29th May is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. The day was set aside to pay tribute to those men and women who have served or are serving in the more than 71 operations that the UN Peacekeeping has deployed peacekeepers to since it was established in 1948.For 70 years, uniformed and civilian UN personnel have been a bulwark against instability and continued conflict in some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots.
The theme of this year’s celebrations is “70 Years of Service and Sacrifice.” UN Peacekeepers are not immune to the dangers attached to the work of conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. 3,700 peacekeepers have lost their lives in the course of UN Peacekeeping’s existence. 129 of those deaths happened last year.
Though all UN peacekeepers are made equal, there is considerable research now that shows that female peacekeepers “deliver results that their male counterparts cannot.” Female peacekeepers are reportedly better at building relationships in the environments they serve in thus increasing the likelihood of success for UN contingents that include women. Female peacekeepers are also key to helping UN Peacekeeping win the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping forces. In countries where women are restrained by hackneyed gender roles, seeing female peacekeepers can precipitate the breaking of barriers.
Recently Hague Talks, together with the Irish embassy in The Hague held an event around peace-keeping issues. We’re taking the opportunity to remind you about some of talks that day, what we learned about peace-keeping and the special role female officers play in peacekeeping missions all over the world.
Only 22 % of the UN’s deployed civilian staff is female. The statistics on women deployed in UN peacekeeping missions are even worse. Despite the benefits mentioned above, less than 4 % of soldiers and 10% of police officers currently serving in UN peacekeeping are female.
Ameerah Haq is the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support. She talked about how slow the UN has been to put more women in positions of real power in UN peacekeeping missions. She also gave her own personal account of being outnumbered by male senior officials at the UN:
“Let me also talk about the representation within the United Nations itself as since I have worked there myself. It was only in 2014 that Kristin Lund of Norway became the first female Force Commander. It was only in 2012 that Hester Paneras of South Africa became the first female Police Commissioner in Darfur. In 2011 when I attended the heads of mission conference, I happened to be the only female head of mission. The group pictures are of a number of men with me sort of sitting somewhere in the middle.”
You can read Haq’s thoughts on the role of women in peacekeeping here. The video of her talk is embedded below:
More women needed in peacekeeping missions
Admiral Mark Mellett is the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces of Ireland. He gave a full-throated endorsement of the need for more women in peacekeeping missions and also spoke eloquently of the attendant benefits:
“We need more women in our defence forces not just for peacekeeping. We need more women in our defence forces for everything; not just to be politically correct, not just because it gives us access to an extra 50% of the population, not just because one of the biggest challenges we face is the increase in sexual exploitation and abuse and gender-based violence which is the main factor, if not a key supporting factor, in many conflicts we see internationally,” he said.
“The reality is we see that where there is a gender gap the likelihood of interstate and intrastate violence is really high. We need more women in our defence forces because the evidence is overwhelming that the greater the gender balance in our military, the better the decision-making. Greater gender balance in our organizations makes us healthier reflections of the society that we defend, protect and serve,” explained Admiral Mellett.
You can watch Admiral Mellett’s talk on women, equality, diversity, and inclusion in full below:
The perspective of a female peacekeeper
Captain Deirdre Carbery of the Irish Defence Forces is uniquely credentialed to speak on the value of having men and women serving alongside each other in peacekeeping missions. She has taught at the United Nations Training School Ireland and the Peace Support Training Centre in Kingston, Canada on gender, human rights and protection of civilians. Even more impressive, Captain Carbery has served as the Platoon Commander with United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Her experience shined through during her talk when she enumerated the benefits of having women on peacekeeping missions:
“I saw first-hand when I was deployed in South Lebanon as a commander the meaningful and essential contribution made and by women and the importance of mixed teams deployed on the ground. As a result of my very presence and that of the few female peacekeepers deployed with me, we were able to gain greater access to the population. As the result of this greater access we were able to gain more information and as a result feed this information and inform our planning processes,” she said.
Captain Carbery went on to explain exactly how she gained the trust of the community:
“Conflict can exacerbate existing gender inequalities and can reinforce harmful stereotypes. I used my femininity not as a vulnerability but as a strength. In the population that we were deployed within in Lebanon, I used the gender bias that was present in the culture and in the community we were serving to gain greater access and greater information and gain the trust of both men and women. The women wanted their voices heard. They wanted to share their experiences and they wanted to be part of the peacebuilding process, not to be active recipients of security.”
You can watch Captain Carbery’s talk on women in peacekeeping, perspectives from the front line in full below: