Maj. Gen. B.K. Sharma, Director USI,
Maj. Gen. Pradeep Goswami, Deputy Director, USI,
It is a privilege to speak in the presence of such a Distinguished Panel of Speakers, all of who are women achievers in their respective fields – scholars, Officers of the Army, Para Military and the Police. With their rich experience, I am confident they would bring valuable insights to the topic of today’s webinar: “UN Peace Operations: Women, Peace and Security”.
We are also meeting in the backdrop of the appointment of Amb. Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh as the Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) – the first woman to be elected to this position. As an intergovernmental advisory body, this Commission supports peace efforts in conflict-affected countries and contributes to the capacity of the international community to further strengthen the peace agenda.
Indeed, the role of gender within the broader ambit of International Relations and Diplomacy needs serious consideration. We in ICWA held a Conference last year on the topic, “Women and Power- Gender within International Relations and Diplomacy”; and in a subsequent Conference focussed on, ‘Gender Sensitive Indian Foreign Policy – How? and Why?’. In the discussions, the need for applying a gender lens to foreign policy issues ranging from peace and security (including peacekeeping), to development partnership and humanitarian assistance, was emphasised.
It is well known that violent conflicts disproportionately affect women and girls and intensify gender inequalities and discrimination. Their role in conflict situations as key players and agents of peace is equally important, a fact that must be recognised as well as given prominence.
At the international level, UN Security Council has adopted ten Resolutions on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 at the centre of this agenda. This Resolution highlights the need to engage more women in peacekeeping operations around the world and also affirms the role of women in prevention, management and resolution of conflicts, peacebuilding, humanitarian responses and post-conflict reconstruction. In other words, in the entire spectrum of peace efforts.
Women’s roles in UN peacekeeping operations span across police, military and civilian levels. Today, women are playing a greater role in UN peacekeeping operations than in the past and have made a positive impact on peacekeeping environments. In 1993, only one percent of all deployed uniformed personnel in UN peacekeeping were women. In 2020, out of approximately 95,000 peacekeepers, women constituted 4.8% of military contingents and 10.9% of formed police units. A watershed moment occurred in 2014 when Maj Gen Kristin Lund of Norway was appointed as the first female to serve as Force Commander in a UN peacekeeping operation — the UN PKO in Cyprus. The UN Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy rolled out in 2018, aims to increase women’s representation to 35 per cent by 2028.
In all fields of peacekeeping, women peacekeepers have proven that they can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts. If at all, a larger number of women peacekeepers only leads to protection responses that are more credible and meet the needs of all members of local communities. Studies conducted by the UN in support of Resolution 1325, of experience in operations whether in Cambodia, Kosovo, Timor-Leste, or Afghanistan, Liberia and DRC, have shown that female soldiers do not face the same cultural restrictions as their male counterparts, and are able to gain information from women and children. Lt. Col. Vanessa of Canadian Army, who is participating in the webinar today, served in Afghanistan; and I am sure that she would have experienced this first hand, as I did, as a diplomat posted in Kabul. This ability to gain the trust of local population should be considered a vital component of any peacekeeping operation. Further, troop contingents with a larger number of women are credited with lower incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse. We look forward to hearing the experience of Major Suman Gawani, who during her South Sudan Mission has encouraged participation of joint military patrols to maintain gender balance.
As one of the largest troop contributors to UN peacekeeping missions, India has the distinction of providing the first ever all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) for UN Peacekeeping in Liberia. I am sure that Comdt. Poonam Gupta will share her experience as the Chief Operational Officer of this Unit as will DIG Seema Dhundia, who also was deployed with this mission. DIG Seema Dhundia even has to her credit the experience of raising the first all women battalion in CRPF – India’s paramilitary force. India was hailed by the UN for its leadership as this FPU mission successfully demonstrated ‘Participation’ of women in conflict management, ‘Protection’ of women from conflict-related violence, and ‘Prevention’ of conflict. The then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon only had praise for the work of the all-female FPU from India when it ended its mission in Liberia in 2016.
More recently, India deployed a Female Engagement Team in the UN Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo MONUSCO in 2019. Working during the Covid period, was a very trying period globally. Suptd. of Police Sangya Malla of Nepal Police Force was deployed during this period in MONUSCO, at Goma, Congo. In today’s discussion, her views and experience would add the dimension of women’s role during health emergencies.
In the current global peace and security context and given the ongoing pandemic, the efforts to implement the women, peace, and security agenda are more critical now than ever.
Women peacekeepers and the unique understanding, experiences and capabilities that they bring to bear on all aspects of UN peace operations is valuable for better peacekeeping.
I look forward to the deliberations today and wish all the speakers of the webinar the very best.