Before 2016, US foreign policy looked much different than it does today. Upon her confirmation as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton moved US foreign policy towards advocating for women's, rights and equality. In a WAPPP seminar, Sabrina Karim argues that while these actions weren't necessarily a feminist foreign policy, they did put gender equality on the frontlines, not only as an issue of development, but as one of peace and security.
The UN’s Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace, and Security” also affirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction. Moreover, the Resolution stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
The Resolution also applies to the UN’s peacekeeping missions. A peacekeeping mission is a negotiated settlement, where UN forces are deployed to provide security, and peacebuilding support post-conflict. The UN cites peacekeeping to be one of the most effective tools to help countries return from conflict to peace. Peacekeepers are composed of civilians, soldiers, and police officers. It is other developing countries that provide the military, and these countries often profit from sending their soldiers because the UN pays more than what the soldiers would have made in their home countries.
With her award-winning book Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping; Women, Peace, and Security in a Post-Conflict States, co-authored with Kyle Beardsley, Professor Karim finds that there are many gender inequalities that exist within peacekeeping missions.
To begin her research Professor Karim asks “To what extent have peacekeeping missions achieved gender equality in operations and been vehicles for promoting gender equality in post-conflict countries?”
To answer that she looks at multiple ways in which gender inequality could take place in peacekeeping missions, specifically she asks:
- Are there women included as peacekeepers?
- Are the peacekeepers perpetrators of abuse?
- Are there specific protections against wartime sexual violence?
To answer her first question, Professor Karim analyzes years of data from the UN’s peacekeeping missions. She finds that after passing Resolution 1325 the UN had set a goal of having 10% women for the military peacekeepers, and 20% for the police peacekeepers, by 2014, almost 15 years later, they had not met that goal. The highest proportion of women peacekeepers existed in missions in Cyprus and Nepal, and even these countries did not reach 8%.
Many scholars would agree that including women in peacekeeping missions would lead to better outcomes. The presence of female peacekeepers helps reduce conflict and confrontation. In addition, it helps women and children feel safer, improves access and support for local women, and makes peacekeepers more approachable to women. However, women who are included often face structural inequities that prevent them from doing their work as peacekeepers.
Women in peacekeeping missions have more informal work assigned to them, than do their male counterparts.
In addition, it is often up to the female peacekeepers to police behavior of male counterparts. This presents a whole set of barriers, as it is difficult for women to report inappropriate behavior because it might pose some issues to their future and careers as peacekeepers. Professor Karim argues that it is these unfair burdens and expectations upon female peacekeepers, which set them up for failure.
Women Peacekeepers are often assigned ‘safer’ placements than their male counterparts.
Although women peacekeepers are supposed to provide security, they are also vulnerable to gendered violence, and require their own protections. As such, safety, security, and cultural factors are all taken into consideration before assigning women to placements. Women tend to be deployed to safer missions, specifically to countries with lower rates of sexual violence. Sabrina Karim argues that if employing women peacekeepers is supposed to decrease sexual violence, it is difficult to do that if they are not assigned to the appropriate missions.
Peacekeepers are often perpetrators of sexual exploitation, abuse, and violence.
Professor Karim notes that of the 50% of the women she interviewed who had engaged in transactional sex, 30% of them had engaged in transactional sex with a peacekeeper. She also notes that the presence of a peacekeeping mission led to an increase in an adolescent’s girl’s first time engagement in transactional sex.
Although the UN collects data on military and police peacekeepers, civilian peacekeepers are private citizens so the UN does not collect or release data about them specifically. It is also nearly impossible for local people to report sexual assault perpetrated by the peacekeepers to the UN. However, some reports note that civilian peacekeepers are more capable than either military of police perpetrators.
Establishing a Culture of Gender Equality:
Professor Karim provides many insights and recommendations to address the current issues present in peacekeeping:
- Mission leadership: Choosing leaders who value gender equality may have a trickle-down effect. Professor Karim recommends using performance on gender equality as a prerequisite for leadership recruitment on peacekeeping missions.
- Promotion and Demotion: Incentivize gender equality within peacekeeping missions.
- Role Models and Mentors: Establish a network of role models for women in peacekeeping roles.
- Training and Professionalism: Peacekeepers receive 2-3 hours of training on gender and sexual abuse and exploitation. Professor Karim recommends expanding these trainings and having the facilitator be someone serving in leadership.