Wanted: Female peacekeepers
In the early years of peacekeeping, UN soldiers conducted foot patrols along State borders and security zones, peered through binoculars from observation posts across deserts and mountains, and strung barbed-wire and other obstacles to keep (all-male) armies apart. Peacekeeping operations then carried out almost exclusively military functions and peacekeepers were almost exclusively male. Today, peacekeepers – in addition to their military/security-related tasks – are mandated to strengthen State institutions, organize elections, train police and corrections officers, disarm and reintegrate former combatants, and conduct HIV/AIDS awareness programmes.
It is now widely understood that successful implementation of complex, multidimensional peacekeeping mandates depends on women serving in meaningful numbers and making major contributions.
On the civilian side, women have steadily increased their level of representation in peacekeeping missions in recent decades and now make up 30 per cent of civilian staff. Female professionals have played key roles in political and civil affairs, public information, human rights, electoral issues and have headed missions including in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Burundi and Georgia.
The increased level of women serving in civilian posts – combined with the establishment of gender offices to ensure the integration of a gender perspective into all aspects of peacekeeping – has contributed to the empowerment of women in countries hosting peacekeeping missions. These gains can be seen in the fact that in these once war-ravaged countries, more women are voting and running for office; Constitutions are being revised to uphold the principle of equal rights of women and girls; discriminatory legislation is being revised; women’s advocacy groups are being strengthened; women are becoming increasingly represented in the police and civil service.
Of equal importance to the specific achievements of the UN’s female civilian staff are the gains fostered through the role modeling effects and positive examples they set for women and girls in the countries where they serve.
Against this backdrop of greater numbers of women achieving progress on the civilian side, it became clear that the number of women serving as uniformed peacekeepers – both police and military – remained unacceptably low. In early 2006, women made up only 1 per cent of the UN’s military strength and 4 per cent of its police.
Aware that the United Nations cannot tell countries that are going through security sector reform to increase the number of women serving in their armed forces and police when its own numbers are low, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) convened a policy dialogue with 55 troopand police-contributing countries at UN headquarters in March 2006.
The gathering,which served to help carry out the directives of Security Council resolution 1325 on women,peace and security, reviewed strategies for enhancing gender balance among uniformed personnel in peacekeeping missions.Following two days of plenary discussions, participants reached a broad consensus that meaningful change is possible and that steps must be taken by all concerned to increase the number of uniformed women peacekeepers if the peacekeeping agenda is to remain credible.
Member States were asked to double the number of female uniformed peacekeepers every year for the next few years, while for the long-term, DPKO’s military division has set the goal of reaching 10 per cent female representation.
The undeniable strengths that female police and soldiers bring to peacekeeping operations were widely discussed at the meeting. All participants agreed that the deployment of female peacekeepers is an operational imperative. Female peacekeepers in significant numbers ensure the full involvement of local women in postconflict processes, without which there can be no durable peace and security.
Women peacekeepers help the mission enhance its ability to communicate with the entire host community, gather information; and handle situations in which sensitivity to gender considerations is critical, especially those related to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) screening process, electoral issues and cases of gender-based violence. With more female military observers, local women may experience fewer difficulties in reporting sexual violence and abuse. Increasing the number of female police officers enhances the mission’s ability to communicate with women in the local population. And with ever more women being drawn into combat roles, the presence of more female UN soldiers helps facilitate the screening process at cantonment sites where demobilization is taking place.
In December 2006, out of the 71,673 military personnel only 1,034 were women and out of the 8,482 UN police only 454 were women.Nigeria has taken the lead in providing female police officers, furnishing 49 by the end of 2006, followed by India and Bangladesh with 34 each and the United States with 24. Nigeria is expected to deploy an allwoman police contingent to support the African Union in Darfur in early 2007, while India recently sent a similar contingent to Liberia.
Once the US Marine Corps’ recruiting slogan was “we are looking for a few good men.” Today, the UN peacekeeping’s recruitment slogan could very well be “we are looking for a few good women,” or rather,“a whole lot of them.”
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2007