Last year, the UN’s first-ever all-female police unit deployed to Liberia. In this video, which is featured on the front page of the Better World Campaign, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State for Women’s Empowerment, describes the successes that this deployment brought to Liberia (check out a longer video here).
This unit was so successful, in fact, that the UN has deployed another such contingent, as reported by Voice of America last week:
A second Indian all-female contingent has been deployed in Liberia for a few months now, showing that women can become the norm for peacekeeping operations. They are also inspiring Liberian women to become part of the country’s security reconstruction.
The increase in Liberian women joining their country’s police force is only one of the benefits that the presence of female police officers has brought to Liberia. In addition to backing up Liberia’s police and contributing to the overall security situation, the female peacekeepers, according to Tahir-Kheli, have directly contributed to improved reporting of instances of violence against women and to a corresponding decrease in the actual number of instances of such violence.Comfort Lamptey, a UN adviser on gender, attests to the advantages that women police officers bring to cultures in which even reporting rape is stigmatized.
“I think that in a lot of countries women who have been subject to gender-based violence feel more comfortable talking to a woman,” she said. “In many countries where women have been raped by men in uniform, they are more comfortable talking to another woman than men in uniforms. Having women in the field who are well-trained may be able to respond to women who have been violated.”
This is exactly the reason that an all-female police contingent is needed in places like DR Congo and Darfur, where rape continues unchecked and unpunished.
As an additional benefit, the presence of women in the ranks of peacekeepers has also effectively served to police the behavior of peacekeepers themselves. In Lamptey’s words, “the presence of more women can actually help dilute a macho approach to peacekeeping,” which can in turn help combat the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) among peacekeepers. In Liberia, for example, the number of reported SEA violations decreased from 45 in 2005, to 30 in 2006, to just nine allegations in 2007.
While the UN has a long way to go toward bridging the gender gap among peacekeepers, doing so will do more than simply improve the male-female ratio. The increased use of female peacekeepers will clearly improve UN peacekeeping qualitatively, making it more efficient and expanding the realm of what it can achieve.