With 18 operations on four continents, United Nations peacekeepers are in greater demand than ever. As the U.N. recruits more officers to staff those operations, it is also trying to attract females, especially in countries where gender plays a central role in peacekeeping efforts.
UN increasing female peacekeepers
The U.N. deploys peacekeepers around the globe - in areas of conflict like Sudan and Lebanon - to sustain and support peaceful environments. There are currently more than 100,000 U.N. peacekeepers, but only 10 percent are women.
The U.N. is hoping to increase their numbers, not only to reach gender equity but also because female peacekeepers play a vital role in UN peacekeeping operations.
Comfort Lamptey is gender advisor to the peacekeeping department at U.N. headquarters in New York. "In places like Burundi, like Liberia, we have seen, through testimonies of local women, that the presence of female peacekeepers has actually helped galvanize the local women's own aspirations," Lamptey said. "Whether to participate in politics or to join the local police."
Research also showed that women are often at greatest risk in armed conflict, even if they are not central to the conflicts.
So in 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on gender in peacekeeping operations. Now, the U.N. is promoting the involvement of women in all its peacekeeping efforts.
At a ceremony honoring fallen peacekeepers at U.N. headquarters last week, Lieutenant Colonel Carmen Estrella highlighted the role of women peacekeepers in traditional cultures.
In some cultures, females prefer female officials
"Many women in these societies don't want to speak to men directly, so we help give them a voice, give them someone to listen to them, because a lot of times they feel very afraid of speaking with a male counterpart," Estrella said.
But female peacekeepers are not confined to conflict resolution.
"They are trained in the same way as their male counterparts, they are equally qualified as their male counterparts, and so female peacekeepers, whether they are civilians or military or police, are able to perform the exact tasks that their male counterparts can," Lamptey said.
Lamptey says Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria and India have so far contributed the greatest number of female "blue helmets." But she hopes other countries will soon answer the call.