(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Give women peacekeepers a chance

Captain Angela Koesnel, a level 1 nurse with the South African peacekeeping contingent in Burundi
UN Photo/Martine Perret

The consensus was “could do better” as senior government representatives met in New York to commemorate UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a decade-old commitment to strengthen the role of women in peace and security.

Ambassadors and government officials widely endorsed a Security Council decision on 27 October to create indicators to measure progress from now on.

“There’s a need for the indicators so the UN can measure how many women are in peacekeeping, are mediators, and are in parliament across the spectrum,” Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and co-chair of the UN civil society advisory group for women, peace and security, told IRIN. “Member states are afraid of that because if we start measuring performance you’ll see how bad it is.”

Two recent events have underlined the failures - as well as the hope: the gang rape of more than 280 women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo in July, and the recent appointment of former Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, to head UN Women, to be launched in January 2011.

“Those rapes and our failure as an international community to bring that conflict to an end and to protect women and children in the process stands as a tragic rebuke to our efforts thus far,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Part of UN Women’s mandate will be scaling-up programming in conflict zones. But gender equality activist Beatrice Aber, a member of Southern Sudan’s Legislative Assembly, said its work was needed now.

“There are only two women at the negotiating table for the post-referendum arrangements,” Aber said of Sudan’s upcoming January referendum, as she marched with 150 other women activists to the Security Council. “Women are not being properly represented. People are not aware of what 1325 means, and if they are not aware it, there is no way to implement it.”


A recent report about Indonesia, Colombia, Israel and Palestine, Liberia, Sri Lanka and Uganda highlights that women remain on the sidelines of peace-building because the resolution is only partially implemented by UN agencies in these conflict and post-conflict countries.

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The report, What the Women Say: Participation and UNSCR 1325, by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and the Washington-based International Civil Society Action Network, found that governments had failed to take the necessary steps to boost women’s participation at crucial stages in a country’s rebuilding.

“I felt that we were going to come here today and have countries tell us how fantastically they are doing,” said Sanam Anderlini, the lead author of the report. “When you dig into what they are actually doing you realize that a lot of it, like the training, like the awareness-raising, isn’t quite there.”

Positive developments in the past 10 years include an increase in the number of women serving as UN peacekeepers, including all-female police peacekeeping units; an increase in training for soldiers on gender issues and sexual violence, and a rise in the percentage of women in national parliaments.

Yet the percentage of women in both military and police peacekeeping units remains below 10 percent of overall levels. Only 16 percent of peace agreements specifically address women’s rights and needs.

“We have made some progress but not as much as we would have wanted,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy. “The challenges ahead remain immense.”

Enhanced national action plans, as well as nearly US$44 million pledged by the US for empowering women in conflict zones, is an “important first step” for addressing some of those challenges, said Carla Koppell, director for the Institute for Inclusive Security, which documents and helps facilitate women’s participation in peace-building. “But a plan is just that. It’s a first step to implementation.”

Full implementation of 1325 will require a “transformation of heart and mind” Koppell said, re-prioritizing peace negotiations to look beyond stopping immediate violence with “very narrow range of military actors ”, often male, at the table.

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