House Passes the Women, Peace, and Security Act

The Women, Peace, and Security Act (S. 1141) became a public law at the beginning of October 2017. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that women play meaningful roles in diplomacy and leadership, especially in regions of violent conflict.

The bill recognizes the importance of women as peacemakers in their communities and the power they have in promoting inclusive, democratic societies. If signed into law, this bipartisan legislation would establish gender equality as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) first introduced the bill to the Senate in May. It then passed the Senate body without amendment in early August. The bill is the Senate-companion bill to H.R. 2484, which passed the House earlier this session.

The Women, Peace, and Security Act is really a culmination of years of bipartisan work throughout the course of several administrations. Versions of this bill have been presented in past sessions; in fact, a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy was the implementation of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Like the S. 1141, the executive order was established to promote global gender integration as a means of conflict prevention and peace-building.

A wealth of research demonstrates the successful outcomes gleaned from the participation of women in leadership roles. Women in conflict-affected areas have been shown to be effective in combatting violent extremism, countering terrorism and resolving disputes through nonviolent negotiation. Furthermore, the presence of women in government is critical in the creation of sustainable, democratic policies in post-conflict relief scenarios.

When women are invited to participate in decision-making, the whole community is elevated. Studies suggest a positive correlation between a country’s gender equality and the strength of its economy. Thus, not only would women in leadership promote global security, but it would also fight poverty.

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stands firmly behind the Women, Peace, and Security Act. He is concerned, however, about the current foreign aid budget. The new budget would see funding reduced by more than one third.

He said of the proposed cuts, “The Administration’s budget proposal would slash funding for diplomacy and development to dangerous levels, and a current redesign effort at the State Department might strip out initiatives like women, peace, and security. I hope that won’t happen.”

Indeed, with mounting evidence to verify the importance of female leaders, programs that endorse the progress of women cannot afford to be forgotten in a time of such global upheaval. Were this bill to pass into law, it would reaffirm the United States’ stance on gender equality. Furthermore, it would pave the way for comprehensive global policies that sustain peace and economic security.

Micaela Fischer
Photo: Flickr

Help People in MexicoIn 2014, the Mexican government reported that poverty within the country rose to 46.2 percent —  nearly half the population living below the poverty line. For the country with a population of just over 123 million, the startling percentage is equivalent to over 55 million people living in poverty. These people are defined as living on less than 2,542 pesos or $157.70 per month.

Despite nearly 80 percent of the population living in urban areas, mainly in or around the capital Mexico City, four percent of the population has unimproved drinking water and 15 percent has unimproved sanitation facilities.

Here are four nonprofits advocating, fundraising and working on the ground to help people in Mexico.

1. Children International

Working in ten countries around the world including Mexico, Children International is a nonprofit focused on helping kids living in poverty. With over 70 community centers and over 9,000 volunteers worldwide, Children International provides children living in poverty with assistance in health, education and employment through empowering programs and resources.

The long-term impacts aim to help break the cycle of poverty. Their website offers a number of ways to get involved including sponsoring a child by donating $32 a month, making a single donation or volunteering at one of their community centers.

2. Feed the Hungry

Relying on almost entirely private donations, Feed the Hungry delivers meals and nutrition education to children throughout San Miguel, Mexico. Through school meals, family education programs and community events, the nonprofit aims to alleviate poverty in the poorest communities. Feed the Hungry operates kitchens partnered with schools in 33 communities.

Most recently in 2017, they opened new kitchens in Moral de Puerto de Nieto, Los González, Puerto de Sosa and Nuevo Pantoja, feeding more than 400 additional children every day. You can help people in Mexico with Feed the Children by sponsoring a school kitchen, advocating throughout your community or volunteering on the ground.


PEACE (Protection and Education: Animals, Culture, and Environment) is a nonprofit working in the Bay of Banderas, Mexico, to increase educational and economic opportunities in developing areas. To support improved quality of life, the nonprofit runs programs consisting of topics ranging from community education to Mexican culture preservation to environmental protection.

You can get involved by donating to the organization or volunteering for the company remotely or on the ground.

