A collective call to action to ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in conflict resolution and political processes was issued by high-powered delegates from countries attending the 2023 UN Peacekeeping Ministerial in Ghana.
Launching a side-event dedicated to advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that progress had been made in improving the participation and leadership of women in peacekeeping settings under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative. This included strengthening people-centered approaches in the early warning of threats to civilians, conflict resolution and prevention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gender responsive patrolling in South Sudan, and increasing women’s civic and political participation in the Central African Republic.
However, much more needs to be done with women making up less than one quarter of military and staff officers and less than seven percent of contingent members deployed to peacekeeping missions. The full support of gender responsive leaders is needed to make urgent progress, he said.
“The Women, Peace and Security agenda is not just an end in itself. It is a political and strategic imperative in our efforts to create long-lasting political solutions in the host countries of those we serve,” said Mr. Lacroix. “Without women’s full and meaningful involvement in all that we do, we are unlikely to see durable results.”
Keynote speaker, Chief of Joint Operations for Sweden, General Carl-Johan Edstrom, said great strides had been made but there was still concern about negative trends relating to women’s participation in political and peace processes.
“Despite the benefits of having diverse police and military contingents, the participation of women in multilateral peacekeeping efforts remains dishearteningly low. This stark reality compels us to introspect and recognize that the transformation we seek globally must begin without our own ranks,” he said.
Ghanaian Brigadier General Anita Asmah described actions taken by her country to boost women in national forces and peacekeeping, including reviewing regulations to ensure they are gender friendly. In 1992, just seven women graduated from the military academy compared to 75 last year. Currently, seventeen percent of the Ghanaian armed forces and peacekeepers are women.
“Ghana has exceeded expectations. We have started doing cross training so that women are not in stereotyped traditional roles but are also in combat roles. We have females in the combat units, from the armored units, reconnaissance, motor transport, and infantry.”
Director General for Policy at the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, Koen Davidse, said peacekeeping relied on national forces being inclusive of women.
“This makes what the United Nations does revolutionary because we are essentially reforming national security forces. We do this because diversity means better teams. We do this because, if we don’t have women on the team, we miss out on 50 percent of the population that we are not in touch with,” he said. “Women need peace, but peace needs women too.”
Despite a robust and extensive framework to progress Women, Peace and Security, implementation remains slow.
“Most peace processes take place with no women as mediators, negotiators, or signatories. Women human rights defenders and peace builders continue to be exposed to sexual and gender-based violence, reprisals, threats, and intimidation offline and online,” said State Secretary for Norway, Marie Lamo Vikanes. “It should alarm us that only one third of 18 peace agreements negotiated in 2022 included provisions on women and gender equality. Women’s participation should be a given, not an afterthought.”
Mr. Lacroix said efforts needed to be stepped up to identify and remove unnecessary obstacles to women’s participation in national security institutions and peacekeeping. Support must be given to junior uniformed women to advance their careers. Women officers should be assigned to roles and functions based on their qualifications, training and potential rather than stereotypical assumption. Zero tolerance to sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse must be enforced and partnerships built with women leaders in all their diversity to increase participation in political processes.
Wrapping up the event, Pam Damoff, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada said the country had commissioned a research project to conceptualize and sponsor gender responsive leadership throughout peacekeeping.
“Women are capable. We are qualified and have the right to serve. Women are also essential to sustainable peace, not because we are more peaceful but because our involvement make peace efforts more diverse.”