Historian plays active role in new U.N initiative

Tuesday 13 February 2001

Dr Gerard DeGroot of the University of St Andrews is actively participating in a new United Nations initiative designed to improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping and peace support operations around the world.

DeGroot, a reader in the Department of Modern History, has been working closely with United Nations personnel and representatives from other international relief organisations for the past 18 months, developing policies and practices which show greater sensitivity to women and children.

The work began formally at a high level conference in June 1999 at Uppsala University in Sweden, hosted jointly by the Swedish and Danish governments. DeGroot, a specialist on the modern military and on 20th century war, was the only British representative among the 25 participants and only one of two military specialists invited.

On the strength of that conference, the group met again at Windhoek, Namibia in June 2000. Intensive discussions and negotiations led to agreement on the Windhoek Declaration which called upon the United Nations to take more active steps to “mainstream” gender issues in the conduct of its operations. This led in turn to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, agreed on 1 October 2000. The resolution recognises “that an understanding of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls…  can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security.”

Dr DeGroot said, “To get a Security Council Resolution adopted so quickly was a huge achievement but now the real work starts. We have to try to get the support shown by the Security Council translated into more sensitive approaches on the ground in places like Kosovo, Burundi, Sierra Leone and all the other trouble spots.”

To this end, the group recently met in Oslo to try to formulate proactive policies for international agencies to adopt. DeGroot was an active participant at that conference, offering advice on ways to increase the number of women in peacekeeping forces, an important step in making those forces more gender sensitive.

He continued, “In any conflict, over 70% of refugees are women and children, yet the percentage of women in UN peacekeeping units remains around 5%. This means that the arrival of UN troops has often meant an increase in prostitution, rape and Aids in the host country. Male soldiers, by themselves, also tend to inflame tense situations in a way that mixed-gender units do not.”

DeGroot, whose knowledge of the modern military is vast, was struck by the way UN representatives are often incredibly ignorant of an institution with which they work so closely. “UN personnel see themselves as peacekeepers while they often see soldiers as aggressive warmongers. Yet this is an attitude which does not conform to the tasks the modern military undertakes and is certainly not conducive to effective peacekeeping operations.” DeGroot has tried to establish ways for UN and military personnel to come together to formulate practices conducive to both.

The work of the Oslo conference will soon be amalgamated into a set of concrete proposals to be presented at the next meeting of the Human Security Network in Petra, Jordan in May. The Network consists of diplomatic representatives of countries most actively involved in peacekeeping.

Dr DeGroot, who has published eight books, is the co-editor of A Soldier and a Woman: Sexual Integration in the Modern Military. He is one of a handful of experts around the world on the subject of the female soldier. This expertise will mean that he will continue to play an important role in the development of peacekeeping practices which show greater sensitivity to the unique problems which women and girls face in war.


Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email [email protected] Ref: un/standrews/chg/13feb2001

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