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Female diplomats and military service members say MeToo

The Pentagon building in Washington, DC. Approximately 23,000 military and civilian employees and about 3,000 non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon.
The Pentagon building in Washington, DC. Approximately 23,000 military and civilian employees and about 3,000 non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon.
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The MeToo movement has expanded to the national security community.

Since news broke last month of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged assault and intimidation of female employees and actresses, women have used the hashtag on Twitter and Facebook to discuss their own experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. 

In an open letter published Tuesday, more than 220 state department diplomats, military service members, international development professionals, and others called out sexism in their field and asked for concrete reforms to improve reporting mechanisms and gender equity in the leadership of federal agencies.

“We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are,” the women wrote in the letter, titled #MeTooNatSec. It goes on to say that the national security field can foster workplace environments that "silence, demean, belittle or neglect women."

One of the authors is Nina Hachigian, the former ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Obama Administration. In August, Mayor Eric Garcetti named her Deputy Mayor for International Affairs. Hachigian says the job title includes finding ways to make Los Angeles’ global ties benefit residents of the city and helping put on a successful 2028 Olympics in L.A.

“I might be the only Deputy Mayor for International Affairs in the country,” Hachigian said. “I don’t know of another one.”

Nina Hachigian is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti named her Deputy Mayor for International Affairs in August.
Nina Hachigian is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti named her Deputy Mayor for International Affairs in August.
Courtesty Nina Hachigian

Hachigian says she helped pen the letter to shed light on a climate in national security workplaces that too often allows female voices to be silenced. 

“Sexual harassment and abuse are on the extreme end of behaviors discriminatory to women in the field,” Hachigian said. “On the other hand you have unconscious bias and men who are otherwise great professional people who don’t realize their actions are harming the chances of women to succeed in the field.”

The Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have begun to tackle the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the military. One VA survey found one in five women veterans who sought medical care also reported experiencing sexual trauma related to their service.

The scope of the problem for women in the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other related agencies is not as well understood.

Hachigian pointed to data showing that in most federal agencies, women hold 30 percent or fewer of the top leadership roles. But it doesn’t start out that way.

“Women entering the field are 50-50 with men,” Hachigian said. “The higher you move up the rungs of the ladder, the fewer and fewer women there are.”

Hachigian has nearly 20 years of experience as one of the dwindling number of women climbing the ranks in the national security field.

As ambassador, she and her family were posted in Jakarta for 2 and a half years. Prior she worked for think tanks, like RAND in Santa Monica and the Center for American Progress, where she focused on U.S.-China relations. Hachigian also worked in the Clinton White House.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about ensuring we have the best foreign policy this country can have,” Hachigian said. “If women are being held back, that means the country is not getting the benefit of their experience, their points of view, and their expertise.” 

While most national security institutions have sexual harassment protections in place, “these policies are weak, under enforced, and can favor perpetrators” the letter states. 

It calls for concrete reforms, like policies to address the gender imbalance at the executive level, better training, independent data collection on claims, and new channels to confidentially report abuse.

“We’re at a moment of real national reckoning, long overdue,” Hachigian said.