Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 276 female students from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, marked an important transition in the Nigerian and global fight against violent extremism, and offers a useful lens into the vagaries of Trump’s policies on women, peace and security in Africa. His administration provided support to Nigeria’s armed forces, although the much-talked-about sale of sophisticated fighter aircraft did not materialize during his tenure. President Buhari reportedly said at the time that the US was “the biggest contributor to the humanitarian response” to the insurrection in the country’s northeast region. The United States (US) government also granted US visas to a handful of “Chibok girls” to allow them to migrate to and study in the US.

Three years on, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Act that recognized women’s important role in peacebuilding.1Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-68, 131 Stat. 1202 (2017), https://www.congress.gov/115/plaws/publ68/PLAW-115publ68.pdf. Significantly, it also made the US the first United Nations (UN) member state to domesticate UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a national law. However, as Mariatu Santiago incisively notes, surrounding events raised questions about the prospects of a gender-inclusive security strategy. The US government missed the deadline for outing an allied strategy for the implementation of the  Women, Peace, and Security Act and its Africa Security Strategy did not reflect the logic behind the Act. The delayed appointment of the Ambassador of the Office of Global Women’s Issues was considered telling. Read alongside Trump’s derisive 2018 comments about African countries and his controversial remarks about women, these factors raised concerns about his and his administration’s commitments to peace and security on the continent with an emphasis on women.

When the Trump administration eventually launched the Women, Peace and Security Strategy in mid-2019, it drew equal amounts of censure and commendation. It aimed to address inconsistencies in women’s participation in peacebuilding across the world by increasing their participation in conflict negotiation and mediation processes. However, the strategy was undermined in its infancy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “refusal to commit to including Afghan women in US-led negotiations with the Taliban.” Further concerns comprised the Trump administration’s terse relationship with the UN (a key implementing partner), its cutting of funding—including for multilateral interventions—and the sidelining of women, peace and security issues from its broader security policies. Trump’s seeming predilection for a “(masculinized) militarization of global security” was also noted as an assault on the global women, peace, and security agenda. This contrasted with  growing civil society pressure for states to move away from primarily kinetic responses to conflict toward the involvement of diverse actors—notably women—with intersectional and contextualized peacebuilding knowledge.

Parallel to this policy process, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reportedly “invested over $200 million in programming aligned with the WPS [women, peace and security] Strategy” from 2017 to 2019.2“Statement by USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa on the Release of the USAID Women, Peace, and Security Strategy Implementation Plan,” USAID, June 11, 2020, https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/jun-11-2020-usaid-aa-john-barsa-release-usaid-women-peace-security. This figure included $27 million in funding for activities to promote women’s meaningful participation in peace processes; cater to the needs of women and girls affected by violent extremism; and ramp up protection for women and girls in areas of crisis, conflict, and instability. In a statement on the release of the USAID Women, Peace, and Security Strategy Implementation Plan, then USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa said the agency viewed its programming as complementary to the Trump administration’s “efforts…to advance the security and success of women around the world, including the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.”3“Statement,” USAID. The US Africa Command also continued to integrate women, peace and security into its cooperation with African security actors, including through gender trainings.4Brenda Law and Cori Fleser, “AFRICOM Develops New Tool to Measure Progress of Women, Peace, and Security,” United States Africa Command, January 11, 2018, https://www.africom.mil/article/30281/africom-develops-new-tool-to-measure-progress.

However, as many have observed, the Trump administration seemed more focused on and invested in building peace through the economic “empowerment” of Africa and the world’s women. His daughter and then adviser Ivanka set up the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, or “Ivanka Fund,” in October 2017 to “address financial and non-financial constraints faced by women-owned/led small and medium enterprises in developing countries.”5“Who We Are,” Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, https://we-fi.org/who-we-are/. As of December 2020, the Fund had allocated $300 million to beneficiaries in 39 countries, 65 percent of which are considered low-income or fragile states.6“2020 Annual Report,” Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, 24, https://we-fi.org/annual-report-2020/ It had plans to expand the number of beneficiaries to 60 countries in a few years. The fund was followed by the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), also spearheaded by Ivanka, which launched in February 2019 with the aim of reaching “50 million women in the developing world by 2025 through U.S. government activities, private-public partnerships, and a new, innovative W-GDP Fund.”7“Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative,” US Department of State, https://www.state.gov/wgdp-2. This was the focus of her Africa trip in April 2019,8Landry Signé, “A Trump Visit to Africa Is Important—And Carries Some Urgency,” Brookings, April 19, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/a-trump-visit-to-africa-is-important-and-carries-some-urgency/./ref] during which she met with high-level African Union officials.9“The African Union and United States of America Forge Closer Collaboration on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship,” African Union, April 15, 2019, https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20190415/african-union-and-united-states-america-forge-closer-collaboration-womens. This initiative was recognized as an important effort to bolster women’s economic participation and was reported to have reached 24 million women in its first two years—a figure that suggests its impact was measured quantitatively, not qualitatively.10Adva Saldinger, “What Has Trump’s Flagship Women’s Initiative Achieved So Far?,” Devex, March 26, 2020, https://www.devex.com/news/what-has-trump-s-flagship-women-s-initiative-achieved-so-far-96829./ref]

However, the program’s underlying logic reenacts problematic development-era thinking that greater economic power has a direct causal effect on women’s autonomy. As I pointed out in a recent article on the need to rethink responses to women’s displacement in the Boko Haram conflict,[ref]Titilope Ajayi, “Women, Internal Displacement and the Boko Haram Conflict: Broadening the Debate,” African Security 13, no. 2 (2020): 171–94, https://doi.org/10.1080/19392206.2020.1731110. having more money may not affect women’s status in contexts where strong gender norms prevail. On the contrary, greater economic power can heighten women’s vulnerability to sexual and gender violence by men who feel emasculated by it, thus challenging the presumption that empowerment—a complex notion—leads to peaceful and stable societies. The program was also critiqued for its low starting budget and its narrow thematic scope, among others.

Women, peace and security is a broad field of activity that transcends multiple issues and cannot be meaningfully addressed through single-focus interventions, top-down infrastructures, or one-size-fits-all approaches. Going forward, there is a need for deeper integration of multilevel initiatives (local, national, regional and global) as well as interventions that holistically target different aspects of women’s lives.

The importance of robust policies, leadership, and implementation on women, peace, and security cannot be overstated. As is well documented, Africa currently hosts more conflicts than any other part of the world and its women and girls bear their impacts disproportionately, including through aggravated sexual violence and prolonged and difficult displacement. As violent extremism continues to spread and intensify, women, peace and security must be a core priority of national and international agendas, and not just a marginal issue. Women’s roles in conflict have a bearing on security for all and must be prioritized and handled with the requisite attention.

The election in the US of the first nonWhite female Vice President was widely hailed as a milestone for women in American politics.[ref]“What the Election of Kamala Harris Means to the Future of Women in Politics,” Rutgers Today, November 9, 2020, https://www.rutgers.edu/news/what-election-kamala-harris-means-future-women-politics. Beyond the US, it also induced speculation on what this could mean for the country’s policy on women elsewhere. The Biden administration would do well to extend its commitment to women beyond the symbolic through substantive and comprehensive support to those actors doing critical transformative work on the ground in conflict-affected African countries, leading by the power of example.

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