May 26, 2021
By Shabnam Kabir and Pauline Placide
UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee Members

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) along with its Peace and Security Committee hosted a panel discussion, entitled, “Decade of Action: Women in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding” on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The event took place virtually and welcomed panelists and participants from across the United States and all around the world. The panel was moderated by Mr. Patrick Realiza, Co-Chair of the UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee. The panelists all shared their perspectives on pressing issues related to women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts and operations.

As the moderator, Mr. Realiza began the conversation with a startling statistic: In the year 2020, out of approximately 95,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeepers worldwide, women only represented about 5% of military contingents and 11% of police units. His opening question to the entire panel was: What would you say are the key structural barriers to women’s participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts today? 

Ms. Alison Giffen, Director of Peacekeeping at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, began with an initial response stating that there are a lot of structural problems that prevent increased numbers of uniformed women in both UN and civilian peacekeeping roles. Some of those examples range from women not given equal opportunity to deploy or advance in their careers as well as the different  living conditions in the field. Ms. Giffen further added that some member states agree and pledge to support the different women’s initiatives and peace and security policies, but at the same time will voice that several of the agendas and actions that need to be taken to advance women in peace and security are actually in contradiction to overall culture and thus consequently are not going to be able to support some of those initiatives. She also added that it is disheartening to her that UN member states that do say they will support the different policies in public, ultimately behind closed doors during negotiations end up not delivering on their word, thus not being supportive of the different initiatives like gender, or selecting female peace and security advisors to deploy to peacekeeping missions which would in the end help to prevent sexual violence. She added there is still work that needs to be completed. She further stated that these issues are some of the reasons why there are not many women who decide to enroll in UN peacekeeping efforts today. 

Ms. Llani Kennealy’s answer to the opening question was the lack of accountability in the system. Ms. Kennealy, who serves as the Military Liaison Officer with UN Women, supported her answer with some quick statistics from research conducted by the International Peace Institute (IPI), including that 96% of women experienced discriminatory or sexualized behavior in UN peace operations, 94% experienced or witnessed or heard about sexual harassment, and 86% experienced or witnessed racism in UN peace operations. 

Ms. Megan Corrado, who is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, answered and agreed with both Ms. Corrado and Ms. Kennealy in stating that one of the big components would be the sexual harassment, and that along with sexual harassment she felt it was also an issue of a patriachry. Examples cited include women not having access to proper uniforms or having proper barracks facilities for them. Different issues like this play a small part in the big picture as to why there is a reluctance by women  to enter in the variety of peacekeeping roles. She explained tokenism as being a common theme in deterring women as well. She further stated, “When you have women peacekeepers in the field, they are expected to be the one going to the communities and talking to women and young children who are being abused and sometimes those women are not equipped with the right training to do the different missions in the community.” She emphasized that making sure that the women in these roles are equipped with the right tools to process, cope and still be able to succeed is an important need.

Part I: Questions for Megan Corrado (Alliance for Peacebuilding)

Mr. Realiza then asked Ms. Corrado to explain to the audience what the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 is and how it has been implemented over the past two decades. Ms. Corrado replied that UNSCR 1325 was passed in the year 2000 after years of advocacy and was basically trying to get both the UN and member states to recognize that there cannot be work towards peaceful initiatives when women are excluded from the discussion. She explained the four pillars needed to make it work. One being bringing in women who are actually in the roles of soldiers, police, and civilian advisors to the peacekeeping table and making sure they are involved in all aspects including prevention and conflict resolution. The second pillar being protection: making sure that there are mechanisms in place to deal with emergency humanitarian situations. The third pillar being prevention: making sure there are intervention strategies on the prevention of violence and conflict, and accountability strategies placed for the protection of women. The fourth and final pillar being relief and recovery calling for the advancement of relief and recovery measures to incorporate women’s perspectives and their particular needs in different contexts. As of right now there are about 92 member states that have implemented national action plans which take these different pillars into their policy.

