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People for Peace: Gender Affairs Officer Lauren McAlister on building partnerships to advance women’s participation in Cyprus

Original reporting: Sophie Boudre & Lauren McAlister / Edited by: Crystal Lee

Lauren McAlister from Canada serves with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) as a Gender Affairs Officer, where she helps support the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda and other initiatives to advance gender equality on the island. Conflict still divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. The UN peacekeeping force prevents further conflict, maintains a buffer zone, provides humanitarian assistance, and works to build intercommunal coexistence and peace.

“I felt that the gender dimension of peace and security wasn’t always acknowledged. So a decade ago, I started explicitly looking at women’s participation in peacekeeping and uniformed capability.

By incorporating a gender lens in peacekeeping, it has allowed me to better understand the concerns of the communities that we serve and the role of women’s participation in different contexts, such as police and military.

I think gender integration is essential to really understand the nuance of peacekeeping. When we don’t look at gendered aspects of the work that we’re doing, there are many blind spots, and we’re unable to effectively fulfill our objectives.

When we don’t look at how our work impacts different groups of society, we can’t be that effective. More importantly, when we look at gender integration, it allows us to look beyond men and women, to look at the diversity and the lived experiences of the people we are supposed to help.

Building Partnerships

We have very strong and long-standing partnerships with a number of different intercommunal women’s organizations in Cyprus.

Over the past few years, we have been trying to partner more with women who may not be the “usual suspects” in both formal and informal women’s networks due to a lack of access to intercommunal engagement. What that has meant for us is to listen to women’s groups themselves, and design activities based on what they say they would like us to support. Now we’re able to see how women’s concerns and perspectives on the peace process tangibly impact people’s everyday lives in a more nuanced way.

For us, it’s really important to create a space that supports different groups of society to feel empowered to participate in the broader peace process.”