.

Women have unparalleled influence in their communities … over youth, in particular … and are part of our first line of defense for countering radicalization. Through social media, Da’esh is reaching young men and women in their homes. We need mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters to counter those messages in the home as well.

The Coalition is cutting off Da’esh’s financial network. And there are women in virtually every link of this chain. One of the most appalling ways that Da’esh generates income is human trafficking. And they’ve set up a slave trade: buying and selling women and girls like commodities. It’s morally appalling and financially enabling.

Women are crucial in our efforts to combat foreign terrorist fighters. And in this, women will only become more integral as we reach, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the thousands of young men and women who will need our help returning to their homes, many in Coalition capitals … as productive members of society.

Mothers can help get their children home. Mothers can determine if they’re genuinely accepted back into their families. They can encourage their rehabilitation. And, as they do in every part of the world, women will primarily be the ones providing the health and social services that will make all the difference.

Female police and soldiers expand our search and seizure capabilities, improve our understanding of the threat environment, and are essential first responders when disaster does strike.

The bottom line is that to confront this challenge, there will be no one-size-fits-all solution. While we need a global strategy, any successful approach will have to respond to uniquely local social conditions and realities. That means we need women’s voices shaping our approach and working side by side to implement it.

Da’esh has victimized and brutalized women in horrific ways. But if we see women only as victims, we’re overlooking a core resource – the essential partner – in this fight.

When you speak with women directly (and I did regularly as the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan and continue to in my role as envoy), you understand immediately that their perspectives are essential to the success of any mission. You also see how hard they’re fighting to have their voices be heard. I’ve sat across the table from countless Afghan and Iraqi women who would take great offense at the idea that their leadership must come from somewhere outside themselves and their own love for their country.

Extremist groups like the Taliban and Da’esh want us to think that women don’t belong in conversations about peace and security. That’s because repressing women is one of the key ways they seize and hold-on to power.

I’d like to commend the work of the Institute for Inclusive Security and Ambassadors Cathy Russell and Swanee Hunt, and all those gathered this afternoon, for fighting that fight and for working tirelessly in this most pressing and vital endeavor of our time.

You have my eternal thanks for all that you are doing.