PRESS CONFERENCE BY HEADQUARTERS, FIELD MISSION GENDER ADVISERS

18 January 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY HEADQUARTERS, FIELD MISSION GENDER ADVISERS

18 January 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by headquarters, field mission gender advisers

The establishment of gender units in all United Nations peace missions had been an important outgrowth of the Security Council’s adoption of its landmark resolution 1325 (2000), which emphasizes increased participation by women at all levels of decision-making in formal peace processes, Comfort Lamptey, Gender Adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations said today.

“Our units work with peacekeeping mission to make sure that women’s voices are not lost in all the efforts the [Organization] undertakes to support post-conflict societies,” Ms. Lamptey said during a press briefing on the progress made and the challenges faced in trying to protect and promote the rights and participation of women in the field.

Gender advisers and focal points from all United Nations peacekeeping missions are meeting at Headquarters this week on issues related to the specific needs of men and women in post-conflict situations.  Joining Ms. Lamptey on the podium were Nadine Puechguirbal, Gender Adviser for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and, when fully deployed, the United Nations Mission in Central Africa and Chad (MINURCAT); Asseta Ouedraogo, Gender Adviser for the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC); and James M. Muruthi, Gender Officer in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Ms. Lamptey said the Security Council had adopted resolution 1325 (2000), on “women, peace and security”, largely because the United Nations had become aware that it was building peace processes that were not genuinely inclusive of women’s perspectives and contributions.  Since the Peacekeeping Department’s subsequent establishment of gender units in all integrated peace missions and operations, a key priority had been trying to build on post-conflict opportunities to engage women more actively in helping to rebuild and reform institutions concerned with security, governance and political participation.

Citing a specific example of gender advisers’ work in the area of security sector reform, Ms. Puechguirbal said that in Haiti, her office had been supporting and promoting local efforts to hire more female officers for the national police force.  The initiative had been “quite successful” and the gender experts were discussing with the authorities the benefits of increasing women’s representation in law enforcement.  The Haitian authorities had been receptive to the idea and had thus far set aside one recruitment day exclusively for women applicants.  The national police force now comprised some 10 per cent women, which was quite high compared to the four women members of the United Nations contingent on the island nation.  If the Organization wished to lead by example, it must boost women’s participation in its own ranks.

As for MINURCAT, she said that when her office had begun training Chadian police, there had been 16 male officers and not a single woman.  The United Nations police comprised 20 officers, only one of whom was female.  Once the force reached full strength it would be deployed on civilian protection duties throughout the country’s camps for refugees and internally displaced persons.  There had been reports of gender-based violence in local camps and informal settlements.  There were reports that refugee women had been raped when they left the camps to collect firewood, and that minors were being exploited.  It had also been reported that armed groups had infiltrated some camps.

Domestic violence seemed to be the most frequently reported form of abuse, she said.  While United Nations agencies had been leading efforts on the ground to address those serious issues, the deployment of more female Chadian police throughout the camps would boost the Organization’s efforts.  To that end, there were plans to establish help centres to address gender-based violence in all camps for refugees and internally displaced persons.  Those small units would be staffed with both men and women in uniform.  “We will be engaged in providing training […] so they can seriously handle the issue of gender-based violence, collect information and document cases so we can have better reporting for better action.”

On her work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ms. Ouedraogo said upcoming local elections in the vast Central African nation were among the Gender Unit’s challenging priorities, particularly with regard to women’s participation in political life and the management of public affairs.  In past elections, the Unit had worked closely with United Nations agencies and women’s groups to help with the writing of relevant legislation and elements of the Constitution.  That effort had proved very successful as gender equality had been enshrined in the Constitution, as had the fight against all forms of discrimination.

At the same time, however, the Gender Unit’s work on Congolese electoral law had not been quite as successful in that it did not reflect the gender-equality provisions that had been included in the Constitution, she said.  On the contrary, electoral law did not recognize or acknowledge gender equality in any way and there could be difficulties ahead in reversing that trend.  Nevertheless, the Unit was working actively with women to prepare for the ballot, especially since women were routinely prevented from occupying positions of power.  “This is in no way an easy task,” she said, adding, however, that low representation in Government office should not be deemed an outright failure of the Unit’s overall efforts, especially since women had learned how to gain access to the political process and learned the importance of participating towards that end.

Women would not be “starting from scratch” as the local elections approached, she pointed out, adding that women’s groups in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, were already hard at work readying a draft bill on the National Independent Electoral Commission, which presently called for its nine members to include at least one woman.  Women’s groups planned to appeal to the Commission to increase that number to four posts.  The MONUC Gender Unit was targeting party leaders and urging them to ensure that women were represented in political processes at all levels.

Mr. Muruthi said that, since the creation of UNMIL, much had been accomplished in the promotion of gender equality, including support for increasing the number of women in decision-making positions.  That work had been driven in no small part by the efforts of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.  The Mission had been working to ensure ever larger numbers of women registered to vote and wider efforts to protect and promote women’s human rights.

That work, much of it undertaken with the help of the Liberian Gender Ministry, focused on addressing gender-based violence, recruitment and the training of women to hold positions on the national police force, he said.  That effort had received a boost from UNMIL’s Indian female police unit, which had encouraged women to participate in the overall political process.  Liberia had seen the number of women applicants to join the police force jump from 100 to 350 shortly after the Indian unit had been deployed.  All police stations under construction were to have women and children’s units to address gender questions.

Responding to a series of questions concerning allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers, Ms. Lamptey said the primary mandate of the gender advisory units was to support the participation of women in their host countries and ensure they contributed to peace processes that might be under way.  The question of peacekeeper behaviour was handled by conduct and discipline units within each mission.  Those units monitored such things and gender focal points usually tried to ensure that the conduct units worked with national women’s groups on such matters, if necessary.

Ms. Ouedraogo agreed that the United Nations gender advisers in the field helped to support women’s groups and promote education so that women would not fall into situations where they would be sexually exploited.

Mr. Muruthi stressed the Secretary-General’s “zero tolerance” policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse and the fact that every peacekeeper must undergo the relevant training before joining a peacekeeping operation.  At the mission level, every address by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia expressed support for that policy.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.