Two agencies team up to get more women in counterterrorism efforts around the world

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A new initiative from the Justice and State Departments looks to support women in leadership roles in counterterrorism. The Engaging Multinational Police Women on Equality and Rights or EMPoWER project, recently conducted its first ever symposium last month in Croatia. To learn more about the program, and some of the advantages of having more women to fight...


Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

A new initiative from the Justice and State Departments looks to support women in leadership roles in counterterrorism. The Engaging Multinational Police Women on Equality and Rights or EMPoWER project, recently conducted its first ever symposium last month in Croatia. To learn more about the program, and some of the advantages of having more women to fight terrorism, Federal News Network’s Eric White spoke to Laurie Freeman, Deputy Director for the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, and Heather Rauch is the Acting Assistant Director for Europe/Eurasia, with the Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.

Interview transcript:

Heather Rauch: The program really focuses on developing the leadership skills necessary for mid to senior level female and male law enforcement professionals to succeed in their current criminal justice system while building capacities in their home countries to counter terrorism. We are currently working across 18 countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. And we are also looking to provide specialized and continuous assistance to four of those 18 countries. We are implementing the program by providing career development training, leadership training, we are creating networking opportunities and empowering law enforcement professionals in counterterrorism by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

How do we hope to accomplish this? Well, we hope to strengthen the counterterrorism abilities of partner governments by providing professional training for females and male leaders. We are hoping to encourage organizational change that recognizes the benefits of gender diversity, again, establish a network of support to empower law enforcement in counterterrorism. We’re also hoping to increase females in senior management roles.

Eric White: Laurie, I imagine the international partnerships part is where the State Department comes in. But what other roles does the department have in this in this project?

Laurie Freeman: Thank you. So yes, the Counterterrorism Bureau at the State Department, I’ll call us CT, we have programs all over the world that are designed to build the capacity of our sort of partner law enforcement agencies, to investigate, prosecute, respond to terrorism crimes. And so within kind of that overarching, you know, mission that we have of helping fellow police officers, you know, in countries where that are experiencing terrorism problems, be able to address it better through the criminal justice system, we realized that, you know, one area specifically, where we could help them is how to ensure that women police officers, who are often sort of denied opportunities for training, mentorship, and whatnot, how they can kind of reach their full potential and participate meaningfully in securing their own countries and protecting their own fellow citizens from terrorism crimes. So we decided, in partnership, actually, with law enforcement leadership from Kenya and Somalia, who specifically asked us, you know, they had talented women on the force participating in counterterrorism units, they wanted our advice and assistance on how they could really ensure that they got what they needed to excel their jobs and continue to develop and grow. So we were really inspired by that, and wanted to be able to assist. And so we turned to Heather and Department of Justice, ICITAP to help us develop this program to provide that sort of assistance, not just in Kenya and Somalia, but in many of the countries where our bureau is really focused on training and equipping police forces to counter terrorism.

Eric White: What has it been of women not serving as big a role in counterterrorism efforts as other nations that you know, you didn’t list? Is it just the cultural aspects of things that kind of held things back a little bit and now they’re coming too to see the the role that women can play in the counterterrorism efforts?

Laurie Freeman: I mean, I think just there’s a, there’s a lot of stereotypes and assumptions about the types of roles women police can and can’t play. And so there’s sort of cultural hurdles and biases, where, you know, they’re kind of assigned to more administrative and desk jobs and passed over for some of the more tactical or specialized types of roles. And then obviously, they face challenges kind of with being promoted, it’s sort of rising to leadership levels. And then through the EMPoWER Program, ICITAP has done really in-depth focus groups with women, law enforcement from different partner countries and have a lot more specific details on that. So I’ll turn it over to Heather.

Eric White: Yeah, Heather, what specific aspects of having more female representation in these counterterrorism efforts? Is it an advantage other than, you know, having just more manpower?

Heather Rauch: Sure. Well, you know increasing women’s participation and leadership in law enforcement, generally speaking, bolsters operational effectiveness. It expands police institutions’ ability to engage in local communities. It also broadens the institution’s understanding of operating environments and strengthens the police response to crime, including terrorism. There have been numerous studies conducted and shown that women officers are less likely to use excessive force. And women possess a number of traits that make them trusted partners to their community, and therefore leads to increased information sharing. Women officers are often seen as more approachable by victims, particularly women and children.

Eric White: Yeah, I know it’s early. So you know, the the program literally just started this year. And but you have been doing these efforts, as you mentioned, as part of your normal operations within your particular sector of the agency, what has been the feedback that you’ve seen and the results that you’ve seen from programs such as these?

