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UN: Security Council Seeks To Boost Role Of Women In Peacekeeping

A UN Security Council session has again sought to highlight the importance of integrating women into conflict prevention and peace-building efforts. UN officials say women are now playing an enhanced role in UN peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. But there is general concern that women are still neglected in international conflict-prevention efforts, although they are victimized far more often than men.

United Nations, 26 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Nearly two years ago, the UN Security Council passed a resolution aimed at fully involving women in peacekeeping activities, recognizing they had been marginalized for too long.

A public review of that measure, held by the council yesterday (25 July), found that individual countries and the UN bureaucracy itself have been slow to follow through on the resolution's recommendations.

Speakers at the council debate said women remain underrepresented at the top levels of UN peace missions; that there is still widespread impunity for crimes committed against women in war, such as mass rape; and that there are even persistent reports of UN personnel in the field committing violations against women.

The UN's undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, is charged with carrying out the Security Council's wishes to raise the profile of women in peace operations. Guehenno told the council that he has had to overcome skepticism about the issue, including his own. He said he originally shared the view of some that the council resolution was what he called "an exercise in political correctness."

But Guehenno says he's now convinced of the need for engaging women in violence prevention and building peace. He told the Security Council that women have much at stake in ending violence and have made a difference in cases where they have been given an enhanced peacemaking role. "Certain crimes, whose incidence can increase in a conflict setting, are specifically targeted at women and girls. Certain efforts at reconciliation have a totally different dynamic when women are included in the peace process."

Guehenno says the UN peacekeeping department has made progress in raising the profile of women's issues in five operations, including Kosovo and Bosnia. These missions, he says, are making a special effort to combat trafficking in women and children and in dealing with gender-based violence.

Guehenno says East Timor is the best example of how maintaining focus on gender can raise the participation of women. Political parties there voluntarily included women on party tickets in the fledgling state's election. That resulted in women representing 27 percent of the candidates voted into the Constituent Assembly, the highest-ever percentage for a UN-sponsored election.

The UN special adviser on gender issues, Angela King, told the Security Council that a major study being prepared by the UN secretary-general's office shows women transforming societies in a number of former conflict areas, including Kosovo and East Timor.

King said the study, which is not yet complete, will recommend that women be moved off the sidelines and into everyday peace and humanitarian activities at the UN. "Lasting peace must be homegrown and based on indigenous processes. Local women who hold communities together during conflict, organize political movements, manage relief efforts or work with military forces bring these experiences into peace processes and rebuilding their societies."

Women are woefully underrepresented at the highest levels of UN peace missions, King says, but the UN mission in Georgia, which now has women holding the top two positions, is an important exception.

The director of the UN Development Fund for Women, Noeleen Heyzer, told the council that her agency will soon issue a series of recommendations on the impact of armed conflict on women and women's role in peace building.

Heyzer says more information from and about women in conflict situations could help lead to better preventive actions. "We all know the forced exclusion of Afghan women from public space and the risks they took to provide schooling and medical care and how that came to symbolize the crisis in that country. But indicators of this kind are not monitored or even systematically collected."

Afghanistan is one of six UN peace operations -- Kosovo and Bosnia are two more -- with an assigned gender adviser. Women's advocates are urging the department of peacekeeping to uniformly deploy such advisers in all missions. Security Council members called for continued efforts to involve women in conflict resolution. Singapore's UN ambassador, Kishore Mahbubani, said the sluggish response to the council's resolution is probably to be expected because of the prevalence of male-dominated societies in parts of the world.

But Mahbubani called on UN members to recognize the change in the nature of conflict since the end of the Cold War and the fact that the vast majority of victims are women and children. A change in sensibilities and in action regarding the role of women can have a deep impact, he said. "This is not an abstract exercise. This is about real people in real-life situations whose lives can and will be improved by the debate we are having today."

The UN secretary-general's office says the study it plans to release in several weeks shows strong links between gender inequality, war economies, and criminal groups. It will show that the destruction of livelihoods in conflict and post-conflict situations put women and girls at high risk for trafficking.