Less than a year ago, President Obama announced a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement commitments on Women, Peace and Security.  It was a historic moment and the product of a tremendous collaboration between the White House, USAID, the Departments of State and Defense, other agencies, and civil society groups at home and abroad.  It was also the first step.

Immediately following this announcement, the real work began as each agency began creating an implementation plan, a roadmap to how we would make these commitments real.  Last week, I was thrilled to participate in the release of USAID’s Implementation Plan for the NAP.  This plan was crafted to provide guidance on how to both address the needs of women and provide them with the tools to empower themselves to be forceful change agents within their communities.

This critical step could not come soon enough.  For advocates focused on the empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, these are heady times.  From graphic images of women being raped in the eastern Congo to young girls in Afghanistan having acid thrown in their faces for daring to return to school, the past few years have seen a growing international awareness of the tragic personal costs women pay for our failure to protect them in the context of armed conflict. We also now know the tremendous collective costs we pay as a global community for failing to draw on women’s talents for making and building peace, pursuing development, and reconstructing post-conflict societies.

But we are responding.  Through this Implementation Plan, we are working to ensure that we have impact on the ground by integrating and institutionalizing a gender-focused approach to peace and security; promoting women’s participation in peace processes and decision making; strengthening protection of women and children from hard, discrimination and abuse; and promoting women’s roles in conflict prevention.

Perhaps the most exciting about this plan is that it’s packed with programs that will have an impact on the ground.  For example, USAID will support new programs in the Philippines, Nepal, Yemen and elsewhere to strengthen women’s participation in peace-building and political processes. USAID will also establish a fund to catalyze implementation of the NAP through innovative activities that advance women, peace, and security in priority countries.

That said, we know the success of our efforts will not be measured by the policies we adopt, the resolutions and legislations we pass, the publicity we generate, or even the money we spend.  It will be measured by the degree to which we protect the well-being of women and girls faced with the horrors of war, empower them to play their rightful role in peace process and post-conflict reconstruction, hold government security forces and warlords alike accountable for acts of abuse and sexual violence, build strong civil society networks of women and for women, and end the stigma of victimization that confronts women leaders around the world.