Quotable: Julia Santucci on gender equality as a “national security imperative”

Wednesday, December 30th 2015

[Countering violent extremism] “without addressing the fundamental lack of rights and opportunities for women and girls because of official laws, practices, or edicts that may be based on religion . . . is akin to cutting off the top of a weed without addressing the roots,” wrote Julia Santucci, senior advisor to the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.  Her essay, “Countering Violent Extremism Means Countering Gender Inequality,” ran on the War on the Rocks website on December 16, 2015.  Here are some of Santucci’s key statements:


  • There are ongoing discussions and debates about gender roles within almost every world religion, often led by women and men who want to see change within their communities. But in many parts of the world, official laws and policies impose gender discrimination and even gender-based violence in the name of religion, prohibiting women and girls from leading happy, healthy, productive lives.


  • . . . gender inequality is linked to violence and helps fuel violent extremism. The tactics of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) present the starkest example.


  • The group is using sexual and gender-based violence not only as a tactic of terror, but also as a method of recruitment, luring thousands of young men with promises of access to — and full control over — women and girls. But its strict gender norms don’t just appeal to men; thousands of women from around the world — including Western Europe and the United States — also support the group, at least some of whom crave its idealized depictions of marriage, motherhood, and “traditional” roles for women.


  • . . . the United Nations supported a global study to examine progress on the women, peace, and security agenda. It found that “across religions and regions, a common thread shared by extremist groups is that in each and every instance, their advance has been coupled with attacks on the rights of women and girls — rights to education, to public life and to decision-making over their own bodies.”


  • For this reason, it is critical that government, civil society, and religious leaders speak out in unequivocal terms against discriminatory laws and policies that authorize violence against women, even if they are based on religion.


  • We must collectively use all of our efforts to promote gender equality, not only as a human rights or “women’s issue,” but as a national security imperative. We can no longer accept justifications or excuses that authorize violence against women and girls in the name of religion, because we have seen the implications of such thinking on our own security.

Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. 

Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.  Specializing in Public Diplomacy, political-military affairs, and East Asia, he attained the rank of Minister-Counselor in the career service.  He was President of the Public Diplomacy Council from 2013 to 2015 and is now a member of the Board of Directors.

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Author: Donald M. Bishop

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