Georgetown Study Finds Gender Impacts UN Peacekeeping Effectiveness


WASHINGTON, D.C.—May 27, 2021—The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) launched a major research study on the impact of gender on UN peace operations effectiveness with support from Global Affairs Canada’s Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations.

“Today’s report launch is an important contribution to our joint efforts to increase the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping and advance gender-responsive peacekeeping,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix during a virtual report launch event.

The Georgetown study finds that uniformed women have important interactions with local women and girls that build trust with communities, according to interviews with mission personnel and civil society actors from three ongoing UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) in Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lebanon. 

A local stakeholder estimated that 70% of security alerts in the DRC come from women – emphasizing the importance of gender-responsive operations.

Women peacekeepers have also changed community perceptions of what jobs men and women should perform.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General Elizabeth Spehar and Major General Cheryl Pearce’s leadership in United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) had a direct and positive impact on women’s inclusion and empowerment both within the mission and in Cypriot society, according to mission representatives and civil society leaders. 

“The operational effectiveness is contingent on how you employ and empower females across the mission, not just on numbers alone,” explains Former Force Commander of UNFICYP Major General Cheryl Pearce.

The report cautions that the campaign to depict women as making peacekeeping more effective has incited resentment amongst male personnel and placed pressure on uniformed women.

 “We need to be aware that capitalizing on the specific skills of women reinforces gender roles…and places unfair expectations on deployed women,” adds United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) Senior Gender Advisor Dr. Afaf Omer. 

“Deployed uniformed personnel, both men and women, report that the most essential skills for operational effectiveness are communication skills and not inherently gendered; let’s shift our focus accordingly,” said GIWPS Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Robert Nagel, who authored the study along with research assistants Kate Fin and Julia Maenza.

“We should not place the burden of changing the culture and operational effectiveness on women; it is everyone’s responsibility,” concurred Under-Secretary-General Lacroix.

Currently, women are underrepresented in peacekeeping. As of January 2021, women make up fewer than 5% of all military personnel, 11% of personnel in formed police units, and 28% of individual police officers on peacekeeping missions.

“Women continue to be significantly underrepresented in UN peacekeeping operations. And yet, our research finds that across various missions, women’s participation improves community engagement and changes gender norms and roles,” said Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of GIWPS, who moderated the launch event.

A companion policy brief offers recommendations on how gender mainstreaming and integrating local perspectives can improve the operational effectiveness of UN peacekeeping. It also calls for improved data collection, such as noting whether peacekeeping patrols include only men or feature mixed engagement teams; regular and systematic input from local communities in evaluating peacekeeping effectiveness; and better internal access to gender data.

“It’s critical that we take up this report’s recommendation to meaningfully engage with [local] groups, including diverse groups of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders in order to inform mission strategies activities and performance indicators,” said the Director General for the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program at Global Affairs Canada, Gwyn Kutz.

The report, policy brief, and case studies on the UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) in Lebanon, Cyprus, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are available for free online.

Media Contact
Sarah Rutherford

Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace & Security seeks to promote a more stable, peaceful, and just world by focusing on the important role women play in preventing conflict and building peace, growing economies, and addressing global threats like climate change and violent extremism. We engage in rigorous research, host global convenings, advance strategic partnerships, and nurture the next generation of leaders. Housed within the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, the Institute is headed by the former U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer.