Old Meets New: Utilizing WPS as a Framework to Enhance U.S.-Japan Partnership

Ms. Kayla McGill
WPS Policy Advisor, The Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues, Department of State
Publication Date: February 16, 2024

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Publications Old Meets New: Utilizing WPS as a Framework to Enhance U.S.-Japan Partnership

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This publication was part of Ms. Kayla McGill’s participation in Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA’s Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Delegation (SEED) program, where eight U.S. Women, Peace and Security (WPS) experts traveled to Japan from July 22 to 30, 2023. The 2023 SEED delegates engaged with Japanese policymakers and experts to understand the challenges and opportunities Japan faces with implementing WPS and to explore avenues for future U.S.-Japan collaboration on WPS.

During the week I spent in Tokyo as a member of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA 2023 Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Delegation (SEED) program, I was continually reminded of the Tokyo tourism campaign “Old meets New.”[1]  Many of the members of the delegation were old friends who I saw in a new light as they shared their expertise with our Japanese counterparts. I was fortunate to have met a few of our Japanese counterparts during previous engagements, and I left the program with many new connections and exciting avenues to explore. Most importantly, it was eye-opening to see the elegance of the “Old meets New” concept when utilizing Women, Peace and Security (WPS) as an avenue to advance bilateral partnerships and international security.

Midway through the SEED program, I had the opportunity to speak with Shanti Shoji (Director of Programs for Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA) and discuss the engagements and meetings from the previous days. I remarked that there were amazing examples of unique and diverse WPS experts, as well as examples of work from grassroots to international levels, including meetings with experts from the media, government officials, and academics focused on distinct issues. Shanti shared that during the planning process, she and the team found it difficult to identify WPS-specific experts for the sessions until they focused on the themes prioritized by the delegation (climate, access to resources, security, societal norms, intersectionality) and reviewed the basic principles of WPS (participation, protection, prevention, relief, and recovery). With this refocused perspective, Shanti said they ended up with nearly too many topics and meetings to fit into the week.

This theme was reiterated several times by the experts with whom we met. Some of the leaders did not consider themselves WPS authorities, but due to their areas of focus, they provided crucial expertise to global WPS work related to women’s leadership, societal norms affecting progress (many of which were gender norms), and advances in security partnerships. The discussions provided insight on issues of social importance, focused on economic impacts, and shared concerns and hopes for the future. Throughout our conversations, the SEED participants expressed interest and identified opportunities to develop concrete paths forward in addressing themes and issues related to WPS. This feeling of community in our encounters with one another, old and new acquaintances, provided us with a new way of examining the work each of us does, and the impact we could, and should, have. This unique approach of facilitating diverse opinions and avenues of partnership is at the heart of Women, Peace and Security.

Is this Women, Peace and Security?

The practice of asking the question, “Is this WPS?” was not only an exciting part of the meetings, but also the most important part of the program. In this line of work, I frequently hear (often untrue) comments such as, “I don’t think I am an expert on WPS,” or (unironic) statements such as, “I don’t do WPS, I just work on leadership and education” – all of which lead into great conversations. However, when I hear the question, “Is this WPS?” I know we are in for an important and impactful discussion examining the old views and the new ways of looking at WPS.

There is a skewed narrative around what WPS is and how it impacts daily lives. This is often perpetuated by the misguided assumption that the end goal of WPS is for women to be ‘empowered’ by certain individuals who will ‘give’ them a myriad of leadership roles so they can ‘speak at a meeting.’ This traditionally translates to an unfortunate interpretation of ‘add women and stir’ that leads to tokenistic representation or siloing women into issues related to their societally perceived roles as mothers and caregivers. However, in organizing this program, Shanti and her team revealed the heart of WPS: a blending of inclusion, access, partnerships, diverse issue areas, and people from all walks of life – a concept that is both overwhelmingly universal and shockingly individual in its application.

A perfect example of this concept was showcased during one of our first meetings, a dinner with a local organization called Kosodate Village.[2] We met with Ms. Rachel Ferguson, the Executive Director, and her assistant Ms. Hana Hattori Long, for a dinner which included some exquisite green tea salt and tempura pumpkin that some of us from the delegation still talk about. Over dinner, Ms. Ferguson and Ms. Hattori Long shared that Kosodate Village was created when Ms. Ferguson identified a need in her local community for access to quality education, as well as the need for safe spaces to discuss equality, diversity, and inclusion of women, young girls, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

As the evening progressed, two major thoughts stood out. The first was that Ms. Ferguson and her team, who themselves said they never thought of Kosodate as a WPS organization, were enacting the essentials of WPS by identifying a need and actively taking steps to create opportunities and support for those who had been traditionally marginalized. The second was that this was a perfect example of the importance of non-government partners in implementing WPS efforts. Organizations such as Kosodate Village incorporate WPS practices at the individual and local level, based (often inadvertently) on WPS policy. They should not only be highlighted as exceptional WPS leaders, but we collectively should take advantage of the opportunity to partner and learn from them on how to address WPS in unique and new ways.

