Today, more than 110,000 men and women serve as peacekeepers – military, police and civilian – in 16 peacekeeping operations around the world, from the arid lands of Darfur, to the mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the shores of Haiti. The number of countries that now contribute police and military personnel has reached 120, an all time high. This participation not only bolsters the strength of UN operations; it is also a clear demonstration of widespread respect for, dependence on and confidence in United Nations peacekeeping.
In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted its landmark Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. For the first time in an omnibus resolution, the Council recognized that women bear the brunt of armed conflicts, and should have a commensurate role in their prevention and resolution.
The resolution stressed the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Among its many recommendations, the resolution called for an expansion of the role and contribution of women in United Nations peacekeeping operations, including in military, police, and civilian roles, as well as in positions of leadership.
After the adoption of Resolution 1325, the United Nations Headquarters, peacekeeping operations and Member States have been working to meet these goals, but progress is far from satisfactory. On the civilian side, the percentage of women recruited, hired and deployed by the Secretariat to work in peacekeeping operations has reached 30 per cent, bringing gender parity well within reach. Progress has been much slower on the uniformed components of UN peacekeeping operations, which Member States contribute and now have less than 3 per cent women. This includes 8 per cent of the 10,000 police officers and 2 per cent of the 80,000 military personnel.
Peacekeeping has evolved from its traditional role of monitoring ceasefire agreements and borders between sovereign States to carrying out large scale multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations often addressing civil wars. These newer missions are mandated to facilitate political processes through the promotion of national dialogue and reconciliation; protect civilians; assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants; support the organization of elections; protect and promote human rights; promote reform of the domestic security sector; and assist in restoring the rule of law.
These expanded responsibilities make the need for more women peacekeepers more pressing than ever. In all of these fields, women peacekeepers have proven that they can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts. In many cases, women are better-placed to carry out peacekeeping tasks, including interviewing victims of sexual and gender-based violence, working in women’s prisons, assisting female ex-combatants during the process of demobilizing and reintegration into civilian life, and mentoring female cadets at police academies.
Adding to the value of this contribution, female peacekeepers act as role models in the local environment, inspiring, by their very example, women and girls in the often male-dominated societies where they serve. Demonstrating to these women and girls that they can do anything – in the realm of politics, security, law and order, medicine, journalism and beyond – the female blue helmets truly embody the concept, “Power to Empower.”
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