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Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution1325 on women, peace and security in 2000, there have been several attempts to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping operations. Yet women remain underrepresented at all levels—particularly among troops, which are overwhelmingly the majority of deployed personnel. In 2019, on average 5000 women uniformed personnel were deployed to UN peacekeeping operations—equivalent to just 5.6 per cent of the 88 700 total personnel deployed.
In October 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2242 which called for the ‘doubling of the numbers of women in military and police contingents’ of UN peacekeeping operations ‘over the next five years’. The resolution, however, provided very few specifications on how to actually achieve this. More recently, under Secretary-General António Guterres, the UN has elevated gender parity in peacekeeping as a central objective by presenting a UN-system-wide gender parity strategy in 2017. This strategy was complemented by a UN Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy that establishes goals specifically for the participation of women in the military and police personnel in UN peacekeeping. The strategy’s implementation has also been included as a priority of Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) and is established as one of its 42 specific commitments.
As the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy is about to enter its second year, this topical backgrounder analyses the trends and developments in women’s participation in peacekeeping operations. Furthermore, it explores whether Resolution 2242 represents a departure from previous developments and looks at trends that may hinder or advance the achievement of its goals over the next 10 years.
Established with the objective of ensuring that the uniformed component of UN peacekeeping reflects the communities they serve; the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy sets out targets for women in peacekeeping and outlines how the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) plans to meet them by 2028. The strategy builds on Resolution 2242, which recognizes the importance of women’s participation in peace operations.
The Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy identifies country- and operation-level challenges for women’s involvement in peacekeeping operations and outlines specific policies to overcome them. These policies are based on four actions: establishing an enabling environment for women; ensuring gender-sensitive strategies for recruitment and training; promoting these policies with an outreach and communications strategy; and including gender-related goals in regular DPO monitoring channels.
The participation of women in peacekeeping operations differs significantly between personnel categories. Individual police officers (IPO) are the closest to a balanced representation among their ranks: almost 1 in 4 deployed are women. Among military observers and staff officers, fewer than 1 in 8 of those deployed are women, and among formed police units (FPU), 1 in 10. Women, however, make up only 1 in every 25 deployed troops.
Because the participation is different across categories, the goals set by the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy for 2028 are also different. As of 2019, IPOs are the closest to their goal and troops are the farthest (figure 1).
Although the strategy identifies challenges at the contributor and the mission levels, it sets goals for the contributor level, assuming that gender-balanced contributions will lead to balance in missions. However, a previous SIPRI analysis found that the proportion of women deployed differs greatly between missions, particularly in terms of uniformed personnel. For example, women compose less than 6 per cent of the largest operations (in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Mali and South Sudan), which concentrate over 80 per cent of the deployed personnel. Meanwhile, other missions, like the missions in Colombia or Kosovo, the proportion of women is over 25 per cent.
To assess progress towards achieving the 2028 goals established in the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy, it is useful to look at how women’s participation in peacekeeping operations has evolved since the adoption of Resolution 2242. Using gender-disaggregated data on UN peacekeeping compiled in SIPRI’s Multilateral Peace Operations Database, it is possible to identify developments that show both improvements and continued challenges for sustainably improving women’s participation in peacekeeping operations.
An increase in the absolute number of women
Since the adoption of Resolution 2242, the absolute number of deployed women has increased by 17.9 per cent. The yearly average of total women deployed has risen from around 2900 a decade ago to 4000 in 2015, now reaching 5000. Military observers and staff officers have increased the most, growing by 457 per cent (from 85 to 471), followed by FPUs (up 19.3 per cent, from 632 to 754) and troops (up 10.1 per cent, from 2852 to 3141). Among IPOs, the number of deployed women has decreased by 3 per cent, from 760 to 737.
An increasing proportion of women
Since the adoption of Resolution 2242 the proportion of women in UN peacekeeping operations has increased overall, from 4.1 per cent to 5.6 per cent across all personnel types (see figure 2). The largest rate of change is seen among military observers and staff officers, which have increased the proportion of women in their deployments by 205.7 per cent (from 4.7 to 14.2 per cent). Although less impressive, FPUs, IPOs and troops have also shown increases in the proportion of women—of 45.6 per cent (from 7.0 to 10.2 per cent), 43.5 per cent (from 18.2 to 26.1 per cent) and 34.4 per cent (from 3.2 to 4.3 per cent), respectively.
For most personnel categories however, the proportion of women seemed to already be increasing before the adoption of Resolution 2242. In IPOs, despite an absolute decrease in numbers of deployed women, there was a relevant proportional increase (of 6 per cent) from 2009 to 2011. The proportional increase was mainly driven by an increase in the absolute number of women IPOs deployed in the UN–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), accompanied by a decrease in the number of personnel deployed across all missions. A second increase followed in 2018, after which other personnel categories seem to have broken away from their marginally upward trends to see a more pronounced increase in the proportion of women deployed (figure 2).
