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    From left to right: First Sergeant Renita Rismayanti, Police Commissioner Violet Lusala and Commissioner Satu Koivu.

Women Police reflect on their deployment to UN peacekeeping operations

Of the more than 8,200 police personnel serving across 17 United Nations field missions and regional offices, more than 20 per cent are women. United Nations Police (UNPOL) has already reached its 2025 targets set-out in the UN Secretary-General’s gender parity strategy.

Women UNPOL officers improve the operational effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations by undertaking new approaches to building networks and partnerships, integrating the perspectives of women who – despite representing half the population – are often marginalized in planning and decision-making processes, and by securing the trust of vulnerable populations, including victims of gender-based violence. They also mentor young women pursuing careers in the rule of law and security institutions.

This article captures the perspectives of three inspiring women currently serving as UNPOL officers in UN peacekeeping operations. Through their service, they make a profoundly positive impact on a global level. In addition, there is also a significant return on investment for police-contributing countries. When UN police personnel return to their national services, they draw upon their unique experiences and the specialized training they received while serving abroad to better serve and protect at home.

Women UNPOL officers perform the same roles, to the same standards, and under the same hardship conditions as their male colleagues, often challenging gender biases in the process.

Commissioner Satu Koivu from Finland joined the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) as the Senior Police Adviser in 2021 at a historic time. The Mission was then led by women who were posted to the top three leadership positions (civilian, police, and military) for the first time in UN peacekeeping history.

The UN is an international organization with personnel from around the world, all bringing their cultural perspectives. Commissioner Koivu shared that for some colleagues being managed by women is an entirely new experience; one that can come with questions about women’s competencies, especially in leadership roles. “The skepticism is always dispelled when they see us in action. Our professionalism speaks for itself. Equality does not come by yelling; it comes through visible actions and daily work.”

Commissioner Koivu shared that she believes it is her responsibility as a leader to set the right tone by demonstrating a commitment to gender balance and by turning values into actions. “When the team I’m leading returns to domestic service, which could be more male-dominated, they can remember the impact women police officers have and influence change by pushing to do things differently and better.”

Women survivors of violent crimes perpetrated by men often find it easier to confide in and seek assistance from other women. Having more women police officers in peacekeeping operations results in more survivors coming forward to access the support services they need and pursue the justice they deserve.

First Sergeant Renita Rismayanti from Indonesia is a crime database officer serving in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and is the youngest recipient of the United Nations Woman Police Officer of the Year Award. Sergeant Rismayanti generates statistics to highlight criminal trends which are then used by mission leadership to inform decision making.

“In my unit, both men and women officers contribute equally to maintaining the criminal database with positive outcomes. However, the balance changes when it comes to addressing sexual and gender-based violence cases. I've observed a consistent trend where the majority of the victims are women, often exceeding 90% of reported cases. This underlines the critical need for female police officers. Many women in the Central African Republic hesitate to report incidents of sexual violence due to fear or cultural barriers. Having female officers present is essential to encourage survivors to speak up, provide them with the necessary support and trauma healing, and foster a safe environment for disclosure.”

Women often do not have the same career-building opportunities as men due to cultural and institutional barriers impeding their professional development. To bridge this gap, the UN Police Division prioritizes investing in women police officers through a variety of training courses and mentorship networks.

Police Commissioner Violet Lusala from Kenya is one of the first senior-level women to serve in the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). As a graduate of the UNPOL Senior Officer Command Development Course, Commissioner Lusala attributes her career success to the investment made by the UN in her professional growth. Course participants who pass assessments are considered for membership in the UNPOL Women Command Cadre, a talent pipeline that fast-tracks the inclusion of senior women police officers onto the Senior UNPOL Leadership Roster.

“Investing in women police officers’ professional development is crucial to increase their participation. The training and courses I have undergone have allowed me to be where I am today. They’ve also given me the opportunity to continue learning and gain new skills.” 

Women UNPOL officers reflect the communities they serve, build trust and confidence, help prevent and mitigate conflict and inspire young women to pursue professions typically dominated by men.

What more can be done to invest in the expansion of women police officers’ participation in UN field missions?

1. Recruit more women within national police services to expand the pool of available women candidates to deploy to UN field missions.

2. Raise awareness of deployment and professional development opportunities to ensure women police officers and their networks are informed.

3. Promote the benefits of deploying more women police officers to UN field missions – for host populations as well as for their national administrations and home communities.

The Women, Peace and Security agenda is a cross-cutting area of the Action for the Peacekeeping agenda and its implementation strategy A4P+ that helps ensure that all parties involved, including Member States, work together toward ensuring diversity among peacekeeping teams. This helps ensure we better reflect the communities we serve and make peacekeeping operations more effective.

This story is part of the “Action for Peacekeeping” story series, which reports on efforts to strengthen peacekeeping by the UN, its Member States, and other partners.