DPI/NGO Briefing
28 May 2009

“Women in Peacekeeping: the Power to Empower”


Ari Gaitanis, Public Affairs Officer in the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations [DPKO], began by pointing out some of the changes that had taken place within peacekeeping over the past six decades- from what is being done in the field, to the structure of peacekeeping missions.

One of the key changes that he addressed was how the role of women in peacekeeping had evolved to what it is at present. While there had been a lot of progress made in increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping, he pointed to the fact that some 30% of civilians in peacekeeping are women, only 2% of uniformed peacekeepers were women. Thus the Department was convinced that progress made was still not sufficient to make a significant difference to gender balance in peacekeeping operations. A range of programs and initiatives therefore had been put in place to include more women in peacekeeping operations.

Mr. Gaitanis shared that DPKO was encouraging troop-contributing nations, and other countries that send staff to participate in peacekeeping, to increase the role of women peacekeepers since their presence in peacekeeping operations brought something unique to the table. He stressed that women brought different skill sets and qualities that were invaluable and unmatched to those of men. He gave the example of the perspective that a female peacekeeper could bring to a woman who was a victim of rape. Women’s assistance in this area of expertise, he insisted, was “unparalleled.”

Mr. Gaitanis informed the Briefing that a goal of the DPKO was to expand the role and the involvement of women in peacekeeping. He concluded by reiterating that while there had been progress towards achieving gender parity in peacekeeping, a lot more needed to be done.

Elsie Effange-Mabella, Senior Gender Affairs Officer in the Office of Gender Affairs at the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [MONUC,] addressed the question of ensuring that resolution 1325 [which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian responses and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.] as well as resolution 1820 [which confronts sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations and emphasizes among other things, the need for punishment of perpetrators of sexual violence against women.] are implemented and enforced.

She explained that the MONUC Gender Office – formed in 2002 – was mandated to mainstream gender in all peacekeeping operations and to assist the building and strengthening of gender capacity outside of the Mission areas by working with other local partners including Congolese parliamentarians and representatives of civil society.

Ms. Mabella informed the Briefing that for the past five years MONUC had held over 340 training sessions on gender mainstreaming. The result of their efforts was a greater recruitment of women in the Military and the Police Force which they hoped would assist the Mission in its efforts to reach out to female victims of sexual violence, and to support the existing programmes for victims.

There had also been a substantial effort to mobilize clinics, particularly in the eastern part of the country, for victims of sexual violence to access the medical resources and other victim’s services provided by DPKO.

Ms. Mabella stated that resolution 1325 was well recognized at the national and provincial levels, but problems of enforcement of resolution 1820 still existed at the government level. Improvements still needed to be made such as strengthening the work of the Gender Ministry to implement resolution 1820 and raise public awareness of the issues addressed by the resolution. Ms. Mabella stressed the importance of advocating for both Resolutions separately, because she stressed the focus of each was different, and more importantly because implementing resolution 1820 was an essential component of implementing resolution 1325.

Eva Bazaiba, Senator in the Congolese Senate, expressed the view that greater involvement of women in peacekeeping has offered Congolese women the opportunity to become better organized, particularly in response to the issue of gender mainstreaming.

Senator Bazaiba emphasized the role played by Congolese women in peacekeeping and conflict resolution which she said began long before the UN Resolution on the Role of Women and Peacekeeping was put on the table at the United Nations. Women in the Congo she informed the audience had always been extremely active. Whenever there was a political issue in the Congo it was always female political figures that came out first to take a stand.

In an effort to end sexual violence against women and girls, it was Congolese women who were responsible for confronting the “belligerents” and political adversaries to end the violence. They were the one who initiated a dialogue between all stakeholders in the conflict, believing it would bring about change to the country, Senator Baziba emphasized. She noted that women had been instrumental in the mediation process during the elections, and were thus instrumental initially, in the establishment and now, in the maintenance of peace in the DRC.

She believed that Congolese women possessed a unique confidence in the future of peace in the DRC, and that it was only through their hard work that sexual violence would end. Senator Baziba explained that prior to implementation of resolution 1820 Congolese women were the major contributors to the establishment of a national law on violence against women and children, and in the fight against impunity.

