The inclusion of women in the peacekeeping process is more likely to gain positive results, according to an expert at the University of St Andrews.
Professor Gerard DeGroot believes that the inclusion of female soldiers in peacekeeping units not only encourages more civilised behaviour amongst male soldiers, but provides good role models for mostly female refugees.
The academic will outline the important role of women in the peacekeeping process at a major conference in Rwanda this weekend (28-29 March 2008). He will travel to Kigali to address an international event aimed at increasing the participation of female soldiers, police officers and civilian personnel in peacekeeping missions. The audience will include high level delegates and representatives from the all-women Indian police unit recently sent to war torn Liberia.
Professor DeGroot, a historian and one of the few male experts on the role of female soldiers, will explore the gender imbalance issue and outline why the inclusion of female soldiers in peacekeeping units tends to improve the performance of the unit as a whole.
Talking in advance of attending the conference, he explained, “At the moment, the percentage of women in peacekeeping forces is very low, hovering around 2 per cent. This causes problems when it is considered that the vast majority of refugees with whom the peacekeepers deal are women and children.
“During the UN operation in Somalia in 1993, local women who ventured outside the refugee camps to collect firewood were frequently raped by peacekeepers. Putting more female soldiers into peacekeeping units tends to improve the performance of the unit as a whole, and also provides positive role models to the refugee population.”
Professor DeGroot has been involved in this area of research for the past ten years, acting as a consultant to the UN, NATO and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. The researcher’s work contributed to the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which formally recognises the need to mainstream gender issues in UN operations.
He will be the keynote speaker at this weekend’s ‘Gender Issues in Peacekeeping Missions’ conference, sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Rwanda Defence Forces. The event will bring together high level representatives from East African defence forces, Military Academies and Colleges, civil society organisations, conflict management practitioners and scholars, gender advocates, UN agencies and personnel in peacekeeping operations.
Professor DeGroot will examine the behaviour of male soldiers during notorious peacekeeping missions when not accompanied by women, and the dynamic created when women take part in peacekeeping operations.
He said, “Further problems result from the fact that male peacekeepers too often act like conquering soldiers. For instance, during the UN peacekeeping operation in Cambodia from 1991-1993, the prostitute population of Phnom Penh increased from 6,000 to 25,000. Twenty-five percent of the soldiers from one participant country were HIV-positive on their return home.
“The most notable UN successes had a greater-than-normal female presence. In both operations, the proportion of females was just under 50 percent. In the notorious Cambodian operation, on the other hand, no women were present.
“There is no evidence that women make better peacekeepers, but a great deal of evidence to suggest that the presence of women improves an operation’s chances of success. A better gender balance means that the operation more closely resembles civilian society. Its members are therefore more likely to observe social conventions that define civilised behaviour,” he said.
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