As the Biden-Harris administration begins to develop and implement gender-focused policies across the federal government, it is a good time to deepen commitments to gender equality in policymaking, and fully empower the White House Gender Policy Council. In foreign policy and national security, this means both implementing existing requirements for gender analysis across the relevant agencies and ensuring that those requirements apply to all government decision-making.

Current Legal Framework for Gender Analysis

There are currently three laws that mandate gender analysis as part of foreign and/or development policy. These laws, however, are agency- or issue-specific, and do not provide an overall government requirement to use gender analysis.  The laws are:

  • The Women Peace and Security Act of 2017 (WPS Act) ensures that the U.S. promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict. To accomplish this, among other things, the WPS Act mandates the use of gender analysis to improve program design in four key national security and foreign policy institutions: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)
  • The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 (WEEE Act) mandates that U.S. international development-cooperation policy shall be gender-focused, and affirms women’s right to own and control land and property, to live free of violence, and to access the financial tools they need to start and grow businesses. It also requires that all international development work done by the U.S. government (with a focus on USAID) is subject to a gender analysis from planning and project design to measurement and evaluation.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) references the gender analysis requirements of both the WPS Act and the WEEE Act. It also mandates the participation of women in the capacity-building activities of security-cooperation programs in several ways, including incorporating gender analysis and women, peace, and security priorities into educational and training programs, and integrating gender analysis into security sector policy, planning, and training for national security forces involved in such partnerships. With regard to post-conflict engagement on human rights in Afghanistan, the NDAA further mandates that activities use gender analysis and rigorous monitoring and evaluation methodologies. 

While these laws provide guidance to departments with regard to specific activities — gender and conflict, gender and economic opportunity, and gender and development — they are far from an overarching mandate to employ gender analysis across all national security and foreign policy agencies in the U.S. government, and they have yet to be fully implemented.

What is Gender Analysis?

Gender analysis is a socioeconomic analysis of quantitative and qualitative information to identify, understand, and explain differences in access, opportunity, and impact between people because of an individual’s identity. Such an analysis includes looking at a variety of factors, including gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, economic status, education level, ability, and other factors.

In the context of foreign and/or development policy, a gender analysis examines the differences that exist (or do not) between women, men, girls, and boys in terms of:

  • access to and control over assets, resources, education, opportunities, and services;
  • access to and control over technology and the internet;
  • norms on how people divide their time between paid and unpaid work;
  • constraints, opportunities, and entry points for leadership roles and decision-making;
  • prevalence and impact of violence; and
  • potential differential impacts of development policies and programs, including unintended or negative consequences.

This type of analysis takes into account how women and men live and work, what they do to support their families and communities, and the constraints that they are under in doing so. Gender analysis should also include conclusions and recommendations to inform national security policies and interventions to 1) narrow these differences based on gender, 2) increase gender equality, and 3) improve the lives of women and girls.

Next Steps

While these mandates for gender analysis exist, and the White House announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council, it’s unclear how gender analysis will inform U.S. government policies. In order to ensure impact, we recommend the Biden-Harris administration take the following steps:

  • Empower and fund the White House Gender Policy Council: While previous iterations have focused on domestic issues and departments, the new council needs to ensure a partial focus on foreign policy and, more importantly, ensure that the United States is consistent across domestic and international policies regarding women, girls, and gender equality. U.S. values at home must match the values we promote across the globe, whether it is preventing gender-based violence or providing access to comprehensive reproductive health care or economic opportunity.
  • Embed gender expertise in each department at the highest level: All departments should ensure responsibility for the gender portfolio and agenda at the highest possible level by designating a full-time point person on these issues, reporting to the secretary or agency head. These gender advisors should play a critical role in effective policy and program development and should have gender expertise. While the White House Gender Policy Council is a great first step, this is not enough to develop and implement government-wide, gender-focused policies.
  • Ensure gender training for all staff: All national security and foreign policy entities should create at least one entry-level course on gender analysis for staff. In addition, a gender focus should be integrated into all courses at the Foreign Service Institute, USAID University, and military schools and academies. This includes training for incoming Foreign Service officers. Additional, ongoing gender training should be available by sector, in the field, and online. This is in addition to the requirement of the WPS Act that “appropriate” personnel receive training in conflict prevention, protecting civilians, and international human rights law.
  • Require gender analysis: The president should mandate gender analysis in every decision memo that comes to him and that goes to the heads of foreign policy and national security entities. The President’s Daily Brief should include a gender analysis of each issue presented. Further, gender analysis should be used to analyze the impact of government funding and resources, policy frameworks, and their implementation. There must be new ways to measure accountability regarding the participation of women in security, political, and economic processes, and to track U.S. government budget expenditures, as well as measure outcomes. Further, all relevant entities should collect sex-disaggregated data about program implementation and impact and make it available publicly.

This is a critical time for the U.S. government to focus on gender equality, as well as the rights of girls and women in the United States and around the world. As the Biden-Harris administration prioritizes issues such as COVID-19 recovery, economic relief, climate change, and racial equity, a strong White House Gender Policy Council and gender analysis will be key to ensuring the policy solutions are effective and have an impact.

This column originally appeared in Just Security.