Women still underrepresented in international peacekeeping missions

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Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Despite greater participation of women in building and sustaining peace and recognition from all quarters for the value they bring, the number of women taking part in peacekeeping operations remains low.

According to the United Nations, women represent about 4% of the military peacekeepers and 10% of the police. The lack of women participation was the main subject of discussion at the high-level meeting for the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Focal Points.

At least, 150 delegates from AU and UN member states, regional and international organisations attended the two-day meeting of the network in Windhoek this week to discuss the role of women in the global peace processes.

The meeting, hosted by the Namibian Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, took stock of progress made towards the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security since its adoption in October 2000.

In her opening address, Benita Diop, the AU’s Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, noted that despite evidence that including women improves peacekeeping efficiency and effectiveness, they are routinely underrepresented in actual operations.

Diop has urged UN member states to increase women participation in peacekeeping operations by 20% as per UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operation target and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

United Nations Department of peacekeeping has set a target of recruiting 15% women as military observers and staff officers by the end of 2018 and to reach a goal of 20% female police deployments by 2020.

The AU envoy further said the rate of female participation in peacekeeping forces has changed slowly over the past quarter-century, growing from 1% in 1993 to just 4% of military peacekeepers and 10% of police personnel in 2017, far short of the UN targets of 15% and 20%, respectively.

The Focal Points Network was established after several UN member states including Namibia came together in Spain to form the network in 2015. The global network is aimed at raising awareness and advocating for the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.

This is in line with the provisions of the UN Resolution 1325 to call on member states to effectively integrate women, peace and security agenda into national and regional policy frameworks and legislation.

Some of the main elements of Resolution 1325 were the inclusion of women in UN peacekeeping operations, peace-building missions as well as addressing sexual violence in conflict situations.

The resolution recognises the critical role that women can and do play in peace-building efforts. UNSCR 1325 affirms that peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women are equal partners in the prevention of violent conflict, the delivery of relief and recovery efforts and in the forging of lasting peace.

Some progress

During the third meeting of the network in Windhoek, Namibia took over the chairmanship of the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points from Germany for a period one year. The meeting was held under the theme: “Women, Peace and Security: Towards Full Participation”, with the sub-theme “Mainstreaming the WPS Agenda in the Regional Economic Communities”. 

Namibia is one of the few countries that made progress in women peacekeeping efforts. Over the years, Namibia has increased the number of women taking part in peacekeeping missions both at military and police level.

The head of Namibia Defence Force Public Relations Division, Lt-Colonel Petrus Shilumbu, has told The Southern Times that Namibia has achieved the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operation target of 15% of women participation in peacekeeping missions in 2018.

Shilumbu noted that between 1996 and 1997, the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) deployed a contingent of 550 troops consisting of 500 men and 50 women to UN’s Angola Verification Mission.

From 1998 to 1999, the defence force deployed a contingent of 200 troops consisting of 180 men and 20 women the UN’ Observer Mission in Angola.

And between 2000-2008, Namibia deployed a contingent of 42 officers consisting of 35 male and seven females to the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea as military observers and staff officers.

Furthermore, the defence force deployed a contingent of 4,402 troops consisting of 3,936 men and 466 women to the UN mission in Liberia between 2004 and 2007.

During the same period, the NDF deployed 42 officers to Cote d’Ivoire on UN mission, nine of whom were women. It further deployed a contingent of 358 officers consisting of 300 men and 58 women to the AU-UN Hybrids Operation in Darfur in 2008.

NDF has also deployed 135 officers consisting of 132 men and 3 women to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan while 154 military officers are serving in the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei 4 of whom are women.

Many female Namibian police officers have also served in the United Nations Africa Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). In 2010, the Namibian Police Force for the first time deployed 31 female police officers to UNAMID to serve in Darfur.

Despite progress made in a few countries, the AU Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, says, “We still have a long way to go to achieve parity and implement the women, peace, and security.

According to Diop, greater gender parity in peacekeeping forces reduces the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse and crimes.

“Estimates suggest that increasing the proportion of women in the military peacekeeping units from 0 to 5% reduces abuse allegations by more than half,” she said.

Diop said female police officers are less likely than their male counterparts to use excessive force and are far more likely to de-escalate tensions and build trust with communities, thereby advancing stability and the rule of law.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said despite having adopted the resolution, many countries are yet to mainstream the women peace and security agenda in their programme.

She said Namibia has finalised the national action plan on women, peace and security that has already been approved by Cabinet and is expected to be rolled out in May 2019.

Furthermore, she described Namibia’s action plan as forward-looking guidance that incorporates emerging issues, trends and threats to peace and security, such as cybersecurity, climate change and trafficking, among others.

Through the action plan, Namibia is set to train more women on disaster management and humanitarian interventions, and to ensure that there is a gender balance in the decision-making structures on these issues, she said.

Nandi-Ndaitwah further revealed that Namibia intends to establish a Women Peace Centre that will focus on national, regional and international conflict resolution and management activities as well as aspects of mediation and negotiations. “The centre will further, provide capacity building by providing workshops and pre-deployment training for women peacekeepers,” she said.

 

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