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Women Leaders Aren't Making Enough Foreign Policy Decisions, And It's a Problem

It's a boys' club, and it needs to change.

In this op-ed, Beyond the Bomb, co-founders Meredith Horowski and Lillyanne Daigle call to attention the lack of female voices in foreign policy.

One day after President Trump’s inauguration, millions of women — and some men — from coast to coast took to the streets for the Women’s March in one of the most remarkable grassroots uprisings in recent decades. We were disgusted by the malignant behavior of our new president, an accused sexual predator and a swaggering bully. We were outraged by the overt sexism throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign. And we were determined to demonstrate our power. For those who had perhaps taken the gains women have made over the last several decades for granted, the 2016 election was an awakening. For those who have never wavered in the struggle, it was a rallying cry.

In the weeks that followed, more than a few commentators speculated that the energy would not last, that our movement would dissipate — but they were wrong. In the last year, women have spoken out powerfully on issue after issue. We’ve made it clear that the pathological sexism that has defined the status quo in Hollywood, corporate America, and on Capitol Hill will not be tolerated any longer. We’ve fought back attacks on our reproductive rights. We’ve created new organizations and convened en masse for the historic Women’s Convention. Thousands of women are signing up to run for office for the first time.

But while women are leading the resistance, the halls of power in D.C. and states across the country lag pathetically behind. We saw this perhaps most vividly when Trump gathered an all-male group of politicians at the White House to discuss his efforts to gut women’s health care. In a single photograph, the gross underrepresentation of women’s voices in government and on issues directly impacting their lives was crystal clear.

And it was exactly that photograph — and the utterly out-of-sync gender dynamics it laid bare — that stuck in our minds this month as we sat in a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Trump’s unrestrained power to wage nuclear war. A committee with a 20:1 male-to-female ratio heard testimony from three men on whether one man (an alleged serial sexual assaulter, no less) should have total, unchecked power to start a nuclear war and blow up the planet. This is a system that, as Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said, "boggles the rational mind."

Apparently, the Senate has a one-woman limit when it comes to foreign policy.

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the only woman on the committee, was also the only female voice in the room. She was allotted time at the very end of the hearing, after nearly all of her male colleagues had left. During a high profile congressional hearing on the most consequential life and death issue imaginable, only one woman spoke. No women testified. And even more frustrating is that this lack of female voices during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing follows a long history of their relative absencefrom both the nuclear and foreign policy fields.

During her brief speaking time at the hearing, Senator Shaheen expressed concern that Trump is contemplating a nuclear first strike against North Korea, and questioned whether this administration can or should be trusted with such a decision. She also boldly suggested that Congress should consider a “no first-use” policy (which would make it illegal to use nuclear weapons first) and asked the panelists their opinions on limiting the president’s power to launch a nuclear first strike.

Unsurprisingly, the all-male panel (or “manel”) of experts largely defended the dangerous status quo with vague assurances that leaders in the nuclear chain of command — who are tasked with carrying out a nuclear strike — could theoretically refuse Trump’s nuclear launch order, as long as it was “unlawful.” It’s worth noting that those at the top of the chain of command are all men.

To be clear: experts agree that if Donald Trump were to give the order to launch a nuclear attack (against another nuclear power or not), no one could stop him. The ensuing conflict would kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Our economy would be destroyed, and the environment would be devastated. The world would never be the same.

But somehow this is a decision where women have no voice. For a hearing intended to consider the fate of our planet, our families, our loved ones, and ourselves to be so grotesquely unrepresentative is appalling. To have a situation where mostly men and men alone are involved in this level of policy making is unacceptable. And to allow a man like Donald Trump to wield this power over all of our lives is unthinkable.

That’s why we refuse to stick to “women’s issues,” a term that seeks to silo or relegate our voices when they are needed across the spectrum. Women like us are shaping the political movements of the 21st century. And as Trump edges us closer to the nuclear brink, it’s clear that women deserve a voice in all aspects of our political life — including foreign policy. If we want to win on the nuclear issue, women need to have more than one seat at the table — they need to lead the charge.