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Narrow the gender gap in global peacekeeping

India must help to bridge this lacunae and prevent crimes against women and girls in international conflicts

opinion Updated: May 29, 2018 08:28 IST
Jean D’Cunha and Ajita Vidyarthi
Jean D’Cunha and Ajita Vidyarthi
In January 2007, for the first time in UN history, the Indian first all-women UN peacekeeping police unit was deployed to Liberia, with subsequent deployments in 2008 and 2009. (UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein)

“I feel much better prepared to be deployed as UN Peacekeeper to a peacekeeping mission, more accountable for preventing conflict-related sexual violence and responding to women’s socio-economic concerns in and post conflict,” said a graduate of a recently-concluded Female Military Officer’s Course, organised by UN Women and the Center for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK), India.

This echoes some of UN Women’s long-held views on women in peacekeeping. Recruitment, deployment and focused training of female officers is imperative to overcome existing barriers and for gender parity in UN peacekeeping. Women’s participation in UN peacekeeping is more likely to improve civilian protection, especially the prevention of sexual violence against women and girls.

But UN Peacekeeping, whose mandate is civilian protection through military, police and civilian contingents from troop contributing countries, remains a heavily male preserve. As of March 31, 2018, women constituted 5% of the 91,058-strong combined forces of military and police peacekeepers, making up 4% of the military and 11% of the police units.

This is despite women’s demonstrated contribution to peacekeeping worldwide. In January 2007, for the first time in UN history, the Indian first all-women UN peacekeeping police unit was deployed to Liberia, with subsequent deployments in 2008 and 2009. They provided security at local events, engaged in riot control and patrols with local and UN police. They communicated with local women, nurturing trust between the police and local communities through community outreach.

This included providing medical services, safe drinking water, lighting in public spaces, life and job skills training, education on sexual violence and HIV/AIDS. The unit reportedly contributed to lowering crime rates, armed robbery for example, increased reporting on sexual violence, increased female school attendance. The most significant achievements were role modelling for Liberian women who began joining the national police force in increasing numbers, changes in the perceptions of men on what women could do, and reform of Liberia’s police force.

While this was hailed by the then UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as precedent setting in peace keeping missions, similar contributions of women peacekeepers from other countries have been recorded in West, East, North and South Africa, South America, and South and Central Asia.

From a rights standpoint and given women’s unique contribution to peacekeeping, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2242 called for doubling women’s participation in UN missions. While the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1,325 emphasised integrating a gender perspective in all peace efforts, a global initiative was launched in 2009 to increase numbers of women police in UN peacekeeping.

To close the gender gap in UN peacekeeping, UN Women and the CUNPK piloted the United Nations Female Military Officers Course in 2015 in New Delhi, since replicated in three other countries inviting nominations from 51 major troop-contributing countries. The training creates national and global cadres of deployable female UN peacekeepers with tactical, strategic and practical knowledge and skills on their peacekeeping mandate, on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse and women’s other socio-economic needs. This training distinguishes itself as the first in which almost 70% of its graduates are deployed to missions.

As one of the largest troop contributors, India can further lead in bridging the gender gap in UN Peacekeeping and preventing crimes against women and girls in international conflicts. A starter could be adopting a national gender sensitive force generation policy on UN peacekeeping, and examining social norms and other barriers to recruitment and advancement of female officers, which perpetuate inequality in this sphere.

Jean D’Cunha is Head of UN Women Myanmar, currently on Special Assignment as Senior Adviser to UN Women Multi Country Office in India; Ajita Vidyarthi is Security and Migration Analyst at UN Women Multi Country Office in India

The views expressed are personal

First Published: May 29, 2018 08:25 IST