In 2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 affirmed the central role women play in peacebuilding. This included specific recommendations for women participating in, and affected by, peacekeeping missions. Because these missions frequently represent the international community’s first response to violent conflict or the outbreak of civil war, they can set the tone for a future peacebuilding process. Therefore, the failure of peacekeeping missions to protect at-risk women or to incorporate women’s views into mission planning weakens overall peacebuilding efforts. As the UN Security Council launches a High-Level Review and Global Study on women’s roles in peace and security, it is important to consider Resolution 1325’s impact on peacekeeping missions over the past fifteen years. Despite increased female leadership, greater efforts towards protecting and including women are needed for peacekeeping missions to reach their full potential.
Peacekeeping is an important aspect of peacebuilding. Successful peacekeeping missions bring conflict under control and prevent armed groups from re-engaging so that a political solution can be found. Gender mainstreaming, defined as “a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programmes,” is critical to this process. Not only does gender mainstreaming ensure that traditionally-ignored viewpoints are respected, but there is evidence that peacekeeping operations inclusive of women are better able to protect civilians.
Resolution 1325 advocates steps to incorporate gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations, including increased representation of women in peace processes, expansion of women’s roles in UN field-based operations, and incorporation of a gender perspective in peacekeeping. It also recognizes the need to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Unfortunately, peacekeeping operations frequently fall short on each of these measures.
Most publically, both regional and UN-led peacekeeping missions have failed to protect women and girls from SGBV though this is not for lack of understanding of best practices. Since the passage of Resolution 1325, the UN Security Council has passed four additional resolutions addressing SGBV. The UN has also created a Zero Tolerance Policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, as well as Conduct and Discipline Teams to address instances of abuse.
Despite these policies, peacekeepers have both failed to prevent SGBV and have been implicated as perpetrators themselves. Notably, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010, UN peacekeepers failed to respond to a mass rape taking place just thirty kilometers from their base. More alarmingly, Ugandan soldiers participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia have been accused of raping Somali women in refugee camps near Mogadishu. Unfortunately, few individual soldiers are held accountable for their actions. Neither the UN nor the African Union have the authority to arrest or prosecute foreign soldiers, and troop contributing countries have so far been loathe to give their soldiers more than a slap on the wrist for sexual misconduct.
The implementation of gender mainstreaming has failed in more subtle ways as well. The inclusive policies promoted by Resolution 1325 have not been implemented in the field. There is significant scholarship showing that military peacekeepers, who tend to be male, see masculinity as a central part of their identity. The effect of this self-identification is documented by Séverine Autesserre in Peaceland, her ethnography of peacekeepers, where she notes, “gender politics frequently led male peacekeepers to discriminate against their female colleagues.” The failure of peacekeeping missions to incorporate gender mainstreaming within their own staff breeds resentment and infighting, which makes the whole mission less coordinated and effective.
The failure to incorporate gender mainstreaming spills over into interactions between peacekeepers and local female leaders. A 2010 assessment of the implementation of Resolution 1325 carried out by the International Civil Society Action Network and MIT’s Center for International Studies found that governments, UN and regional organization personnel, civil society organizations, and donors have all failed to properly implement the imperative of women’s participation into their programming, even though it is a core pillar of Resolution 1325.
The need for improved gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping missions is evident. While the challenges are large, there are hopeful indications that the next fifteen years will be more successful than the previous. Broad trends worldwide, including the increased political representation of women and the increased inclusion of women in the military can change perceptions about the role of women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. More specifically, increased attention to the problems of SGBV puts public pressure on peacekeeping missions to provide adequate protection. For example, the United States and the African Union are currently partnering to deliver trainings to peacekeepers so that they are aware of their responsibility to protect against SGBV.
While these steps are important, more remains to be done. Countries contributing troops to peacekeeping missions must hold their soldiers accountable for SGBV. It is only by demonstrating to perpetrators that their actions truly do have consequences that the behavior will stop. Efforts should also be made to overcome gender bias within peacekeeping missions. Mandated dialogues led by gender-sensitive facilitators will bring the issue into the open so that tangible steps can be taken to resolve it. Similarly, efforts should be made to engage local female leaders by steering funding to projects that engage women in peacebuilding. So far, the UN has fallen below its stated goal of 15 percent of UN-managed funds supporting this work.
With the 15th Anniversary High-level Review and Global Study of Resolution 1325 currently ongoing, now is an excellent time to reconsider ways to strengthen gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations. Research and experience already show that the most efficacious missions successfully include women in their planning and implementation. It is time to make this a reality in missions worldwide.