Presented by Juliet Colman, Founder and Director of SecurityWomen, at a NAWO event on the occasion of the 18th Anniversary of UN SCR 1325 at the UN in New York
Just imagine if all peacekeepers were women… would there be a need for gender training?
Probably not, if we argue that gender training’s first objective is to prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA).
This year’s commemoration of the anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 had as its main theme, ‘the meaningful participation of women at the centre of all efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace’. The loudest voices focused on women’s roles as mediators and negotiators in peace processes. Women’s involvement in these roles according to the Council on Foreign Relations, was 2 and 8 percent respectively between 1990 and 2017. This was reported in the UN Secretary General’s (SG) report on Women Peace and Security (WPS) and echoed by many countries in the debate last Thursday.
Those statistics sound similar to the ones on peacekeeping. Currently, the stark figures are that female military peacekeepers make up just 4 percent of personnel, and female police peacekeepers just 10 percent. Successful peacekeeping involves women as well as men. The website of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, DPKO, is full of information about the benefits of having female peacekeepers, ranging from making the peacekeeping force more approachable to the local community, in particular to women, especially when they may have suffered from acts of sexual violence, to helping reduce confrontation and conflict and empowering local women.
Other panel members may talk about the exponential rise of sexual and gender-based violence in the last year in countries conflict-ridden like the CAR. What training do peacekeepers receive to deal with this and how to prevent this kind of violence?
The DPKO has launched its Gender Parity Strategy following on from the SG’s system-wide gender parity strategy a year ago. There are more women in the SG’s Senior Management Group now than there are men; a woman has been appointed to head up the Department of Political Affairs; and women now comprise 41 percent of heads and deputy heads of missions led or co-led by DPKO; and, at director level positions, the percentage of women has gone up from 17 to 24 percent in the last year. This is all moving in the right direction and all the more encouraging in terms of getting women into decision-making positions. However, the target in the Gender Parity Strategy for large contingents of peacekeepers, which make up the vast number, is very low at 15 percent female peacekeepers by 2028, which brings me round to talking about the need for gender training.
UNSCR 1325 documents that all peacekeeping personnel should receive training on the ‘protection, rights and the particular needs of women, as well as on the importance of involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures’.
And prior to this, the Namibia Plan of Action (2000) calls for gender issues to be ‘mainstreamed throughout all regional and national training curricula and courses for peace support operations, particularly those sponsored directly by the Training Unit of DPKO’.
UNSCR 1960 (2010) calls specifically for the training of all military and police personnel on sexual and gender based violence. It talks about the use of scenario-based training materials.
What do we mean by gender training? A full definition from INSTRAW, as was, goes like this:
‘A capacity-building activity that aims to increase awareness, knowledge and practical skills on gender issues by sharing information, experiences and techniques as well as by promoting reflection and debate.
The goal of gender training is to enable participants to understand the different roles and needs of both women and men in society,
to challenge gender-biased and discriminatory behaviours, structures and socially-constructed inequalities, and to apply this new knowledge to their day-to-day work.’
Awareness is the first step to change. But what if an individual doesn’t want to change or doesn’t see the need to change behaviour?
A problem that is echoed across the world, is around the poor treatment of women at the hands of men. We only have to think of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which started initially as reaction to sexual harassment and rape in the entertainment industry, but this behaviour exists in every sector of society, and probably more so in the male dominated security sector and in militarised units.
Gender training is not without controversy. An article that appeared recently on Inc.com, entitled, ‘Why your gender equality training won’t work [and what you should do instead], was looking at training to combat gender bias in a UK police force. The approach taken was to encourage perspective taking – ie putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – to increase empathy, and change attitudes and stereotypes, but it did not work.
The approach was to get to people’s belief and value systems, but it proved more difficult. The article refers to human nature that, ‘After being exposed to gender stereotypes for our entire lives, it's incredibly hard to root out the unconscious bias both men and women carry around in their heads.’
Critical reports have also been written in academic circles. Australian gender training has a ‘best practice’ reputation, and yet training with Federal Police and the Australian Defence force was found to be inadequate, mainly because it was not carried out for all peacekeeping personnel, despite international and national requirements to do so . In addition, the findings suggested that ‘gender’ is understood in a very limited way. It does not problematize power relations between the sexes and is only covered as a way of understanding the peacekeeping context, and not in relation to the attitudes and behaviours of peacekeepers themselves. We have to ask, what do other troop-contributing countries do? And to what standard?
