Civil Society, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

RIGHTS: Educating U.N. “Blue Helmets” on Gender Issues

Diógenes Pina

SANTO DOMINGO, Jun 28 2007 (IPS) - Involving male facilitators can make educating United Nations security personnel on gender issues more effective in preventing the incidents of sexual abuse which have marred several U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The U.N. carried out 340 investigations into reports of sexual abuse and rape in 2005, involving 217 U.N. soldiers and 123 civilian members of peacekeeping missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the autonomous province of Kosovo in southern Serbia.

“Knowing more about how differently men and women experience conflict helps security personnel respond better to gender-based violence and prevent sexual abuse,” said Carmen Moreno, head of the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).

“How can (peacekeepers) fulfill their mandate of protecting both men and women if they are blind to gender issues?” Moreno asked at the opening on Tuesday of a workshop to train gender equality educators, to be held until Thursday at UN-INSTRAW’s headquarters in Santo Domingo.

The workshop, organised by the U.N. Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), is being attended by DPKO trainers of 10 different nationalities, including a woman from the U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which has been operational since June 2004.

“We have made modest progress in the fight against rape cases,” MINUSTAH’s senior gender adviser Nadine Puechguirbal, of France, told IPS.

Several Haitian organisations are making working together on the issue, while MINUSTAH works with U.N. troops and with civil society to eradicate sexual violence, Puechguirbal said.

One positive step “is that a certificate issued by any doctor will now be accepted as valid legal evidence to support an accusation of rape in a court of law,” she added.

As of May 2007, MINUSTAH had 8,810 men in uniform, 7,050 of whom were in the military and 1,760 were police officers. In addition there were 457 international U.N. officials, 806 national officials and 184 volunteers. Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile contribute most of the troops deployed in Haiti.

Shortly before retiring as U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan admitted in December 2006 that “there have been crimes, such as rape, paedophilia and human trafficking,” committed by the blue helmets, as U.N. peacekeeping troops are known.

On the basis of Annan’s report, the U.N. is still investigating cases of abuse and sexual exploitation allegedly committed by peacekeepers in 2003. The flow of accusations and complaints are continuing.

“At these workshops we also train people to investigate gender based crimes, such as domestic violence or, indeed, sexual violence against men or women,” UN-INSTRAW expert on gender, peace and security Nicola Popovic told IPS.

Popovic acknowledges the difficulty of this task in male-dominated organisations. “Symbols of masculinity are very prevalent in these institutions, but more women are being recruited to improve the gender balance, and create a more gender-sensitive peacekeeping force,” she said.

In preparation for the workshop, more than 140 experts from around the world held a virtual debate for three weeks in April on how to improve gender training for troops, police and other personnel taking part in peacekeeping operations.

The e-discussion was hosted by UN-INSTRAW, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

“I have feminist colleagues who are very sceptical about the efficacy of ‘gender training’ in the security sector. As I understand their argument, these institutions are so thoroughly grounded in militarised masculinity that gender training merely dances on the edges, offering (few) challenges to the overall ideology, structure and practice of these organisations,” said a contributor from Canada.

“Therefore, I do think it is important for us to be very clear on what we are trying to accomplish and what the best way of accomplishing these goals is,” the contributor adds.

Several contributors pointed out the importance of involving male personnel, especially those in positions of authority, in delivering training for groups of men. Seeing a male figure up at the front talking about gender is a qualitative change in the experience of such masculine organisations as the army or the police, they said.

This was one of the conclusions of the e-discussion: the need to involve men as gender trainers.

But there are other challenges confronting gender training.

Although it is politically correct to introduce gender training in peacekeeping forces, “we have neither time nor resources to conduct a more in-depth training that would have some impact on the ground,” according to one account from Haiti.

Carrying out training in advance, discussion of gender issues in other training courses, training in the field and the participation of superior officers were further recommendations which, together with other e-discussion topics, will be used as tools to reform the U.N. security sector from early 2008 onwards.

Since 1948, the U.N. has deployed 61 peacekeeping missions in different regions of the world.

The DPKO is currently supervising 18 peace missions involving 100,000 U.N. personnel, including blue helmets, police officers, and civilians (paid or voluntary, national or international).

Republish | | Print |