Woman First, Soldier Second: Taboos and Stigmas Facing Military Women in UN Peace Operations

Demographics, taboos and stigmas facing military women at the individual and community levels. Click for full graphic.

Deployment, taboos and stigmas facing military women within national defense structures. Click for full graphic.

Despite efforts to increase the participation of women uniformed peacekeepers, military women continue to face taboos and stigmas that are barriers to their inclusion and successful deployment. These range from gender stereotypes that cause military women to face more scrutiny than their male counterparts to difficulties speaking up about discriminatory and sexualized behavior, including racism, sexual harassment, and assault. Being confronted with persistent taboos and stigmas can have far-reaching consequences for military women before, during, and after deployment.

This paper, which is based on interviews with 142 military women from fifty-three countries, assesses the taboos and stigmas facing military women at three levels: (1) at the individual and community levels; (2) within their national defense structures; and (3) during deployment to UN peace operations. It also looks at the strategies women use to mitigate these taboos and stigmas and the formal and informal support structures they turn to.

The paper concludes with recommendations for national defense structures and the UN:

  • For national defense structures, it recommends improving standards of behavior and accountability, educating men and women on taboos and stigmas, recruiting and retaining more women, proactively reaching out to and selecting women for deployment to peace operations, providing women the support they need, and designing equipment that better suits women’s needs.
  • For the UN Department of Peace Operations, it recommends strengthening narratives on the importance of female peacekeepers, ensuring that all peacekeepers respect UN values, developing mission-specific gender strategies and plans, engaging more firmly with troop-contributing countries, making recruitment and selection processes more gender-sensitive, holding personnel accountable for discriminatory and sexualized behavior, and establishing in-mission support systems.