PacNet #22 – Feminist foreign policy and Ukraine: For now, Japan leads the way

A gendered war is taking place in Ukraine, powered by patriarchal authoritarianism that thrives on unencumbered violence. Some women bravely serve in Ukraine’s military, the media, and in support roles on the front lines. Yet stereotypical gendered norms have been reinforced as most refugees are women, while Ukrainian men must stay and fight. Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) principles seem ignored by the security sector, as women are absent in peace talks, and reports of sexual- and gender-based violence abound. By applying a feminist foreign policy (FFP) lens—focused on a re-imagination of conflict resolution and human security—we consider how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has influenced Indo-Pacific foreign policies, particularly aid, defense, diplomacy, trade, and immigration. We find that Japan stands out as demonstrating alignment with some FFP principles, and may be ripe for formal FFP adoption. Given other Asian states’ mixed responses, however, the invasion of Ukraine may split the Indo-Pacific on this framework.

Aid, sanctions, and immigration

First, FFP principles recommend consideration of women, children, and minority communities in aid provision, with emphasis on humanitarian aid over military/defensive responses. Tokyo has provided ¥12 billion ($95 million) in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and promised more. This aid demonstrates consideration of women by including hygiene products alongside tents, winter clothing, and generators.

Japan is an above average official development assistance (ODA) contributor to gender equality as a member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Assistance Committee. To build on this achievement, Japan could stipulate requirements similar to its Jordanian Palestinian Refugees ODA program for its aid to countries accepting Ukrainian refugees. This program included Alleviation of Social Gaps, which prioritized the empowerment of women refugees through vocational training and access to reproductive health education.

A second plank of FFP is prioritization and allocation of resources to peace over state security, including “gender equality [and] … the human rights of all.” As such, arms trade with non-democratic countries that abuse human rights and subjugate women, and Indo-Pacific military build-up would signal anti-feminist responses. Japan has generally set a positive example by supporting Ukraine without inflaming conflict. Its commitment to restricting military equipment exports has led to its supply of bulletproof vests and non-lethal equipment, but no weapons (though it recently announced the shipment of drones). Tokyo, while a recipient of US extended nuclear deterrence, has also warned against any use of nuclear weapons, acknowledging the painful history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Third, emphasizing consultation with and equality of all impacted groups, an FFP perspective opposes neo-colonialism, the forceful control or influence of other states. Meanwhile, sanctions are not the preferred option because they typically hurt those already most vulnerable. Sanctions, however, are less militaristic than lethal support, and therefore more acceptable in FFP terms. Eight years ago, when Russia annexed Crimea, Japan failed to sanction Moscow in a bid to maintain diplomatic talks over islands both Russia and Japan claim as their own. By contrast, Japan has moved more decisively in 2022, following US and EU sanctions early on. To date, Japan has restricted Russian banks, and sanctioned oligarchs, companies, and military entities. While Japan still relies on Russian fuel, seafood, and various goods, it has revoked Russia’s most-favored nation trade status, impacting  ¥1.54 trillion ($12 billion) in imports.

Fourth, a country’s FFP would also need to include a generous immigration policy, in this case focusing on the 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees rather than state security. Japan has considered amending its limited immigration policy and opened its doors to friends and family members of its Ukrainian population. The new policy would allow them to stay longer or work.

It won’t be an easy fix—Japan’s past hesitancy towards refugees will require complete immigration policy transformation to align with FFP principles. In 2020, Japan approved 47 out of 3,936 asylum applications (1.19% of the total). Though an improvement from 2019’s 0.42% acceptance rate, other countries are accepting more Ukrainians in response to the crisis. Still, Tokyo seems determined to lessen restrictions. To demonstrate national support for the consideration of individual refugees, Japanese Foreign Minister Hiyashi Yoshimasa returned to home from Poland personally escorting 20 Ukrainian refugees.

A divided Indo-Pacific?

The provision of military aid is essential for FFP precedent. While Japan is all-but-mandated to follow FFP-aligned guidelines due to Article 9 restrictions, other countries with fewer hurdles can more easily adapt their aid distribution.

What precedent, then, does Japan’s restriction of military aid to Ukraine set for its future responses to a conflict in Asia? Furthermore, in case of a contingency—such as China invading Taiwan—how might the reactions of Indo-Pacific countries to the Ukraine crisis predict alignment with feminist values? There has been debate about whether comparing Taiwan to the invasion of Ukraine makes sense, but in either case we are likely to see both adhesion to and straying from FFP principles.

