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How Financial Incentives Can Boost the Number of Women Peacekeepers

The proportion of women in U.N. peacekeeping operations has been slow to rise. But there might be a way to speed things up: Give financial incentives to troop-contributing countries, say Charles Kenny and Tanvi Jaluka of the Center for Global Development.

Written by Tanvi Jaluka, Charles Kenny Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Illustration by Mervin Malonzo

U.N. peacekeeping operations are a great deal. For the United States, they cost about half as much as a unilateral mission to implement, and the United States pays less than one-third of that cost, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And the international evidence suggests they work to keep the peace by considerably reducing the risk of civil wars reigniting.

But these operations are far from free of failure and scandal – from bringing cholera to Haiti to child and sexual abuse. There were “145 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving all members of the U.N. in 2016,” and surveys suggest these are conservative estimates.

One important factor behind these failures is the gross gender inequality in security operations. Of the 106,286 U.N. military and police peacekeepers active in July 2015, a mere 4 percent were women.

The Security Council recently called for a doubling of women in peacekeeping by 2020 – but on current trends, we’ll hit gender parity in U.N. peacekeeping forces sometime around the year 2352. That suggests we need more than grand statements to foster change.

In September 2016, Democratic U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced a bill tackling the underrepresentation of women in the world’s security forces and, in particular, United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The bill sought to increase the number of women in armed forces and peacekeeping worldwide through better use of existing programs to support their training and deployment. It’s a great first step in tackling an important issue. But governments keen to see peacekeeping improve should go further — and pay countries that contribute troops to provide more female peacekeepers.

Doing so would have real benefits: first, there is some evidence that missions with more women personnel are more likely to meet their mandate and bring sustainable peace. Second, a greater presence of women in peacekeeping operations appears to be associated with lower rates of sexual misconduct: According to a recent study, an increase in the proportion of women in a peacekeeping operation from zero to 5 percent reduces the expected count of allegations by half.

The Boxer-Shaheen bill highlights the Global Peace Operations Initiative, a U.S. program that trains, deploys and builds the capacity of peacekeepers worldwide, which has helped double the number of female military peacekeepers deployed by participating countries over the past five years – adding more than 1,000 women troops. It calls for another doubling over the next five years, as well as doubling the number of women from other countries being trained in U.S. military schools over the next four years.

But there is also scope for direct incentives. There is evidence that countries respond to financial incentives when it comes to troop commitments. There is also evidence that the block to increasing the female share of peacekeeping operations isn’t an absolute lack of female troops in source countries, but a reluctance to deploy them. Money could help overcome that reluctance.

The United States, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom between them account for about 60 percent of the peacekeeping budget. The cost to the United States is $2.25 billion. If the United States were to band together with other major financing countries, it could set up a trust fund providing supplemental payments to major troop-contributing countries that provide women peacekeepers.

The U.N. provides base compensation of $1,410 per month per peacekeeper to contributing countries. If the trust fund added a 20 percent supplementary payment for women peacekeepers up to the point where women accounted for one-fifth of those deployed on missions, that would add about one percent to annual peacekeeping dues — and if the United States paid into the trust fund in proportion to its share of peacekeeping dues with Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, its share would be around $30 million a year. That’s about half of one percent of the State Department’s foreign military financing budget.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is currently conducting an assessment of peacekeeping missions to “consider whether current peacekeeping operations continue to be the best-suited mechanisms for meeting the needs of those on the ground and achieving the [Security Council’s] political objectives, or if changes are needed.”

We agree with Senators Boxer and Shaheen that changes are needed — and in particular, that permanent members of the Security Council should move beyond words to action when it comes to greater gender equality in peacekeeping.

But if we’re to make real progress, it is going to take money. The good news is that it is unlikely to take very much of it.

This article is adapted from the Center for Global Development blog post Wanted: More Women Peacekeepers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and may not reflect those of Women & Girls Hub.

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