Members of the all female Indian Formed Police Unit of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) get ready to receive medals of honour, in recognition for their service. 12/Nov/2008. UN Photo/Christopher Herwig.

The end of the Cold War has changed the nature of conflicts from mostly inter-state conflict to intra-state conflict, where women and children have been the main victims, both socially and economically. As a result, the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) adopted resolution 1325  and 1820 in 2000 and 2008 respectively to address the importance of the inclusion of women in peace and security. The UNSCR 1325 resolution was developed together with the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 to address the impact of intra-state conflict on women and to acknowledge that  they were an untapped resource yet very effective for any peace process.

However, despite efforts by the UNSCR to motivate national and international actors to engage women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, there has been a challenge for implementing such gender mainstreaming  policies in Africa. The  African Union (AU) , adopted UNSCR 1325 through several policy frameworks that include , among others, the Maputo Protocol of 2003  and the AU Gender Policy of 2009 to  provide African women with opportunities against human rights violations that affect them as civilians, or soldiers during armed conflict.  To date, about 70% of Member States have gender policies in place, however, few of them have been fully implemented.

Few African countries have implemented gender mainstreaming policies concerning peacekeeping and peacebuilding in their national laws. Most African states feel that increasing the number of women in peacekeeping relates to the shift away from traditional peacekeeping, characterized by more muscular forms of peace enforcement. The legal systems in Africa further create contradictions on the rights of women by assigning them some rights through general law and withholding others on the basis of customary law. Furthermore,  the patriarchal system found mainly in  security sectors in Africa has worsened disparities between men and women in the mediation or  peace negotiation process in post-conflict reconstruction. Generally, the trend in Africa has been that women influence the peace process not  by being part of the negotiation and mediation process but by being engaged as advocates from outside. In situations where they have been allowed in the negotiation process, they are most often brought in as a result of pressure from civil society. 

As of 2013, women accounted for almost 30% of the international peacekeeping missions. However, this still falls short of gender equality in peacekeeping missions because of the lack of understanding among Member States about Resolution 1325 and 1820. There is a gap in research about  the impact of the involvement of women  in peacekeeping and peacebuilding,  and the prevalence of social norms within the missions that need further research. The UNSCR 1325 has also been questioned for its weakness embodied in the language of the resolution with regards to its essential nature of women, and where gender is mentioned to refer to women in particular and not to both genders for gender mainstreaming. However despite this, there has been evidence that engaging women in peacekeeping operations brings a greater awareness of sensitivity to the needs of women and children affected by conflict .

According to radical feminist theory, men and women experience things differently and add value differently. The theory states that feminine qualities are devalued whilst the masculine qualities are not. As a result, the radical feminists  encourage the involvement of women in peacekeeping because they see them as having unique essential qualities of  being peaceful, having good negotiation and communication skills  that  is important for a successful peace process. Furthermore,  according to  Liberal feminists,  patriarchal institutions come  with  a theme of control, in realist thinking, of “masculinity” that aims at overpowering the “feminine way of life. Constructivists also share similar views with the liberal feminists that bringing a normative change and removing the old patriarchal traditions promotes gender equality.

It has been proven that women in peacekeeping are important where body searches need to be conducted, especially in environments where cultures do not permit male soldiers from doing so. Women peacekeepers are further able to obtain information about the local community through access to local women ,  which is important for early warning information on potential armed conflict.They have a  better understanding of what constitutes a threat through the help of women or children affected by sexual violence. The need to establish relations with the local population is  important for capacity building and building trust, however, it is often difficult for male soldiers or police to cross social and cultural boundaries required to build this trust.

Furthermore, unlike their male counterparts that  are normally  accused of sexual harassment, increased prostitution, rape and the spread of  HIV/AIDS among local populations during operations, women peacekeepers have lower rates of complaints of misconduct and improper use of force.  Moreover, most male peacekeepers  have little knowledge about addressing issues of gender based violence ( issue of rape as a weapon of war)  and the growing risk to women of acquiring HIV/AIDS in conflict settings. Furthermore, reports indicate that the presence of women in the post reconstruction Liberia following the civil war made a difference to peacebuilding outcomes in the country. The presence of the all- female peacekeeping group since 2008 resulted in increased reporting of gender-based violence and a decrease in crime levels. As a result of this, the Liberian National Police recruited more women to serve in its ranks.

In conclusion, the gendered policing in Africa needs to reform the security institutions  and  alter the “male” identity of the police or military  institutions. Hypermasculine policies in the military and police need to be addressed at  national and international levels, and new policies that are inclusive of both genders be in place for successful peacekeeping  operations. Furthermore, women can be of value in the decision making process of security sectors  as they are more aware of the fact that war affects women differently to men. Lastly, there is  need  for further research on the security sector-specific case studies on the effectiveness  of gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations in Africa to compare processes and outcomes.


Image Credit: United Nations Photo