FALLS CHURCH, Va. --
U.S. Air Force International Health Specialists are supporting the Department of Defense’s initiative to promote women’s safety, empowerment and vital contributions to global security. Their leadership and expertise in this area will enhance the outcomes of security cooperation and stability operations.
Through global health engagement programs and activities, International Health Specialists are working to further the DoD’s Women, Peace and Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan. The WPS Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan fulfills the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which was signed into law in 2017, to promote the meaningful contribution and participation of women in security processes and operations. It is designed to nest within the National Defense and National Security Strategies to support a more prosperous and peaceful society through the full inclusion and empowerment of women in civil society.
The WPS Act identifies the DoD as a key department to implement this strategy. For International Health Specialists, this means ensuring all engagements with partner nations also include a gendered perspective.
“The WPS strategy recognizes that women are disproportionately affected by conflict, disaster, and disease,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chelsea Payne, a preventive medicine physician at U.S. Africa Command and an International Health Specialist. “Global health engagement plays a major role in bolstering human rights and human security for vulnerable populations.”
To implement the WPS strategy, International Health Specialists have volunteered to become gender focal points who serve as advisors on WPS implementation. Networks of gender focal points support full-time gender advisors whose job is to implement WPS into all combatant command activities and security cooperation with partner nations. Eight of the 11 combatant commands now have full-time gender advisors.
Payne is one of these volunteers. She serves as a Gender Focal Point for a combatant commander and is a member of the Joint Staff Force Development, Women, Peace and Security Working Group. In 2019, Payne published an article on neglected tropical diseases with the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security. Her work on this topic illuminates how global health engagement can help lay the groundwork needed to accomplish more advanced goals like increasing women’s leadership in security processes and policymaking.
“Our work in global health engagement provides opportunities to accomplish cross-cutting goals,” Payne said. “Because we have more women in the medical field, we are well-positioned to help increase women’s meaningful participation and leadership in the security space.”
The strategy is grounded in a growing body of research that when women are involved in conflict resolution, a peaceful, stable outcome is both more likely and more sustainable. One study published by the International Peace Institute in 2015, found that peace plans are 35% more likely to last more than 15 years when women are involved.
While the strategy places emphasis on security cooperation, it requires implementation across the entire DoD. It recognizes that increasing women’s perspectives and leadership will support strategic goals such as increasing the department’s performance and efficiency, strengthening alliances, and attracting new partners.
“Modeling Women, Peace, and Security principles within our own force is a critical component of the strategy,” explained U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cherielynne Gabriel, a dentist, International Health Specialist and Gender Focal Point at Pacific Air Forces. “Many of our partner nations in the Indo-Pacific have expressed interest in implementing Women, Peace and Security plans. Building our own competency helps position the United States as a partner of choice.”
As the DoD strengthens policy requirements, it will likely have implications related to training. International Health Specialist Program Director, Col. Elizabeth Erickson, explained how this is affecting global health engagement practitioners.
“The Uniformed Services University’s Center for Global Health Engagement and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency have already incorporated WPS into existing training that International Health Specialists can take to fulfill requirements,” she said. “We will also include a WPS module during [International Health Specialist] orientation for the first time this year.”
Erickson noted that training - as well as special advisory roles - should not be exclusive to women.
“It is important that both women and men receive training and become champions of this work,” she said.