The Indo-Pacific is split on Ukraine. The only other Indo-Pacific nation to demonstrate a feminist-aligned response to Ukraine is New Zealand, which sanctioned Russia and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine instead of weapons. Australiadid all that and sent military aid. South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have been moderately aligned in their responses, with offers to support other countries’ refugee intakes financially and cut trade ties with Russia and implement sanctions, but refusing to accept Ukrainian refugees.

Most states, however, have been quiet on Russian sanctions and avoided direct criticism. Vietnam has vaguely condemned Russia, but abstained from voting on the March 2 UN Security Council resolution deploring the invasion. India has worked around Western sanctions, while China has criticized sanctions amid misogynistic remarks about Ukrainian women. Smaller countries like the Federated States of Micronesia have cut diplomatic relations with Russia without imposing sanctions. The Philippines offered military bases to the United States if the war spreads to Asia, but moved ahead with the purchase of Russian defense equipment. Similarly, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia have chosen to protect Russian arms trade over supporting Ukraine. Given anti-colonialist affinities between Indo-Pacific nations and Ukraine, failing to offer stronger, clearer alignment with the West’s rules-based order and with feminist principles may be a lost opportunity for smaller Indo-Pacific states.

It is unclear if Japan’s response is what Ukrainian feminists want. Japan, however, has taken what might be considered feminist approaches to foreign policy, offering humanitarian aid, resisting calls to provide military support, sanctioning Russia, and even increasing its intake of refugees. In so doing, Japan has modeled a foreign policy that other nations should emulate, especially smaller states, which could face similar threats in the future. Feminist foreign policy advocates hope that it continues to do so, while also addressing domestic gender equality challenges faced by Japanese women and its LGBTQ community. Any attempt at formal adoption of a Japanese FFP should include self-reflection on where Japan stands internationally on domestic gender policies, especially if Tokyo wants to set an example for other Indo-Pacific countries.

Hannah Cole ( is Program & Publications Manager and Non-resident James A. Kelly Korea Fellow at Pacific Forum. Maryruth Belsey-Priebe ( is a Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum and Harvard International Relations graduate student. Tevvi Bullock ( is a WPS Fellow at Pacific Forum and PhD candidate in Gender, Climate & Humanitarian Action at Monash University.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP3 — Feminist Peace and Security and The Other ASEAN Way

Executive Summary

This paper aims to critically re-examine the role of the “ASEAN Way” and regional governance more broadly in promoting feminist peace and security in Southeast Asia. Expansive definition and aspirations embodied by the ASEAN Way are typically traded for a more state-centric version. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the failures and limitations of regional governance, and rarely for its virtues. Consequently, insufficient attention has been paid to how the ASEAN Way also relates to the agency of regional networks of civil society actors who collectively serve as the permanent background to regional governance in Southeast Asia. Bringing together disparate international relations scholarship on ASEAN regionalism and the WPS agenda, this paper makes a case for the importance of recognizing this other and less examined aspect of ASEAN Way to arrive at a fuller account of both ASEAN regionalism and the gendered root causes of insecurity in Southeast Asia. It concludes with a recommendation to rectify knowledge gaps on the various strategies regional civil society networks employ to advance human rights and wellbeing in ASEAN including those aligned with the WPS agenda, while adapting to the enormous challenge of building and caring for a regional community perpetually beset by multiple crises.

About the author

Dr Maria Tanyag ( is a Fellow / Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. She was awarded her PhD from Monash University in 2018. Maria received first class honours for both her MA (Research) and BA Honours in Political Studies from the University of Auckland, New Zealand; and a BA in Political Science magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She was selected as one of the inaugural International Studies Association (ISA) Emerging Global South Scholars in 2019, and as resident Women, Peace and Security Fellow at Pacific Forum in 2021.


Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP2 — Compound Gender-Climate-Security Threats and Vulnerabilities within the Indo-Pacific

Executive Summary

In 2021, signs of climate change intensification were evident in unprecedented wildfires, floods, cyclones, landslides, suggesting that climate-security threats are intensifying as well. Home to several rising powers and strategic trading partners, the Indo-Pacific is a vital region for the United States, yet it is one of the most vulnerable regions in terms of climate threats. A McKinsey report states that, “Asia stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risk than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.”[1] Other research has shown that Asian countries have the highest numbers of people exposed to climate hazards such as floods, droughts, and storms.[2]

Climate change is an emerging security risk, and one that deserves greater study given the significant diversity of security and climate scenarios. In particular, the role of women as sources of climate security intelligence has been understudied. This paper aims to correct that oversight and assess which countries within the Indo-Pacific have the greatest combined gender-climate-security risk factors and why. A detailed breakdown of data from several indices related to fragility, gender inequality, conflict, and climate change is summarized for all countries within the area covered by the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in Table 1. Using this data, this paper examines in greater depth Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam—due to their diversity in environmental conditions and political conditions—to determine their specific gender-climate-security challenges. This paper begins with an overview of a gender-climate-security framework, provides focus country assessments, examines US INDOPACOM’s greatest vulnerabilities, and explores ways in which women may act as bellwethers of emerging climate-related conflicts if meaningfully and consistently consulted.

[1] “Climate Risk and Response in Asia” (McKinsey Global Institute, November 24, 2020), 7,

[2] Joshua Busby et al., “In Harm’s Way: Climate Security Vulnerability in Asia,” World Development 112 (December 1, 2018): 88–118,

About the author

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is a non-resident Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum International, a Harvard International Relations graduate student, and the author of numerous articles. Using social science, feminist foreign policy perspectives/analyses/theories, and data analysis, her research focuses on the nexus of gender, climate change, and peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Maryruth’s circular food economy policy work has been selected for inclusion in the OpenIDEO Food Systems Game Changers Lab, and she has held several research and fellowship positions focused on women’s leadership. She is also a member of Harvard’s Climate Leaders Program and the Research Network on Women, Peace and Security, and is a volunteer for multiple gender-climate causes. Maryruth tweets @greenwriting.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP1 – Progress and Challenges to Implementing Women, Peace and Security in Southeast Asia

Executive Summary

October 2020 marked 20 years since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), which is a cornerstone of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of its passage, this paper assesses the implementation of UNSCR 1325 across Southeast Asia. It provides an in-depth analysis of progress and challenges to realizing core WPS commitments and achieving gender equality in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. These countries were selected because each has endured recent or ongoing conflict and instability. In addition, five of these states are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), allowing the study to explore the institutionalization of WPS within regional forums and how this shapes national-level WPS implementation.

About the author

Jennifer Howe ( is a PhD student at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her research examines the under-explored relationship between truth commissions and violent extremism, with a particular focus on the ongoing conflict in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. She is a committee member of the King’s-based initiative, Women in War and International Politics, and a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies. Prior to joining King’s, Jennifer worked as a resident Women, Peace and Security Fellow at the Pacific Forum. Her publications have investigated the impact of COVID-19 on conflict resolution and gender equality in Southeast Asia. She holds an M.A. in Politics and International Relations from Durham University, where she assessed the relationship between human rights compliance and transitional justice in East Asia.

PacNet #23 –How Women, Peace and Security Gives the US and Australia an Edge in the Indo-Pacific

The following is a summary of the authors’ article published in Pacific Forum’s Issues & Insights. Read the full article here.

While empowering women may be a long-game strategy for retaining the edge in great power competition, it may also be one of the few remaining tools the United States and Australia have for achieving a thin margin of excellence. Great power competition has become a central issue for both Australia and the United States, due primarily to narrowing military and economic gaps on the global stage.

For Australian intelligence and security officials, the “air-sea gap” defense strategy is no longer sufficient for limiting China’s influence in the Pacific. The “Pacific Step-Up” strategy calls for Australia to respond to priorities identified by Pacific leaders, including climate and disaster resilience, and has been an important and helpful shift for Australia in this regard. Knowing that China cannot afford static growth or technological inferiority, American foreign policy experts recognize China’s increasing economic influence in the Indo-Pacific, and have sounded the alarm about America’s shrinking economic advantage. Given these realities, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) is a smart power tool Australia and the US could use to gain a competitive edge.

Realizing the benefits of this advantage will require full implementation of the Australian and American WPS National Action Plans (NAPs), with a particular focus on harnessing the potentials of both women and men to protect against insecurity and violence. Security and peace-making professionals need to be able to respond to different threat scenarios, and the security of the whole of the community during and after crises. Women servicemembers and gender perspectives strengthen security and peacemaking responses by adding to the diversity of insights and priorities.

