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Under Secretary Jenkins – Women and Diversity in Arms Control and International Security
September 29, 2021

Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins’ Remarks to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP)
on ‘
Women and Diversity in Arms Control and International Security’ 

Geneva, September 29, 2021

As Delivered


Thank you, Director Greminger, for inviting me to speak today on the important topic of ‘Women and Diversity in Arms Control and International Security.’  I have long advocated for women’s issues and worked to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility over the course of my career from positions both in and outside of government.  I am pleased to now do so in my current capacity as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

The three bureaus in the T “Family”: Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, or AVC; International Security and Nonproliferation, or ISN; and Political-Military Affairs, or PM, manage the foreign policy component of U.S. global security policy and drives the interagency policy process in the areas of arms control, nonproliferation, cyber security and emerging technologies, regional security, arms transfers, and security cooperation.

These policy areas encompass a wide range of very different issues, and, in my view, our scorecard on them is mixed in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.  The United States and its closest allies have taken some steps to empower women and other marginalized populations in their governments and militaries.  And I am pleased to note that an increasing number of my foreign interlocutors are women or individuals from other marginalized populations.  This is true even in long established and traditional ‘hard security’ fields like security cooperation, arms control, nuclear security.  Unfortunately, we must go further to before we achieve similar levels of diversity from marginalized populations in “hard security” and in newer fields like emerging technology (which includes artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nano-technology and quantum computing) or in the peaceful applications of nuclear technology for civilian use.  Before addressing these disparities in more detail, I would first like to say a few words about the importance of diversity and its relevance to international security.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) 

President Biden has made clear through a number of bold and ambitious initiatives that prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is a U.S. national security imperative.  Through events like today’s we hope to make the case that it is also a global security imperative.

As Secretary Blinken has often noted, diversity and inclusion makes us stronger, smarter, more creative, and more innovative.  And that diversity gives us a significant competitive advantage on the world stage.  Earlier this year he appointed my good friend, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, as the Department’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.  But advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is not just the job of the Department’s senior leaders.  All of America’s diplomats must be mindful of the need for positive change and explain its importance to our partners across the U.S. government and our allies around the world.

Despite the women’s suffrage, liberation, and civil rights struggles of decades past, women and minorities still face anomalous career outcomes in government.  It is time to change that reality.  We all have a responsibility to cultivate a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplace culture where every individual can thrive.

We believe that to effectively represent the United States and address the next generation of foreign policy challenges, American diplomacy must reflect America’s diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.  The Department, and the U.S. Government as a whole, can only effectively advocate on behalf of the American people when it looks like the country it represents.

These are American values, albeit ones we struggle daily to realize.  But I believe we should also work to help them become universal ones.  People of all nations deserve governments that represent and reflect the richness and diversity of their citizens.  And while we cannot tell other governments or their citizens which roads to walk, we can, I hope, agree upon the ultimate destination of a more equitable future for all and offer each other encouragement along the way.

Women and Diversity as a Global Security Imperative

While I have begun with a discussion of the importance of our values as a guiding principle, I also want to stress that it is shared ‘hard security’ interests that drive us to prioritize the role of women and the importance of diversity.  National security experts now consider policy areas as diverse as climate change, food and water security, and health security as central to their work.  Now let me make the case for why women’s issues, gender parity, and diversity also belong on the list.

Although armed conflict and humanitarian disasters adversely and disproportionately affect women and girls, women remain underrepresented in efforts to prevent and resolve conflict and in post-conflict peacebuilding or recovery efforts.  According to the United Nations, between 1992 and 2011, women made up just 2 percent of mediators, 4 percent of witnesses and signatories, and 9 percent of negotiators in formal post-conflict peace talks.  Sadly, this remains true despite growing evidence of a direct correlation between the equality and empowerment of women and a nation’s stability.