4. PVAngels

Focused on uplifting the communities in Puerto Vallarta, PVAngels combines activity-driven events with fundraising to create community awareness. The money raised goes to charities focusing on a variety of issues including environmental issues, health care, education, family assistance and recreation services.

You can help people in Mexico by donating to any one of PVAngels’ charities or volunteering as a “partner for change” assisting directly the communities in Puerto Vallarta.

By utilizing nonprofits as well as individual volunteers to help people in Mexico, Mexico’s future will hopefully be a flourishing one.

Riley Bunch

Photo: Flickr

The media’s obsession with Pablo Escobar and Colombia of the 1980s fails to highlight the massive achievements Colombia had in recent decades. Legitimate progress has been made in improving basic security and economic conditions. While Colombians in previous generations lived amidst some of the worst poverty and violence in all of the Americas, this has changed over the past 15 years. In 2016, the homicide rate in Colombia dropped to its lowest level since 1974.

International aid groups working with local communities were an indispensable part of these improving conditions. This stability has allowed for the government to seek a peace agreement with the FARC jungle insurgency that has been waging a guerilla war against the government for over half of a century. Here are five ways USAID can help build sustainable peace in Colombia.

Five Ways USAID Can Help Build Sustainable Peace in Colombia

  1. Delivering the $450 million of peace aid promised by the Obama administration that was recently allocated by Congress, can help achieve a more stable community. The Secretary of State still has the power to restrict funds and the Trump administration has considered reducing the total USAID budget by 30 percent, putting Colombia’s peace funds at risk. Colombian politicians to the right of conservative President Juan Manuel Santos have even tried to appeal to the U.S. Congress to freeze aid. A bipartisan effort must be made to protect the fragile peace in Colombia by continuing to grow the return on the aid investment in the country.
  2. Peace can be reached through increased protection of persecuted groups. Although homicides have been at a 45-year low, the targeted killing of labor organizers, human rights activists and former combatants has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2016, there were 116 human rights workers killed, and 7,000 FARC members have yet to be reintegrated back into society. These killings undermine the rule of law fundamental to democracy and silence those trying to make necessary reforms.
  3. Syria is the only place with more internally displaced people than Colombia. Whenever possible, USAID should facilitate ways to help people move back to their homes. One successful land restitution initiative depended on ensuring owners land deeds and then paying them to improve their own abandoned farms, this way poor farmers could afford to stay and invest in their home for the season.
  4. Supporting Crop Substitution Programs, like Cacao for Peace, help farmers develop a sustainable living by teaching them to cultivate alternative crops to replace the illicit drug economy. Areas deep in FARC territory were previously not eligible to receive development funds spent in “pacified areas.” The scorched earth policy of dropping pesticides on coca fields has not worked. Coca crops have increased by 38 percent since the beginning of Plan Colombia. However, USAID’s track record developing crop substitution in pacified areas has been stellar. USAID’s Nebraska Mission aimed to teach rose farming to poor farmers. Fifty years later, roses are a billion dollar vital export industry for Colombia.
  5. Displaced people in Colombia generally move from the countryside to the city. When displaced residents living in makeshift slums outside Cartagena organized for better conditions, they were able to convince USAID to purchase ground for them to build what would become known as the “City of Women.” Women learned construction techniques, built a city, and were rewarded with deeds to their own homes. This not only empowers women economically, it helps them compete in the labor market. Now, it’s a model the government wants to replicate in other parts of the country.

There are considerable challenges to building a sustainable peace in Colombia. From reintegrating FARC members from the world’s oldest guerrilla war back into society to helping the nearly seven million internally displaced Colombians find adequate housing. However, these challenges shouldn’t discourage us from acting. Critics should note that extreme poverty was halved in Colombia from 2002-2014.

In the 1980s, Colombia was a failing state, today it is a stable American ally with a growing economy and a young fragile peace.

Jared Gilbert

Photo: Flickr

New Deal Promotes PeaceThe traditional conception of foreign aid simply involves transferring funds to a foreign government, but this model proved extremely limited in its effectiveness in weak states. As a consequence, the recognized government has limited ability to exercise authority and doesn’t possess a full monopoly on the use of force. A new deal promotes peace, though, and has the potential to improve these shortcomings.

