On the occasion of Women’s History Month, Michelle Strucke, deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security, spoke on the Participation Of Women in Security and Defense Institutions at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies March 10.
"Before I dive into the benefits and challenges of incorporating diverse perspectives into our national security decision making, I'd like to highlight our Women, Peace and Security program, where much of our work to advance gender equity and equality is centered," she said.
In 2020, the Department of Defense released its first Women, Peace and Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan, also known as the SFIP, which was a critical step in promoting the meaningful inclusion of women across the spectrum of conflict, Strucke said.
The SFIP outlines the department’s internal and external focus areas for the next four years, including, she said:
- Modeling WPS within DOD through its development, management and employment of the Joint Force;
- Supporting DOD's partner nations to advance women’s meaningful participation in their defense and security sectors; and
- Working with partner nation defense and security sectors to ensure women and girls are safe and secure, and that their human rights are protected.
"For the DOD, the benefits to integrating a gender perspective into our defense institutions are clear," the deputy assistant secretary said. "By empowering women in defense and security sectors, the department, alongside its partners and allies, believes we can more effectively achieve our mutual security objectives."
Put simply, she noted, advancing WPS is not just about doing the right thing — it also translates to strategic, operational and tactical gains, making DOD a more effective force.
DOD is committed to working with its partners long-term on increasing the meaningful participation of women in national security, and elevating the unique perspectives and security needs of not just women and girls, but men, boys and differently gendered people in conflict, Strucke said.
"Alongside our partners and allies, the DOD has made a tremendous amount of progress on WPS implementation over the last few decades, and we view WPS principles as integral to advancing prosperity and security in the Western Hemisphere."
Strucke said she's "encouraged by the progress some of our Latin American partners have made in ensuring the meaningful participation of women in their security and defense sectors."
Yet, she added, "We know that challenges remain. Recent reports commissioned by U.S. Southern Command on the status of women in Latin American and Caribbean security and defense sectors highlighted that — despite strong rhetoric and political support for gender equity and equality — WPS principles have not been consistently applied, and lack strong monitoring and evaluation structures."
And while achieving gender balance is a key first step, advancing true gender equity and equality requires more: integrating a gender perspective throughout policies and plans, and addressing gender norms in the security and defense sectors that serve as barriers to recruitment, promotion and retention, Strucke said.
"We're continually working to recruit, promote and retain women throughout the Joint Force," she emphasized. "As of 2021, less than 20% of senior enlisted personnel were women, and women make up less than 25% of our airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors. These discrepancies are the most prominent at senior levels as we work to retain women as they progress in their careers."
Strucke noted that more than half of female officers from 2001 to 2019 left military service after their initial obligation, compared to 33% of men in the same positions.
"This requires a dismantling of the systematic and structural barriers in place by supporting military families, improving access to childcare, creating clear pathways to leadership and addressing gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and assault," she said.
"It also requires us to recognize the intersectionality between recruiting, promoting and retaining women, and our broader diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility work," the deputy assistant secretary said.
"My colleagues in the Office of Personnel and Readiness, as well as senior advisors to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, have done an excellent job of integrating gender into our efforts to address extremism, ensure that LGBTQI+ people are able to serve freely and openly, and work towards a joint force that reflects America's diversity," Strucke said.
The DOD also is continually getting better at integrating gender analysis and a gender perspective into its policies and plans, she said, adding that means shifting the way the U.S. military has traditionally thought about its engagements abroad, incorporating factors like gender into conversations around priorities like strategic competition, climate change and response to emerging crises.
"I am proud that our department has not only prioritized advancing the careers of women in leadership — as you've seen through the nomination of women to two of our four-star combatant commands," Strucke noted. "We've also prioritized establishing an environment where every person is an ambassador for advancing gender, racial and LGBTQIA+ equity across this department and advanced an intersectional approach in our actions with partners abroad."