Blue Helmets

Although the greatest proportion of non-professional and civilian positions, such as cooks, administrative officers, and support staff within the United Nations are filled by women, they have traditionally represented less than 2% of all peacekeeping forces. Between 1957 and 1989, this number was even smaller, when a total of only 20 women served as uniformed peacekeepers with the UN. In addition to their service, these female officers acted as a vanguard in advance of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 made in the year 2000, which called for the increased participation of women in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.

Since then, three all-female peacekeeping units have been deployed around the world. The largest and most successful of the assignments has been the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) which has seen a deployment of around 100 Indian women rotated each year since 2007. The women are supported by a team of cooks, drivers, and administration staff, and perform all the same armed duties of their male counterparts deployed in other parts of the world.

Not only has the increased participation of female military personnel in UN peacekeeping missions strengthened the universal movement for gender equality, but it has also brought an above average degree of stability to UNMIL and other female led missions that is noteworthy. In Monrovia, where the large majority of the Indian peacekeepers are based, the frequent foot patrols through dangerous neighbourhoods have decreased the crime rate by up to 65% .

Importantly, the presence of women in peacekeeping also acts to empower female members of host communities to improve their status within their own society.

This is demonstrated by the rising numbers of host-country women seeking employment in the police and armed forces throughout the period of a UN mission, such as in Liberia, where the percentage of women in the police force has risen from 6% in 2007 to approximately 15% in 2012. Additionally, female peace keepers tend to use force less often than their male counterparts, and have been shown in some studies to be more likely to successfully mediate violent situations. These qualities help to make female peacekeepers more approachable than their male counterparts, particularly for women who have been the victims of the sexual and gender based violence that is often systemic in conflict and post-conflict environments.

Although the target set by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon in 2009 to increase the amount of female police in UN forces to 20% by 2014 has not been reached, all the ground-breaking work completed by UN women personnel has been indispensable for both the fight for peace, and the struggle for gender equality. The success of the Indian mission in Liberia and others like it have paved the way for the valuable participation of women in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, now and into the future. 

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