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Gender in peacekeeping: an evolving field of practice


This year saw remarkable progress in women’s participation in many aspects of peacekeeping in countries emerging from conflict.


In Afghanistan, an action plan developed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to improve the participation of Afghan women in political life continued to have a significant impact. The Election Task Force chaired by UNAMA’s gender advisor worked with various women’s groups to promote women’s representation in the election process both as voters and candidates. In the September parliamentary elections, 44 percent of the voters registered were women, an increase of 4 percent from the 2004 presidential elections. In the lower house of the new Parliament, 68 of 249 seats were reserved for women. In addition, women also won seats in their own right in about 13 of the 34 provinces.


Since the appointment of the first gender advisor of the UN Office in Burundi (ONUB) in 2004, a major focus has been disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of women fighters. As a result of the gender advisor’s lobbying, the category of “women fighters” was redefined to include not only active fighters but also women who supported the war in different roles, including porters, cooks and sexual slaves. Of the 485 women disarmed in Burundi, 231 joined the country’s police force. Using the same method, the UN Mission in Liberia facilitated the disarmament and demobilization of more than 21,000 women and girls.


When a provisional survey showed that women made up only 25-30 percent of those who registered to vote in Liberian elections, the interim government launched a nation-wide awareness campaign encouraging women to register. UNMIL supported initiatives advocating the government to adopt laws that would give women 30 percent representation on all political parties’ candidates lists. Although the Electoral Reform Law did not include quotas, the political parties’ guidelines stipulated that 30 percent of the candidates be women. In November, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected Africa’s first woman head of state.


A full third of lawmakers in the new Burundi parliament are women, including the speaker of parliament and several cabinet ministers.


Despite progress achieved in involving women in peacekeeping missions, major challenges remain, including ending sexual exploitation and abuse by some peacekeepers. The UN’s zero tolerance policy and strategies of prevention, enforcement of discipline standards and regulations, training and raising awareness, which the UN started implementing together with the Member States in 2004, has started to have real impact.


While these steps are clearly needed, abuse cannot be prevented without empowering women and girls through gender mainstreaming, and the inclusion of gender issues in all aspects of the UN’s work. To advance the efforts, the Under- Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, issued new policy guidelines on gender mainstreaming in March, with an action plan finalized later in the year.


The adoption of gender sensitive approach in all aspects of peacekeeping remained a new area for the United Nations.Much more remains to be done to ensure that all peacekeeping personnel and Member States alike embrace gender mainstreaming as a critical strategy for making peacekeeping more effective.


Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2006