Gender Continues to be Overlooked by UN Peacekeeping

By Louise Allen

Over the last several months, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security has raised the alarm regarding the disproportionate cuts to gender functions in peacekeeping missions as part of broader budget cuts to peacekeeping operations. This has resulted in the downgrading of gender posts in Central African Republic, Haiti and Liberia, and the senior gender adviser post in Mali remaining unfilled. Unfortunately, last week brought more bad news on this front, specifically in the context of the peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and South Sudan. These latest updates go beyond cost saving rationales, suggest UN leaders are de-prioritizing gender as being non-essential in peacekeeping operations and by doing so are contravening their mandated Security Council obligations. This indicates a significant lack of political will among UN leadership to implement the women, peace and security agenda.

Last week we heard the teams responsible for facilitating strategic assessments in Cyprus and South Sudan would not be deployed with gender experts. No justification was given for the gender experts being dropped from the review teams while all other components of the missions were being represented in the review team. For both cases, gender is the only function not being represented.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is mandated by Security Council resolution 2242 (2015) to deploy gender expertise in strategic assessment teams as well as all stages of a mission, from planning to implementation. In addition, in 2015 the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations chaired by former President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, concluded that there is an uneven commitment to the women, peace and security agenda at the most senior levels of the UN and within the ranks of all mission personnel, both civilian and uniformed, and at Headquarters. The peace operations report called for gender expertise be integrated into all mission components and for gender-sensitive analysis to be conducted throughout the mission planning, mandate development, implementation, review and mission drawdown processes.

Strategic assessments are critical mechanisms in the cycle of mission planning which serve to evaluate the current mandate and determine staffing levels and operational priorities to ensure mission effectiveness. The reviews importantly inform the UN and Security Council ahead of the mandate renewal.

In South Sudan, the peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) is mandated by the Security Council to consider gender as a cross-cutting issue and to provide the Security Council with “enhanced reporting” on the implementation of women, peace and security provisions as well as to provide additional information specifically on sexual and gender-based violence. The strategic assessment will be taking place against a backdrop of aggravated sexual violence ‘on a massive scale’ and warnings from South Sudanese women civil society leaders that the security threats facing women remain extreme and that they continue to face challenges to be heard even in government institutions.

Without dedicated gender expertise in the strategic assessment mission, there is a strong possibility that gender analysis will not be integrated into these important review processes, and then gender and the importance of accounting for the rights and concerns of women and girls risk being completely overlooked in how future missions are prioritized, calibrated and resourced. The exclusion of gender from strategic assessment reviews cannot be allowed to become a precedent.

The news on the Cyprus and South Sudan missions comes less than a week before Member States, the UN System and civil society commemorate the 17th anniversary of the women, peace and security agenda and the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) at this Friday’s Security Council Open Debate. On Monday, 16 October we released an open letter to Member States which stated, on behalf of 391 civil society organizations from 98 countries, that it is not enough for Member States to express support for the women, peace and security agenda and then overlook the exclusion or sidelining of women from political and security processes; fail to denounce national developments which undermine the status of women and their rights; or allow gender-related provisions to be cut from mandates and budgets.

We are calling on Member States to not only include strong messages promoting gender equality and women’s organizations in their statements, but also directly call on DPKO to ensure the gender functions across peacekeeping missions are appropriately resourced and provided with the necessary political support so that they can continue carrying out their important gender mainstreaming duties as is mandated by the UN Security Council. Obligations laid out in Security Council resolutions must be upheld and we call on all partners to urgently address the weakening of gender expertise and undermining of the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.