Congolese women, she noted, had always been outspoken on the issue of rape in the DRC, and their conviction that this issue needed greater international attention. This was why discussing the issue at international forums such as the United Nations served as an opportunity to raise greater awareness worldwide. Senator Bazaiba also stressed that the role of women in peacekeeping would be important as long as conflict existed, because the two were interrelated. No matter how important or aggressive the peacekeeping initiative needed to solve a conflict was, support from women would always be needed. The Senator expressed great pride in the very active role that Congolese women had always played in both politics and peacekeeping.

Susan Asomaning, Officer in Charge, Human Resources, MONUC, began by giving a few figures that reflected the gender balance within MONUC. About 30% of the 1,000 international staff members were women, and women made up 15% of the national staff. She noted that at the highest levels of the management structure 1 in 4 staff was a woman. The overall balance was about 30%, which Ms. Asomaning noted fell far short of the number required for achieving gender parity, but was still a large percentage compared with many other peacekeeping Missions.

The Human Resource Action Plan, a plan introduced by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in charge of MONUC and the Under-Secretary General of DPKO stipulated that a human resource goal of the Mission was to achieve 50-50 gender balance. Monthly and annual reports on gender balance statistics were therefore generated to monitor gender parity in the Mission. Below the level of Senior Management, the Head of Recruitment in the Mission was required to sign off on all recruitments in order to confirm that efforts had been made to attract female candidates.

Ms. Asomaning pointed out that many of the problems that MONUC faced in trying to achieve gender balance stemmed from the non-family status of the Mission. This made it very difficult for women with families to maintain work/life balance within the Mission. Some short term solutions to this problem, she suggested, would be for DPKO to review the designation of the Mission as a non-family assignment. Another problem she identified was that the General Assembly did not approve a ‘Special Operations Approach,’ which would have allowed families of staff members in a non-family mission to live in designated family areas close to the peacekeeping mission.

Another suggestion she put forward was for DPKO to look at a long-term ‘vocational policy’, which would rotate staff members among locations of varying ‘hardship’ within different missions, thereby allowing them to alternate periods in which they could be stationed in a mission that allowed them to have family close by.

Ms. Asomaning concluded by expressing the view that because of lack of specific support of families in DPKO within field missions, there was a greater gender imbalance in DPKO than in other departments within the UN.

She expressed the hope that DPKO would revisit these policies and attempt to reform them, in order to achieve greater gender balance.

Kathy Kabula, Resource Person, Cadre Permanent de Concertation des Femmes Congolaises (CAFCO), raised the issue that one of the shortfalls of working in a peacekeeping operation in the DRC was that there was no security for military spouses. This, she cited, was a very important issue that needed to be addressed.

Another problem she tackled was the fact that there were no policy decisions made to enforce the right of local women to participate in the election process. Madame Kabula also talked about the need for the Congolese Government to further discuss the issue of enslaved women in conflict situations.

She asserted the her organization, CAFCO would like to see all the different UN programmes, including UNIFEM and UNDP, actually implementing programmes that improved the status of women. Madame Kabula also expressed her Organization’s view that UNIFEM and other UN organizations often seemed to be promoting their own agendas but did not focus enough attention on to what extent the issues on their agendas directly affected the lives of Congolese women.

Madame Kabula shared with the audience the many plans that the Congolese woman had organized and were in the process of mobilizing resources in support of the International Day of Peacekeepers which they intended to observe on 29 and 30 May.

Theresa Kambobe, Gender Training Officer in the Best Practices Section in the Division of Policy Evaluation and Training in the DPKO, began by describing many of the successes that the Department had achieved on the road to putting in place a gender balance policy. She stated that since the adoption of resolution 1325, ten of DPKO’s 16 Peacekeeping missions were capable of what she described as “dedicated gender capacity.”

She noted that resolution 1820 recognized sexual violence as a weapon of war, and was therefore an issue of international peace and security. Bearing this in mind, she explained, DPKO had held policy dialogues to encourage countries to send more women to peacekeeping operations. After the policy dialogue workshop, four countries were chosen as pilots for gender mainstreaming and to enhance women’s participation: South Africa, Argentina, Nigeria, and Pakistan. She reported that some countries were doing very well since the workshops— for example South Africa had just completed training the first batch of senior military officers as future gender advisors, who would be attached to the South African contingents when they were deployed. Two female Special Representatives to the Secretary General (SRSG) in Liberia and Nepal, as well as six female Deputy-SRSGs in Chad, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Liberia, and Sudan had also been appointed.

