Why it’s important to have women in peace and security missions

Fatuma Ahmed, the first woman brigadier of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF). Photo: File
Fatuma Ahmed, the first woman brigadier of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF). Photo: File

United Nations Security Resolution 1325 remains a tall order in the National Police Service. Only two women hold key positions in Kenya’s security detail.

Cabinet Secretary for Defence Rachel Omamo and Brigadier Fatuma Ahmed, Managing Director of Defence Forces Medical Insurance Scheme, are the only two notable women ranked at the top.

While Omamo is a civilian holding ministerial position, Ahmed is a soldier who has grown through the ranks. She remains the first female brigadier and most powerful woman since being appointed a colonel.

However, despite this, Kenya remains one of the countries with the least female peace keepers seconded to the UN mission despite being a key regional player in conflict resolution. Rwanda and Ethiopia rank the highest in terms of female police and military deployed to conflict zones respectively.

Statistics

According to statistics released in December 15, 2015, Kenya had seconded 39 police and 34 military personnel out of the total 1,231 troops to all missions. The Defence Force admitted to having no woman in peace missions abroad, until Kenya’s incursion to Somalia in 2011.

In the active missions mainly in Africa and Asia, Ethiopia has deployed 394 within military ranks while Rwanda has 183 women within the UN police wing. This is according to a UN report, Women in Peacekeeping, A Growing Force.

The largest uniformed female peacekeeping mission is in the dangerous zones of Darfur and South Sudan still ravaged by war even after its independence barely three years ago. The female soldiers mainly serve as clerks and do other administrative work.

Participation

Yet there can be no improvement in security and safety if institutions charged with the mandates are not gender sensitive.

Kenya is yet to meet make the UN Security Resolution 1325 a reality. The security resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.

Security Resolution 1325 stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

The implementation of the Kenya National Action Plan on UN Security Resolution 1325, like many other plans, is dependent on political goodwill and help from development partners.

In effect one cannot say they are addressing security, peace and safety while women are excluded from the process.

Security Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all peace and security efforts.

Despite UN state parties committing themselves to including women in peace missions and conflict resolution initiatives, the picture on the ground is different.

Mission

In 1993, women made up one per cent of deployed uniformed personnel. In 2014, out of approximately 125,000 peacekeepers, women constituted three per cent of military and 10 per cent of police personnel in UN Peacekeeping missions.

Major General Kristin Lund became the first female commander of a United Nations peacekeeping force, taking the military helm in Cyprus in 2014.  Lund is a Norwegian general who has served in Lebanon, the first Gulf war, Bosnia and Afghanistan and is in charge of 1,000 peacekeepers.

“I think it’s time, and important that other women see that it’s possible also in the UN system to get up in the military hierarchy to become a force commander,” Lund, 60, said after her appointment.

In a meeting of United Nations Police (UNPOL) held recently at UN headquarters in New York, it was disclosed that 12,600 male and female police officers from 87 countries are deployed in 18 UN peace operations.

Integration

The poor presence of women in peace-keeping missions sharply contrasts with UN Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, which calls for more gendered roles in conflict resolution. Kenya is signatory and has a national action plan to implement the Security Resolution.

In the National Action Plan on UN SCR 1325 and related resolutions, Kenya is expected to develop programmes that integrate gender training for troops prior to deployment in peacekeeping  and security operations, undertaken in line with the resolution.

This can also be linked the Sustainable Development Goals (5 and 16), which seek to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable peace and development by providing access to justice to all, and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at national and county levels.

The development of the Kenya National Action Plan on UN Security Resolution 1325 started in 2010 after the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Development, National Commission for Gender and Development, with support from UN Women Kenya and Government of Finland came together.

Currently, 64 UN member states have adopted National Action Plans for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions. Kenya launched her National Action Plan in March 2016.

“The ultimate responsibility for getting more women into the military peacekeeping lies with the individual countries that are contributing troops and police,” says Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General.

In war torn countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, which is often referred to as the ‘rape capital of the world’, there are few female peace keepers with the most visible being four female in the Indian Unit deployed there.

The UN has been plagued with scandals involving sexual assault (often including children) by its peacekeepers for more than two decades. The issue of sexual assault on female officers within the UN missions is hushed.

Experts

According to experts, the presence of women peacekeepers helps reduce conflict and confrontation. Gerard DeGroot, a history professor St Andrews in Scotland, who has written numerous books on women in the military, stated “When female soldiers are present, the situation is closer to real life, and as a result the men tend to behave. Any conflict where you have an all-male army it’s like a holiday from reality. If you inject women into that situation, they do have a civilising effect,” he says.

“What a woman brings to the task is the extra sensitivity, more caring. I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of family, being concerned about children, and managing the home.” Therefore, women that serve in the peacekeeping units where safety and security matter are seen as effective tools to quell tumultuous situations. In most instances, female troops are better placed at interviewing survivors of gender-based violence in conflict areas,” says Liberia President Ellen Sirleaf.

It has been found that in areas, where women are prohibited from speaking to men, female troops are good intermediaries.