One way that governments have attempted to address these issues is through the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, signed by over 40 countries at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea in 2011. The New Deal promotes peace in the hopes that increased societal stability will lead to development.

In 2014, then-UN General Assembly President John Ashe said that “stability and peace are essential enablers of sustainable development, just as violence is one of its greatest obstacles.”

In accordance with the idea that peace and development are inextricably linked, the New Deal established Five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) that both strong and fragile states committed to pursuing in states with weak institutions: legitimate and inclusive politics, justice, security, revenue and services and economic foundations.

The project was based upon the notion that civil society, development partners and government can work together for development. For the last five years, the New Deal worked on how to better integrate civil society into the peace-building process as a central actor, rather than one on the periphery. As a framework, the New Deal promotes peace and can be used by countries as a means to effectively implement sustainable development.

Unfortunately, while lofty in ideals, the implementation of the PSGs and the New Deal has had mixed levels of success. As each country faces different types and levels of fragility, integrating New Deal policies with existing frameworks can be difficult; and, assessing that fragility requires comprehensive engagement with the population.

Additionally, the technocratic tendencies of the New Deal could oftentimes hamper dialogue and meaningful participation of civil society.

While yet imperfect, commitment to the New Deal remains strong, as countries realize the necessity to address peace and development in conjunction with one another. Therefore, societies cannot experience growth and development without a responsive and resilient state.

For the 1.4 billion people who live in fragile states today, there is still much work that remains to be done. The building of stable institutions requires time, political capital, prolonged commitment and country leadership. In the context of the New Deal, peace and development must be pursued, in conjunction with one another, in order to establish stable institutions and resilient growth.

Adam Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

famine in south sudan
According to the World Food Programme, 2.8 million people are experiencing famine in South Sudan. That is roughly one-fourth of the country’s population.

With the country on the brink of famine, approximately half the population or 6 million people will need humanitarian assistance or protection.

As the world’s youngest country, South Sudan has been facing serious difficulty since civil war broke out. It was less than three years old when the violence escalated. As a result, more than 2 million people, one-fifth of the country’s population have been displaced, with over 700,000 of the displaced seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

The displacement has prevented farming in a country with favorable climate and adequate rainfall as farming takes time and planning in one place.


One short-term solution to addressing the imminent famine in South Sudan is to increase relief aid. Fortunately, the United States provided $86 million of relief aid for South Sudan on April 27, 2016.

However, other factors continue to negatively impact relief efforts. Extortion takes place at illegal checkpoints throughout the country. In addition, at least 52 relief workers have lost their lives since the civil war broke out.

On April 13, 2016, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: “[M]aintaining a spirit of cooperation will be crucial as the country’s leaders begin the work of reversing the years of destruction this conflict has brought upon the people of South Sudan.”

On the other hand, ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) has expressed misgivings on any peace deals, stating for that the South Sudan peace deal in August of 2015 was signed by “the political elites who created this conflict in the first place . . . and has little to do with the millions of people who have been affected.”

Therefore, the remedy requires something more than just food and funding because South Sudan has extensive means to feed its population.

The long-term answer to addressing the famine in South Sudan is unquestionably peace.

Roughly 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited while South Sudan has the world’s lowest rate of children ages 5-16 in school. As the United Nations and U.S. law-makers suggest, effectively establishing peace is of the utmost importance for this country.

Jonathan L. Hull

Photo: Flickr

Sharing Land DRCSharing the Land is a peacekeeping initiative started by the Christian Bilingual University of Congo in January 2015. Funded by Texas A&M University’s Center for Conflict and Development (ConDev) and USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network, the organization has made enormous strides in peacefully settling land disputes in one of Beni’s 30 quarters in eastern Congo.

Sharing the Land uses GIS and GPS mapping technology to compile land claim and conflict data as well as road names, neighborhood boundaries, geographic features and points of interest. Data comes from household surveys and government records. The maps are already being used to settle land disputes between individuals, families and large companies in Beni.

