WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate bill S.3377 is a new piece of legislation that was introduced in Congress by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on September 21, 2016. The bill focuses on increasing the number of female peacekeepers, involved in military and security operations worldwide.
Cited as the Enhancing Military and Police Operations through Women’s Engagement and Recruitment Act of 2016, S.3377 proposes the investment of United States foreign aid funds to increase women’s involvement in foreign security practices.
As stated by Valerie Norville of the United States Institute of Peace, “Half of the world’s population cannot make a whole peace.” That said, gender parity in security and military forces worldwide is virtually non-existent.
Even after the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for greater female involvement in global security, women’s participation is low. That even holds true in nations that boast the highest numbers of uniformed female personnel.
According to a U.N. report, Bangladesh’s police force has the second-highest amount of female peacekeepers in conflict zones, a total of 176. That data looks less promising, however, considering that women make up less than five percent of the nation’s total police force.
Such disparity can be traced across U.N. peacekeeping missions as well. Reports on the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), for example, contain discouraging figures. Of the 193 military experts working on MINUSCA in August 2016, only nine were women.
Data from the Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) shows something similar. Out of the 17,213 military officials aiding in MONUSCO efforts, just 583 were women.
Even training programs are sorely lacking in gender parity. The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which is funded by the State Department, provides training to future leaders from around the world. Of all participants among the 141 nations that received IMET funding between 2011 and 2015, women accounted for just seven percent.
This issue is systemic in its scope. In Norville’s words, “the United Nations reckons that fewer than three percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women and that women’s participation in peacekeeping negotiations averages less than eight percent [of]the 11 peace processes for which such information is available.”
The driving force behind bill S.3377, however, is more than just a numbers game; women’s participation in peacekeeping and security endeavors is proven to influence the progress of women’s rights worldwide. The gender mainstreaming phenomenon ensures that policy reflects an integrated, inclusive worldview: women and girls get their place at the table when women influence military strategy, policy development and security reform.
When women’s input is taken into consideration, peacekeeping efforts open themselves up to issues that are not often addressed. As Judy Cheng-Hopkins, assistant secretary-general for the UN Peacebuilding Support Office, explained, “when you have a critical mass of women in power, legislation tends to get passed that favors women.”
Such legislation often addresses land ownership, sexual assault and reintegration after a conflict, all of which disproportionately affect women and girls. Sexual abuse of civilians by soldiers is one of the gravest issues in the peacekeeping sector. Although the presence of female troops likely will not stop sexual abuse in its tracks, a shift toward more female peacekeepers could underscore equality in conflict zones.
According to Dartmouth Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy Sabrina Karim and Professor Kyle Beardsley of Duke University, “both the representation of women in missions and the norms and practices related to gender equality in the force-contributing countries can potentially shape the proclivity for [sexual exploitation and abuse].”
The issue of reintegration after conflict also undercuts gender equality worldwide. In nations like Uganda where rape is used as a weapon of war, reintegration in the community and the home is a point of contention for tens of thousands of women and girls.
Sexual and gender-based violence can be rampant during the conflict, which has lasting impacts on gender equality in affected regions. The presence of female forces disrupts gendered oppression by placing women in leadership positions.
Senator Boxer urges the State Department and the Department of Defense to train more women through the IMET program. The goal is to double the number of female peacekeepers globally by 2019. Beyond that, she calls on the Department of Defense to double the number of women involved in counter-terrorism by investing in more extensive training in Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) programs.
To increase women’s participation in peacekeeping operations, the State Department will work with the United Nations and partner countries. Per the proposal, “Through the United States Mission to the United Nations, the Department of State shall promote an increase in the recruitment, retention and leadership roles of female personnel assigned to United Nations peacekeeping missions.”
S.3377 also places emphasis on increasing the number of women in law enforcement positions. The plan is to encourage participating countries to draft and implement more inclusive policing strategies.
The ultimate goal, in this case, is to ensure that women in all police training programs receiving U.S. funding account for no less than 10 percent of each force. The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State will be responsible for diplomatic legwork when it comes time for implementation.
Increasing the number of women participating in peacekeeping, security and military forces goes beyond encouraging equality within peacekeeping operations. The passage of S.3377 could change the lives of women and girls in nations where sexual and gender-based violence is par for the course.
– Madeline Distasio