Research finds that “women and men with hostile attitudes towards women, and towards gender equality in general, are not just more prone to extremist views … they are also more likely to actually support violent groups and to participate in political violence.” The WPS agenda challenges these and other gender stereotypes that undermine conflict prevention, thereby providing new pathways to peacebuilding.

In contrast to American and Australian approaches, on the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, Russia put forth a China-supported resolution that threatened to reverse progress made on preventing conflict-related sexual violence and other Women, Peace and Security matters. Further, Chinese policies reinforcing traditional women’s roles, including a ban on women from 19% of China’s civil service jobs, have been partially responsible for creating increased competitiveness in the job market, allowing employers to discriminate against women. This underutilization of human capital has weakened China’s labor market efficiency, causing a drag on economic growth, and imposing a cost on China’s economy.

Additionally, China’s one-child policy resulted in sex-selective abortions and femicide, leading to a gender imbalance in China’s populationwhich has been exacerbated by the fact that more well-educated women are choosing not to have children. Today, there are more adult men than women in China. The problem is so prominent that unmarried men are now referred to as “bare branches.” Due to their lack of family and societal ties, these men have been shown to be more prone to crime and violence, a reality that threatens both China’s domestic stability as well as international security.

China is clearly not maximizing the advantages women offer to security, thereby opening the door for the US and Australia to widen the “advantage gap” in a meaningful way. Furthermore, while China has funded small-scale women’s health projects through multilateral support for the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, there exist opportunities for Australia and America to strategically invest in gender equity in the Indo-Pacific to further increase their competitiveness in the region. As former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put it, “[c]ompetition is ever-present and relentless” and “[w]hile non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community.”

The US National Action Plan on WPS 

The United States’ first WPS National Action Plan was enacted in 2010 under the Obama administration, updated in 2016, and superseded by the 2017 Women, Peace and Security Act. With reporting requirements to Congress for relevant federal agencies, the 2017 Act mandates the development of a whole-of-government WPS strategy. The United States thus has the opportunity to provide a model for other progressive countries to follow.

Whilst structural barriers are down, however, cultural barriers and biases, and “roadblocks to gender inclusivity,” remain. Funding amounts have not risen substantially since the Defense Department’s initial allocation of $4 million (from a $1.3 trillion budget) to WPS in fiscal year 2019. Consequently, implementation has largely been dependent on individual leaders’ knowledge and command-relevant prioritization of the WPS framework.

Problematically, many American security practitioners are unaware of the basic WPS tenants, and WPS has not been a part of core Professional Military Education. The Naval War College is gradually integrating WPS in its curriculum, yet more training opportunities for gender advisors, and their regular access to leadership, are needed. Following setbacks through COVID-19, a strong indicator that the United States is getting serious about UNSCR 1325 will be when departmental budgets are at a level to facilitate substantial implementation.

The Australian WPS NAP

The Australian Government adopted a second WPS NAP in April 2021, reaffirming Australia’s commitment and regional leadership on WPS after a lengthy delay. The 10-year plan focuses on four outcomes: supporting women’s meaningful participation and needs in peace processes; reducing sexual and gender-based violence; supporting resilience, crisis, and security, law and justice efforts to meet the needs and rights of all women and girls; and demonstrating leadership and accountability for WPS.

Under the first NAP (2012-2018), the implementation record of Defence (Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Ministry of Defence) indicated noteworthy progress: the number of women serving in the ADF increased substantially and targets are in place to achieve 25% women in the navy and air force, and 15% in the army, by 2023. Further, significant impact was achieved with regard to the growing awareness of WPS in the Indo-Pacific region, including by means of Australian support of other militaries’ WPS implementation strategies through joint exercises and capacity-building.

Indeed, the Gender, Peace and Security directorate under the Joint Capabilities Group aims to make the ADF “a world leader in implementing the military component” of the WPS action plan. For several years, Australia has run its own training “GENAD” course for military gender advisors, and gender advisors have been routinely deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan. Still, while the 2020 Defence Strategy Update mentioned the intensification of major power competition and the prospect of future inter-state conflict, human security threats and greater instability in the Indo-Pacific, no mention was made of WPS commitments.


Given the shifts in the global and regional security environment, including the equalizing of US and Chinese power and the range of threats to human and state security, the WPS agenda is an underappreciated asset. The contemporary leadership on WPS shown by the US and Australia, in diplomacy, development and military cooperation, needs to be built upon in the Indo-Pacific region in partnership with key allies to further strengthen efforts to promote gender-inclusive military and peacekeeping forces, and gender-responsive analysis of growing traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese ( is a professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College.