Mr. Realiza asked another question for Ms. Corrado, on Troop-and-Police implementing Countries (TPCs) being expected to implement the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and how it has facilitated the participation of women in UN peacekeeping missions. He asked, “In your opinion, out of all the TPCs, which countries have been particularly successful at promoting women’s participation and what factors do you believe have contributed to their successes?” Ms. Corrado's response was that it depends on what one would consider to be success if by numbers there are different countries in the global south like Bangladesh, Nepal, or Ethiopia who have large contingents of women serving in peacekeeping operations. While looking at percentages there are countries like Albania where they have 100 percent representation but there are only two members serving. On a financial outlook, more countries in the north are helping out in that demographic. Canada has been more of a leader in research and funding for women and peacekeeping initiatives. As a follow up, Mr. Realiza also asked what Ms. Corrado thought would be the greatest impact the WPS agenda has already had on women and men since the passage of 1325. Ms. Corrado felt that there is still a long way to go but there has been some change as well, including now seeing the role of gender advisors both in peacekeeping situations and domestically where there are more experts to do different tasks like gender analysis which can ultimately measure the successes and failures. As well as the slow cultural shift in changing how men and women are viewed in society with the importance of why it is good on all aspects that women are included in a multitude of roles in decision making.

Part II: Questions for Alison Giffen (Center for Civilians in Conflict) 

Mr. Realiza moved on to mention that in 2017, UN Secretary General António Guterres launched a system wide strategy on gender parity, which basically sets targets for equal representation of women and men. The strategy has yielded some positive results. He asked, “In your opinion and based on your expertise, what do you think has made the gender parity strategy so successful and what can be done moving forward?” 

Ms. Giffen started out by stating that from the perspective of someone not directly in the field but from reading the research there are different key things that stand out. One is the pipeline issue and making sure that women are aware of applying for or being nominated for positions and that they have the training and skills needed to succeed in those positions.  With the practice of rosters, it would help in having a list of women who might be a good fit or interested in filling the different roles. Another would be selection where the UN has control over selection if there is better access and control then they could get better statistics that way. With better access to selection it leads to more ability to address the issues when it comes to women in those leadership posts, as well as individual police and individual military officers if they’re getting the candidate nominated and applying for those posts. Ms. Giffen went on to say that one of the major barriers is making sure that there are women in frontline posts when they’re serving in the various peacekeeping missions. She noted, “We often see women in leadership support roles, like administrative work or cleaning roles. But the aim is to get them engaged in key roles as well, such as community engagement.”

One point that she further wanted to point out and agreed with Ms. Kennealy and Ms. Corado is that by enabling the physical environment in which the women are faced with in the peacekeeping missions for example the living conditions where there are no separate bathrooms or the sleeping conditions where it can be scary at times for women because there are no civilian offices for the UN and in some cases no accommodations that are available for women to go to for certain missions. This goes along with the sexual harrasment and discrimination problems that are prevalent as well. Lastly, she emphasized, “If there is no mentorship, networking, and training, [then] women are not given the opportunity to redeploy for the different missions.”

Mr. Realiza further added that some of the issues that Ms.Giffen brought up were some that did not previously cross his mind until this conversation. He then asked Ms. Giffen to elaborate as to what the strengths and limitations would be to having gender quotas and what are some alternative strategies in lieu of them. Ms Giffen added that she doesn't feel there will be change without some sort of quotas in place. With the many issues already in place there is also a need for everyone to be held accountable. If the quotas are not being met, how will there be a way to measure if the system is moving in the right direction. She concluded by stating that “Having quotas in place will not [necessarily] work alone [and] that is why it is important to have the other properties in place like the pipeline and an enabling environment.”

Part III: Questions of Llani Kennealy (UN Women)

Ms. Kennealy agreed with Ms. Giffen that quotas are a powerful tool but they cannot work in isolation. She also highlighted that when using quotas, “We need to make sure that we are not just adding women and that we are actually allowing them to do the role that they have been trained to do.”