Heather Rauch: Sure. Great question. So like Laurie mentioned, you know, we we’ve been conducting numerous focus groups, with the countries within the EMPoWER Program to determine the needs and the gaps. And as a result of that we have, we’ve started conducting symposiums our most recent symposium was in the Balkans, where we recently had our Balkans symposium, which was hosted in Croatia and included Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, North Macedonia and Montenegro. And the symposiums are really focused on like I said, you know, the gaps that we are finding from the focus groups that we are conducting. And so we’re looking at blending leadership and management, we are focused on strategic communications for countering violent extremism, forensics and counterterrorism investigations. We also conducted a study tour back in September, where ICITAP and CT hosted individuals from the all-female special weapons and tactics team. Laurie mentioned them earlier, they are from Kenya. And the study tour included advanced technical and career development training. There’s one individual that was invited on the study tour that was also invited to the symposium. And we have seen a tremendous amount of confidence. She has taken lessons learned from both the study tour and the symposium back to her unit, she has become an inspiration for other women in her unit to you know, break that glass ceiling, and to recognize the potential that the women have and the benefit that they bring to their organizations.

Eric White: Yeah, Laurie, I’m curious about how programs like this help in other aspects of the State Department’s missions, which I’m sure you know, entwined in that is getting more female involvement in areas where there typically wasn’t a lot in the past. You know, she mentioned, Heather just mentioned some of the other managerial aspects and communications parts, that you’re trying to get more female involvement. But overall, I imagine that this program can be a positive force in other areas other than counterterrorism and law enforcement.

Laurie Freeman: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s a great point. I think, you know, I’m from the Counterterrorism Bureau, and that’s sort of our mission and mandate. So that’s kind of where the starting point for the program, but it has sort of much broader reach and sort of knock on effects, if you will. And so we like to talk about this program, sort of within the context of this women peace and security strategy, that the U.S. government, the State Department is sort of working towards, and it’s about promoting the meaningful participation of women and girls and all sorts of issues related to conflict and crisis. And so I think just having more women police involved in counterterrorism, you know, I guess raises awareness about sort of the abilities of women to take on all sorts of kind of nontraditional roles and contribute to their societies in multiple different ways. And so I think also, one of the things that through this program we’re doing is creating networks, networks of female police, networks with mentors that we’re putting them in touch with, and those kinds of networks are then reinforcing relationships between the United States, other countries, creating partnerships that, you know, will last ideally long after this program is over. And so I think those types of things having civilian law enforcement officers across borders, sharing information coordinating collaborating, helps, really, many, you know, even way beyond the field of terrorism.

Eric White: Looking inward here, I’m curious to get both of your perspectives as to women in this counterterrorism field is are U.S. agencies practicing what they’re preaching? What do you see, as far as counterterrorism efforts go here? Do we have ourselves in a female representation?

Heather Rauch: So I’m not sure if you all are familiar with the 30 by 30 initiative that was launched in 2018. But this aspires to increase actually, the representation of women in police recruit to 30% by the year 2030. So clearly, this is a priority for law enforcement across the board, at the federal level, at the state level, and it’s really exciting to be a part of such an initiative and a program right now, that just seems to be the right time for implementing, and increasing women’s participation in law enforcement.

Eric White: Laurie, any final thoughts?

Laurie Freeman: Let’s see. Yeah, we’re, well, I guess, we’re very excited about, you know, how this program is going to develop, I think, everywhere that we work is going to be slightly different. And so we’re excited to kind of see how it develops and hope that you will, kind of we can come back to you and highlight any additional sort of outcomes or successes, as we kind of create these partnerships and train, train and mentor, sort of rising stars, from partner nation law enforcement forces, you know, around the world who are on the frontlines of terrorism threat.

And by, you know, by having these officers, both men and women, addressing serious terrorism threats in their own countries, it helps keep, you know, our own country and our own citizens safer. And so we’re really looking to do whatever we can to support their efforts. And I think having a you know, just making sure that women are a part of the approach and not sort of sidelined or ignored is to the benefit of everybody.

Heather Rauch: I just want to highlight and I think Laurie mentioned this earlier, you know, while the program is primarily focused on providing leadership skills and training to women, the program is inclusive of men. And I would like to highlight that many of the recent successes of our program currently, and in my personal professional career are due to men supporting women, seeing their value added and helping them rise throughout the ranks and in positions of leadership roles. So I just wanted to add that as well.

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