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Panel Discussions - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gender and Peacekeeping: Perspectives from the Field

Security Council resolution 1325, passed in 2000, is a milestone in international efforts towards addressing the impact of war on women and the crucial role they play in negotiating sustainable peace. Women offer unique and vital perspectives in conflict settings, and it was with these thoughts in mind that panelists discussed pressing, current issues regarding gender and peacekeeping to an IPI audience on May 16, 2013.

Under the auspices of IPI’s Women Peace and Security Series, panelists shared recent accomplishments made in the field, the challenges ahead, and recommendations for the future in gender and peacekeeping efforts.

Gaynel Curry, the first Women Protection Adviser (WPA) deployed in the UN’s mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), discussed the important role of WPAs, who provide expertise on sexual- and gender-based violence in conflict.

“The value added [of WPAs] is mainly having this specific expertise [and] dedicated resources on conflict-related sexual violence,” she said, adding that they understand the “issues of monitoring, investigating, analyzing, understanding, strengthening the appropriate integrated UN responses.”

Ms. Curry’s role in the UN mission was to negotiate a process in South Sudan to meet the Security Council’s standards in the implementation of resolutions 1888 and 1960, working with lead UN and governmental agencies in coordinating a response to conflict-related sexual violence.

She explained that an important aim of the mission was to build on existing UN resources and ensure that WPAs are in areas where they can be most effective. “We know that conflict-related sexual violence is a human rights violation, and so our human rights offices on the ground are following it,” she noted. “The question for us then, as WPAs, is to what extent can they give that dedicated focus? How can they drill down into the subject matter if they’re covering ten other violations?”

WPAs work to break down the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, advising the mission and building national capacity, within a more dedicated response framework, Ms. Curry said.

She went on explain how the mission defines conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan, which includes issues of rape, sexual slavery, torture and inhumane treatment, and threats to physical and mental integrity.

“This has been an excellent experience in South Sudan. When you go there and you work on this particular issue, you see the whole UN system coming together as one,” she concluded.

Elsie Effange-Mbella, the Senior Gender Adviser from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), discussed the applications of resolution 1325 in the DRC, touching upon its impact, the challenges, and the way forward.

After the fall of Goma, the DRC experienced high rates of rape, internally displaced people, human trafficking, and sexual slavery.

“When [resolution] 1325 was passed, it was passed as a hopeful resolution that projected women as agents who will be engaged in bringing about change,” Ms. Effange-Mbella said. “But the conflict has made it in such a way that we’re now talking mostly about women as victims, forgetting about their dynamism and about the important role that they play, and that they could play, in bringing about global peace and security.”

She explained that the work of the gender adviser is to make sure women are an active part of the peacebuilding process. They work to empower women to become forceful and engaged members of the national reconstruction process.

Ms. Effange-Mbella explained that the mission assists in developing national strategies in combating sexual- and gender-based violence, working in many pillars including prevention, protection, data mapping, combating impunity, and security sector reform.

Bringing in the perspective from Haiti was Lucien LeClair, a United Nations Police Adviser from the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Mr. LeClair cited a Norwegian assessment report that surveyed the situation in the country and concluded that sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) investigation is a major and serious problem. Two main reasons, he noted, was that victims do not report sexual aggression and that there is a lack of national police offices where victims can provide statements.

Mr. LaClair said many surveys and assessments found that numerous members of the Haitian national police (HNP) do not see sexual aggression as an important crime and are not sensitized of the seriousness of it.

He explained that the UN mission in Haiti helped professionalize the HNP in investigating issues of SGBV and reinforced their operational capacity, working to provide better facilities for the victims.

Retired Major General Patrick Cammaert, a discussant on the panel, looked at the subject from a security angle. While he agreed that resolution 1325 placed the women, peace and security agenda firmly on the map, he argued that a lot more has to be done.

He asserted that coordination at the operational level sometimes overlaps and that the culture of endless meetings and discussions results in a slower process to get things done.

“Endless coordination leads to inflexibility and a loss of quick decision-making,” he continued. “The lead vision, the slogan, should be ‘get things done’ because the victims are not waiting for the outcomes of your endless meetings, where you try to get everybody and their dog on board.”

He went on to argue that there is no political consensus on what robust peacekeeping means and that there is a significant gap in knowledge and understanding and what is required on the issue of SGBV.

Among the recommendations he offered were encouraging better preparation in UN military deployment and streamlining efforts of the many actors on the subject to make the UN is more effective.

The event was chaired by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute.

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