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10 Reasons To Celebrate Women Peacekeepers – World Peacekeeping Day 2022

June 1, 2022

For World Peacekeeping Day 2022, SecurityWomen celebrates 10 key reasons why women are such valuable assets to UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

1.     Sustainable Peace Negotiations

Only 6% of mediators since 1992 have been women, yet the evidence shows that including women’s perspectives and understandings of the reality on the ground promotes sustainable peace. Women's participation in peace negotiations has demonstrable benefits for peace outcomes. Peace agreements are 35% more likely to last 15 years when women are involved in the decision-making process, yet only 23% of delegations in UN-supported peace talks included women in 2020.

Open Peace Forum participants meet the Head of UNMISS (2014), via UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

2.     Access

Women peacekeepers can access gender segregated spaces and are better able to offer support to all-female communities such as survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Female personnel can enhance the physical security of bases and police stations by conducting screenings and searches of other women entering the space.

Peacekeepers undertaking security training in Nepal , via flickr.

3.    Communication

Due to their gender, female personnel are not necessarily precluded from addressing taboo topics among groups of women, as male peacekeepers often would be. Indeed, in cultures where women are prohibited from speaking to men outside their immediate family, any and all direct communication is impossible without the presence of women peacekeepers. These opportunities for communication are particularly enhanced where these female peacekeepers and locals share a language or cultural norms, such as Kenyan Swahili speakers deployed in the DRC.

UN Mission in the Central African Republic MINUSCA (2021), via flickr.

4.     Diversity Reduces Abuse

Mission diversity reduces the scale of abuse against civilians. It has been estimated that an increase of women in military peacekeeping units by little as 5 % reduces recorded instances of abuse by more than half when compared to male-only units. Though an additive model of simply increasing the number of women in contingents will not stamp out abuse entirely, greater gender diversity of missions combined with better training and a zero-tolerance approach can greatly improve gender     relations between peacekeepers and locals.

 

5.     Changing Men's Attitudes

The existence of women peacekeepers is itself a powerful means to break down binary gender norms that teach women they cannot be strong, independent wage-earners and protectors of others. Patriarchal cultures continue to value militaristic ideals of leadership across a range of sectors – from business to politics – which stress stereotypically masculine warrior qualities of physical strength, use of force, ability to dominate and control. Emphasising the immense value of female leaders in security settings such as peacekeeping has far reaching social consequences for diversifying leadership of all kinds both inside and beyond the military.


    “We need role models who show that you can be an excellent leader without looking like a stereotype of a leader.”    
                     ~ Major General Ingrid Gjerde, Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).


Similarly, male peacekeepers attitudes towards servicewomen and policewomen can be changed through positive experiences of serving with mixed gender units from other countries in international missions. This can lead to norm transfer as peacekeeping soldiers and policemen take their experiences home to their respective domestic security forces. Experience of working with women in international mission environments can help change attitudes by convincing servicemen that their female colleagues are incredibly competent and skilled professionals in the field. The year 2020 saw a record number of women in peacekeeping leadership positions with three women in senior military positions in the field and four women leading UN police components.
   

Ahlam Alhabahbe, UN Police officer from Jordan serving with the UNMISS in South Sudan (2021), UN Photo/Gregorio Cunha via flickr.


6.     Role Models for Young Women

Inspirational women serving in peace operations give young women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected states extraordinary role models of female strength and leadership. India’s contribution of the first ever all-female formed police unit to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was particularly noted for its unintended benefit of showing local women and girls that they could pursue careers in policing, law and security provision.
 

"Having female police officers, gendarmes, and soldiers who are blue helmets helps show that women can carry out a security mission and it shows young girls who dream of being police officers or gendarmes or soldiers that it is possible. I think that's really important."
                 ~ Major General Bettina Patricia Boughani, Mission Police Commissioner of MINUSMA (Mali).

Bangladeshi peacekeepers with UNMIL, by Christopher Herwig, via flickr.

7.     Women Understand

Female peacekeepers are often better placed to understand gender-specific concerns of the women they protect, due to their own lived experience. As a result, women peacekeepers are more likely to consider the needs and concerns of women in the community when planning protection measures or support procedures. Specialized gender units within missions enhance this further and offer vital structural support to the work of servicewomen in the field.
   

UNIFIL peacekeeper Lt. Colonel Ella Van Den Heuvel embraces a member of the community during the first all-female foot patrol in Lebanon (2017), Pasqual Gorriz/UN, via flickr.

8.     Mission Diversity Builds "Soft" Skills

Diversity of all kinds strengthens international peacekeeping missions by encouraging peacekeepers to interact with different points of view within the mission staff. This in turn  helps them to navigate communications with the host population. Diverse mission staff bring a wide range of skills and encourage self-discipline between contingents. These effects are true of both culturally diverse units and mixed gender units, as peacekeepers are confronted with perspectives and approaches that they may not be used to, such as differing cultural norms around women’s roles.

   
 “Diversity leads to progress over time, because we need new thoughts and perspectives to develop an organization and succeed in handling our tasks […] diversity truly equals strength.”
                  ~ Major General Ingrid Gjerde, Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)
   
UNMISS Peacekeepers in South Sudan (2021), UN Photo/Gregorio Cunha, via flickr.

9.     High Quality Intelligence

Effective communications with a range of actors of both genders enables gathering superior quality information for military operations. This is vital for the security of the mission and the safety of peacekeepers themselves. When a good relationship is maintained with the host population, the mission can benefit from knowledge sharing with the local community – those who are most knowledgeable about the land, climate and society in which they live.

  "More female peacekeepers is not just a question of numbers, but also of our effectiveness in fulfilling our mandates"
                        ~ António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General (speaking in 2019).

10.     Improved UN reputation

The reputation of the UN as a whole is greatly enhanced when mixed gender patrols are able to engage positively throughout the local community, building trust in the aims and outcomes of the mission.
   

Sergeant Dora Doroye  of UNMIL (2009),UN/Christopher Herwig, via flickr.


 

Alice MacLeod is a PhD student researching intersections between language, gender and security.

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