Kosodate Village was just one example of meetings we had with leaders who did not directly identify as a WPS organization or leader, but nevertheless highlighted an opportunity to reflect on how the WPS agenda has materialized and developed over the 23 years since UNSCR1325 was passed. Diversifying our understanding of how WPS began and how it is applicable currently, and promoting opportunities to ask and critically think about the question “Is this WPS?” is the only way to truly advance the global WPS agenda in a new manner.

The Personal is Political

Scores of feminist leaders, authors, academics, and experts, including Bell Hooks, have highlighted the importance of personal and individual issues experienced by marginalized groups, specifically women, and how they impact political decision-making processes, policy implementation, national security, and bilateral partnerships.[3] As part of my application to the SEED program, I wrote in my statement of interest that the core tenet of WPS is inclusivity of those marginalized from processes, policy, and practices that directly impact an individual’s security. If the ultimate goal of our strong and lasting U.S.-Japan partnership is to promote our national and international security interests, we simply cannot continue to disregard the importance of individual security.

The issue of individual security was addressed multiple times during the SEED trip, but a few specific meetings made quite an impact. These included an exceptional panel with the Japanese Ministry of Defense and their discussions on access to services and safe reporting options for sexual harassment; a detailed conversation with JICA and their work in the region on climate related issues, including women’s lack of financial support and localized efforts to combat resource and food scarcity due to new security challenges; and a fascinating conversation with former reporters and academic leaders detailing their experiences with advances in technology coupled with the issue of technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

One meeting stood out as the crux of how the personal is political. We met with an expert to discuss their work on WPS in academia and policy issues, and throughout the conversation they opened up regarding a recent family loss they had experienced. Their tone was apologetic as they stated their work had to take a backseat as they prioritized their role of caretaker for their family member, and they were only now feeling capable of resuming their work. As we expressed our sympathy for their loss and appreciation for the trust they gave in confiding in us, they talked about the assistance they received from their employer regarding time off and the moral support given without pressure to return to the office until they felt ready. Although this should be standard for bereavement, to this person (someone who actively worked on policy and gender issues) it meant they had the support and more importantly, the individual security, to return to their job when they were capable of doing so.

Too often, topics of discussion related to policy ignore the real, lived, personal experiences and needs of the individual. WPS can be a means to bring personal, or individual, security to a political, or normalized, space; to make a difference in the lives of those coping with personal loss, those fighting for justice in a bureaucratic system, or those struggling to feed their families. This goal cannot be accomplished without an understanding of what stresses individuals are facing. With this type of information, we can then galvanize our efforts to offer support and security.

One of the lines of effort in the U.S. Strategy and National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS is to focus on internal capacity building through integration and institutionalization.[4] This is not solely to promote women to leadership positions, but to provide a gendered perspective on all policy issues, address internal barriers to equity and equality, and promote a safe and welcoming environment for all. Japan is taking steps towards addressing this internal capacity through the domestic component of their WPS NAP.[5] This joint goal provides a clear avenue for the U.S.-Japan partnership to develop further by sharing best practices and advancing our common goal of bolstering internal support and capacity building through integration of WPS and individual security. Broadly speaking, this is how we can make the personal political.

Reframe WPS and Security

The WPS agenda must be utilized and viewed as transformative to address emerging security challenges in an inclusive and tangible way. This goal is at the crux of the U.S.-Japan partnership on WPS and was repeatedly emphasized throughout the week in Tokyo.

Two of the most impactful conversations during the SEED conference on this intersection were with Professor Yoko Iwama and her students at GRIPS, and Professor Yoriko Meguro, the Chair of the Japan WPS NAP Evaluation Committee. During our meeting with Professor Meguro, it was interesting to learn why the evaluation committee was created and how they provided recommendations and expertise on Japan’s previous WPS NAPs to inform the development of future plans.[6] This feedback ensures that the Japan WPS NAP is as informed and adaptable as possible and is responsive to the needs and views of those it is impacting.

Conversations with Professor Iwama and her GRIPS students ranged from the adaptation of arms control and disarmament discussions to emerging security partnerships and shifts in power politics, underscoring the importance of the U.S.-Japan partnership. Professor Iwama discussed changing old norms and how developing new lines of partnerships and utilizing WPS as a framework could address this issue. Initiatives she outlined include the addition of experts (including more women) and diverse perspectives to discussions and decision-making processes.

