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Gender officers in UN operations working to protect, promote women’s rights

Gender officers in UN operations working to protect, promote women’s rights

From helping to increase the number of women elected to public office to supporting their recruitment into national police forces, gender officers in United Nations peacekeeping operations are working tirelessly to ensure that women are fully involved and included in the development of their countries.

“Our Units work with peacekeeping mission to make sure that women’s voices are not lost in all the efforts we undertake to support post-conflict societies,” Comfort Lamptey, Gender Adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), said at a press briefing in New York.

Gender advisers and focal points from all UN peacekeeping missions met this week at Headquarters to tackle issues related to the specific needs of men and women in post-conflict situations.

Ms. Lamptey noted that one of the most important contributions of gender officers is to build on the opportunities presented in the post-conflict period “to engage women more actively in the reform and restructuring of security institutions, as well as institutions of governance and political participation.”

Addressing the Headquarters gathering earlier this week, the UN’s peacekeeping chief highlighted the vital role played by the participants in the countries in which they serve. Gender officers have “a unique opportunity to support women to pick up the pieces of their war-shattered lives, and to meaningfully embrace the opportunities that are presented for them to contribute to charting the future direction of their countries,” said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guéhenno.

In recent years, efforts have ranged from increasing the number of women elected to public office in countries like Burundi, Afghanistan and Liberia, as well as supporting the adoption of gender-sensitive laws to combat rape in Liberia. They also include assisting the national police in recruiting more women and helping to address gender-based violence.

Nadine Puechguirbal, who works with the Gender Unit in the UN Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, noted that her office had been supporting and promoting local efforts to hire more female officers in the national police force.

The initiative had proven “quite successful,” she said, pointing out that today women constituted 10 per cent of the Haitian National Police. That is “quite high” when compared to the amount of women serving in the UN contingent in the country, which is about 4 per cent.

Therefore, the UN must “lead by example,” stressed Ms. Puechguirbal, who is also helping set up the Gender Unit in the world body’s new mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). “If we want to promote the involvement of women in the national police, we would also need to have more women in our own ranks.”

Efforts by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to support the recruitment of women into that country’s national police force received a boost with the arrival of an all-female Indian police unit – a first for UN peacekeeping – in January 2007.

James Mugo Muruthi of UNMIL’s Gender Unit said today that shortly after the Indian unit was deployed, the number of female applicants to the national police force rose from 100 to 350.

Increasing women’s participation in political life is another crucial task of the Gender Units, as pointed out by Asseta Ouedraogo, Gender Adviser for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The upcoming local elections in the vast African nation are one of the “challenging priorities” for the Mission, known by its French acronym MONUC.

She said the Unit was working with Congolese women to prepare for the ballot, especially since women were routinely prevented from occupying positions of power, adding “this is in no way an easy task.”