Women in United Nations Peace Operations:
July 26, 2008
United Nations (UN) peacekeeping is in high demand. With a 400 percent increase in the number of peacekeeping missions in the past two decades, the pressure to quickly launch, staff, and coordinate the military and civilian components of multi-dimensional peace operations has never been greater. Despite the urgent need, UN missions have failed to attract, retain, and advance the most qualified talent in leadership positions, threatening the implementation of demanding peace operations. Women, especially those from non-Western countries, are an untapped and potentially powerful resource to staff and lead these missions. Women remain underrepresented in management positions and are rarely appointed at the highest levels of leadership.
Since the historic adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), the recognition of the important and beneficial role that women play in building sustainable peace has steadily increased. Civil society arguments for women’s inclusion in the formal processes of peacemaking and peacebuilding are bolstered by growing evidence of women’s impact on the ground in unstable and conflict-affected countries. Numerous policymakers and practitioners within the UN and other multi-lateral organizations are publicly acknowledging the value of women in leadership roles.
Yet the lack of women in senior positions in the UN, particularly in peacekeeping missions, reflects the reality that significant cultural and institutional impediments remain to women’s entry and advancement within the UN. As a result, there is frustration with the slow pace of progress both inside and outside the system. There are few mechanisms in place to facilitate regular information sharing between the UN and civil society on this issue. Civil society organizations lack understanding about the skills and requirements for high-level positions, the process for selecting candidates, and the best means to nominate qualified experts. Within the UN, there are traditionally few resources and little attention devoted to outreach and communication with organizations that can access qualified female candidates, or to marketing these positions in a way that will attract the best talent.