Dr Gerard De Groot, a Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and the author of The Bomb: A Life, has been a key contributor to gender and peacekeeping. In his lecture on “Wanted: A good few women: Gender and peacekeeping in the 21st century” on the 16th of February, he made the audience realise that peace is not always accomplished through peaceful means using the examples of Iraq and Somalia where peacekeeping troops have been sent to establish and maintain peace, but who have instead reinforced violence through torture and brutality. The problem to continuous violence, increasing human trafficking, prostitution and spread of disease within conflict torn countries, De Groot argues, is due to the lack of women in peacekeeping forces.
When you hear the term peacekeeping, what do you imagine? Friendly blue helmet troops supporting the local community and building up an infrastructure, ensuring the implementation of cease-fire, promoting human security and strengthening the rule of law, or soldiers raping innocent women and torturing boys and men? We may regard peacekeeping troops as positive, but for the civilians of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Cambodia peacekeeping troops have cast a dark shadow on the developments of peace. In Cambodia, alone the arrival of peacekeepers has increased the number of prostitutes from 6000 to 20000 in order to serve their needs. There has been a “vocation of morality” according to De Groot, as women who would have never considered prostitution were forced into this ‘flourishing’ industry. Additionally, due to increasing numbers in AIDS, children have become targets of sex trade and prostitution as they are regarded as HIV free.
This behaviour does not represent the actual goals of the UN with regards to establishing peace and their peacekeeping missions are jeopardizing. These actions have been justified by the claim that “boys will always be boys.” However, this should not be an excuse for soldiers to rape women and girls or torture men who have just escaped conflict and violence. Peacekeeping needs to get a new image, it needs to act out its meaning and start spreading peace, not casting dark shadows over its mission. De Groot points out that even though peacekeeping can only be acted out by soldiers, it is too important to be undertaken by soldiers. He therefore emphasises the importance of women in peacekeeping troops as they are better placed to carry out peacekeeping tasks. With the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, which was implemented in 2000, the UN has agreed to incorporate gender perspectives into peacekeeping.
It is necessary to acknowledge the important role of women and no longer simply label them as victims. Such dehumanising further increases their vulnerability and allows them to be treated as worthless objects of war or more bluntly as ‘rubbish.’ In fact, in many conflict torn countries such as Rwanda, Somalia and Cambodia women are the ‘glue that is holding society together.’ Even though there have been women organised groups for reconciliation, these efforts have often been ignored,. This is due to the UN constitution being controlled by male mentality where “men talk to men and excuse other men for the violence acted out in their community.”
What is the solution? According to De Groot, there needs to be an increasing involvement of women in the hope for lasting peace. We need to understand that women can improve peacekeeping because they are not men, but in order to do this we need to allow women to have a voice first. Even though there are all women police units such as in India and Liberia, the majority of peacekeeping is still acted out by male soldiers. In order to move ahead we need gender equality which will promote peace and allow for more successful peacekeeping missions.