To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women
To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women
Individualism and the Dissolution of Trust
Individualism and the Dissolution of Trust
Op-Ed / Global

To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women

Ahead of the 14-15 November 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, Crisis Group's President & CEO Jean-Marie Guéhenno writes that greater female participation in UN peacekeeping can help UN missions fulfill their mandates.

International commitment to greater female representation in peacekeeping has lost considerable impetus. Though rhetorically committed, United Nations leaders, both civilian and uniformed, have often regarded gender issues as non-essential and dispensable. But in the absence of genuine attention to women's political participation and gender dynamics in conflict-affected societies, UN peacekeeping risks failing to fulfill its mandate.

On Nov. 14 and 15, Canada will host the annual UN peacekeeping summit. With more than 500 delegates from 70 countries and international organizations gathering in Vancouver, this high-profile event can serve as a much-needed catalyst to reinvigorate international commitment to gender equality in peacekeeping. Without global leadership, decades-long efforts to strengthen gender-sensitive responses risk falling into inertia.

Evidence suggests that female peacekeepers can serve as role models for local women, improve relations with the host community, and facilitate information-gathering in societies where locals are dissuaded from interacting with outsiders of the opposite sex. Increasing women's presence is also key to reducing the incidence of rape and use of prostitution by peacekeeping forces. In cases of sexual abuse, victims indicate that it is easier to report sexual crimes to peacekeepers of the same sex.

Increasing women's presence is [...] key to reducing the incidence of rape and use of prostitution by peacekeeping forces.

Efforts to increase the number of female peacekeepers, however, have long been disappointing. In recent years, women's participation, which comprises less than five per cent of peacekeeping forces globally, has remained low and shows no signs of increasing. There are currently only two women out of 15 heads of peacekeeping operations.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has pledged to reach gender parity across all UN agencies by 2030, but the organization has little influence on who gets recruited and deployed by troop-contributing countries. Some member states have adopted policies to increase the number of women in their security forces – Canada is a case in point, with its goal to increase the number of female peacekeepers every year – but most troop-contributing states have poor credentials in female representation in their forces. Contributing nations should be encouraged to provide more female peacekeepers.

Of course, addressing gender-specific needs and interests in peacekeeping requires more than simply increasing the number of women. It calls for thorough analysis of gender dynamics and realities in societies where peacekeepers operate. This can only be achieved if UN peacekeeping leaders make a conscious effort toward integrating gender dynamics in their work and reflecting them as they devise new policies and interventions. Increasing the number of gender advisers directly supporting heads of peacekeeping missions, and ensuring that they are not sidelined, would be concrete steps in that direction.

Research on gender by International Crisis Group has shown that, in times of conflict, the experiences of men and women vary considerably. As conflict disrupts traditional livelihoods, men predominantly join the ranks of soldiers on the front line, while the economic burden on women increases, along with the number of female-headed households. Likewise, crises are likely to exacerbate existing discrimination against women and girls and distort traditional social norms. Devising sustainable solutions for peace is impossible without taking into consideration these issues. Liberia, where women played an important role in the negotiations leading to peace, is a case in point.

There is also a need for greater awareness of the gender-specific impacts of conflict, in order to devise appropriate interventions. In recent decades, forms of violence have emerged that take the gender identity of the victim as their primary target. This is especially true in situations where sexual violence is turned into a weapon of war. But more broadly, at times where law and order have broken down, women and girls of all ages may be left with few options to survive, sometimes compelling them to break societal norms. This fuels a vicious circle of violence, exclusion and stigmatization.

It is particularly regrettable that reports keep emerging of sexual abuse by peacekeeping troops while the UN has limited means of holding those responsible to account. The revelations of widespread sexual abuse in recent news illustrate that violence against women and girls, including in the home, exists within many societies – rich and poor. But as conflict exacerbates underlying tensions that encourage predatory behaviours and further compound women's insecurity, it is the responsibility of national leaders, as well as peacekeeping heads, to support robust systems to prevent such violence and protect groups at risk. A strong personal commitment of the leadership is a critical component of an effective response to sexual abuse.

Without resources or dedicated personnel, there is a strong possibility that gender expertise will remain excluded from decision-making and program development processes.

