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Black History Month: Bonnie Jenkins

Black History Month: Celebrating figures in conflict and security
Eshaa Rehan

Third-year War Studies and History student

17 October 2022

Eshaa Rehan, third-year War Studies and History student, celebrates the first African American Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Bonnie Jenkins. She explores Jenkins' extraordinary career and ongoing campaign to open up the field of conflict and security to women of colour.

Women of colour are often excluded from the field of national security. This limits the perspectives and views within security discussions, lowering the quality of policies and their outcomes. Bonnie Jenkins has recognised this issue in the sector and has sought to tackle it head on.

A trailblazer in her field and the first African American Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Jenkins has broken several glass ceilings.

Bonnie Jenkins hails from a relatively humble background, growing up in the Bronx “without much money”, she has openly shared that she has a very difficult background from many people she works with. Despite social barriers, Jenkins built an extraordinary career in the US Naval Force and was awarded with several medals. An expert in the areas of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation, she has been part of several major undertakings, including working as council to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission). With her insight, the former uneven US counterterrorist strategy was scrapped in favour of a more focused approach. Jenkins’ described the process as monumental, as it allowed the actions of the state to be questioned by an independent body.

Jenkins is the U.S. representative to the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. By Jenkins’ own account, the Global Partnership only had female professionals due to Hillary Clinton’s intervention, yet there was still a distinct absence of people of colour. Ever since this engagement, Jenkins’ has worked tirelessly to balance this inequality.

In much of Jenkins’ work, she is often the first African American or first African American woman in such a position. By founding the Women of Colour Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict (WCAPS), Jenkins has provided a platform to help other women of colour enter the industry. WCAPS is an organisation that seeks to include women of colour in government and policy positions, and as a result of this, ensure women of colour have a voice in decision and policymaking. WCAP’s achieves this through its mentorship programs and increasing the exposure of women who are already in the field. Spanning several countries, WCAPS helps reduce this inequality internationally as well as within America.

We’ve never had significant voices of people of color or women in policy development. We don’t know if we might have taken a different position on things or adopted a different policy. Even if the end result is the same, the path may differ, resulting in better or different kinds of relationships with countries afterwards.– Bonnie Jenkins

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