Currently, 29.6% of those serving at the international field level were female, with the national global average standing at 18.5%. The highest female representation was in the age group 30-34; however it was noted that participation of women in peacekeeping tended to decrease after age 34. Ms. Kambobe emphasized the importance of this statistic in light of UN family and work/life-balance policies.

At higher levels within the United Nations she noted, fewer women held decision-making positions, which was one reason why the Organization was still falling short of its goal of achieving a 50-50 gender balance. She gave the example of Liberia, which was a great example of the value of women in peacekeeping. The female President of Liberia had offered a lot of encouragement and support for of the participation of women in peacekeeping.

This in part led to an all-female Indian police contingent being stationed in Liberia, which in turn had influenced the 300 per cent increase in the number of Liberian females who had joined the national police force. Ms. Kambobe said Liberia served as an example to other countries, that having a woman holding the highest political office and women in senior decision-making positions had had a huge influence on gender parity within that country.

In Burundi, she also noted that having a female SRSG had increased not only the participation of women participation in politics, but in addition, had led to an increase in the number of women elected to political office. Ms. Kambobe stressed that the need for women is was even more crucial at the present time, because in some societies male military and police could not always interact with women.

She pointed to cases of gender based violence, where women generally preferred to speak with other women rather than men, who were often the perpetrators of sexual violence. In conclusion, Ms. Kambobe noted that the United Nations had not been successful in ‘selling peacekeeping to women’, and that more needed to be done to change the perception that peacekeeping was a male-dominated field.

She expressed the need to reach out to more women and the NGOs in order to build on the progress that had already been made to include more women in peacekeeping.

Q&A Session

In response to a question posed after the viewing of a video on women in peacekeeping prepared by DPKO, [which some viewers thought depicted women in traditionally male roles] Ms. Kambobe responded that in some ways these images affirmed the viewpoint that women had no place in peacekeeping.

She suggested that the Department needed to be more creative in how they depicted what women could bring to peacekeeping missions. With regards to whether there were differences in the training given to men and women serving in the military, panelists noted that there were no differences in the training of male and female peacekeepers, but that training differed according to location and whether the peacekeeper was civilian, military or police. It was explained that differences in training occurred during the pre-deployment phase and in-country training. Training also differed depending on whether there was a gender unit operating in the mission.

On the issue of sexual slavery raised during the presentations, the representatives from MONUC explained that these were women, often carrying munitions or food for soldiers, who were taken hostage and used as sexual slaves. They insisted that these women must be included in the discussions of any resolution regarding sexual violence, and pointed out that they were often forgotten. Ms. Mabella added that although resolution 1820 categorized sexual violence as a weapon of war, cases of local sexual violence were not included under the resolution, nor were acts of sexual violence against women committed in times of peace.

Mr. Gaitanis stated that he believed sensitivity to the need for gender equality was a generational issue, with the idea more ingrained in the minds of young people.

On the issue of small arms in the DRC, Senator Bazaiba stressed that the DRC was not a producer of arms, but a victim of the arms trade. She stressed that much more needed to be done to stop the influx of weapons into the country in order for the country and its people to develop.

Another forgotten issue raised by the MONUC representatives was the problem of blue helmets impregnating young girls in the country in which they were stationed. They declared that more needed to be done to ensure the prosecution of those who committed these crimes, as well as to support the young girls. Mr. Gaitanis added that DPKO had a zero-tolerance policy regarding this type of misconduct, but explained that it was difficult to pursue nationals through their own legal systems.

He stated that efforts were underway to establish greater accountability for soldiers who commit these types of crimes beyond simply allowing justice to be pursued at the national level.

This Briefing was attended by over 80 representatives of NGOs, United Nations and Permanent Mission staff as well as interns from various Departments and NGOs


Prepared by Gail B-T Sainté with assistance from Jennifer Basch, Nicole Fthenakis and Aicha Diallo, United Nations, Department of Public Information, NGO Relations. Email:
Dated: 1 July 2009

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