Archip Lobo, Sharing the Land’s project leader, grew up in eastern Congo amidst violence and severe abuse of human rights, much of which revolved around land disputes. Though the country has a tragic and ongoing history of violence, Lobo felt that land disputes were preventable and not a grounds for continued, unhindered violence.

Rampant conflicts over land began when King Leopold of Belgium usurped much of the land from Congolese chiefs and initiated a tyrannous rule over eastern Congo in the late 1800s. With a new form of governance entangled in the traditional ways of land management, violence became prevalent.

In the years since Congo gained its independence from Belgium on Jun. 30, 1960, the country has endured great instability, insecurity, corruption and pervasive violation of human rights. Removing land disputes as a cause for violence is a step in the right direction for bringing Congo towards a peaceful future.

Sharing the Land provides Beni with data-driven land management practices instead of relying on differing traditions or interpretations of inheritance rights. While the project aims to bring peace through nonviolent land dispute resolutions, it is also reducing disputes in the first place by making the information publicly available and educating all those involved in urban planning.

According to Texas A&M, 85 percent of court cases in Beni relate to land disputes. The Sharing the Land initiative is already making progress to reduce this statistic in Beni.

This project has two immediate benefits. First, official maps using government data help to standardize the land purchasing process. It also enables land managers to continue to add and update data on the stable ArcGIS platform so that land ownership can be accurately and reliably documented.

Aside from using GIS software to map the land, the Sharing the Land project is encouraging community leaders, government professionals, civil society organization representatives, lawyers and the greater community to collaborate in understanding the origins and consequences of land conflict and together engineer viable solutions.

To date, with the help of ConDev and USAID, Sharing the Land has mapped 531 land parcels and documented 29 conflicts. This year, the organization will collaborate with UN-Habitat to provide land management training to government officials in several Congo provinces in an effort to strengthen and standardize urban planning.

Sharing the Land envisions that this new aspect of the project will position a new generation of government officials to enforce and continue to develop peaceful and sustainable land management practices.

Mary Furth

Sources: IRIUCBC, Codev Center 1, USAID, Codev Center 2, USAID, Eastern Congo

Preserving Tibet
For many centuries, Tibet lay peacefully on the Tibetan Plateau, its people cultivating a sense of community that lived a life of peace with their leader, the Dalai Lama. However, with increased globalization and pressure for development, their migratory way of life and secluded nature no longer seemed feasible in the grand scheme of things, and their neighbor China invaded them. This invasion forced several Tibetan people to seek refuge in the village of Dharamsala, a small part of northern India. It became home to the Dalai Lama and his followers, but several Tibetans still attempt to live on the Tibetan plateau and are constantly fighting the arrest and destruction that China has thrust upon them.

For those few remaining souls, life can be very difficult as they face increasing pressure to either join China, be arrested, or flee to Dharamsala, leaving their homes and families behind. The main reason these individuals must make a decision is because they have very limited means of supporting themselves. After living in a migratory way for the majority of their lives, adapting to the new landscape, which includes a train that goes directly to China, has become very difficult. Some Tibetans are attempting to preserve their culture by acting as tour guides and performers, but with limited access, this is becoming a job that only few can hold. Luckily, there is an NGO that is willing to help.

The Bridge Fund (TBF) is an organization that is “working to improve the lives of Tibetan communities in China through locally driven, integrated development programs and overarching initiatives. The program supports education, health care, cultural heritage preservation, environmental conservation and business development. TBF exists to literally bridge resources technical, financial and advisory for Tibetan communities so they can meet their own economic, social, cultural and environmental needs.”

TBF allows local Tibetans to produce goods that can be sold in stores throughout the world. It also strives to preserve Tibetan heritage and has recently launched a music and mural preservation initiative that has proven to be very successful. By providing business education to Tibetans young and old, The Bridge Fund is succeeding in making Tibetans more independent as they face hardships imposed by China. By providing counsel and connections, the organization is effectively creating business-savvy individuals who will be able to compete on the global market while simultaneously preserving their own culture.

