Role of Women in UN Peacekeeping Missions

Over the years, peace keeping missions have evolved from essentially being military models to multi-dimensional programmes that incorporate a mix of different actors that can facilitate sustainable peace in conflict zones. The phenomenon of peacekeeping has experienced an expansion in its mandate along with diversification of the actors involved and goals attached. More so, in recognition of the pivotal role that women can play towards peace and sustainability, women participation has been made a key component of peace keeping missions. With rising trends of women participation in peacekeeping missions, the operational effectiveness of these operations is expected to rise.

War knows no gender. It afflicts all facets of life. Yet in several cases, women and children become the prime targets of war perpetrators. Gender-based violence including physical attacks and psychological traumatisation perpetrated against children and women cause long-term damage, plaguing generation after generation. For instance, rape is generally employed as a weapon of war and as a military strategy for destroying communities. For decades, the imaginaries of war and peace had been defined by men exclusively, ignoring the needs of women.

Role of women as peace-builders, peace keepers and peace negotiators was ignored until early 2000s. The first ever deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces in 1948 conveniently overlooked the importance of the rights of women and children in militarised zones. This resulted into a number of crimes against women and children going unrecorded. During the early 1990s, the sorry state of rights of women in Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Mozambique, and Eretria surfaced. In 1996, a report titled, “The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” reported  incidents of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) of children by peacekeeping personnel. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. The resolution recognised women’s potential to play a constructive role in conflict prevention, resolution and other peace-related affairs. Resolution 1325 urged the UN member states to incorporate female participation and gender perspectives in their peace and security objectives. More importantly, the resolution acknowledged the need of taking special measures for the protection of women from gender-based violence during armed conflicts.

Gender-based violence including physical attacks and psychological traumatisation perpetrated against children and women cause long-term damage, plaguing generation after generation.

UNSCR 1325 pushes for the need of a gender inclusive approach for constituting peacekeeping forces. In 1993, the proportion of female peacekeepers was recorded to be as low as one per cent of the total forces. Practical progress in increasing female attendance, however, remains slow. As of 2014 estimates, female military personnel constituted three per cent, whereas, female police personnel constituted 10% of the total peacekeeping forces. Data released by United Nations in November 2019 delineates that women currently constitute around eight per cent of the total peacekeeping forces.

Presence of female personnel in conflict zones has already increased the operational effectiveness of peacekeeping operations. Female participation in peacekeeping missions is a monumental step towards acquiring a holistic approach towards peacekeeping as it caters to the needs of men and women both. Inclusion of women in peacekeeping operations helps gain the trust of local populations and facilitates the peacekeeping activities in conflict zones. Moreover, the presence of women alongside men facilitates the normalisation of the troops’ presence and improves the reputation of peacekeeping forces.

More importantly, peacekeeping missions are generally marred by sexual misconduct of male military personnel.  Such abuses and human rights violations directly affect vulnerable people, undermine the legitimacy and efficiency of peace missions and malign the credibility of international actors engaged. Operational and logistical inadequacy of criminal justice systems of conflict zones exacerbates crimes against women and children. Across a period of 12 years, between 2004 and 2016, United Nations received around 2000 cases of SEA against children and women by UN peacekeeping forces.

Research suggests that increasing women participation can decrease SEA trends in peacekeeping operations. Comfort Lamptey, the Gender Advisor of UN Department of Peace Keeping Operation, suggests that female peacekeepers play a pivotal role in setting up the parameters of conduct of male peacekeepers regarding SEA. Moreover, studies concerning the impacts of gender parity in conflict zones have suggested that peacekeeping operations that incorporate greater gender parity turn out to be more effective than the operations that primarily depend on male peacekeepers exclusively. This results from the fact that in conflict zones, female peacekeepers can provide for certain roles that male peacekeepers cannot. For instance, female peacekeepers conveniently become the confidants of women and children by easily garnering their trust. This allows intelligence collection and helps in post-conflict rehabilitation. Also, female peacekeepers become a source of inspiration for the local women, who in turn become drivers and aides of post-conflict reconstruction in their communities. It is suggested that the presence of female peacekeepers in conflict zones reduces the chances of confrontation and conflict.

The number of countries contributing female peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping missions remains quite low.

Incorporating a multi-actor and gender-inclusive approach to peacekeeping shall broaden the skill set and diversify the human resource employed for achieving the purpose. The target of achieving gender parity is far from being achieved. This primarily rests upon the fact that the majority of states have limited female military and police recruits.

In 2015, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2242 which aimed at doubling the numbers of female soldiers in peace keeping operations over a period of five years. However, the rise in numbers remains steady. Building on Resolution 2242, UN’s Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy (2018-2028) sets the targets for increasing women participation from about 15 to 35 percent by the year 2028.  The target was set to achieve practical efficiency in providing advice on gender-specific concerns, introducing mentorship programmes, enhancing living conditions as per the needs of women and by bridging liaisons between peacekeeping forces and women in conflict zones.

The number of countries contributing female peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping missions remains quite low. Ethiopia contributes the highest number of female peacekeepers. Other countries that contribute relatively larger numbers of female personnel include Rwanda, Ghana, Bangladesh, and Nepal. As per 2018 statistics, Africa contributed around 65% of the total uniformed female blue berets.

Apart from being one of the leading troop contributors, Pakistan is also one amongst the very few countries that have achieved the target of maintaining 15 percent of contingent force based on female soldiers. As a part of Female Engagement Team (FET) at United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo, female Pakistani soldiers carried out several successful projects. Some of these include vocational trainings, psychological workshops for Congolese police personnel, regular sessions for women undergoing psychological traumas, and medical outreach. Apart from military personnel, Pakistani civilian women also become part of UN peacekeeping missions by becoming UN volunteers. As per a UN Report titled, “The Thread that Binds,” about 6.2 million women volunteer for UN Voluntary missions, some of which are then assigned to volunteer in peacekeeping missions across the world.

While the UN can increase the numbers of civilian female recruits, military and police recruitment is functionally dependent on member states. In many countries, the implementation of gender-specific reforms face heavy structural and societal resistance. For the implementation of gender parity measures, current inertia on international, national, and societal levels needs to be overcome in the first place. This requires the institutionalisation of gender equality ideals across and within policy circles at all operational levels.

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is a graduate of International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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