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Q&A on Gender in UN Peacekeeping missions with Leila Zerrougui

Leila Zerrougui (born in Algeria 1956) is a legal expert on human rights, justice, and rule of law. She is the current Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Before she was Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

What role does gender play in UN Peacekeeping Missions? 

Gender plays a major role in UN peacekeeping Missions, it’s not a luxury but more a necessity to deliver on the mission’s mandate and formulate adequate responses to protect, provide justice, support sustainable peace and enable women’s engagement in the long and arduous process of reconstruction.

Women staff and female peacekeepers play a major role in preventing and reducing violence and in increasing the acceptance and understanding of the Mission’s mandate by local communities.

A woman in a senior leadership position has access to the highest authorities of the host country and this represents a unique opportunity for advocacy on the importance of protection of women, recognition of their rights, and support to their participation in the country’s socio-economic fabric for stabilization and peace building.

At the operational levels, women can help gather important information as they have access to women and girls who would feel safer and more comfortable talking to female staff. The information gathered from these conversations helps the Mission to assess the security situation over time, determine patterns of violations and identify needs while ensuring that our responses are more gender-sensitive.

Why is gender equality important in UN Peacekeeping Missions?

Gender equality is important, and it is in the best interest of all UN peacekeeping missions to secure the presence of women in all components of the Mission, be it civil, police and military staff.

At the leadership level, women become role-model for other women, girls as well as men in conflict affected countries. Having a woman leading a peace operation is a strong statement towards the societies that are torn by conflicts where patriarchal standards are often the prevailing norms. It shows the ability and capacity of a women to lead and to be effective and efficient in conflicts areas, leading military contingents and police officers on the ground and taking sensitive decisions on matter related to peace and security. It can help breaking the cycle of women and girls not being considered or seen as relevant actors in the country’s security and safety.

Female Lieutenant Colonels, Majors and Captains are crucial enforcers of the Mission’s mandate to protect civilians. They are on the front-line of engaging with and protecting local communities, work behind the scenes in military planning on an equal footing with their male counterparts and embody female empowerment in a conflict environment that continues to disproportionally affect women. A similar role has been played by the Women Formed Police Unit (FPU) in the Mission.

In other words, by implementing a gender equality policy, Peacekeeping Missions empower women and inspire girls in the countries where they operate and encourage the local governments to follow their paths.

How can, perhaps, the gender gap be tackled in UN Peacekeeping Missions? 

Regarding a gender-balanced workforce, although advances have been made in increasing the percentage of qualified female staff recruited over the past years, ensuring a significant shift in the gender balance of the Missions’ workforce has remained a challenge. The primary reasons for this include low staff turnover (particularly as regards local civilian staff); an inherited gender disparity and issues in retaining qualified female staff in oftentimes challenging working conditions. Notwithstanding these inherent challenges, the Missions are taking a set of decisive steps to advance gender parity. During my tenure in MONUSCO for instance, the Gender Affairs Unit engaged in informal focus group discussions with former and current female staff members to identify factors that contribute to an enabling work environment for women in the Mission, and these efforts have informed discussions at the senior level.

In terms of civilian staffing, a gender-balanced workforce is highly dependent on the elaboration of gender-balanced rosters that provide hiring managers a broader pool of potential candidates. Likewise, it is necessary to bear in mind the specific needs of women in peacekeeping missions and make the stations more friendly through training and seminars on gender equality requirements, set up mechanisms for child-care and education, so that all women, regardless of their marital and parental status, will be interested to apply and to be deployed in conflict affected areas.

This Q&A was conducted by our Support Officer Maas Wilson on behalf of WIIS-NL which sits within Leiden University’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA).

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