posted on Wed 10 Apr 2019 6:24 PM
Women in Peacekeeping Open Debate

Tomorrow (11 April), the Security Council will hold an open debate on women in peacekeeping. The meeting will be chaired by Ursula von der Leyen, the German Federal Minister of Defence. Secretary-General António Guterres; Major General Kristin Lund, the Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO); and a civil society representative are expected to brief.

The open debate is consistent with one of the priorities that France and Germany outlined for their “joint presidencies” for March and April: the role of women in conflict situations, including their protection and their empowerment.

The goal of this debate is to provide member states with the chance to exchange views on how the Council and the wider membership can best support and strengthen efforts to increase the number of women in peacekeeping. In advance of the debate, Guterres submitted a letter summarising the gender parity strategy for uniformed personnel in peace operations that responds to resolution 2242 of 13 October 2015, which called on the Secretary-General “to initiate, in collaboration with Member States, a revised strategy, within existing resources, to double the numbers of women in military and police contingents of UN peacekeeping operations over the next five years”. When the Council adopted resolution 2436 on peacekeeping performance in September 2018, the strategy had yet to be completed. Recalling resolution 2242, the peacekeeping performance resolution set a deadline of March 2019 for this strategy to be presented to the Council. The strategy was approved in January, and a summary forwarded to the Council in a 28 March letter from the Secretary-General (S/2019/275).

The key findings of the gender parity strategy for uniformed personnel in peace operations may form an important part of the Secretary-General’s remarks. The strategy sets a target of 15% women among contingent troops by 2028. It further establishes a goal of 20% women in formed police units and 30% as individual police officers by 2028.

The strategy focuses on four key areas: recruitment and training; communications and outreach; leadership and accountability; and the creation of an enabling environment for gender parity. With regard to recruitment and training, the strategy calls for women serving in troop contingents to receive enhanced access to UN training and for contracts for female military officers to be synchronised with the academic year.

Current communications and outreach activities include meetings and workshops with member states on women in peacekeeping and advocacy for the development of gender focal points among troop and police contributors. By June 2020, the strategy calls for the Office of Military Affairs/Police Division to engage with the military/police components of peace operations to support the gender parity strategy.

The strategy further states that “military, police and justice and corrections senior management in the UNHQ and field missions will have gender-related goals and actions related to their component included in their compacts.”

Regarding an enabling environment for women in peacekeeping, the strategy calls for improved camp accommodations that address the needs of women, mentorship programmes for female officers, and the creation of programmes to prevent sexual harassment in the field and at headquarters.

In a concept note prepared for the meeting, Germany has raised a number of questions that may form a springboard for the discussion. Among others, these include:

  • What barriers exist in UN peacekeeping to increasing uniformed female participation and how can these be addressed by the UN (including the Council in its mandating processes), regional organisations and member states?
  • How are barriers to women’s participation addressed by member states in their own armed forces and how can patterns of exclusion be addressed?
  • How can mentors and role models contribute to further mobilising women and providing a support system for them?

The importance of women’s participation in enhancing the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations is regularly highlighted by a wide range of member states on and off the Council. In tomorrow’s meeting, several members are likely to express support for the Secretary-General’s gender parity strategy for uniformed personnel and for the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peacekeeping, which was launched in 2017 by Canada to foster meaningful involvement of women in peace operations through financial and technical assistance. There may also be references to the A4P Declaration of Shared Commitments, agreed by 151 member states, that recommits its supporters to “increasing the number of civilian and uniformed women in peacekeeping at all levels and in key positions” and to “integrating a gender perspective into all stages of analysis, planning, implementation and reporting.” Some members may describe what they are doing to increase female participation in their own armed forces and police. It is further possible that some will link the issue of women in peacekeeping to the broader women, peace and security agenda, by describing the role of gender advisors in missions and the need to address sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN personnel.

While there is widespread support for increasing the percentage of women in peace operations, including in leadership positions, some members may nonetheless express concerns that they may have difficulty reaching gender parity goals established by the Secretary-General’s strategy, given the composition of their armed forces.