In June, the UN General Assembly voted to cut $600-million (U.S.) from the organization's annual $8-billion peacekeeping budget, resulting in the removal or downgrading of several field-level positions responsible for integrating the gender perspective in the work of peacekeeping missions. One of the impacts of budgetary pressure on peacekeeping has been the reluctance to ensure that vacant gender adviser positions within missions are filled. Without resources or dedicated personnel, there is a strong possibility that gender expertise will remain excluded from decision-making and program development processes.

As Vancouver prepares to host this year's United Nations peacekeeping summit, member states should follow Canada's lead as an internationally recognized advocate for women's rights and gender equality. They should make concrete commitments to expand female recruitment in their security services and concurrently increase the deployment of female peacekeepers.

Op-Ed / Global

Individualism and the Dissolution of Trust

Is lack of trust in government a global phenomenon, or is it mainly affecting rich countries? I argue that while the phenomenon is mainly a problem of the rich, its causes run deep, and have global implications.

There is little doubt that in the US and the UK, the reaping of the benefits of economic growth by the rich and the stagnation of the middle class have resulted in declining trust in political elites. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is catching up: the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty peaked in 1970 at 2,2bn, and despite a doubling of world population, it has since been cut by two-thirds: that may be why China and India show high levels of confidence in their respective governments. The future looks very different whether you sit in Beijing or Detroit.

And yet western gloom has deeper roots than contrasting economic futures. There is a worldwide crisis of politics that affects countries, rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian, performing and underperforming. Three related characteristics are in evidence:

  1. Personalities increasingly dominate the political debate, worldwide. Trump, Macron and Duterte have little in common except for one characteristic: they are successful outsiders who were not professional politicians. “Presidentialism”, balanced or not by the checks and balance of democratic institutions, is gaining ground and leaders are expected to produce change against institutions rather than through them.
  2. This new emphasis reflects the triumph of individual agency after the end of the Cold War. What Margaret Thatcher said in 1987 has come to define the post-Cold War period: ”… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.” The individual is king, and ideologies that emphasize the collective dimension of human destiny have lost their potency.
  3. In a world driven by individuals, the ideal of the public good loses its appeal, and the old notion, going back to antiquity, that the public sphere derives its nobility from a separation between the service of public interests and the pursuit of private interests, is replaced by its opposite: private success is the best qualification for public office.

The empowerment of individuals, while it has unleashed unprecedented growth, is at the origin of a global malaise. It puts an enormous responsibility on every human being: not only does it ignore the importance of luck in success, but it neglects obvious social factors: a poor girl born in Congo and an African-American boy growing up without parents in an American ghetto have an insurmountable handicap to overcome. Better be a lazy boy born into a rich family than a bright young girl born into abject poverty. Exceptions exist, and are celebrated as role models, but they remain exceptions. And to tell the losers of that flawed competition that they should try harder adds insult to injury. Hence the growing anger of all those who are left behind, in rich countries but also in poor ones. That anger manifests itself in different forms.

At one extreme is the terrorism of foreign fighters. They represent the dark side of individual agency. The suicide video message of a terrorist has become the ultimate selfie for militants focused on nihilistic individual fulfillment. And the terror that it inspires in turn contributes to the atomization of society. In a packed subway car, every other passenger is a potential threat. Terrorism exposes the vulnerability of societies in which the individual is the be-all and end-all.

Most people, however, will never become terrorists, and their reaction to the cult of individual success, especially when individual success is out of reach, goes in the opposite direction: they want to restore a collective dimension to human destiny. Some find the answer in religious fanaticism, some find it in nationalism. In the borderless world of globalization, a growing number of people are searching for mental borders. They react to the crisis of states, too small -even the biggest of them- to manage global issues, and yet unable to manage solidarity within increasingly diverse national communities.

What is the alternative? We remain physical human beings, and we cannot experience far away tragedies as a personal loss: pretending the contrary is a lie that augments the cynicism of public opinion on politics. We cannot embrace the whole planet without the mediation of tangible intermediate structures. Values, if they are to be more than empty rhetorical aspirations, should be grounded in our own personal experience. Rebuilding trust depends on our ability to connect, through an institutional ladder, the global to the very local.

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