Peacekeeping operations and women’s security

Book chapter

Olsson, Louise (2022) Peacekeeping operations and women’s security, in Handbook on Peacekeeping and International Relations. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd (242–255).

Publisher's webpage

Drawing on the broader critical debate on gender, women's security and peacekeeping, this chapter discusses three interrelated trends in systematic empiricist research: i) the participation-protection nexus, ii) protection of civilians from conflict-related sexual violence, and iii) the broader impact of war and peacekeeping dividends. The chapter thereby complements other studies which address participation in peacekeeping, sexual exploitation and abuse, and protection of civilians. The chapter concludes by discussing some ways forward for future research.

During the 1990s, a rising number of women's organizations from conflict areas pushed to have their security concerns acknowledged on more equal terms with men's security, in part captured in the mantra that "women's rights are human rights" (United Nations 1995; Olsson 2000; Davies and True 2019). In parallel, peacekeeping failures in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, situations which displayed high levels of both lethal violence and sexual violence deliberately targeting women, started to shake the foundations of an existing belief that violence against women was to be considered primarily as an unfortunate side-effect rather than an integral part of a conflict (Gizelis and Olsson 2015). As a result of the changes in both priority and understanding around women's security, conflicts with massive violence targeting women became more likely to see a peacekeeping operation deployed by the UN Security Council (Benson and Gizelis 2020). With the advent of UN Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (henceforth UNSCRs on WPS) in 2000, peacekeeping mandates increasingly became explicit in recognizing the impact of war on women and the role of their participation in the work for peace and security (e.g., Davies and True 2019). Since the 2008 adoption of UNSCR 1820, the second UNSCR on WPS, further progress on addressing women's security concerns has been made, in particular through explicitly mandating peacekeeping operations to contribute to protection by addressing conflict-related sexual violence (Kreft 2017; Moncrief and Wood 2020; Johansson 2020). That said, almost 30 years after the developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda underlined the necessity of explicitly including the improvement of women's security in peacekeeping responsibilities, this remains an underdeveloped dimension in many operations (Olsson and Muvumba Sellström et al. 2020). Research indicates two principal impediments to progress. First, for peacekeeping operations to effectively contribute to protection, there is a need to further nuance our understanding of women as political actors and their security concerns during war. In particular, there is a need to expand responsibilities on protection beyond that of preventing conflict-related sexual violence to incorporate security threats rooted in the complexity of how violence is used to restrain women’s agency, and threats that stem from the societal impacts of war, such as those related to health. Second, prioritized mandate assignments on protection need to be accompanied by an improved peacekeeping capacity. In fact, even though demands to adapt peacekeeping implementation processes to ensure that women obtain the same level of support and security from UN efforts as men have increased from the late 1990s onwards, capabilities remain limited (Olsson 2000; 2009; Karim and Beardsley 2017; Olsson and Muvumba Sellström et al. 2020). The three interrelated trends in systematic empiricist research discussed in this chapter addresses these impediments related to nuance, priority, and capability.

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