Around the world today, there are 14 United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions attempting to curb violence and stabilize countries that are experiencing gruesome intrastate wars. Even though these peacekeeping missions help both male and female civilian populations, 95 percent of the peacekeeping forces consist of men.
But women peacekeepers are essential. They help peacekeeping missions fulfill their mandates by better assisting marginalized communities within conflict-states. Increasing the participation of women in peacekeeping missions will also provide the necessary resources for existing female peacekeepers to do their jobs effectively.
Where Are All the Women?
In 2000, the UN Security Council passed the groundbreaking Resolution 1325, which called for women to have an equal role as men in all aspects of conflict resolution, including peacekeeping operations. Despite this profound resolution, women continue to be underrepresented in all aspects of peacekeeping operations throughout the world, including civilian, military, or police positions. For example, women constitute only 10 percent of police officers and 4 percent of peacekeeping soldiers within UN peacekeeping operations globally. Some countries justify their lack of female representation by explaining that there are not enough women adequately trained for these jobs. Another impediment is that women do not have equal access to such career opportunities.
In 2015, the UN Security Council passed another resolution (2242) pushing member states to double women’s representation in police and military peacekeeping positions by 2020. However, since this resolution was enacted, the percentage of women has only increased from 4.2 percent to 4.8 percent. These numbers showcase just how far women are from obtaining equality with men in the field of peacekeeping.
The Impact of Female Peacekeepers
Evidence has shown that women’s involvement in peacekeeping missions improves the operation’s effectiveness and advances the stability of the mission within a conflict-ridden country. For one thing, diversity of backgrounds and experiences has been proven to enhance a team’s performance and ability to solve problems. For another, adding a female perspective enables the peacekeeping operation to successfully address the needs of the entire civilian population it represents, which includes women and girls. Female peacekeepers have also proven to be more effective in building relationships with marginalized communities, such as ethnic minorities, surpassing restrictions across cultural boundaries more effectively than male peacekeepers.
Female peacekeepers can make a significant impact in reducing the sexual violence and exploitation that accompany many conflicts. Female civilians may be more likely to approach women peacekeepers about gender-based violence.
The UN Peacekeeping Mission that served Liberia for 15 years in the wake of the country’s devastating civil war was comprised of an all-female contingent of peacekeepers from India. In the aftermath of a civil war where an estimated 80 percent of women and girls were subject to gender-based violence, the female peacekeepers prioritized the empowerment of women and girls. For example, they prioritized the inclusion of Liberian women in the security sector, and after the Indian women peacekeeping force left, Liberian women made up 17 percent of the country’s security sector, up from 6 percent before their arrival.
After this success in Liberia, Rwanda has also deployed a police unit led by a female officer to serve in the UN mission in South Sudan, emulating the success of the female contingents in Liberia. The female police officers will focus on issues on crowd control management in an extremely hostile environment.
Steps to Grow Women’s Participation
Organizations around the world are calling for a significant increase in the number of women involved in peacekeeping operations and more female peacekeepers specifically. This is an important first step. But this measure should also be paired with gender-based trainings for both male and female peacekeepers. All personnel involved in peacekeeping operations should be trained to understand gender issues in order to better assist the needs of the civilian population.
In addition, the UN and its member states should pay particular attention to the successes of female peacekeepers in order to showcase their impact on peacekeeping operations around the world. For example, a great initiative promoting the increase in female peacekeepers is the Canadian Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, which aims to help women overcome the barriers they face and expand their participation in peacekeeping operations.
To live up to its mandate and help mitigate violence, the UN and its member states must do more to perceive and support the impact of female peacekeepers in a growing number of conflicts around the world.