Increasing number of countries deploying women
One final big improvement can be identified by looking at who is deploying women to peacekeeping operations. In 2009, 80 of the countries that contributed personnel to peacekeeping operations (equivalent to 71 per cent of all countries) deployed women. By 2019, 121 personnel contributing countries (or 91 per cent of the total) are deploying women.
While the past 10 years have seen positive developments in the representation of women in UN peacekeeping, there are three big challenges that may jeopardize the achievement and sustainability of 2028 goals.
Proportional increases have been much steeper than those of absolute numbers
While both the number of deployed women and the proportion it represents as a total of the deployment have increased since 2015, the rates at which these have changed have not gone hand in hand. Since Resolution 2242 was adopted, the absolute number of women deployed has increased by 17.9 per cent, while their proportion as a share of all personnel deployed has increased by 42.4 per cent (shown by the growing gap between the line and bars in figure 3). This is related to the fact that missions have reduced their deployments of troops—the most male-dominated personnel category. While this is in itself neither positive nor negative, it suggests that rates are volatile and could indicate that if more personnel are needed in the future, the percentages of women deployed will go back down.
The increase across troops has been relatively slow
As already noted, most personnel categories have experienced relevant gains in both number and proportion of women. Assuming today’s strength for military observers and staff officers, IPOs and FPUs, continuation of the current trend would suggest that the 2028 goals would be reached (figures 4a-d). Moreover, if the trend since the 2015 adoption of Resolution 2242 continues, the goals would be reached even before 2028.
Nevertheless, the situation for troops is not as promising. This is particularly important given that, while only 4.3 per cent of all troops are women, they constitute 61 per cent of all women in UN peacekeeping operations. Troops show the lowest rates of increase as a proportion and the second lowest in absolute numbers. Moreover, the troop category are farthest away from reaching its goal of 15 per cent, and to do so by 2028, contributions will need to increase the proportion of women by 1 per cent every year. This would represent a significant shift: as by 2019, the proportion of deployed women since 2009 has only increased 2 per cent and 1 percentage point since 2015. Following this trend, the goal of 15 per cent of women in troop deployment will only be achieved in 2081.
Within troops, contribution size is consistently associated with lower proportion of deployed women
Across all personnel types and countries, there seems to be a negative association between deployment size and proportion of women. Troops are the group in which women are worst represented. Larger troop contributing countries deploy far fewer women proportionally than most smaller contributors. Of the six largest contributors, only Ethiopia (7.9 per cent) scores above average, Nepal scores around the average (3.8 per cent), while Rwanda (3.3 per cent), Bangladesh (1.2 per cent), India (0.8 per cent) and Pakistan (0.7 per cent) score below average. Meanwhile, the vast majority of smaller contributors have much higher proportions of women deployed. The proportion of women among contributions of up to 500 personnel is 7.6 per cent, between 500 and 3000, 5.2 per cent, and from 3000 and above, 2.9 per cent. This unbalances gender in deployments: while small contributions seem to have higher women’s representation, their numbers are simply not enough to compensate for the lower proportions among large contributions. Although in part this may be explained partly by gender gaps and dynamics in some of the larger troop contributing countries, armed forces in general appear to struggle in generating large numbers of female troops.
Analysis of the data for the last 10 years shows that there have been improvements in balancing representation of women in UN peacekeeping. This has expected positive effects from operational, legitimacy and human rights perspectives. Nevertheless, there are significant challenges that jeopardize the attainment of the 2028 goals set out by the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy—particularly for female troops.
The main obstacle is the underrepresentation of women in national military and other security forces. On top of this, women’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations is hindered by a lack of awareness of the UN’s deployment options for women, fostered by biases in deployment selection and in national militaries—a traditionally male-dominated arena that sees women as needing protection rather than providing it. Other barriers come from the lack of an appropriate working environment, which may make women less willing to be deployed to peacekeeping operations, and problems with women-specific equipment in deployments. Moreover, given the underrepresentation of women in national militaries, increasing the number of women in peacekeeping for some countries may come at the expense of their representation nationally.
Ensuring equal participation of women in all efforts to promote peace and security will require active efforts from organizations and contributing countries. The data presented in this research shows that for most contributors—those who deploy only limited numbers of personnel—the goals may be achieved by deploying a relatively small number of additional women. Nevertheless, given the structural obstacles to deploying large numbers of women peacekeepers, the 2028 goal of women comprising 15 per cent of troops is far away, even for the front runners among the larger troop contributors. To achieve this goal, in addition to the requisite commitment from larger troop contributing countries, a much stronger and comprehensive international pledge is necessary.