Women Waging Peace: Swanee Hunt's Vision for Inclusive Security

During her tenure as the United States ambassador to Austria in the mid-1990s, Swanee Hunt hosted two rounds of talks aimed at ending the Bosnian War, a brutal conflict between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks that claimed over 110,000 lives and was marked by ethnic cleansing, systemic rape and genocide. In March 1994, representatives of the republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina met in Washington to sign a peace treaty, which turned a three-way war into a two-party conflict and helped lay the groundwork for the Dayton Accords the following year. Yet as Ambassador Hunt surveyed the negotiating teams and dignitaries that had gathered at the White House, she noticed that women were conspicuously absent.

“There was the President of Bosnia, the President of Croatia, and the President of the United States,” Hunt recalls. “I looked around the room to see all the people who had been involved in the negotiations, and it was, like, 60 gray suits. And I thought, ‘Now how did that happen?’” It wasn’t that women weren’t qualified to negotiate a peace agreement: Yugoslavia had the highest percentage of women PhDs of any country in Europe. “I realized that the problem wasn’t the women,” Hunt continues. “The problem was internationals that hosted the negotiations and did not make any effort for there to be a gender balance. In other words, I was part of the problem.” Nor were the belligerents keen to have women at the table when dividing up the spoils. Hunt continues, “That’s really what negotiations are: You take the timber, I’ll take the diamonds, and this guy can have the oil. And that’s not what women do.”

Hunt argues that women tend to have a more holistic view of security, which embraces not just political sovereignty and military strength, but also economic security, education, and personal safety. Hunt recalled a conversation she once had with a woman from Kenya. “Men want a whole state,” the woman said, drawing a large circle in the air. The woman then moved her fingers back and forth inside the circle. “Women want a place for their kids to go to school and get back safely.”

Inclusive security: Women, war, and the politics of defining security

Following her stint in government, Ambassador Hunt set out to change the way policymakers, military planners, and security experts approach security policy. In 1997, Hunt launched the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. During her tenure at Harvard, Hunt also began developing her ideas about “inclusive security,” a framework that places social and economic concerns on equal footing with military and political issues – and views women as the principal agents for securing peace and building security. “Inclusive security is based on the premise that, in order to have real security, you have to have include of all of the stakeholders around the table,” Hunt says.

Women, she notes, bring a different orientation and different skill sets to the table, focusing not on dividing the spoils or maintaining the balance of power, but on helping communities, restoring justice and building societies. Hunt also argues that, although there are always exceptions, women as a group are less prone to corruption than men as a group. “The higher [the] percentage of women, for example, in government, the lower the percentage of corruption.” But is this not an ideal view of women, as virtuous and incorruptible? Hunt insists it is not. “I’ve talked to these women,” she says. “I’ve done more than a thousand hours of interviews. And what they tell me is that they know that if they put money in their pockets to buy another home, or in a Swiss bank account, that it doesn’t go into the school, it doesn’t go into the hospital. And they’re very oriented to families and the next generation – and the next next generation. So they are much more likely to invest in the social structure.”

Funding women working for change: The Hunt Alternatives Fund

The youngest daughter of H.L. Hunt, the legendary Texas oilman, Ambassador Hunt has sought to rally other wealthy women to the causes she supports. In 1981, she and her sister Helen LaKelly Hunt started the Hunt Alternatives Fund (www.huntalternatives.org),a private grantmaking and operating foundation that advances innovative and inclusive approaches to social change at local, national, and global levels. (Helen later split off a separate foundation, The Sister Fundwww.sisterfund.org) Since its founding, the Fund has contributed over $60 million to social change, including children’s arts and a fellowship program for leaders of social movements. The foundation has been endowed as Hunt gives away half of her annual personal income. (“I think it is unconscionable that everybody who works for me is paying four times more taxes than I am, the person who needs it the least,” she says.)

In 2006, the Hunt sisters donated $10 million as a “spark” gift for Women Moving Millions (www.womenmovingmillions.org), a partnership aimed at getting wealthy women to contribute to a network of some 130 women’s foundations throughout the world. The partnership hopes to raise $150 million in new gifts of a million dollars and above by April 2009, propelling the collective financial assets of women’s foundations through the $1 billion mark. To date $113 million has been raised worldwide.

Over the past ten years, the Hunt Alternative Fund has functioned as a sort of inclusive security think tank, providing a range of support for activists, multilateral institutions and women on the ground. Soon after Hunt joined the Harvard faculty, the Fund launched the Initiative for Inclusive Security, through which Hunt and her colleagues have helped train thousands of female peace builders in 30 conflict regions around the globe, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Liberia, Sudan and Uganda. Whenever possible, the Initiative partners with like-minded local and multinational organizations, such as the International Crisis Group and Refugees International, to reach a broader audience, mainstream its mission in the work of other programs, and deliver training that leverages the expertise and resources of others.

Given her background in politics and policymaking, Hunt has sought to balance the Fund’s grassroots work with a robust effort aimed at shaping public opinion. In 1999, the Initiative began building Women Waging Peace (www.womenwagingpeace.net), a group of leaders – elected and appointed government officials, heads of NGOs, military officers, scholars and journalists – who function as public spokespeople, advocates and trainers. The network maintains an online database of inclusive security experts. Searchable by country and by area of expertise, the database offers journalists and policymakers a one-stop resource for expertise and opinion. “These are women who bring critical, often overlooked perspectives to the peacemaking process,” Hunt says. Since its founding, the network has grown to include over 800 women from 40 conflict areas. Over the years, members of the network have collaborated with more than 5,000 policy shapers to help develop fresh, workable solutions to long-standing conflicts across the globe.