Several other Tibet-based NGOs have come into effect and have been working alongside The Bridge Fund to help the Tibetan people preserve and protect what is rightfully theirs. While it is understandable that China may want to push their borders further west in order to accommodate a growing population, it is imperative to understand the importance of preserving a nation that is home to a rich cultural background. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you cannot help them, at least do not hurt them.” This is a prime opportunity to help people who, at the present moment, are struggling to help themselves.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: The Bridge Fund, International Campaign for Tibet
Photo: Karmapa

Albania is known for its quirks and major differences if, indeed, it is mentioned at all. It is a smaller country that can be found in the Balkan Peninsula with a population of approximately three million. One of the first things to remember about this country is that a nod means “no” and shaking the head in the other direction means “yes.” The second thing to remember is if there is a stuffed toy hanging from a building, it ought not to be removed.

Yes, in this country, weather-beaten rabbits are hung by their ears, scarecrow-looking objects are posted by balconies and they are very important in keeping the peace of mind of Albanian cities. Like many Middle Eastern countries, these inhabitants seek to protect themselves against the Evil Eye.

The instrument that is used to provide this kind of protection is called the dordolec and the soft toys are also called kukull. Elizabeth Gowing, a reporter for the BBC, interviewed an owner of a furniture store: “‘It stops the evil eye from seeing our money,’… He explains that at first, he hadn’t hung a monkey up when he was building this place. ‘And then the police came. My son went out and bought a monkey and we’ve not had any trouble since.’”

The idea behind this practice is that the passer-by fixates on the dordolec and thus does not covet the property of the house it belongs to. There’s no direct correlation between these objects and a religious belief per se.

Michael Harrison from the U.K. says, “In Albania, such beliefs can be found in all religious communities, Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic – in fact, I encountered less examples of the dordolec in the north, in the area around Skhodër, where the Catholic Church is particularly strong.”

Religion doesn’t always relate directly to the customs of a country. A writer from the travel blog, A Dangerous Business, says, “In fact, most of Albania’s current reality can be traced back to that paranoid leader, Enver Hoxha, who ruled with increasing suspicion of the wider world until his death in 1985.” In driving through Albania, one might see numerous bunkers because Enver Hoxha generally isolated himself and had a strong fear of the outside world.

Now, visitors of Albania can expect to be welcomed with open arms with the natural expectation that national customs will be learned and respected.

Anna Brailow

Sources: BBC, Dangerous Business, Michael Harrison
Photo: Flickr

Marathon Stars to Join Kenya Peace March to End Violence
Aegis Trust hopes to unite the youth of Kenya and to inspire those of Africa to end the violence that is dividing countries. In the last two years, 72 of every 1,000 people in Kenya’s population of 45 million had a mobile device. Also, 39 out of every 1,000 had Internet access. In a country connecting with the world like never before, popular icons are joining a movement and encouraging others to follow in a peace-building opportunity.

The 522-mile Kenya peace march is scheduled to last 22 days as it takes world-famous athletes, their fans and many others through Turkana, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo and Samburu. The Walk for Peace began July 15, 2015 and will end on August 6, 2015. Big-name contributors include John Kelai, Wilson Kipsang, Tegla Loroupe, Paul Tergat, Ezekiel Kemboi, Irine Jerotich, Andrew Lesuuda, Alex Kipchirchir, Stephen Kiprotich and Douglas Wakiihuri.

A torch lit to signify peace and humanity is to be handed from walker to walker across 25 miles daily. Halie Gebreselassie, who beat the 5,000-meter world record in 1995 by 11 seconds, is a star from Ethiopia who will join the race on its last day in August. In the meantime, others will be leading the peace march.

Commonwealth Marathon champion John Kelai organized the march. He did so in memory of his three uncles, who were murdered in cattle raids. Armed violence, including theft and cattle rustling, has been dividing ethnic groups in the North Rift Valley of Kenya.

Cattle raids have left hundreds dead and have caused 220,000 people to flee their homes. This growing offense is recruiting the country’s youth. Boys as young as eight are involved in theft, cattle rustling and other conflicts.

About 37,000 school children have seen violence; statistics were provided by the Kenyan National Union of Teachers. Commissioner Peter Okwanyo of Baringo County has recorded that some children between the ages of 12 and 17 possess illegal weaponry and are participating in violence.