Dr. Jacqui True ( is a professor of International Relations and Director of Monash University’s Centre for Gender, Peace and Security.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 7 — Women, Peace and Security: A Competitive Edge for Australia and the US in the Indo-Pacific

Australia and the United States face great power competition with China due to a narrowing of gaps between them—economically and militarily—in the Indo-Pacific region. This narrowing of gaps should not be a surprise to anyone who did not expect China to be content with static growth and technological inferiority. Great power competition is actually about a rise in parity among competitors. The “edge” previously held by Australia and the United States over China has become smaller; therefore “wins” will be by very thin margins. This means Australia and the United States need to find new advantages to widen their thin margins of excellence and maintain security. This paper will discuss why the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda offers an edge, and how implementing respective national action plans for WPS and partnering widely and strongly with other Indo-Pacific countries on WPS can offer such new advantages.

Download the full PDF of Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 7 — Women, Peace and Security: A Competitive Edge for Australia and the US in the Indo-Pacific

Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Emiline L. M. Senn/Released


PacNet #18 – Women, Peace and Security Under a Biden-Harris Administration (Part Three: Relief and Recovery)

The following is the third in the three-part series on what the Biden-Harris administration means for the Women, Peace and Security agenda. For part one, click here. For part two, click here.

Content Notice: This article contains references to sexual assault and domestic violence.

The social and economic fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting women, with a rise in women’s unemployment in part due to their overrepresentation in industries hardest hit by the pandemic. Moreover, according to recent UN reporting, lockdown measures introduced to prevent the spread of the virus have contributed to an increase in global rates of domestic violence. The pandemic, alongside new and evolving climate threats, uninterrupted conflict, and mass displacement, have cast a light on the gendered consequences of humanitarian emergencies. The Biden administration has acknowledged the need to safeguard women in such contexts with their “Plan to Support Women During the Covid-19 Crisis.” Ensuring women’s rights are protected during humanitarian crises is also fundamental to the fourth pillar of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, Relief and Recovery. In this third and final installment of our series examining how this administration may influence the implementation of WPS in the Indo-Pacific, we consider how Biden and Harris could advance WPS Relief and Recovery in the region.

Overview of the Relief and Recovery Pillar

The WPS Agenda, as laid out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), recognizes the gendered impacts of conflict and affirms the importance of strengthening women’s participation in peace processes. The Agenda rests on four pillars: Participation, Prevention, Protection, and Relief and Recovery. This article focuses on the last pillar, which calls for integrating women’s needs into crisis response and recovery efforts.

This fourth WPS pillar is grounded in the understanding that instability stemming from conflict and climate change affects men and women differently. Conflicts and disasters often exacerbate gender-based violence, which encompasses domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. Gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence, is routinely perpetrated against women and girls during armed conflict. In addition, humanitarian crises have the ability to weaken societal structures that protect women and girls. Humanitarian emergencies may also impose significant barriers to women’s wellbeing by limiting opportunities for educational attainment and economic empowerment. The relief and recovery pillar aims to lessen the severity of the gendered effects of humanitarian emergencies by incorporating women’s needs and voices into response plans. The pillar also emphasizes that women’s involvement in post-crisis reconstruction contributes to sustainable peace and durable stability.

Biden-Harris on the WPS Relief and Recovery Pillar

Through their domestic policies, Biden and Harris have demonstrated their commitment to protecting women affected by conflict, displacement, and climate change. In Biden’s plan for supporting women during COVID-19, he pledges to expand government funding for gender-based violence crisis shelters in the US, including those serving displaced populations. He issued an executive order on Feb. 4, 2021 to upscale the number of asylum seekers admitted to the US. Women, children, individuals facing persecution as a consequence of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and survivors of gender-based violence will be prioritized for admission.

