Editor’s note: For years, the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs has brought together diplomats, journalists and academic experts to discuss key international issues. This year’s edition — Power and Empowerment — is planned as an in-person and live-stream “hybrid” event. It will be held from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24. It is free, but space is limited, and sign-up is required at worldaffairsconference.org. This column was written by a conference participant.
As a young FBI agent, I was one of the first women on an FBI SWAT team. My first major arrest was in an organized crime/cocaine distribution investigation that involved nearly 100 law enforcement officers. I was assigned to arrest the main subject’s mistress. My partner, not an advocate of female agents, said, “OK, Miss SWAT, you can be the first one through the door, kick it down.” To which I replied, “I won’t have to kick it down, I’ll get her to open it.” He responded with a sneer and a “Yeah, right.”
Tension was high as we approached the door with guns unholstered, because we knew she kept at least one gun in the apartment and she had been taking cocaine for days — a recipe for disaster. I knocked on the door. She asked, “Who is it?” and I said, “Hi, Gail, my name is Debbie and I live upstairs from you. Your mail was delivered to me by mistake.” She immediately opened the door and we entered, weapons drawn, to find Gail with three armed men, all pointing handguns at us. Fortunately, no shots were fired, but I believe the outcome would have been different had we entered that door with force. To me, this was a commonsense approach to a situation that had the potential to be deadly.
Women see and do things differently, and involving us in decisions creates equal or better outcomes in many instances. While all sectors benefit from the presence and full participation of women globally, there are two specific areas where greater inclusion of women creates brighter futures.
The first is safety and security. U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and research makes clear that a society will not reach its potential if people are not safe.
The second is corruption. Rising corruption is directly linked to diminution of global peace. In countries where women have greater economic and social rights, levels of corruption tend to be lower. Women leaders are generally viewed as more trustworthy across all cultures. The Nordic countries, Ireland and New Zealand, consistently rank among the most peaceful, transparent, democratic and prosperous countries in the world. What they also share is greater gender equity.
The status of women is one of the most important predictors in state stability. There is also clear evidence that women are less likely to support the use of force and will seek out alternative means and solutions to resolve conflict and create safer communities. I know this firsthand.
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Ukrainian entrepreneur Iryna Rubis, who is also a mom to three children, was living near Bucha, Ukraine, when Russia invaded the country last year. As missiles rained over her home, Rubis struggled to keep her family safe and, simultaneously, focused on ways to help her fellow Ukrainians. She was intent on creating a PTSD program for Ukrainian teens. A stress-relieving Telegram chatbot was born and received over 2.2 million views in 2022. Rubis then created an online community of Ukrainian women, those who remained and those temporarily displaced, to identify their professional needs, create online learning opportunities and establish partnerships for the Ukrainian women with professional women across Europe and North America.
Abeer Abu Ghaith, Palestine’s first female high-tech entrepreneur, founded MENA Alliances, which provides IT services for Expensify, Rainmaking and the World Bank, among others. In a region beset by conflict and a persistent lack of employment opportunities, Ghaith creates jobs and hope for an isolated Palestinian population and for young people throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Rubis and Ghaith are not the only female role models in the world. Rather than seeking to control by force, such women lead through inspiration and empowerment, transforming people’s attitudes and beliefs, and aligning people with meaning and purpose. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, women focus more holistically on values impacting everyday life and security, and less on politics. The Harvard Business Review reported that women rank higher than men across 17 of the 19 most desirable leadership qualities; many which are pivotal to creating positive peace.
Women alone can’t transform societies globally nor do we want to. Organizations like International Gender Champions and Male Allies for Gender Equality pledge to support women and they do. Men who support and champion women are powerful allies who know our value. Working together, we can create a safer, more peaceful and more prosperous future.
Lauren C. Anderson is a global women’s advocate, former FBI executive and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.