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 impacting the participation of women in the workforce, but comparatively little scholarship has investigated how reform efforts have influenced women’s 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. Government reforms 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. It would be beneficial to have these recommendations intimately linked to Gulf states’ broader development plans.
In the Women Peace and Security Index 2021/22, an assessment of women security and inclusion across the globe, most Gulf states were ranked below the global median.1 While the UAE ranked 24th, higher than some members of the European Union, Iraq and Yemen were among the lowest five, ranking 166th and 168th respectively. Qatar and Bahrain tied for 97th, 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 focus on nine states: the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member-states, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. This report does not constitute a verbatim rendition of discussions and expert opinions. Additionally, we appreciate that each state operates within its own socio-political context. The recommendations are not meant to be 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 women participation in the security field. Gulf states have relied on topdown 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 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 academia has translated to progress in employment in the peacebuilding and the security sectors. Depending on dominant educational narratives, it can enhance the status of women or be an obstacle to their progress.
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 women 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 women 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. Other scholars 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 women in these societies. It also assesses the role of women in areas of the region plagued by conflict, such as Yemen. It finds that women are disproportionately impacted by violence, but tend to be at the forefront of resolving it; consequently, including women in diplomatic dialogues represents a major step forward for peacemaking efforts. This report offers a number of policy recommendations to improve the meaningful representation of women in Gulf national security.
- Ensure full, equal, and meaningful participation and representation of women at all levels of peacebuilding and security.
- Systematically integrate a gender perspective that avoids patriarchal narratives and embraces intersectionality at all stages of analysis, planning, implementation and reporting, including in educational curriculums and 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.
- Capacity-build through a hybrid top-down, bottom-up approach that ensures representation along lines of class, race, or other identifiers.
- Lower broader social and cultural barriers to the participation of WPS efforts by extending campaigns beyond security institutions to other cultural areas such as secondary and tertiary education.
- 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 women 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.
- Explore the non-military and non-masculine aspect of conflict resolution by analyzing conflict through the lens of gender in security studies, enabling an exploration of multidimensional aspects of peacekeeping and conflict resolution. These aspects should be incorporated in strategic plans.
- Continue with best practice exchanges with the international community on WPS that enhances the public life of indigenous women on the ground. Ascertain that it does not devolve into unhelpful “virtue signaling.”