Women during armed conflict are stepping into new positions. In the past, they were labelled as the victims of war, defenseless against acts of violence, or portrayed as fulfilling the domestic role of home keepers. However, those labels are gradually becoming obsolete, as more and more women are filling roles as active participants in national security and peacekeeping activities.
Despite the fact that many governments of developing economies, in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Arab States and South Asia, do not encourage women to become active participants of decision making processes, female peacekeepers in these regions are good examples of role models for their respective communities. They help inspire and empower women and girls to push for their own rights and promote participation in peacekeeping and political processes in otherwise male-dominated and directed societies.
Countries that had to go through post-conflict reconstruction periods, such as Rwanda or Libya, have significantly improved gender equality in their societies. After the atrocities in Rwanda, which saw mass killings in 1994, the country moved towards a more democratic regime where gender policies and gender equality were promoted.
Those reforms and transformations were displayed during the parliamentary elections in 2003, when women got over 48% of the seats in the government. Rwanda became the country with the highest percentage of women participating in politics.
What is crucial for empowering women in these communities as peacekeepers is the increasing of recruitment for women, and subsequently addressing specific needs of female ex-combatants during the processes of demobilizing and reintegration into civilian life.
These changes can present the peacekeeping force as more approachable to women, and can act as a means of support for survivors of gender-based violence. This is particularly important in societies that prohibit women from speaking to men, as only female peacekeepers interact with them.
To achieve sustainable peace and security, all members of society need to be equal in terms of opportunities, decision making participation and protection.
The majority of women in the UN service are deployed to UN bodies, such as UNIFEM, an organization dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women, and UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund. They often try to help and empower other women in less developed parts of the world. Women in international relations are often considered to be better mediators in peacekeeping negotiations.
Women as Peacekeepers
Female peacekeepers are deployed in many areas, including police, military and non-combatant zones. Their presence can bring positive effects to peacekeeping missions by acting as a support system increasing awareness of peace building activities to women in the community, and protecting the rights of women.
Women have proven themselves as equal participants in all fields of peacekeeping activities and programs, by demonstrating their abilities to carry out the same roles and jobs under the same conditions as their male counterparts.
“In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. In 2012, out of approximately 125,000 peacekeepers, women constitute 3% of military personnel and 10% of police personnel in UN Peacekeeping missions.” Today, nearly 30% of the international civilians engaged in peacekeeping and special protection operations are female.
According to Hervé Ladsous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations: “Women can and must play a leading role in political participation, conflict resolution and the transition from conflict to peace”.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has cited gender parity among the UN staff as one of the top priorities for the organization. In 2012, in accordance with this goal, the UN Headquarters in New York reported 48% of its staff as female.
According to UN statements, female soldiers do not face many cultural limitations and are able to gain more information from local women and children than their male counterparts. Reports from missions in Kosovo, Liberia, the DCR, and Cambodia have confirmed the veracity of those studies.
Females also tend to gain the trust of the local population faster. This ability should be considered a vital element in peacekeeping operations and reason to continue UN efforts in the deployment of more women.