The Importance of Meaningful Participation of Female Peacekeepers

By Eric Rudberg

Female participation in both conflict prevention and conflict resolution enhances security interests. Studies have found that a significant inclusion of women and civil society groups in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years.[1]  Evidence has repeatedly illustrated that full and meaningful participation of women in peace operations broadens the perspective on conflict management, allows for more inclusive political resolutions, and, in the end, improves international peacebuilding strategies. It has also been shown that there is a direct correlation between the meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping and the performance and effectiveness of peacekeeping units.[2] This participation of uniformed women peacekeepers can be divided between the police component, justice and correction, and, finally, the military.  Of the three, this paper will exclusively examine the military component in depth.  It will explore the importance of meaningful participation of female peacekeepers as well as examine the current status of military women in peacekeeping operations. 

Importance of Meaningful Participation of Female Peacekeepers

The increase of women’s participation in global peacekeeping operations has been shown to improve the effectiveness and stability of a mission. Missions with more women personnel are more likely to achieve their mandate and bring sustainable peace.[3]  However, evidence strongly shows that it is the “meaningful” participation of women and not just numbers that matters. The Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations defines meaningful participation as “the presence and leadership of women in UN peace operations, across all ranks and functions.”  According to the Elsie Initiative, women can participate meaningfully “when they contribute to, and are included in, all aspects of operational and mission planning, and decision-making processes…[and] when they hold operational command and leadership positions, and non-traditional as well as non-stereotypical roles.” Additionally, women can participate meaningfully “when they have access to the same training, promotion and career advancement opportunities as their colleagues who are men;…when they hold positions that are in line with their training, rank and area of expertise; and when their workplace is free from all forms of harassment, bullying and intimidation.”[4]

Meaningful participation of female peacekeepers improves the operation and performance of a peacekeeping force. They enhance the overall holistic approach in today’s peacekeeping operations by contributing an additional perspective to the planning and key decision-making process, especially those affecting civilians, particularly women and girls.[5] A diversity of backgrounds and experiences has been proven to enhance a unit’s performance and ability to solve problems. This female perspective enables the peacekeeping operation to successfully address the needs of the entire civilian population it is there to serve.[6]  Female peacekeepers also bring a unique set of tactical skills that their male counterparts often do not possess, including the ability to physically screen/search females.[7]  Knowing that peacekeepers are supposed to abide by the cultural sensitivity of not having males searching females, it is not uncommon for spoilers, also known as the opposing force, to have females carry illicit items under their clothing since the females will probably not be screened and searched.

Women peacekeepers’ access to the local population is particularly valuable when there are cultural restrictions around interaction across gender lines and in venues that are closed to men.[8] Reflecting on her service in Afghanistan, Major General Kristin Lund pointed out that, “being a female, from my recent deployment in Afghanistan, I had access to 100% of the population, not only 50%.”[9] Locals often feel more comfortable liaising and sharing information with military troops that include women peacekeepers, giving them better situational awareness of the environment they are operating in.[10] The ability to gain the trust of local populations is a vital component of any peacekeeping operation.[11] It results in good intelligence and a reduction in violence in the communities that peacekeepers seek to protect.[12]

Female peacekeepers often cultivate trust and confidence with local communities which in turn encourages these populations to work with the peacekeeping force by reporting a variety of crimes, in particular, sexual violence. Major General Lund explains, “if a woman has been gang-raped by men, she will most likely approach a woman in uniform rather than a man. And men that are raped will, I think, also approach a woman soldier rather than a man.”[13] Women’s participation is also connected with fewer misconduct complaints lodged against the peacekeeping force since these women are perceived as being more effective at de-escalating potential violence and are less threatening.[14] Finally, the inclusion of female peacekeepers has been associated with fewer allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by the peacekeeping force.[15] Studies have found that an increase in the proportion of women from zero to five percent reduces the expected count of sexual allegations by half.[16]

Current Status of Women in Peacekeeping Operations

Despite evidence that the meaningful participation of women in the military contingent of  peacekeeping operations is both the right and smart thing to do, they are routinely underrepresented. For example, led by the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, there are currently twelve peacekeeping missions deployed worldwide to help countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.[17] According to the Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender spreadsheet for October 2022, out of 63,310 strictly military peacekeeping troops deployed to these twelve missions, only 3,789 are female, or roughly 6.0%.[18] However, this percentage has very slowly been increasing throughout the years.  In 1993, women comprised less than 1% of the uniformed personnel deployed.[19] In 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2242 encouraged the Secretary-General, in collaboration with member states, to “double the numbers of women in military and police contingents of UN peacekeeping operations over the next five years.”[20]  Regardless of this call to action, there has not been a significant increase in female participation since the end of 2009.[21] In 2018, UN member states adopted the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028, which set the goal of 15% for female participation in the military contingent by 2028.[22] It also established annual targets for the Secretariat to accomplish this lofty goal. The target for 2022 was 9% but fell short by 1,909 female peacekeepers.[23]