Another article published in the Peace Review, entitled ‘The absence of Masculinity in Gender Training for UN Peacekeepers’ points to the underlying influences of militarised masculinity on peacekeeping personnel which is more highly valued than other forms, and can lead to a greater likelihood of gender-based crimes or biases with the context of peacekeeping operations. Does current gender training address the question of masculinity?
More extensive training may not deter a perpetrator of more violent forms of SEA, but this type of training surely encourages more team-working and responsibility around the reporting of rogue behaviour. It is apparent that the quality, message and methodology of gender training carried out varies enormously, but even if it were delivered in a uniform manner, it is still unclear whether behaviour would change as a result. As Christine Chinkin et al (2016) concludes, ‘Because the definition of SEA places violent assault and commercial sex in the same category of offences, training on the topic explicitly teaches peacekeepers that consent is irrelevant when it comes to SEA. Some commentators note that this simultaneously deprives local people – especially women – of any claims to agency in their own lives and trivialises sexual assault’. The USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding , which has been conducting training for peacekeepers since 2008, echoes that point, saying that the UN’s ambiguous language around SEA creates confusion for peacekeepers and poses challenges to compliance. The UN takes a zero-tolerance approach to SEA. No sexual relations allowed with prostitutes or any persons under 18 and is strongly discouraged with beneficiaries of assistance. One could argue that that applies to all citizens in a conflict area. Whatever, it suggests that further training is required for peacekeepers around what constitutes SEA and how it damages individuals and societies.
It has been muted that the presence of women as trained and professional equals in peacekeeping missions will help contain the bad behaviour of rogue male peacekeepers. We cannot know this for sure. The issue is that the numbers of women in peacekeeping are so very low. Research by Sabrina Karim analysing mission-level information from 2009 to 2013 finds that including higher proportions of both female peacekeepers and personnel from countries with better records of gender equality is associated with lower levels of SEA allegations. The conclusion is that a cultivation of a value for gender equality among all peacekeepers is required, and improving the representation of women may help, but still stops short of addressing the root of the problem.
In looking to parallels in the business world, CNN Business last week , reported that when it comes to promoting more women, progress has stalled, and that what women experience is often they are the only woman. The ‘only’ issue is very striking in terms of its negative consequences – women in this position feel ‘under pressure’ or ‘on guard’ and more likely to be questioned about their judgment. It does not paint a rosy picture for prospective female employees or peacekeepers. As an interim measure, it is suggested that promoting groups of women at a time and creating cohorts or teams that allow women to work side-by-side is the best approach. The FET model is one way of overcoming the ‘onlyness’ of female peacekeepers. The DPKO Gender Parity Strategy talks about creating ‘an enabling environment’ which is described as ‘inclusive’ and ‘gender sensitive’.
The overwhelming majority of peacekeepers are from rank and file troops and tend to come from developing countries. Developed countries tend to contribute financially but not with personnel, although there are signs that this is starting to change, but it is highly politicised and looked at through the lens of ‘what’s in it for us?’
The top 10 troop contributing countries are:
Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, Rwanda, Pakistan, Nepal, Egypt, Senegal, Indonesia, Ghana.
There are deep cultural differences as to the role and place of women in society in, for instance, Pakistan, as opposed to the UK. The USIP’s report on peacekeeper training (ibid) highlights the importance of cultural training which includes gender sensitisation.
South African contributes over 1,200 peacekeepers to the DRC of which women form 18 percent. However, they are seen as one of the worse behaved in terms of SEA. Within South Africa itself, there are very high levels of sexual and gender based violence. To quote one comment, ‘They don't change their behaviour just because they are in another country. Is anyone surprised?’ Reportedly, South African soldiers receive SEA guidance ahead of and during all SANDF deployments, and it is an integral component of training. Do senior personnel also receive this training? Inevitably, they are left out, and it is the leaders that need gender training most.
There has been a focus on the establishment of gender advisor roles or gender units within peacekeeping missions to promote gender equality. Gender Advisors are increasingly being adopted as a mechanism to help missions to implement commitments under the WPS agenda. Currently, only 9 out of 15 peacekeeping missions have gender units.
In conclusion, gender training is not uniform – it comes in different forms, messages and is not universally provided to all peacekeepers who deploy on peacekeeping missions. It may be seen as confrontational in that it challenges conventional gender norms, gender relations and dominant forms of masculinity. It is however an important element of peacekeeper training, not only at pre-deployment, not just as a one-off, but, I would argue, to be revisited at regular intervals for discussion, debate, interaction and an update to the individual’s work on the ground. Data is needed on the impact of gender training and its success or otherwise, and what resources are required to enable a sustained approach.
The ultimate is gender parity in peacekeeping operations, but failing that gender training for every peacekeeper is essential.