Research has also shown that peace negotiations are more likely to succeed, and result in lasting stability, when women participate.  The systemic barriers to their meaningful participation include political under-representation in leadership, pervasive gender-based violence, and persistent economic inequality.  These legal and structural barriers are often reinforced by deeply entrenched social norms that serve to undermine women’s influence and representation.

One statistical measure of this effect is that 14 of the 17 countries that the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development scored lowest on its Index for Gender Discrimination have experienced armed conflict in the last two decades.  This type of insecurity negatively impacts both U.S. national security and that of our partners and allies, as regions of conflict often provide safe haven for terrorists and other illicit actors.  They become arenas for proxy wars or even wars between nation-states.  And they lead to massive population displacement, migration, and further regional instability.

It is far simpler to empower women and other marginalized populations up front, encourage them to play an active role in government, and solicit their perspectives on ‘hard security’ issues than it is to continue to exclude them and deal with the negative consequences for the security of all.  Our journey down the road towards a more equitable future for all requires that we provide women and other marginalized populations with the tools and capabilities they need to engage meaningfully in crisis situations.  Whether they join the conversation before, during, or after a conflict has arisen, their active participation at all levels makes a stable and lasting peace easier to achieve.  The specific tools and strategies we apply will vary based on local conditions and local culture, and the voices of the women on the ground, but it is long past time that women and other marginalized populations have a seat at the table.

U.S. Government Support for Women and Diversity in Arms Control and International Security

For many years the United States has been a leader in the struggle for gender equality.  In 2000 we supported the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, which established the importance of women’s full and equal participation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.  Since then, we have consistently placed women at the center of our arms control and disarmament teams.  The United States has been a proud supporter of the UNGA Resolution on “Women, Disarmament, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation” since its first introduction at the UNGA First Committee in 2010.

We have also led the way in putting women at the forefront at the negotiating table.  One of my predecessors, former Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, did outstanding work during her tenure as the U.S. lead negotiator for New START.  And she completed that groundbreaking nuclear treaty in a short period of time.  I was also proud to join Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and the other women who led our team for the Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia this past July here in Geneva.  We will continue to engage Russia in deliberate and robust discussions that can lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.  This work illustrates the vital contributions to peace and international security that women can make when they are given the opportunity, and when governments make gender equality a policy priority, as the United States has done.

For more than two decades, my agency, the Department of State, has made gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls a key component of U.S. foreign policy.  This reflects American values and contributes to advancing democracy and human rights, economic development, and international peace and security.  The Department has also worked to ensure that gender equality objectives are fully integrated into Department and interagency strategy, planning, and posture documents.

The 2017 passage of the Women, Peace, and Security Act enshrined the U.S. commitment to equal opportunity for women in law.  As the first comprehensive national law of its kind, the WPS Act has promoted the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.  Taken together, these measures demonstrate U.S. Government efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict and fragility, prevent violence and atrocities, and promote stability through strategic policy guidance and training.  We hope that other nations will take note of our example and consider their own national legislation.

The United States has also advocated for policies that support women and girls’ full participation in the STEAM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, which are collectively the foundations of arms control and nonproliferation.  We have made significant progress, but we also know that many best practices have yet to be fully realized.

Support for STEAM is essential if we are to successfully encourage women and other marginalized populations to be engaged in the international security field.

Women and other marginalized populations participation in the science and technology workforce remains a vast untapped source of potential economic growth for all nations.  Our policies can be improved with more varied voices at the table. Women and girls globally should have equal opportunities to pursue an education and vocation in STEAM. And our policy should advocate for investments in gender equitable STEAM education internationally.

Personal Reflections 

Before I conclude I wanted to offer some more personal reflections on the challenges women still face when they pursue careers in international security and weapons of mass destruction arms control, especially in relation to nuclear security.  I have confronted some of these challenges myself, and others have been documented by fellow women national security leaders who are also seeking positive change.

First, too many women and other marginalized populations still encounter a toxic mix of implicit and explicit biases.  Negative attitudes towards and false perceptions of individuals based on their gender or ethnic identity are out of place in governments and institutions founded upon the meritocratic principle.  Harassment and discrimination, which sadly remain prevalent, have no place in the workplace.  These implicit and explicit biases together constitute a ‘gender tax’ that weighs heavily on women in the workplace.

