February 27, 2017 – Major General Kristin Lund, the first and only woman to command a United Nations peacekeeping operation, spoke at Georgetown last week about her work to advance gender equality in military operations.
Lund, also the first Norwegian woman to reach the rank of Major General, commanded the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus from 2014-2016.
“It’s not enough to be the first,” said Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, which hosted the event.
“It’s what she accomplished in these positions that is important.”
As force commander in Cyprus, Lund increased the number of women in her 1,000- person troop and helped ensure women had equal access and opportunity.
On average, women comprise 3 percent of U.N. military forces. Under Lund’s command, women made up 8 percent of the force, thanks to her active encouragement of countries to send her more women soldiers.
The major general said women’s participation in the military is a “force multiplier.”
“An integrated force helps you to reach the full society in the country you are serving,” she says.
Reflecting on the time she served in Afghanistan, Lund said women are needed in conservative countries to search parts of houses and other areas where men are not permitted to enter.
“In Afghanistan, we could not do our job 100 percent without women,” she explained, adding that women soldiers also aid efforts to reduce wartime sexual violence.
“If some woman is raped, do you think she will go to a woman in uniform or a man in uniform to report it?” asked Lund.
Modeling Gender Equality
Having women in these positions is also an important way for the U.N. to model gender equality, especially in conservative countries like Cyprus, the major general said.
When Lund came to Cyprus, only five of around 25 manned outposts in the Cyprus buffer zone were equipped to accommodate women soldiers.
When she left, they were all available for both genders to use.
Lund also ensured women were integrated into military training competitions, requiring each team to have at least one woman to compete.
Champion for Women
“I wanted to be a role model for men and women,” said Lund.
Any time a cable regarding U.N. sexual abuse came through, Lund would gather her commanders to debrief the news.
She said she attended all trainings about preventing sexual abuse, “to show that it was important and mattered.”
Today Lund is actively mentoring women in an effort to increase the number of female leaders at the highest levels of the U N.
“It’s difficult,” said Lund, referring to the challenge of promoting more women into senior U.N. positions. “But I am trying, mentoring.”