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Underground Railroad to Save Yazidi Women from the Islamic State Could Offer Critical Intel

by Catherine Powell
Yazidi refugees stand behind fences as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, June 20, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

It has been nearly a year since the self-proclaimed Islamic State kidnapped an estimated three thousand Yazidi women and children during an attack on their villages in northern Iraq. The Islamic State views these attacks, kidnappings, and killings as justifiable because they consider the Yazidi people—a religious minority group—infidels and devil-worshipers.

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Can the Chibok Girls Be Held Accountable for Boko Haram’s Atrocities?

by Catherine Powell
Children rescued from Boko Haram in Sambisa forest react at a clinic at the internally displaced people's camp in Yola, Nigeria, May 2015 (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters). Children rescued from Boko Haram in Sambisa forest react at a clinic at the internally displaced people's camp in Yola, Nigeria, May 2015 (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters).

It has been nearly fifteen months since Boko Haram abducted nearly three hundred girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Twitter. Since then, reports have surfaced that the girls have been sold, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to terrorist group members. Dozens of the girls managed to escape, but despite efforts to secure the release of the remaining 219 captives, no agreement has come through.

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Progress on Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security

by Catherine Powell
Afghan National Army (ANA) female officers take part in a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, October 8, 2013. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters) Afghan National Army (ANA) female officers take part in a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, October 8, 2013. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution recognizing the importance of women as leaders in the peace and security sector, not merely as victims of conflict. I recently hosted Nahla Valji—the head of women, peace, and security work at UN Women—to discuss international progress on the resolution and the U.S. role in its implementation.

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Flawed and Unequal Justice in Pakistan

by Catherine Powell
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai delivers a speech during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2014 (Cornelius Poppe/Reuters/NTB Scanpix/Pool). Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai delivers a speech during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2014 (Cornelius Poppe/Reuters/NTB Scanpix/Pool).

Earlier this month, Pakistani authorities revealed that eight of the ten men accused in the 2012 attack on Malala Yousafzai were acquitted, despite a previous announcement that all ten were sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Malala’s case is especially remarkable considering she won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, recognizing her advocacy for girls’ education even after being shot in the head for her work.

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Reframing the Conversation: Inclusive Security

by Catherine Powell
Female members of a Philippine peacekeeping force bound for Liberia stand at attention during a send-off ceremony at the military headquarters in Manila, January 2009 (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters). Female members of a Philippine peacekeeping force bound for Liberia stand at attention during a send-off ceremony at the military headquarters in Manila, January 2009 (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters).

This fall marks both the fifteenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security and the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action: two momentous and pivotal moments for women and women’s rights. Among other things, these two documents called for women to be included in decision making and leadership positions. Resolution 1325 in particular demands that women be viewed not only as victims of war, but also as agents of change—leaders in peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

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Holding Sudan to the Gold Standard

by Catherine Powell
Military personnel walk past women in Tabit village in North Darfur, Sudan. The joint peacekeeping mission in the region known as UNAMID visited Tabit in November 2014 to investigate media reports of an alleged mass rape of 200 women and girls (Courtesy Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters). Military personnel walk past women in Tabit village in North Darfur, Sudan. The joint peacekeeping mission in the region known as UNAMID visited Tabit in November 2014 to investigate media reports of an alleged mass rape of 200 women and girls (Courtesy Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters).

Although it may have slipped from headlines, the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur has not disappeared. Indeed, the region has seen almost unabated violence for over a decade, notably spiking in January 2013. In February of this year, a Human Rights Watch report shed light on the violence, documenting mass rape and other atrocities committed by forces loyal to the Sudanese government from October 30 to November 1, 2014.

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Helping Afghan Women Help Themselves

by Catherine Powell
Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament, hands out leaflets during her August 2005 election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan. Barakzai later survived a suicide bombing attack in December 2014 (Courtesy Zohra Bensemra/Reuters). Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament, hands out leaflets during her August 2005 election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan. Barakzai later survived a suicide bombing attack in December 2014 (Courtesy Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

Progress toward women’s rights and empowerment cannot be made without actors on the ground willing to fight for it. This is particularly true in Afghanistan as the United States begins to transition out of its on-the-ground presence and the Afghan government takes on more responsibility for security and stability. Local women’s rights movements will be more important than ever in ensuring Afghan women and girls maintain the strides they have made since the fall of the Taliban.

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India as Regional Power: Promoting Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

by Catherine Powell
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) speaks as Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani watches during the opening session of 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, on November 26, 2014 (Courtesy Narendra Shrestha/Pool/Reuters). India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) speaks as Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani watches during the opening session of 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, on November 26, 2014 (Courtesy Narendra Shrestha/Pool/Reuters).

Last month’s decision by President Obama to extend the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is an important step in securing the substantial American investment there. This extension—which is and should be temporary—is crucial to allow the Afghan government and security forces to build their capacity to maintain stability on the ground.

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Mr. Ghani Goes to Washington

by Catherine Powell
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, March 24, 2015 (Courtesy Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, March 24, 2015 (Courtesy Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

This week, during the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s White House visit, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he will delay the schedule for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and current troop levels will be maintained through the end of 2015. While I have reservations about the use of U.S. military power abroad more generally, a brief extension of the American military presence in Afghanistan makes sense to secure the substantial U.S. investment there.

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Building the Obamas’ Legacy: Expanding the Peace Corps to Advance Girls’ Education

by Catherine Powell
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama gestures during a visit to promote girls' education and the “Let Girls Learn” initiative at Hun Sen Prasaat Bankong high school on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia, March 2015 (Courtesy Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters). U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama gestures during a visit to promote girls' education and the “Let Girls Learn” initiative at Hun Sen Prasaat Bankong high school on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia, March 2015 (Courtesy Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters).

“When girls get educated—when they learn to read and write and think—that gives them the tools to speak up and to talk about injustice, and to demand equal treatment. It helps them participate in the political life of their country and hold their leaders accountable, call for change when their needs and aspirations aren’t being met.” These were the words of First Lady Michelle Obama as she addressed Peace Corps volunteers in Cambodia last weekend, part of her trip to promote the administration’s Let Girls Learn program.

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