This activity is made possible as boys drop out of school and need to make an income. When opportunities are not available, one way to make money is to raid cattle. When cattle die due to lack of sustenance and extensive drought periods, raids replace the loss.

Since northern Kenya lacks a strong police force, residents are armed to reinforce security. Trading weaponry is made possible thanks to Kenya’s neighbors in Somalia and other militants linked to al-Qaeda. The worst attack on police in Kenya’s history took place in 2012, when 32 officers were killed in an ambush.

Aegis Trust helped to organize the march for peace. The charity hopes to raise $250,000 to fund the reconstruction of communities affected by violence. Its hope is to recruit 10,000 youth members who are at risk and to protect the North Rift Valley from further damage.

Aegis Trust unites youth and those with conflicting interests in schools and communities by detailing the consequences of violence. The charity built a mobile exhibition that educates young people about the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The foundation is committed to preventing genocide by investing in rural communities.

Providing a platform for donations and contributions, is the place to learn how to participate, donate and fundraise for the cause. It hopes to extend the message enforced by Aegis Trust and the history of Rwanda. Exchanges between Kenyan and Rwandan youth are taking place.

Peace ambassadors, local workshops and community events are conversing about peace-building and communicating the message to others. Professor Lokapel Elim, the chairman of the Steering Committee and principal of Mount Kenya University, describes the march as a means to “experience forgiveness … The experience of speaking out against hatred, the impact that Aegis has, actually will change the thinking of our people.”

Athletes are also walking for women’s contributions to society and peace advocacy efforts. They hope to attract and hold the attention of religious activists who have the capability to influence peace in their communities. The most important target is the youth of the nation and their capability to sustain peace.

Katie Groe

Sources: The Guardian, Aegist Trust, Walk For Peace, World Bank, Indiegogo, Reuters, Daily Nation, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

In war-stricken places, we often see a desensitization and even normalization of violence among the people, particularly in younger generations. The results of a survey conducted at Afghanistan’s Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education further supports this idea: the survey found that when confronted with violent actions or words, 58 percent of the targeted students would “take revenge.” With that said, 91 percent of students surveyed believed that their country will be peaceful in the future, a vision that could become more likely as the Gawharshad Institute rolls out a mandatory class encouraging peaceful resolutions.

The Gawharshad Institute, in response to the confirmation of this theory, has developed a curriculum to change this thought process and to encourage more positive, beneficial ways of coping. Students are now required to take a “Peace-Building and Conflict Resolution” class. Similar programs have been put into place in smaller elementary and high schools, but the Gawharshad Institute is the first to gain approval from the Ministry of Higher Education. The program focuses on major pathways for violence, such as land disputes. By catering the program specifically to the types of problems students currently see and will most likely see after graduation, students gain realistic and implementable tools that in the long run, and with more widespread popularity of the program, could help alleviate some of the problems the country faces with violence.

Of course, violence is generally both an outcome and a cause for developmental challenges, and so to completely lift the country out of the violent cycle it has been stuck in for decades, more systematic change is needed. However, education is one of the leading solutions for improving the conditions of developing countries. In the widespread chaos that followed the U.S. invasion of 2001, Afghanistan’s education system has faced complete turmoil as staff fled and few children attended school. Since then, education in Afghanistan has been one of the major standout points for the country. Attendance and acquisition rates are some of the highest in Afghanistan’s history. As students learn peaceful negotiation and de-escalation tactics and put these new skills to use in their future careers, Afghanistan will see a change in its general way of thinking in relation to violence. Though the high incidence of conflict is directly related to governmental problems, such as a lack of power and control, as these students graduate and develop their careers, some likely in government, the country as a whole will likely become less violent.

Though it may take a while for the results and implications of the program to become obvious, the course, if proven effective, may serve as a model for schools around the world. The idea of teaching real-life skills to prepare students to excel in the real world is the focus of such higher education institutions, so it would make sense that in places where violence is such a huge part of life, emphasis is put on keeping it abnormal and providing alternative tools for coping.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Foreign Policy, USAID
Photo: Our Journey to Smile