Other linkages between the Biden-Harris administration and the WPS relief and recovery pillar can be found in the new administration’s foreign policy plans. As part of Biden’s goal of restoring America as a global leader and force for good, he has promised to prioritize climate security in US foreign policy. There are several ways climate change, as a threat multiplier, is likely to increase the risks of conflict in regions that lack political stability: emboldening cross-border natural resource competition; initiating mass migrations due to deteriorating coasts, farmland, and clean water, as well as natural disasters such as floods and fires; and disrupting financial markets and food prices which lead ultimately to unemployment crises. Aside from the effects of climate change-induced conflict, women and girls in particular face other direct and indirect climate-related risks. In the Indo-Pacific, these risks include direct threats in the face of floods and fires due to conservative gender norms that dictate restrictive clothing, physical movement, and withholding of medical help; increased responsibilities for farming, gathering fuel, and collecting water in the face of drought—responsibilities which limit women’s economic opportunity; and rising pressures to give into forced and child marriages due to the declining economic fortunes of husbands, fathers, and brothers. Addressing climate-related instability in US foreign policy is therefore essential to mitigate the disproportionate harm it can cause to women and girls. The new administration is also eager to protect and empower women through international engagement and peacebuilding. Biden and Harris promise to amplify the voices of women leaders while working multilaterally to develop COVID-19 recovery plans.  They also vow to support the “Safe from the Start Act,” a bill that ensures all US humanitarian assistance addresses gender-based violence.

The Status of the WPS Relief and Recovery Pillar in the Indo-Pacific

Violent unrest and climate change have directly and indirectly impacted women and girls in the Indo-Pacific. Women and girls in regional conflict zones have been subjected to sexual violence at the hands of contesting armed groups. Climate- and conflict-related instability has generated mass displacement throughout the region. Various factors, including overcrowded facilities and limited law enforcement, worsen levels of gender-based violence in displaced settings. Over 60% of adolescent girls in Rohingya refugee settlements in Bangladesh reported hearing about or witnessing sexual violence. Moreover, instability often disrupts livelihoods, imposing additional barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Women living in unstable contexts may struggle to find employment or may be limited to working in low-paid and low-skilled informal sector roles. In Mindanao, Southern Philippines, which is the site of a protracted conflict, women’s labor force participation is 15% lower than other areas of the Philippines. In addition, 74% of women in Mindanao are employed in the informal sector (compared to 40% of women nationally).

COVID-19 and WPS Relief and Recovery: The US and the Indo-Pacific

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is exposing pre-existing gender inequalities. Women are losing their jobs more readily than men. The National Women’s Law Center reported that cumulatively there were 140,000 jobs lost in December; men gaining a net 16,000 jobs, and women losing 156,000. Rates of women’s unemployment were highest in the hospitality sector, where women are overrepresented. Other factors contributing to women’s unemployment include the uneven burden of increased childcare, with mothers in the US three times more likely than fathers to perform the majority of unpaid childcare during the pandemic. Women in the Indo-Pacific are also facing higher levels of unemployment than men. The UN warned of a “shadow pandemic” due to the sharp upward trend in global rates of domestic violence during lockdowns. The rise in domestic violence has been attributed to heightened stress, economic uncertainty, and growing social isolation. In the US, domestic violence reports increased by 10% from March through May 2020. Domestic violence hotlines in Singapore, Malaysia, India, and Fiji have also reported a significant increase in call volumes since the onset of the outbreak.

Next Steps on WPS Relief and Recovery in the Indo-Pacific

The Biden-Harris administration has introduced measures to accelerate the implementation of the WPS Relief and Recovery pillar both at home and abroad. Yet given the gendered challenges resulting from conflict, climate change, and displacement—and in light of the rise in women’s unemployment and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic—it is essential that the new administration work with governments around the Indo-Pacific to develop relief and recovery plans that address women’s needs and seek to empower women in the long term. The new administration could also work with governments to ensure that women are given meaningful roles in the creation and implementation of relief and recovery. Women’s long-term empowerment and their inclusion in post-crisis reconstruction will also help cultivate stability and prosperity. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on women provides the opportunity for the new administration to learn from approaches taken by governments across the Indo-Pacific. Biden and Harris could facilitate a cross-border exchange on best practices in managing the spike in women’s unemployment, the surge in gender-based violence, and methods for rectifying power structures that reproduce patriarchal values and gender disparity. You can read our full analysis and Relief and Recovery policy recommendations in our in-depth Issues & Insights article.

Jennifer Howe ( is a resident Women, Peace and Security fellow at the Pacific Forum. She graduated from Durham University, UK with an MA in Politics and international Relations. Her publications include “Conflict and Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is Impacting Southeast Asia’s Conflicts,” in Issues & Insights and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific” in COVID-19 Research & Perspectives.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is a WPS Research Advisor at the Pacific Forum. She is also a Harvard Extension School MA in International Relations student specializing in the nexus of WPS and climate security and has a manuscript under review entitled, “The News Media: A Catalyst for Women, Peace and Security in Qatar.”

