We as a world community has not as yet achieved gender quality. When it comes to peace keeping and security, it has traditionally been seen as a “man’s job”. Hence women’s involvement in peacekeeping missions and security forces contrasts people’s mindset of pre-existing gender inequality and discrimination. A shift from this to empowerment is taking time, effort and requires strategic intervention strategies. In conflict hot spots, the cases of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV), gender-based violence and violence against women shows a strikingly high rate. Since women and girls are the most widely targeted group when it comes to conflict situations, it is imperative that we bring in their perspective in building strategies for a gender equitable response in conflict situations and efforts of mitigation. Hence, their role in devising policy, as team leaders/commandants and first responders is the need of the hour. Their empowered roles are also met with stigma due to the traditional and patriarchal set up of the society at large. An article as recent as February 2020 of the Centre informing the Supreme court that male troops are not mentally prepared to accept women commanders. The reasons cited for such a remark is the prevailing societal mindset and greater family responsibilities.
Along with 25 years of the Beijing Declaration, 2020 marks the 20 years of the UNSCR resolution 1325. This was the first resolution where the United Nations (Security council) recognized rising adversity of conflict on women and children. The subsequent SC Resolutions formally recognized violence that women and girls are subjected to in conflict zones, giving rise to advisories and strategies in curbing such cases of CRSV. This also led to the 2015 SC resolution stating the need to double the recruitment of female military officers in peacekeeping missions. India has taken a lead in this effort. Through this their integral role as peacekeepers is formally recognized and revered. We cannot think of curbing the acts of violence without the involvement of women. Women are the core of peacekeeping but their role and effort goes relatively unrecognized.
UN Chief in his April 2019 statement has also spoken about increasing the number of women in peacekeeping – both civilian and uniformed, as a key priority and scope for improvement, not just a question of numbers – but also of our effectiveness in fulfilling our mandates. This states the criticality of women in sustainable peacekeeping efforts. Women in patrol units are better able to reach both men and women in areas of operation, accessing critical intelligence and providing a more holistic view of the security challenges. Their presence at checkpoints has promoted a less confrontational atmosphere, and increased reporting of sexual and gender-based violence and lower incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse. Nitu Bhattacharya, Deputy Inspector General (DIG), CRPF and author of “My Life, My Horizon” and “Half life”, books on women in conflict zones, states the importance of women in uniform that the transformation of women taking up combat roles as a career is progressive and them being first responders has made it easier to cross the divide and enhanced relationships between the forces and the people.
Today, on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, it is of prime importance that we to recognize the role and efforts of women peacekeepers. For the first time, the UN Military Gender Advocate award is set to be awarded to two UN peacekeepers: Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian Naval officer, and Major Suman Gawani, of the Indian Army. The award is based on the promotion of the UN SC Resolution 1325, nominated by the heads and force commanders of peace operations. Major Gawani-The first Indian peacekeeper to win this award – is a Military Observer, formerly deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). She has mentored over 230 UN Military Observers on CRSV, and ensured the presence of women military observers in each of the Mission’s team sites. She has also helped South Sudansese government forces in training and launching their CRSV action plan. She says, “whatever our function, position or rank, it is our duty as peacekeepers to integrate an all-genders perspective into our daily work and own it, in our
interactions with colleagues as well as with communities”. UN chief António Guterres describes the awardees as powerful role models: “Through their work, they have brought new perspectives and have helped to build trust and confidence among the communities we serve”, he said. “Through their commitment and innovative approaches, they embrace a standard of excellence that is an inspiration to all blue helmets everywhere. As we confront today’s challenges, their work has never been more important or relevant.”
India’s continued commitment to UN peace operations and to global peace and security – even through these difficult periods – is invaluable. More than 200,000 Indians have served in 49 of the 71 peacekeeping missions established around the world since 1948. Indian Armed forces has contributed the services of women officers as Military Observers and Staff Officers apart from them forming part of Medical Units being deployed in UN Missions. The first all women contingent in peacekeeping mission from CRPF was deployed in 2007 to the UN Operation in Liberia (UNMIL) where they provided 24-hour guard duty and conducted night patrols in the capital Monrovia and helped to build the capacity of the Liberian police. They were an inspiration for the women of the host nation and became trendsetters for other such Female Police Units across the Globe.
Given the role of women in security forces, we cannot ignore the waves they have generated in enhancing peace and security in conflict situations, as:
a) Reports have shown that the women and children in communities have been more open in expressing their concerns to women officers.
b) Their role of first responders of violence is met with acceptance from the community.
This so happens as women bear with them the lived realities of being a heterogenous vulnerable group. Their support to other vulnerable communities (migrants, PWDs) is a reflection of their nuanced understanding of the subject.
Currently, women constitute 4.7% of military contingents and 10.8% of formed police units in UN Peacekeeping missions The 2028 target for women serving in military contingents is 15%, and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20%, and 30% for individual police officers. The responsibility for deployment of women in the police and military lies with Member States. UN Police Division launched ‘the Global Effort’ to recruit more female police officers into national police services and into UN police operations around the world. It is hence important to improve strategies which enhance their involvement in peacekeeping efforts. In India, UN Women’s collaboration with Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK) with the support of Government of India, is a distinguished example of efforts in apprising security focus on gender. The collaboration helps in organizing gender trainings for troops to be deployed on missions and training female military officers through its yearly intervention: The Female Military Officers course (FMOC), which is a 15 day long yearly course for military officers from different parts of the world. The idea is to break stereotypes, take part in healthy discussions on deriving strategies for future intervention and integrating gender perspective in peacekeeping.
We have a way to go in fully accepting women as flag bearers of peace and security and their increasing participation and leadership in the peace and security sector. Throughout this movement, we have to absorb the shocks in our way, and keep moving forward negotiating and realizing their intrinsic role in National and International peacekeeping.
You can read more at: Women in Peacekeeping: https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/women-peacekeeping India and UN Peacekeeping: https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/india
Written by: Pragya Tikku, Consultant-Inter-Governmental Processes, Women, Peace & Security, UN Women India