15 March 2010

Liberia: Female Peacekeepers Empower Women to Participate in National Security

An all-female United Nations police force in Liberia is inspiring Liberian women to engage with the national security sector. Women continue to excel as UN police officers, and through active community outreach and the efforts of the Liberian government, women's participation in Liberia's security sector has increased over the past years.

Women have played a small role in the UN Mission in Liberia's peacekeeping efforts since 2003. Women joined the UN peace force from Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria, Malawi, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey and Zimbabwe. But gender mainstreaming was only brought to the forefront in 2007 when UNMIL created an all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) from India. The unit continues to yield positive results, and this month a new group of Indian women has come in for a new rotation.

Ten years ago, in 2000, the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1325. The resolution calls for a gendered perspective on the enormous impacts of conflict on women and calls for women to play an integral role in conflict resolution and peace-making. Yet ten years later women still play a much more minor role than men in peacekeeping, a fact women activists from around the world highlighted during the Commission on the Status of Women session at the UN Secretariat in New York earlier this month.

UNMIL currently has 6 female military experts, 244 female troops, 63 female police, and 134 female members of formed police units deployed as part of UNMIL, according to the department of peacekeeping operations. These are significant figures considering that from 1957 to 1989, only 20 women served as peacekeepers around in the world. Currently women make up 6 percent of UN peacekeepers internationally. So while there has been significant progress, women peacekeepers continue to play a statistically small role and there is much more work to do to ensure gender equality in peacekeeping.

Women's participation in peacekeeping is not only important under the general blanket of the advancement of women and the struggle for gender equality. Yasmina Bouziane, spokesperson for UNMIL told MediaGlobal "The deployment of female peacekeepers has been recognized not simply as desirable, but also as an operational imperative. This is based on the presupposition that increasing the gender balance within a mission will increase the peace. Community members assert that the presence of female police officers and peacekeepers in UNMIL has led to enhanced physical safety and security."

Particularly in countries with a history of widespread sexual violence such as Liberia, women police can play a vital role in securing the area. Survivors of sexual assault may be more comfortable approaching a female police officer for assistance, particularly given the history of male soldiers, police officers, and peacekeepers abusing their power and perpetrating acts of sexual violence. Bouziane continued, "It is especially important to highlight the effect of female police and peacekeepers on reducing the instances of sexual and gender-based violence in the community. The 'all-female' FPU has proven to be a resource in the UN-coordinated response to sexual violence, cited by the community as a deterrent as well as a response mechanism."

Given the vital role women play as police officers, and the success of UNMIL female FPUs, it is heartening that Liberian women are following in the footsteps of the UNMIL women officers. In 2009, women made up 15 percent of Liberia's national police force, up from 12.86 percent in 2008, according to the department of peacekeeping operations. This is due in part to Liberian government policies promoting women's participation, but the all-female Indian FPU has also played a role in empowering Liberian women to enter the security sector. They have visited high schools and colleges to speak to women and girls about their experience. Bouziane also mentioned that during this year's celebration of International Women's Day "The President [of Liberia] mentioned that Indian FPUs are serving as role models for female participation in the security sector in Liberia, stating that women could effectively perform roles traditionally reserved for men"

The success of female peacekeepers in Liberia serves as a model that can be replicated in other peacekeeping missions. The success of the mission has proven that given the opportunity, women can take an active role in a country's development and security. Particularly in countries recovering from conflicts fraught with sexual violence, such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti, female peacekeepers can play an ever-greater role in restoring peace, security, and a sense of normalcy to traumatized populations.

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