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 4 – What the Biden-Harris Administration means for WPS in the Indo-Pacific Region

Executive Summary

The election of Kamala Harris as the first woman of color to serve as vice president of the United States is a beacon of hope for women everywhere. We explore how her ground-breaking election, alongside the new administration’s visible support for gender equality, could advance women’s rights globally. More specifically, we consider the implications of a Biden-Harris White House for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda in the Indo-Pacific. A cornerstone of the WPS agenda is United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Passed in 2000, UNSCR 1325 recognizes the gendered impacts of conflict and the importance of women’s inclusion in peace processes for long-term peace and stability. The WPS agenda consists of four overlapping pillars: Participation, Prevention, Protection, and Relief and Recovery. Addressing all four of these pillars is integral to ensuring full respect for human rights and cultivating sustainable peace. In this paper, we assess each pillar of the WPS Agenda from three angles—first, actions taken by Biden and Harris that indicate how they will engage with the WPS Agenda; second, progress and challenges to the implementation of the four WPS pillars in the Indo-Pacific; and, third, how the new administration could work with countries in the Indo-Pacific and other key stakeholders to overcome current challenges to the realization of core WPS objectives in the region.

Download the full PDF of Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 4 – What the Biden-Harris Administration means for WPS in the Indo-Pacific Region

PacNet #13 – Women, Peace and Security Under a Biden-Harris Administration (Part One: Participation)

The following is the first in the three-part series on what the Biden-Harris administration means for the Women, Peace and Security agenda. For part two, click here. For part three, click here.

Americans have elected their first-ever woman vice president, but will that usher in a renewed Pax Americana? If the histories of China’s Empress Wu Zetian and England’s Elizabeth I are to be believed, women leaders are no guarantee of dovish behavior. Yet there have been signals from US President Biden and Vice President Harris that women will be front and center in domestic and foreign policy—which may indicate an increase in talk of peace over aggression. In celebration of International Women’s Day—the annual March 8 call to accelerate women’s social, economic, cultural, and political equity—we explore what a Biden-Harris administration would mean for women’s issues in US foreign policy. In this three-part series, we will cover what the policy histories of Biden and Harris imply for their administration’s international policy, examine their Agenda for Women” and vows to “ensure full implementation” of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda, and consider what a commitment to advancing gender equality will mean for the Indo-Pacific region.

Overview of WPS and the Participation Pillar

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was adopted in 2000 and codifies the WPS agenda. It recognizes the gendered impact of conflict and calls for the meaningful inclusion of women across the peace and security continuum. The agenda rests on four pillars—Prevention, Participation, Protection, and Relief and Recovery. Participation concerns women’s full and equal participation in peacebuilding and decision-making. Prevention relates to preventing conflict and gender-based violence in fragile contexts. Protection advocates for protection of women and girls from gender-based violence amid conflict. Finally, Relief and Recovery demands that humanitarian efforts meet the unique needs of women and girls. This article is the first of a series in which we consider how the new administration will engage with the WPS pillars. Here, we consider how Biden and Harris will address the WPS Participation pillar.

Participation is a cardinal pillar of the WPS agenda and calls for strengthening women’s meaningful involvement at all levels of decision-making: in policymaking, peacebuilding, and security decisions. Research has shown that increasing gender equality in leadership structures is associated with political stability and durable peace. On average, women are less likely to support armed conflict. In policymaking, women are less likely to support the military over community welfare. In peacebuilding, women’s leadership improves conflict negotiation outcomes and rebuilding efforts. Studies show that women’s involvement in peacebuilding increases the probability that peace will last over 15 years by 35%. Women also have the potential to improve strategic decision-making within military structures by adding to diversity of thinking.

Biden-Harris on the WPS Participation Pillar

The domestic focus of Biden and Harris’ political careers makes it challenging to envisage how they will integrate WPS into their foreign policy. Nevertheless, by examining their domestic policies, we can find clues as to how they may advance women’s issues globally. The election of Kamala Harris as vice president and the record number of women set to fill Biden’s Cabinet are significant accomplishments for women’s participation. Not only is this Cabinet on track to contain the greatest number of women in US history, it would be the first to achieve gender parity. Biden has also hired an all-woman senior communications team, and Harris’ senior aides are all women, too.