In both meetings, we discussed how traditional security issues, such as arms control and disarmament or great power competition, are suffering from a lack of creative approaches. WPS is an inclusive framework built to tackle traditional security challenges through diverse paths that lead to solutions which would have been otherwise ignored. As an example, in every meeting, when Japanese delegates were asked how WPS or gender analysis was brought to their attention, their response was the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. This event starkly highlighted the lack of provisions made for women and girls, particularly related to clothing, sanitary and health materials, and physical safety and security. Following this calamity, disaster relief and response in Japan took a new turn. What once was a security challenge addressed through a traditional lens which excluded over half of the population from relief and recovery efforts, is now developing into a cornerstone of Japan’s WPS leadership and is built upon a whole-of-society approach.

Over the past few decades, WPS and gendered analysis of security issues have taken extensive strides forward through the expertise and scholarship of individuals such as Dr. Valerie Hudson and her books, Sex and World Peace and The First Political Order; Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s On Intersectionality; Dr. J. Ann Tickner’s Gender in International Relations; Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men; and many other important research advances.[7] One of the most important contributions these experts and others made was advancing statistically significant and data-driven evidence of the gendered nature of conflict and security. This has supported policymakers and practitioners’ full engagement of WPS as a framework for understanding and addressing new and emerging security issues and many organizations and experts, including Data2x, The WomanStats Project, Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security Index, and UN Women, have expanded upon this new line of reasoning.

One of the most impactful moments of the trip was when we met with Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and members of the Diet Members Network on WPS and discussed avenues to reframe security through WPS. Each of the SEED experts shared examples from their work, ranging from civil society’s support for the 2017 U.S. WPS Act, to academic contributions on emerging issues such as WPS and masculinities, to the first U.S. Department of Defense training of regional gender advisors.[8] After hearing from each of my colleagues as they answered from their own unique expertise and perspectives on this reframing, I realized the simple answer was that we reframe what security looks like together.

As I listened to the different avenues for reframing security, I thought back to the weeklong UN Women WPS-Focal Points Network (WPS-FPN) conference in Washington DC, hosted by the United States as part of our 2023 co-chairship alongside Romania. The concept of advancing WPS together was prevalent during the conference as hundreds of individuals from civil society, academia, and private sector, as well as legislative and government officials, and experts from around the world attended panels, events, and workshops with the goal of identifying gaps in WPS implementation and developing ideas and partnerships to successfully address existing and emerging security issues.[9] Of note, Japan was not only a strong U.S. partner throughout our co-chairship, but was a founding member of the WPS-FPN and provided valuable insights and multiple senior-level engagements throughout 2023. What came to me most clearly as I thought of these powerful steps forward, was the fact that nearly every person on the SEED program not only attended the DC WPS-FPN Conference, but they openly and willingly contributed their time and expertise as panelists, speakers, facilitators, and moderators. Their contributions were invaluable, and that conference would not have been a success without them and the diversity of work, experience, and knowledge they brought.

While in Tokyo with the same partners and experts I had worked with closely for years, and with the opportunity to delve into the very core of WPS as we met with Japanese counterparts and leaders, I was again struck by the magnitude of how WPS brings us all together. All of these impressions came down to that moment with Foreign Minister Kamikawa and the Diet Members Network on WPS. We were, yet again, coming together as members of the global WPS community to share different perspectives to address diverse security needs by drawing upon each of our lived experiences. This coming together from all walks of life is what makes WPS successful and what makes it possible for us to advance a version of security which is inclusive and comprehensive.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are of course challenges to this work, many of which have already been highlighted. WPS is not just for or about women, it is not just ‘add women and stir,’ and it is not just tweaking the conventional perspectives of women’s roles. Any efforts to promote gender parity must be coupled with gender analysis of the issues to truly promote lasting, positive change. Traditional security issues and practitioners are often unyielding in their exclusion of WPS and gender-related issues. WPS and gender equality are frequently regarded as separate from policy initiatives, meaning WPS is sidelined during senior leadership discussions and those leading WPS efforts are left with little to no support when it comes to implementing policy.

Although these challenges exist, there are many collaborative ways to resolve them. In addition to this U.S.-Japan bilateral partnership, there exist multiple opportunities to jointly address WPS in multilateral and regional partnerships. Two examples that immediately come to mind are 1) through the UN with Japan’s forthcoming UNSC Presidency and a continuation of our partnership as members of the UN Women WPS-FPN and other WPS-related efforts; and 2) through continuing to incorporate WPS and gender-equality language and actionable efforts with global partnerships and senior leadership engagements, such as in the G7 where Japan has paved the way forward by including WPS language in the 2023 leadership statement. These and other multilateral fora are where we can come together as partners to advance the WPS agenda.

