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Women, Peace, and Security: Gulf Perspectives on Integration, Inclusiveness, and Integrity

Executive Summary

In recent years, governments in the Gulf have mobilized their resources and political clout to lower the institutional barriers that limit women’s inclusion in the public sphere. Much ink has been spilled exploring the reforms’ impact on women’s participation in the workforce, but comparatively little scholarship has investigated how they have influenced their engagement in the national security apparatus. This report aims to fill that gap.

Although many Gulf states have achieved profound progress with regards to the inclusion of women in the workforce, they still fail to fully integrate “women in peacebuilding and security” (WPS). Efforts should include: the treatment of gender as a crosscutting issue; facilitating the participation of women in political processes and institutions; and incorporating appropriate language across institutions to counter narratives that undermine integration. These recommendations should be intimately linked to the Gulf’s broader development plans.

In the latest Women, Peace and Security Index, an assessment of female security and inclusion across the globe, most Gulf states were ranked below the global median. While the UAE ranked 24th, higher than some members of the European Union, Iraq and Yemen were among the lowest five, respectively ranking 166th and 168th; Qatar and Bahrain tied for 97th, and Saudi Arabia was placed 102nd, Oman 110th, Kuwait 123rd, and Iran 125th. Although such indices sometimes conflate important details and fail to give a full contextualization of the reality on the ground, they offer a starting point for delving deeper into issues such as WPS.

What follows—a fusion of three expert roundtables and scholarly research—presents a number of key findings with a focus on nine states —the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Iraq, Iran and Yemen. This report does not constitute a verbatim rendition of discussions and experts’ opinions. Additionally, Additionally, we recognize in our analysis and recommendations that each state has their own sociopolitical context. The recommendations in this report are not a comprehensive survey of issues in all nine states, but rather a general overview of key findings and recurring themes pertaining to WPS across the region.

This report investigates whether “state feminist” policies can promote meaningful female participation in the security field. Gulf states have relied on top-down initiatives such as gender quotas to boost the representation of women in government. However, few of these efforts have been applied in the realm of national security. As a result, comparatively few women work in the field, and those who do often fail to rise very high in the decision-making hierarchy. Moreover, some scholars have questioned whether merely increasing the quantity of women in a particular domain actually improves the quality of their engagement.

In the GCC states, women’s inroads in education have begun to shift their standing in society, but it is doubtful whether progress in scholarship has translated to progress in employment in peacebuilding and the security sector. Depending on dominant educational narratives, it can enhance the status of women or be an obstacle to their progress in WPS.

The report also evaluates the state of grassroots feminism in the Gulf. Hesitant to dismiss the important work of women’s rights advocates in the region, scholars acknowledge that the dearth of large-scale, organized grassroots activism has stymied deeper and wider female empowerment in the Gulf, leaving the state to dictate the terms of women’s advancement.

Some scholars primarily blame the Gulf’s deeply rooted patriarchal traditions for limiting the progress of female empowerment. Social barriers are particularly firm in the national security arena, the most traditionally masculine segment of patriarchal societies. Masculine attitudes and narratives alienate women within the security sector and prevent many from joining in the first place. Conversely, others resist pleas for integration along Western lines, arguing that solutions to such issues should be more sensitive to domestic norms.

The report also explores how integrating women into the security sector could be a remedy for gender-based violence. More women in security means less insecurity for them. It also assesses the role of women in areas of the region plagued by conflict, such as Yemen. It finds that women, despite being disproportionately impacted by violence, tend to be at the forefront of resolving it; continuing to exclude women from diplomatic dialogues will continue to hinder peace.

This report offers a number of policy recommendations to improve the meaningful representation of women in Gulf national security:

  • Ensure full equal meaningful participation and representation of women at all stages of the peace process;
  • Systematically integrate a gender perspective that avoids patriarchal narratives and embraces intersectionality into all stages of analysis, planning, implementation and reporting, including educational curriculums and in national visions;
  • Hire gender advisors specifically for the peacebuilding and security sector;
  • For economic statecraft and aid distribution, demand that women be included as requisite for assistance, a step that some branches of the government such as USAID have already implemented;
  • Institute a hybrid top-down, bottom-up approach ensuring representation along lines of class, race, or other identifiers and;
  • Institute micro-empowerment initiatives to provide resources to women involved in security on a local level.
  • Incorporate a national plan that includes recommendations from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security Agenda”;
  • Establish gender quotas for positions at higher levels of government, granting women more concrete influence over policymaking;
  • Minimize structural barriers to female employment through more targeted job training, family care subsidies, and other reforms;
  • “Increase the number of civilian and uniformed women in peacekeeping at all levels and in key positions,” possibly by instituting recruitment targets or exploring the extension of national military conscription to women to reduce the gender gap; and
  • Explore the non-military, and non-masculine aspect of conflict resolution by using gender in security studies, enabling an exploration of multidimensional aspects of peacekeeping and conflict resolution.

Read the full report here.

Dr. Dania Thafer is the Executive Director of Gulf International Forum. Her area of expertise is on the Gulf region’s geopolitics, US-Gulf relations, and the political economy of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. She is also a Professorial Lecturer at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Thafer been widely published on matters concerning the Arab Gulf states including several articles and publications. She has co-authored two edited books “The Arms Trade, Military Services and the Security Market in the Gulf States: Trends and Implications” and “The Dilemma of Security and Defense in the Gulf Region”. Dr. Thafer is currently writing a book focused on the effect of state-business relations on economic reform in the GCC states. Previously, she worked at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Dr. Thafer has a master’s degree in Political Economy from New York University, and PhD specialized in the Political Economy and International Relations of the GCC states from American University in Washington, DC.


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