The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Increasing the number of UN women peacekeepers would act to strengthen peacekeeping operations as a whole.

International relations, similar to natural sciences, is typically male-dominated. While this is changing, historically, there have rarely been contributions from women scholars in the field of international relations. Moreover, due to a lack of political empowerment, decisions across the world are primarily taken by men. Thus UN peacekeeping, which is one of the significant responsibilities in international diplomacy, also lacks female representation.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted a resolution that recognized the need for the participation of more women in UN peacekeeping operations. The resolution reaffirmed the important role of women in “the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.” Furthermore, the resolution also emphasized “the importance of equal participation of women and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” However, the ground reality has remained largely unchanged despite best efforts.

A 2021 report by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace & Security reveals that women make up fewer than 5% of all military personnel, 11% of personnel in formed police units, and 28% of individual officers on peacekeeping missions. The rate of female participation in peacekeeping missions has changed slowly over the past quarter century. According to the United Nations, “In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. In 2020, out of approximately 95,000 peacekeepers, women constitute 4.8% of military contingents and 10.9% of formed police units, and 34% of justice and corrections government-provided personnel in UN peacekeeping missions.”

While the numbers are alarming and indicative of reality, it is important to understand that the need for greater representation of women in peacekeeping missions is not just for the sake of diversity. Women have proven to be very successful while in the field. Women can establish a strong rapport with the local population, particularly women and children to extract valuable information. Women peacekeepers are more easily trusted and accepted by the locals because they feel women are more likely to safeguard their secrecy.

When the United Nations was still active in Afghanistan, UN women personnel were able to find out from local Afghani women the locations where the Taliban was recruiting young fighters. In a conservative male-dominated society like Afghanistan, women successfully breached patriarchal boundaries to extract crucial information.

Women peacekeepers also increase the credibility of security operations. Across the world, whenever women have taken charge of peacekeeping operations, there have been lower rates of complaints of misconduct and significantly lower rates of improper use of force.

Finally, women peacekeepers can be deployed to mitigate cases of sexual abuse and empower local women and girls to become independent and self-reliant. This can be achieved through self-defence training, sex education, and teaching them basic survival skills. For instance, women peacekeepers from Cameroon have been working with the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic by ensuring security and empowering women and girls in the region.

The underrepresentation of women in peacekeeping missions not only perpetuates gender inequality but also limits the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions. The exclusion of women from peacekeeping missions is due to deep-rooted patriarchal beliefs that have dominated the political sphere for centuries. However, there is a growing recognition that gender equality is essential for peace and security. Women’s participation in peacekeeping missions is not just a matter of equity but also a strategic necessity.

Women bring unique skills, experiences, and perspectives that are crucial in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The inclusion of women in negotiations and decision-making processes ensures that their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. Women are more likely to advocate for issues such as human rights, gender-based violence, and social justice, which are often overlooked.

Efforts to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping missions must go beyond simply increasing the number of women in uniform. A comprehensive range of solutions is required, which includes providing education and training opportunities for women, addressing cultural norms and biases, and promoting gender-sensitive policies and practices within peacekeeping forces. The feasibility of reserving ranks for UN women peacekeepers should also be considered to pave the way for feminist intervention in global politics.

Riyan Buragohain is an undergraduate student pursuing triple majors in English, Political Science, and History from Christ University, Bangalore, India. He has interned with several organizations in India such as Little Umbrella Foundation (LUF), Jeevan Jagran Foundation (JJF), Cinepari, Destination Heritage, and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF). Primarily, his interest lies in the field of international relations, political theory, and gender studies.