Restoring justice, rebuilding society: Inclusive security in Rwanda

The promise of inclusive security can be seen most vividly in Rwanda, where women have played a transformative role in helping the country heal after the 1994 genocide. In 2005, Hunt and her colleagues at the Initiative for Inclusive Security launched the Rwanda Project, a three-year effort to document the role women have played in Rwanda. Women, for instance, have been instrumental in running gacacas, the community-based court system that was established in 2002 to help deal with the backlog of detainees awaiting trial for genocide-related crimes. Adapted from a traditional method for resolving disputes, victims and accused perpetrators meet face-to-face before a panel of community members to discuss and atone for the alleged crime. In many cases, women are often the principal witnesses – and all too often the victims. (Systematic rape was widespread throughout the genocide.) While some human rights groups have criticized the gacaca courts for their lack of legal protocols and protections – for both the accused and for witnesses, who are sometimes subject to intimidation – supporters, including a vast majority of Rwandans, view the system as a culturally appropriate tool for rebuilding communities and reintegrating offenders back into society.

Women have also made remarkable progress on the political front. Rwanda’s constitution, ratified in 2003, mandates that women receive at least 30% of parliamentary seats and government appointments. This past September, the lower house of Rwanda’s parliament became the first in the world to have a majority of women members – 56%, including the speaker’s chair. The use of gender quotas has also generated its share of criticism, but Hunt argues that they have been instrumental in the transformation of Rwandan society. Women, she notes, authored the only substantive bill to emerge from the legislative branch: a far-reaching law to combat gender-based violence. Through the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians, and by involving men in efforts to craft legislation, women have helped bridge gaps in gender and party identity. Women also spearheaded efforts to pass a law making it legal for women to inherit property. “Before that,” Hunt says, “if the man died, the property would go to his brother, and the woman would be left as a penniless widow.” With this legal framework in place, she continues, women have become some of the most successful users of microfinance, since they can now keep what they earn even if their husband dies.

Soft power, viewed through a gender lens

By helping train the next generation of women leaders in Rwanda and elsewhere, Hunt and her colleagues have laid the groundwork for a new approach to security – one that dovetails nicely with President-elect Barack Obama’s orientation. Obama and the members of his national security team have underscored the need for America to project “soft power”: increasing foreign aid, supporting human rights and working with local partners and multilateral institutions. And as Hunt points out, inclusive security is simply soft power viewed through the lens of gender: “As one of my colleagues in a developing country said to me, ‘What difference does it make to me if my seven-year-old daughter gets killed by a shell or if she starves to death?’” Hunt says. “That point of view is very uncomfortable for the traditional security people,” Hunt continues. “They say, ‘Now, I understand what you mean, Swanee, but that’s not what we mean when we use the word security.’ And I say, ‘Well, why not? Explain to me why not. Maybe our paradigm is wrong.’”

That paradigm may well change if Hillary Clinton is confirmed as Secretary of State. Clinton has signaled that women’s rights will be a top priority, and Hunt, a longtime friend of Senator Clinton, notes that the senator has spent her whole life caring for the most vulnerable. “I have no reason to think that will not continue,” Hunt says. On the other hand, Hunt also acknowledges the constraints that Clinton, Obama, and others face in building inclusive security. “There is a lot of pressure to be tough,” Hunt says, citing Abraham Maslow’s axiom, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,’ Hunt says, “Well, when half of our budget goes into the military, that means we have a very big hammer.”

Hunt points to Afghanistan, where she has worked extensively with local women leaders, as a prime example of the tension between conventional and inclusive security. “It’s not just bringing in more soldiers,” she says. “More soldiers are going to bring in, yes, one kind of security, but with tremendous resistance from terrorists. But if you were to take that money and instead give crash courses to support women leaders in every village, you would be fighting a bad idea – the Taliban – with a good idea – women’s empowerment – which is much more powerful than fighting a bad idea with guns.”

Hunt insists that the models are out there. The German government, for example, maintains a citizen’s peace force alongside its conventional military. Members of the peace force spend two years working in conflict zones, where they help mediate disputes, document human rights violations, and safeguard the peace. “If you’re a writer, the German government will say, “Great, we need a writer in Colombia. We’ll put you with a doctor and a lawyer, and we’ll put you in this village. We want to stop the paramilitaries and the guerillas from destroying this village and we’ll teach you how.” This is not just wishful thinking either, she notes. It is hard-nosed work that occurs on the ground. And by opening up these conflict zones to public scrutiny, the peace force creates accountability, both for the perpetrators of violence and the governments that would prefer to look the other way. “There are so many creative ideas like this,” Hunt says. “It takes getting access to the president or secretary of state and saying, ‘Look, here are the models. Be brave.’”

On the other hand, Hunt recognizes that government policy can only go so far – and that civil society has a vital role to play in advancing democracy, security and women’s empowerment. “The question is not what role civil society and philanthropy can play, but what role they must play. Civil society is the natural vehicle for soft power, as a country leads by example. What is that example? It is human rights, economic justice, good governance, care for the most vulnerable – but as defined first by those affected, not by an elite [part of society]. Civil society – NGOs, churches, universities – is usually at the forefront of these concerns, pulling government into action. The most important role of philanthropy right now is to support those individuals, groups and institutions that are speaking out with the clearest voices, calling for and defining the change we need in our domestic and global policies and practice.”