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Women of Peace

U.N. Gender Adviser: For Women in Peacekeeping, Slow but Growing Inclusion

Worldwide, women are vastly underrepresented in official peacekeeping and peace-building efforts. While they face significant roadblocks, there are also signs of real progress, says Claire Hutchinson, a senior gender adviser at the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping.

Written by Odharnait Ansbro Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Chinese peacekeepers line up during a departure ceremony before flying to South Sudan for UN peacekeeping missions in April 2015.Chen boyuan/Imaginechina)

Progress has been slow on the implementation of the landmark U.N. Resolution 1325, adopted back in 2000, that aims to increase the participation and influence of women in peace processes around the world. Currently, women only represent about 3 percent of military personnel and 10 percent of police personnel on U.N. peacekeeping missions. The United Nations has also calculated that between 1992 and 2011, only 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10 percent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

But there are signs that things are changing, with more women taking up leadership roles in post-conflict countries like Rwanda and playing a crucial role in the recent Colombia peace talks.

Women & Girls talked to Clare Hutchinson, a senior gender adviser at the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, about her experience as an advocate for gender-inclusive approaches to peacekeeping and peace building.

Women & Girls: It’s been 17 years since the U.N. passed Resolution 1325, which was designed to increase the participation and influence of women in peace-building processes, but women are often still left on the margins. Why has progress been so slow?

Clare Hutchinson: Change is very difficult and it’s frightening. So the idea of asking men to share power with women in areas that are very male-dominated has been challenging. The three relevant pillars of the resolution for peace and security are participation, protection and prevention.

When we’re looking at progress on participation, we have to understand that it isn’t just about increasing the numbers of women in peace processes. It’s about increasing the numbers of women who are decision makers within the power structures of their society – in parliament, for example. On that side, we have had progress; we have an increase in the numbers of women in parliaments across the world.

If you look at leadership positions in areas like the military and the police, progress has been much slower because they are more traditionally masculine institutions. In some areas, women are moving. We had our first female deployment commander to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus in 2014.

In the year 2000, the presence of women in the military wasn’t on the forefront of anyone’s agenda. Many women weren’t included in combat roles. The change in attitude towards women in the armed forces has been dramatic. I think there has been phenomenal progress – we don’t have 50/50, but we have had a lot of traction. It just hasn’t been as fast as it could be.

Women & Girls: What have national governments and the international community done to really move the needle on this issue?

Hutchinson: The U.N. is doing a great job of pushing this agenda, but it has to come down to the host country [where U.N. peacekeeping troops are sent] being receptive. There’s phenomenal progress in countries you wouldn’t expect.

For example, in Kenya, there is a 30 percent quota for women in government, though that proportion has not yet been reached. In Rwanda, the government took measures to increase women’s participation in government, and now women have over 50% of parliamentary seats. And in Darfur, during the U.N.’s “Open Days,” which take place every year, women held their own 1325 forum to look at legislation passed in Sudan and check if it was gender inclusive.

It’s not enough, and it’s certainly on the sidelines of the genuine political processes, but it’s getting there.

Women & Girls: What is the best way to convince men that women need to participate as equal partners?

Hutchinson: Women have a very different perspective about what causes conflict, what comes from conflict, and how to resolve it. When conflict breaks out and men join the armed forces, women are left on the ground, working to keep society and their communities going. If you don’t include their voices and experiences, then you’re not getting a genuine picture about how to address the conflict.

I think women themselves have to articulate better what their presence means. It isn’t enough to just say, “I have to be there because I’m a woman.” Some people might hate that argument, but unfortunately, we still have to justify why it’s necessary for women to be involved and emphasize what they can do. We need more empirical evidence showing the efficacy of having women at the table.

Women & Girls: How is the U.N. showing leadership in its own peacekeeping and peace-building efforts?

Hutchinson: Unfortunately, we still have very low numbers. If we don’t have women involved in operations, it doesn’t show our partners on the ground that we really believe in this. We have a gender adviser deployed in every mission, and women are being promoted to bigger roles in all aspects of peacekeeping operations. We’re focused on getting more women into positions in peacekeeping and the armed forces.

Unfortunately, gender is often seen as a throw-away: ‘We’ll do everything we have to and then we’ll address gender.’ But you can’t let the resistance stop you. You just march over people’s resistance and convince them they’re wrong.

It’s not easy and I don’t see it getting easier, but it just marshals our efforts. I’ve been in peacekeeping since 2004 and I’ve seen a lot of change. It’s not always obvious, but there is progress on the ground. It’s just not as fast as we’d like.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

This story is part of our in-depth series, Women of Peace, which examines the contributions of women peacemakers throughout the world, as well as the challenges they face in the field. To explore the collection, please visit our dedicated mini-site.

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