Why the United Nations needs more female peacekeepers

Despite having been proven effective in peacekeeping, female peacekeepers remain underrepresented in UN missions

Chinese Peacekeeping Battalion Awarded UN Medal for Service. Source: UNMISS/Eric Kanalstein

On 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325, a landmark resolution on women, peace and security. As defined by the UN, the resolution stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance, and promotion, of both peace and security. However, nearly 18 years after the adoption of resolution 1325, women are still largely underrepresented in UN missions. There has been a slight growth over the past 25 years, from a mere 1% in 1993 to 4% of military peacekeepers and 10% of police personnel in 2017. These percentages are significantly short of the set UN targets of 15% and 20%. Even for specialized positions within the U.N. missions, there are currently only 65 women active in the missions out of a total 1757, which is a mere 3.6%. These numbers are especially low considering that UN missions including a significant number of female peacekeepers have shown to increase effectiveness and stability in providing peace and implementing human rights in the conflicted countries, which raises the question of why there has not been a significant increase in their number.

Why should the UN increase the number of female peacekeepers?

One of the main reasons female peacekeepers can increase the UN mission’s effectiveness is due to them having access to a part of the population most affected, as the culture of most conflicted countries makes it difficult for male peacekeepers to help women and children. In addition to this, female peacekeepers have access to places men do not and can be essential in obtaining intelligence and achieving an overall peaceful cooperation with the local population, as pointed out by the UN Women’s Policy Brief in 2015. As stated in the brief, women’s participation in the security sector has been recognized as a critical component of mission success, both in the UN normative frameworks on peacekeeping and women, peace and security, as well as by commanders on the ground themselves.

Ms Caecilia van Peski, Chief, Peace Programming Section (P5), for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV), is a strong supporter of the idea of increasing the number of female peacekeepers. Van Peski has declared: ‘Personally, due to my interactions with the army as well, I notice that people often speak positively about there being more female peacekeepers/monitors, since they can talk to the women at the scene where men do not have access, for example in Afghanistan.’ For Van Peski, the aforementioned benefits of having female peacekeepers should not be the main reason for increasing their number in missions; instead, ‘women should start to be seen as the “bringers of peace, security and stability” instead of solely the taker of this, as the weaker sex in need of protection. This thinking often leads to women being put in action in specific “women-like” missions, or female peacekeepers solely being positioned since it looks good and one is required to do so in accordance with resolution 1325.’

UNMIT Military Officer Participates in Peacekeepers Day Observance. Source: Martine Perret

Sexual exploitation and abuse allegations involving UN peacekeepers

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in reports of sexual intimidation and violence from within the UN Peacekeeping department itself as well as reports of peacekeepers being reluctant to protect civilians. In 2014, UN Watch, a non-governmental organisation monitoring the UN and promoting human rights, pointed this out during their oral statement given for the Human Rights Council’s Special Session on South Sudan in December 2016. They expressed their grave concerns regarding reports various incidents, such as the rape of dozens of ethnic Nuer woman and girls by South Sudanese government soldiers right outside a UN camp where they had come to seek protection and a woman being dragged away by two armed soldiers while UN peacekeepers looked on, which have raised questions about the measures taken by UN forces to adequately protect the civilians in these countries. According to Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, the UN received a total of 70 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse at the beginning of this year, with 18 cases involving peacekeeping operations. Since January 2017, at least 55 UN peacekeepers have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse on global UN missions. In a male-dominated UN entity, the increase of female peacekeepers could increase trust with the local population but effective measures to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse by the UN peacekeepers in general will have to be taken to ensure both their safety and the safety of the women in affected areas.

How can the UN motivate their member states to train and employ more female peacekeepers?

It is clear that better incentives need to be put in place in order to increase the number of female peacekeepers in UN missions. There currently is funding in place for peacekeeping missions, but it is linked to time and risk instead of gender incorporation. A similar incentive was adopted in 2015, in the shape of the UN Security Council Resolution 2242, but has not yet been effectively implemented, even if the positive impact by the female peacekeepers would justify the extra financial premiums set by the UN. If financial premiums were set according to the percentage of women, or more specifically high-ranked women, employed by countries providing troops to the UN missions, more countries would be inclined to train and include highly skilled female peacekeepers. In its turn, an increased number of female peacekeepers would not only be a step towards a more successful implementation of UN resolution 1325 regarding gender equality, but will also improve the effectiveness of UN missions on a global scale, and the relationship with the local population, thus allowing them to be more successful in keeping the peace and protecting human rights.

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