Mr. Realiza moved on to mention the dichotomy between the military structure and having workforce diversity and then asked Ms. Kennealy to share some real-life experiences to better illustrate the tension between those two. Ms. Kennealy began by stating that the military structure is inherently in opposition to a diverse workforce. The analogy she used to describe the situation, “[That] the military structure is like baking cookies; it is like bringing in all these incredible ingredients to make cookies, but then mashing them altogether to create the same cookie – that is how the military is, it is team before individual.” A real-life example she gave of this was female pilots in the Royal Australian Defense Force. The Royal Australian Defense Force has an ongoing relationship with the Australian Human Rights Commission. A couple of years ago, the chief at the time asked the Human Rights Commission to conduct a review into why they had not managed to graduate any female pilots. When they were sitting down with a young female pilot who was going through her initial pilot training, she discussed at a debrief that she had with her instructor about her failed experience in the cockpit. And the final feedback that she received from her instructor at that time was that she did not have enough “tiger.” And when she explored the option of what that meant, it came out that he assessed her as not being aggressive enough when she flicked the switches in the cockpit, which further demonstrated a subjective assessment. 

Closing Remarks 

Mr. Realiza concluded the questionnaire with two questions for the entire panel. What are the key systematic reforms that need to be implemented by the UN to truly give women in peace operations the opportunity to thrive in a long-term career? Because we are in the age of COVID-19, does the current pandemic provide an opportunity for peacekeeping and peacebuilding? And if so, what opportunities would that be? 
With regards to the first question, Ms. Kennealy stated that the concept of a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse needs to be more than just a hashtag. Sometimes when we have such hashtags, they lack the strength behind it. She indicated that “We need to see visible policy and visible actions; standards of behavior and training need to be consistent; we need to have good training around gender, racial bias, and so on.” She further continued, “That from a military perspective, the concept of a gender perspective should be mainstreamed in mandates within operational plans. There should be a global effort to improve the data collection on women, peace, and security. We need to move beyond just looking at men, women, and age, but also all sorts of cultural pieces and everything that makes us individuals.” Lastly, she emphasized that having that data and using it correctly in itself should be driving how we create the teams for deployment. 

Ms. Giffen chimed in and said that in peacekeeping operations, “We often focus on the uniformed components but really, it’s the civilian components and the integrated mechanisms, which are civilian, military, [and the] police, that are actually really trying to carry out and able to carry out the main mandated objectives of a peacekeeping operation.” She further added, “While we are still in a pandemic this is a good time to take a look at how gender is right now and see what needs to still be done in terms of conflict analysis and how to better respond.”

Ms. Corrado replied that with the world becoming more fragile every day, “Yes there is going to be a need for peacekeeping and peacebuilding as soon as possible. Even if the pandemic disappears, there are going to be a multitude of effects from it for years to come. So now is a good time to think strategically as to where and what will be the problems at the peacekeeping and peacebuilding levels.”

Mr. Realiza then moved on to the final part of the event and allowed audience members to submit questions they had for any of the speakers. Questions ranged from topics such as how women peacekeepers and how they were received when coming home from completing their missions in conflict zones and to whether there were any tools available to the UN Security Council to punish or discourage habitual criminals in the field given the number of rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual harassment allegations. The speakers were able to successfully give the audience members more insight in answering these questions that were asked in an informative and comprehensive way by helping the audience build a bit more of an understanding as to what the main issues are today for women actively serving in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.

In conclusion, the virtual panel discussion was attended by about 60 attendees and allowed the panelists from different areas in the peacekeeping field to share their unique perspectives. The event also allowed panelists to give the audience greater insight as to what the current issues are and what they ultimately believe will help in making the environment for women in peacekeeping a much more appealing and enjoyable field to pursue career endeavors in, with the end goal of significantly increasing the number of women in the field. As noted and agreed upon by all the panelists, in order to truly achieve women's advancement in UN peacekeeping there must be work done in ensuring that women are intricately involved in all aspects from the very beginning such as working on the frontlines to being in senior-level leadership posts. The panelists all re-emphasized to the audience members that there are indeed many initiatives in place which are aimed at improving the current issues faced by women in peacekeeping, but there is still much work that needs to be done.

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