Civil society partnerships and sharing best practices for WPS NAP development, implementation, and lessons learned remain a crucial avenue of partnership between the United States and Japan. This sharing of expertise could be expanded as other Regional Action Plans and National Action Plans are developed by, for example, multiple ASEAN nations and partners. Additionally, to further strengthen the concept of WPS partnerships regionally and globally, the United States and Japan should continue to partner with existing and future WPS Centers of Excellence (regional hubs which coordinate existing WPS efforts with a multi-sector approach).

The opportunities for partnership are many, and if we focus on the goal of strategically integrating WPS through future working groups and exchanges while fostering unique approaches to security challenges, the U.S.-Japan alliance will continue to grow and develop.


As the SEED program drew to a close, I reflected on the “Old meets New” concept once again. It has always been clear that much of what we aim to accomplish with WPS is translating ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ security practices into ‘new’ and more secure opportunities for all. As we attended meetings, walked the streets of Tokyo, talked together as a delegation, and met with strangers who became new partners, it was clear that WPS is a unique way of addressing both old and new security concerns and an avenue for further partnership between the United States and Japan.

Most importantly, the week in Tokyo opened my eyes to the fact that WPS is woven throughout the U.S.-Japan partnership by our individual strengths and connections. As we commit to utilizing WPS as a framework for how, through policy and practice, we address national and individual security, our bilateral partnership will continue to evolve and expand in a comprehensive and meaningful way. The concept of “Old meets New” allows for even more opportunities to ask and seek to answer the question, “Is this WPS?” as we jointly move forward to promote a shared version of peace and security.

[1] “Tokyo Tokyo,” Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Accessed January 2024, https://tokyotokyo.jp/home/.

[2] “Kosodate Village,” NPO Kosodate Village, Accessed January 2024, https://www.kosodatevillage.org/.

[3] Bell Hooks, “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” Routledge, 2014, https://www.routledge.com/Feminist-Theory-From-Margin-to-Center/hooks/p/book/9781138821668.

[4] “U.S. Strategy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security,” The White House, October 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/U.S.-Strategy-and-National-Action-Plan-on-Women-Peace-and-Security.pdf.

[5] “National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, September 29, 2015, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000101798.pdf.

[6] “Evaluation Report on the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security January 2018 – December 2019,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, March 2021, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/100288813.pdf.

[7] Valerie M. Hudson, Donna Lee Bowen, Perpetua Lynn Nielsen, “The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide,” Columbia University Press, 2020, https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-first-political-order/9780231194662; Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, “On Intersectionality: Essential Writings,” The New Press, 2017, https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/books/255/; J. Ann Tickner, “Gender in International Relations,” Columbia University Press, 1993, https://cup.columbia.edu/book/gender-in-international-relations/9780231075398; Caroline Criado Perez, “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” Vintage Books, 2020, https://carolinecriadoperez.com/book/invisible-women/.

[8] Sahana Dharmapuri, Jolynn Shoemaker, Sarah Williamson, “What You Should Know About the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017,” Our Secure Future, 2018, https://oursecurefuture.org/sites/default/files/Policy%20Brief-WPS-101_digital.pdf; Joshua Allen, Kristine Baekgaard, Robert U. Nagel, “Beyond Engaging Men: Masculinity, (Non) Violence, and Peacebuilding,” Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Accessed January 2024, https://giwps.georgetown.edu/resource/beyond-engaging-men/; “U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Hosts Inaugural Regional Military Gender Advisor Course,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, August 16, 2023, https://www.pacom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/3495609/us-indo-pacific-command-hosts-inaugural-regional-military-gender-advisor-course/.

[9] “The United States and Romania are 2023 Co-Chairs of the WPS Focal Points Network,” The Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network, Accessed January 2024, https://wpsfocalpointsnetwork.org/.

Ms. Kayla McGill wrote in her personal capacity. The views and interpretations expressed by the author are solely her own.

Kayla McGill is a Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) at the U.S. Department of State where she works to incorporate a gendered perspective into international and national security issues with a focus on political participation, countering violent extremism, and creating tangible change through partnerships. She is currently the lead coordinator for the 2023 U.S. Co-Chairship of the WPS-Focal Points Network and WPS Centers of Excellence. Prior to working at S/GWI, she was the Program Director for Women In International Security (WIIS) where she managed programming and staff, organized conferences and events, conducted research on gender and international security issues, and worked closely with the WIIS President, Board, and members. Kayla also previously worked at the WomanStats Project as a Coder and Researcher where she analyzed qualitative and quantitative data, conducted and presented research at conferences and events, and represented the Project at U.S. government consultations and multilateral fora such as the United Nations. Kayla is a trained analytical researcher with a particular interest and expertise in the nexus between societal and cultural norms and conflict. She speaks French, has lived in China, Germany, the UK, and France, and has traveled abroad extensively. She received her Masters of International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service where she focused on Diplomacy, Intelligence, and WPS.

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