CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- U.S. Army Japan (USARJ) hosted their inaugural Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Symposium March 6-8, bringing together stakeholders from the United States and Japan to advance bilateral cooperation on WPS in the Indo-Pacific region.
Over the course of three days, the conference welcomed both men and women officers, non-commissioned officers and civilians from both countries. The diverse group of speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions promoted a gendered perspective and equal involvement of women in decision making.
WPS is an international framework that emerged from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and recognizes that women must be critical actors in all efforts to achieve international peace and security. It promotes a gendered perspective and women’s equal and meaningful participation in peace processes, peacebuilding and security.
“Women, Peace & Security, or WPS, is ultimately about ensuring that women are equally and meaningfully engaged in every space where conversations and decisions about peace and security are being made,” said Maj. Gen. JB Vowell, commander of USARJ. “As half the population, women deserve to play an equal part in the institutions and processes that affect their lives.”
Vowell went on to highlight how a gender perspective leads to a more effective understanding of the strategic environment. “A security approach that takes gender dynamics into account can help us better understand some of the most complex threats in our region,” Vowell said. He elaborated that understanding “how conflict, crises, and other security challenges affect men, women, boys, and girls in different ways,” enables leaders to “develop more holistic, human-centered approaches to security.”
“For the defense sector, implementing WPS means not only ensuring that women are equally and meaningfully engaged in peace and security sectors, but also that gender considerations are included during military analysis, planning, and execution of our operations and exercises, and in the assessment of our effects,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Deputy Commander.
Monica Herrera, an experienced DoD Gender Advisor from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Office of WPS, elaborated on this concept during her keynote presentation, which focused on operationalizing gender perspectives. She discussed how the Department of Defense, including U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, conducts training to certify DoD Gender Focal Points and Gender Advisors. Coursework provides practical tools that enable students to recognize gender as a key characteristic of the operational environment and to use that knowledge to inform mission planning
Herrera introduced participants to an analytical framework called gender analysis. She stressed that “a gender analysis is not just about looking at the roles of women during conflict and crisis, it’s about examining expectations of both men and women, as well as the relationships and power dynamics between men and women, to better understand a specific cultural context.”
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s WPS team also helped design the event to ensure participants could build both knowledge and skills across the three days of the symposium, including hands-on application of WPS principles. Participants conducted a site visit to the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, where they were able to work in teams to apply a gender perspective during a unique simulation and discussion session facilitated by Maj. Alexei Fainblout, the Gender Advisor at U.S. Army Pacific Command, and MSG Leia Puco, a trained Gender Focal Point and civil-military operations expert also at U.S. Army Pacific Command.
There were also opportunities for participants to build relationships, networks, and mutual understanding to enable future bilateral cooperation on WPS. Attendees participated in break-out sessions on the final day to identify tangible opportunities to both operationalize and institutionalize WPS together. Their recommendations included training Gender Focal Points to participate in bilateral exercises, pursuing integration of gender perspectives into military doctrine, and identifying WPS champions who can influence meaningful change within defense organizations.
The symposium also reflected the guiding principles of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s WPS program, which emphasizes a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, multinational, and localized approach to WPS implementation. Speakers and panelists from civil society organizations, including the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, U.S. Institute of Peace, Japan Platform, and Pacific Forum, informed discussions focused on building multi-sector partnerships on WPS.
Japanese parliamentarian Yoko Kamikawa, a member of Japan’s newly established WPS Caucus, emphasized Japan’s commitments to WPS during her keynote address at the symposium dinner and highlighted the importance of events like this. “I am truly grateful that the U.S. military, together with SDF, are holding symposiums to deepen the understanding of WPS and strengthen our cooperation and partnership,” she said. “The WPS perspective is also critical to the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”