The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DKPO) recently launched an all-female training program with the Rwanda National Police, to evaluate and determine the possibility for individual female officers to serve in upcoming UN peacekeeping missions. The program aims to meet the goals set out by the 2009 UN-led Global Effort and Gender Initiative, which seeks to increase the number of UN female police personnel to 20% by 2014. This decision is of huge importance, since as of March 2013, women made up only 9.7% of the UN police force, and less than 4% of all UN peacekeepers worldwide.
Women’s roles in the development of Rwanda has been very significant in recent years. Following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, women were active in rebuilding not only their family lives, but helping to reestablish their country’s broken political structure as well. Making up 70% of the population following the war, women engaged in community support groups, took over family businesses and became politically active within Rwandan politics. Today, Rwanda’s parliament is made up of 64% women, a figure that remains unmatched by any other nation, making Rwanda a pillar for gender equality and female empowerment.
The contribution made by women in Rwanda to facilitate community building, factored into the decision to select the female officers of the Rwanda National Police to take part in the UN-led training exercises. At the police headquarters in Kacyiru, Rwanda, 166 female officers were in attendance for the twelve-day pre-deployment training program, where they had the opportunity to gain insight and expertise from trainers with extensive experience in policing. Lanyuy Marit, course director and senior planning officer for the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), spoke of Rwanda’s strong policing tradition in terms of ‘discipline, organization and the continuous search for excellence,’ adding that recruiting female officers from the Rwanda National Police was the best choice to be made.
More female peacekeepers are needed to help promote gender equality and to empower women in the communities where they are deployed. Incorporating women into UN peacekeeping missions will not only serve to bridge the gap between the unequal divide of men and women in the field, but will also help to address gender perspectives. This is critical if attention is to be given to the victimization and sexual violence directed at women as a tactic of warfare, and if the proper rehabilitation of women in conflict-affected regions is to be provided.
While Rwanda has made great strides in promoting gender equality, and is a leading example of how the empowerment of women can affect a nation, other UN member states need to be equally committed to increasing their share of female peacekeeping officers. These states are reluctant to do so, citing concerns related to violent working conditions and the inability of female officers to perform at the same level as male officers. Nevertheless, if the UN wishes to remain true to its commitment of reaching the 20% threshold of female peacekeeping personnel, and to be able to take gender mainstreaming seriously, then such concerns must be addressed and proper effort must be made for more member states to follow in Rwanda’s footsteps.