This problem is especially acute for women, people of color, and individuals of marginalized populations, due to intersectionality, or the concept that experiences of discrimination can reinforce each other.  It can be harder to excel when faced with the explicit and implicit bias towards someone who is young, a person of color, or LGBTQ, while also doing the challenging work of international security. Sadly, too many potential future leaders leave the international security field early because they feel alienated, or because they see the lack of faces that look like them in these areas of work.  This loss of precious human capital can and must stop.  It can be rectified, however, through strong leadership, effective mentorship, and individual empowerment.  It also requires no small bit of courage to step up and invest in the people on your team.  It has been my responsibility, and also my privilege, to mentor the next generation of peace and national security professionals and work to increase the representation of women and all minorities who are seeking careers in these fields.  I am pleased that this message is getting out and more and more senior leaders are taking on the responsibility.

For this reason, I strongly commend the work of the GCSP to support this effort, particularly that of Ms. Fleur Heyworth as the Head of Gender and Inclusive Security for the Center.  I understand that my visit to Geneva coincides with a virtual course her group has organized on “Inspiring Women Leaders.”  I also applaud the GCSP’s role as the secretariat for the International Gender Champions initiative, one of founders of which is former U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Pamela Hamamoto.  The GCSP’s contributions are invaluable, especially here in Geneva, where one can still see resistance to the necessary changes I have discussed today.  For example, not long ago a small group of countries blocked what I see as uncontroversial updates to the Conference of Disarmament’s rules of procedure to make them gender inclusive, despite strong support from a vast majority of delegations.

Finally, let me offer a cautionary example.  Michele Flournoy coined the term ‘consensual straight-jacket,’ in her interview for the 2019 New America report, ‘The “Consensual Straitjacket:” Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security.’  This problem arises when women and individuals from marginalized populations accept the false premise that their unique perspective on the issues is not valuable, and that the only perspective that leads to promotion or mission success is that of the current leadership in their field.  Certainly, we should value the wisdom that has been passed down by previous generations of experts, but no individual should ever self-censor or withhold well thought out ideas from the group out of fear of being judged unfairly or experiencing retaliation for expressing an alternative perspective.  Failing to acknowledge this tendency, and fight against it on a daily basis, can lead to costly group think, and other errors of policy and judgment that too comfortable majorities regularly fall prey to.  Since the 1970s we have acknowledged that even the ‘best and the brightest’ can sometimes make astonishingly bad security policy, but we have not yet fully put into place better decision-making processes to prevent this from happening.  Expanding the circle of leadership is the essential first step to making this happen. 


I would like to close on an encouraging note.  Our diversity is our strength and it will lead to better, more innovative policy outcomes over the long term.  The recent attention to this issue is helping to lead positive change, and both leadership and staff are discovering the crucial importance of allyship, or the investment of time and effort in mutual support and accountability as a regular part of the typical workday.  This rethinking of both how we work and how we perceive each other as colleagues is building stronger teams and making our offices more pleasant places to work.  It will still take time, but the future is far brighter for women in international security positions around the world than when I began my career in the early 1990’s.

I remain proud to be the first African American to serve as an Under Secretary in the U.S. Department of State, and therefore the first African American and Woman of Color to be the Under Secretary of Arms Control and International Security.  In addition to managing the foreign policy component of U.S. global security policy, I also plan on using use the opportunities that this position affords to mentor the next generation of women and people of color who are seeking careers in national security.  As the founder and former executive director of the NGO Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, I will continue to advocate tirelessly for the inclusion of women, girls, and individuals of marginalized populations, at all levels and in all aspects of international security, peace building, disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation.  This is a fight worth undertaking, and one that we cannot let rest.  I call on all of us here to join me on the journey towards a more equitable future for all.

Thank you.