On International Women’s Day on 8 March UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded us all that ‘We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Only when we see women’s rights as our common objective … will we begin to shift the balance.’ This is a particular challenge in the area of peace operations, which has largely been male-dominated for decades.
Woman peacekeepers are role models who inspire women and girls in male-dominated societies where they are deployed to push for their own rights. They also address the needs of female ex-combatants. Yet the peace operations environment has proved to be one of the most difficult in which to achieve gender parity.
Hester Paneras, the former police commissioner of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, told the Institute for Security Studies that ‘the presence of female peacekeepers on the ground creates a platform to allow the voices and experiences of women in conflict to be heard and understood, while helping to realise women’s critical role in establishing sustainable peace’.
Today, women are deployed in all areas – police, military and civilian – and are making a positive impact. However the military and police are two aspects of peace operations that are persistently challenging when it comes to ensuring the equal and meaningful participation of women.
The number of women involved in peacekeeping has not risen since 2011. In fact, between 1993 and 2018, only an incremental increase occurred – from 1% of uniformed women peacekeepers to 4%, and 10% of soldiers and police respectively.
This trend prevails despite repeated calls for more women in peacekeeping since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000. At the current rate of recruitment and retention, it will take up to 703 years to reach equality at management levels in UN missions.
UN Security Council Resolution 2242 aims to have women making up at least 16% of justice and corrections personnel by 2019. The current reality is that only 5% of all uniformed personnel in the field are women.
When it comes to senior positions however, the UN is showing that these challenges can be overcome. The only level where women are well represented in peacekeeping is in top mission appointments. Many initiatives have produced good results, including the groundbreaking Senior Women’s Talent Pipeline. As a result, women comprise 41% of heads and deputy heads of peace operations.
Efforts to achieve gender parity in senior appointments are also evident in the police. As of July 2018, three out of 16 UN peace operations with police components were led by women. The military by comparison, had only one woman force commander in these peace operations.
Where gender parity really matters though is in middle management. The UN has a long way to go to ensure appropriate levels of woman representation at these levels. Middle management is where operational decisions are made and implemented – where things get done. This is where expectation meets reality on a daily basis in peace operations.
To address this shortcoming, a proactive drive is needed to identify, recruit, train and mentor woman middle managers in the UN and African Union (AU). At tomorrow’s Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting on uniformed capabilities, performance and protection, the UN should discuss how women’s capabilities can be enhanced at mid-management level.
However, while the UN and AU can advocate for more deployment of women to these positions, the responsibility lies with the organisations’ member states. Both the UN and AU are mere reflections of their members’ commitment to gender mainstreaming. Because member states are not achieving their own national gender parity, it will be difficult for the UN and AU to show results.
Some countries, such as Sweden, are however leading change. As president of the UN Security Council in July 2018, Sweden achieved gender parity among invited briefers to meetings. Overall though, the reality on women, peace and security is that much work remains to be done.
The primary job of a peacekeeping mission is to support communities making the complex transition from conflict to peace. These functions are led by mid-level managers, and having more women in these operational positions will enhance outreach and help build trust with local communities.
Another obstacle is that women are appointed but not retained. One reason for this is that internal support mechanisms are weak. Cultural challenges and attitudes are also a stumbling block to achieving and maintaining gender parity at middle management. The foundation for women at top mission levels has been laid. To change the dynamic and reshape the conversation at the operational level, and ultimately improve peacebuilding, women middle managers must be appointed.
Annette Leijenaar, Programme Head and Liezelle Kumalo, Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS
This ISS Today is published as part of the Training for Peace Programme (TfP) funded by the government of Norway.
In South Africa, Daily Maverick has exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles. For media based outside South Africa and queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.
Picture: UN Peacekeeping