Despite these positive steps, more work is needed to increase the number of women in high-ranking security positions. Aside from the indicators previously mentioned and statements on supporting women’s leadership globally, neither Biden nor Harris have specifically referred to supporting women as peacebuilders. Nevertheless, there is plenty to suggest that they will work to increase women’s participation in national security institutions. Biden appointed Avril Haines as the first woman director of national intelligence and Kathleen H. Hicks as the first woman deputy secretary of defense. Biden and Harris also signed a pledge organized by Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving women’s inclusion in the US security sector to ensure at least 50% of national security Senate positions are filled by women.

The Status of the WPS Participation Pillar in the Indo-Pacific

Much remains to be done in the Indo-Pacific to improve women’s participation at all levels of governance and policymaking to fulfill the WPS Participation pillar mandate. Countries within East Asia and the Pacific have increased the representation of women in parliament from around 16 to 20% in the past 20 years. Still, this 4% increase is small compared to the 12% increase in the Middle East and North Africa, Central Europe and the Baltics, and the United States. The lowest levels of women’s representation in national parliaments can be seen in Vanuatu (2%) and Papua New Guinea (3%), with Japan (10%), Malaysia (15%), and Thailand (16%) not much further ahead. By contrast, the highest levels of women’s representation are in Australia (30%), Timor-Leste (38%), and New Zealand (41%). However, these levels are low compared to countries like Mexico (48.2%), Bolivia (53.1%), Cuba (53.2%), and Rwanda (61.3%). It is also important to note that seeing women in more-powerful upper house roles is a far better indicator of meaningful gender parity than what is often token women’s representation in lower houses—here, too, countries in the Indo-Pacific have a long way to go.

Opportunities for increasing women’s inclusion in peace initiatives also exist. The Philippines has led the way by appointing Miriam Coronel-Ferrer as the first woman in history to act as chief negotiator while signing a major peace deal with an armed insurgent group. She signed the final peace accord between the Philippine government and armed rebels (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in 2014. Yet, in most cases, peacebuilding efforts by grassroots women’s organizations in the Indo-Pacific continue to be overlooked by official actors, and women are largely excluded from formal peace processes.

In Indo-Pacific, men still vastly outnumber women in national security institutions, particularly in senior roles. There have been some positive steps, but the number of women serving in militaries around the region is almost negligible—women account for 5% or less of national armed forces—and major barriers to women’s entry into security institutions remain.

Next Steps on WPS Participation in the Indo-Pacific

Has Vice President Harris’ election encouraged Indo-Pacific women to strive for greater presence within public institutions? Harris’ election was widely celebrated in India, where her mother is from. A number of grassroots women’s organizations held talks to discuss Harris’ journey to office. It remains to be seen whether Harris’ election, alongside the new administration’s commitment to advancing gender equality, will influence women’s participation in countries across the Indo-Pacific.

Beyond setting an example for women and girls worldwide, Biden and Harris will likely continue to concentrate their efforts on domestic women’s issues given the health and economic crises triggered by the pandemic. No doubt this administration will be more progressive on WPS than even Obama was, especially given Harris’ groundbreaking appointment as the first woman vice president. When combined with the Department of Defense’s Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan, which aligns with the WPS Act of 2017 and the US Strategy on WPS, and US Indo-Pacific Command’s subsequent application of WPS principles to personnel composition, “policies, plans, doctrine, training, education, operations and exercises,” we should be optimistic about the future of WPS in the Indo-Pacific. Among elevated maritime security concerns, ongoing extremist violence, the continued North Korea nuclear threat, increasingly aggressive moves from China, cyberthreats, and the global recession and COVID-19 recovery challenges, there are numerous opportunities for women to provide positive leadership and influence on security matters. You can read our full Participation policy recommendations in our forthcoming in-depth Issues & Insights article, and follow the rest of our analysis of how Biden and Harris may impact the other WPS pillars in the Indo-Pacific in forthcoming parts two and three.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is a WPS Research Advisor at the Pacific Forum. She is also a Harvard Extension School MA in International Relations student specializing in the nexus of WPS and climate security and has a manuscript under review entitled, “The News Media: A Catalyst for Women, Peace and Security in Qatar.”

Jennifer Howe ( is a resident Women, Peace and Security fellow at the Pacific Forum. She graduated from Durham University, UK with an MA in Politics and international Relations. Her publications include “Conflict and Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is Impacting Southeast Asia’s Conflicts,” in Issues & Insights and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific” in COVID-19 Research & Perspectives.

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