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.
And yet, the authors find that across various missions, women’s participation improves community engagement and changes the narrative of women’s roles in society. The report offers recommendations on how gender mainstreaming and the integration of local perspectives can improve operational effectiveness, along with recommendations for better data collection policies and practices.
This study is based on 78 interviews of mission personnel from three ongoing UN PKOs in Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lebanon, along with civil society actors, and a comprehensive review of personnel data, strategy, policy, and standard operating procedure documents related to operational effectiveness.
Read our launch event press release, or view the full discussion with H.E. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations; Ms. Gwyn Kutz, Director General for the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program, Global Affairs Canada; Dr. Robert U. Nagel, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security; Major General Cheryl Pearce, Former Force Commander, United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP); Ms. Sophie Stecher, Chief of the Comprehensive Approach Coordination Unit, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); and Dr. Afaf Omer, Senior Gender Advisor, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
This research was generously supported by Global Affairs Canada’s Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations. We are grateful to all the UN personnel in the field and in New York for their participation and support of this research project.
Both men and women highlighted uniformed women’s importance for interacting with local women and girls to build trust with communities. Women peacekeepers have also changed community perceptions of what jobs men and women should perform.
However, the campaign to depict women as ‘more effective’ peacekeepers has incited resentment, hostility, and a sense of disenfranchisement amongst male personnel. A common refrain among the uniformed women we interviewed was that there was no room for error in women’s performance, as individual work reflected upon all women. One uniformed officer likened the experience to being “contestants on a show,” as women are watched and applauded while performing routine tasks.
Deployed uniformed personnel, both men and women, report that the most essential skills for operational effectiveness are communication skills and not inherently gendered.
Our policy brief includes recommendations to improve UN PKO operational effectiveness:
- Conduct comprehensive gendered conflict analysis to ensure mission personnel engage with the right actors in the right way to protect civilians and foster peace.
- Perform comprehensive gendered organizational analysis so PKOs can reflect on how militarized aggression among peacekeepers can harm interactions with beneficiaries.
- Systematically solicit and integrate local input to better accommodate diverse cultural contexts.
Recommendations for better UN PKO data collection policies and practices include:
- Collect gender-disaggregated data on UN activities and operations more systematically.
- Undertake a more systematic analysis of qualitative gender data already available.
- Establish mechanisms for regular and systematic community input.
- Improve internal access to data and reporting.
Case Studies: the DRC, Cyprus, and Lebanon
While uniformed women are not inherently or universally better communicators, local civil society actors often perceive them as such. They credit women in uniform with improving the mission’s reputation and being better able to consult with local women and men. A local stakeholder estimated that 70% of security alerts come from women – emphasizing the importance of gender responsive operations.
Many mission representatives and civil society leaders evinced that SRSG Elizabeth Spehar and Major General Cheryl Pearce have had a direct and positive impact on women’s inclusion and empowerment both within the mission and in Cypriot society.
Commanders value uniformed women’s participation in patrols for direct engagements with local beneficiaries because they can access social space and situations that men cannot. The pandemic reportedly halted efforts for further inclusion, as accommodations built for women in peacekeeping were used instead for quarantining those exposed to COVID.