Nevertheless, some countries have managed to deploy significantly higher percentages of female peacekeepers.  As of October 2022, of the fifteen countries that deploy over 1,000 troops to peacekeeping operations, South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, and the United Republic of Tanzania exceeded the UN’s contribution target (9%) for the percentage of women deployed.  Additionally, multiple countries that deploy fewer troops have done better. Nigeria, for example, has 21.5% of women in their peacekeeping forces (14/65) and Estonia is at 100% (1/1). On the opposite end of the spectrum is India, which only deploys 51 women on their missions (0.9%), despite being the second largest troop-contributing country in the world, with 5,548 troops deployed.[24] As of October 2022, the top three UN peacekeeping missions with the highest number of female troops are the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) with 781, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) with 776, and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with 746.  In spite of those large numbers, relative to the proportion of the total force, female troops only made up 6.4% of MINUSCA, 5.9% of UNMISS, and 6.0% of MONUSCO. The top three missions with the highest proportion of female troops are the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) at 40.0% (8/20), the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) at 8.9% (66/740), and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at 7.3% (692/9490).[25]

Although the number of female peacekeepers and the proportion of the military contingent made up of women is slowly increasing, this does not mean that meaningful participation of women is rising in UN peacekeeping missions. Often, women peacekeepers who do serve are limited to stereotypical roles such as nursing, community engagement, administration, and domestic services, which include such tasks as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, irrespective of their skills and experience.[26] Missions with a higher percentage of combat-related forces tend to have the lowest percentages of women, in part because of a reluctance to send female peacekeepers to dangerous areas of conflict, where there are higher levels of sexual exploitation and abuse or higher numbers of peacekeeping deaths. The belief that women cannot protect themselves is still prevalent among peacekeeping forces today.[27]

  This tendency results in women peacekeepers being underutilized since they rarely conduct patrols or interact with locals, especially with the women and children in the community.  Even though their numbers and proportions are expanding, women might not be deploying to missions evenly or where they might be most needed. Consequently, these operations lack added benefits and the potential impact that meaningful participation of females brings to a mission.[28] Ambassador Melanne Verveer bluntly explained, “Inclusion is not enough for meaningful participation, which is what matters in the end.”[29]

There are numerous barriers and challenges women must overcome in order to participate in peace operations. Females experience similar stigmas and taboos throughout their military careers regardless of their rank, nationality, or background. These stigmas and taboos create challenges at the individual and community level, within women’s national defense structures, and within UN peace operations.[30] In July 2018, the Elsie Initiative published a baseline study which was the first attempt to systematically gather, analyze, and categorize the barriers female soldiers face in their pursuit of deploying on peacekeeping operations. Fourteen different barriers that can prevent women from deploying on peacekeeping operations were identified and organized into six main categories: equal access to opportunities, deployment criteria, the working environment, family constraints, equal treatment during deployment, and career-advancement opportunities.[31] Since the baseline study was published, further research has reduced and combined these fourteen barriers into ten: eligible pool, deployment selection, deployment criteria, household constraints, top-down leadership, inadequate accommodation and equipment, negative experiences, disincentives to redeploy, stereotypical gender roles, and social exclusion.[32]  Many of these barriers address cultural challenges women face in their home countries, both in society and within the military itself. Studies show that when a troop-contributing country has a better record of gender equality, it is more likely to send female peacekeepers. In other words, when a country strives to gender mainstream its own national military, it is more likely to send women to a peacekeeping mission, which, therefore, improves the gender balancing in said mission.[33] Ghana is an example of this since it was among one of the few countries globally to have started enlisting females as far back as 1958, barely a year into its independence. It is also given credit for having trained the first female officer pilots in the sub-region in 1965.[34] Thus, it is not surprising that Ghana’s contributing percentage for female peacekeepers in October 2022 was 14.1%.[35]

On October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 to address women, peace, and security. This groundbreaking resolution highlighted a shift in UN policy to engage more females in peacekeeping operations.[36] It stressed “the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”[37] In the two decades since Resolution 1325, the UN has continued to adopt numerous other resolutions and initiatives aimed to address the underrepresentation of women in UN peace operations. This includes both the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028 and Resolution 2242, which, among other things, encourages troop-contributing countries to hit targeted female participation percentages. Also, in August of 2018, 152 member states of the UN committed to “ensuring full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of the peace process” and “recommit[ted] to increasing the number of civilian and uniformed women in peacekeeping at all levels and in key positions” in their Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN

Peacekeeping Operation as part of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative.[38] This initiative was a call by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for a renewed collective engagement with UN peacekeeping and to mutually commit to reaching for excellence for all those involved.[39] Most recently, in August 2020, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2538 which unequivocally recognizes “the indispensable role of women in increasing the overall performance and effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.”[40] It also offers clear direction on how member states can increase the deployment of female peacekeepers. Finally, it supports the need to ensure that the working culture is gender-sensitive for women, and addresses threats and violence against them.[41] Despite all of these efforts, female military troops continue to be a rarity in UN peacekeeping operations. 


The meaningful participation of women is not only an extremely important issue for peacekeeping but also for gender equality. The benefit they bring to a mission can be the difference between success and failure. Because of this advantage, everything possible must be done to ensure that women are an integral part of every peacekeeping operations.  It is inspiring to imagine how the world will be once this is accomplished. The UN, along with all its member states, must continue to strive for this goal.

The opinions expressed here are solely the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates

After graduating from the United States Military Academy, Eric served as an Army infantry officer, which included two combat tours in Iraq. Wanting to share the hard lessons he had learned, once out of the Army, he began to train and mentor future peacekeepers across Africa through the State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). He then returned to academia and earned both a master’s in Security Policy Studies and a graduate certificate in Global Gender Policy from The George Washington University.  He now serves as the Finance and Operations Analysis for the African Team within GPOI where he works on increasing the meaningful participation of females in peacekeeping operations. 


United Nations Peacekeeping. “Action for Peacekeeping (A4P).” Accessed February 9, 2023.

Bigio, Jamille, and Rachel B. Vogelstein. “CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum Advocates for More Female Peacekeepers.” Council on Foreign Relations (blog), September 27, 2018.

———. “How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests.” Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2016.

———. “Increasing Female Participation in Peacekeeping Operations.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 26, 2018.

Brabant, Solene. “Assessing Barriers and Opportunities for Women’s Participation in Peacekeeping.” A Propos 162 (September 2019): 15–16.

Candela, Kacie. “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers: A Status Report.” PassBlue, August 7, 2018.

“Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.” United Nations Peacekeeping, 31 October 22.

Coulouris, Renee. “Why We Need More Women in Peacekeeping.” Foreign Policy Rising (blog), March 27, 2019.

“Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations,” August 16, 2018.

Government of Canada. “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations,” February 21, 2017.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Female Military.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

Gentry, Caron E., Laura J. Shepherd, and Laura Sjoberg, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

Ghana Web. “Ghana Attains UN Target of Women Deployment in Peacekeeping Missions,” October 13, 2020.

Ghittoni, Marta, Léa Lehouck, and Callum Watson. “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations: Baseline Study.” Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, July 2018.

Ivanovic, Alexandria. “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.” United Nations University, July 9, 2014.

Kenny, Charles. “The Elsie Fund: Good News for UN Peacekeeping.” Center For Global Development (blog), March 28, 2019.

———. “Wanted: More Women Peacekeepers.” Center For Global Development (blog), October 11, 2016.

Moditsi, Kleopatra, and Aditi Gorur. “Overcoming Hurdles for Women Peacekeepers in the Field.” Stimson Center (blog), May 29, 2020.

Security Women. “New Security Council Resolution on Women and Peacekeeping Announced,” September 7, 2020.

Phillimore, Arabella. “We Need More Female Peacekeepers in War Zones.” Financial Times, October 16, 2019.

Pulliam, Jennifer. “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace – and a U.S. Priority.” DipNote: Military and Security (blog), May 29, 2020.̶-and-a-u-s-priority/.

“Reducing Barriers for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: DCAF’s Contribution to the Elsie Initiative.” Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance. Accessed February 9, 2023.

“Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 31, 2000.

“Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 13, 2015.

“Security Council Resolution 2538 (2020).” New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, August 28, 2020.

Torres, Daniel de. “The UN Wants to Deploy More Women in Peacekeeping, so Why Are There so Few?” Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (blog), September 10, 2018. /un-wants-deploy-more-women-peacekeeping-so-why-are-there-so-few.

“Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028.” New York: Department of Peace Operations, January 2019.

Vermeij, Lotte. “Addressing Taboos and Stigmas Military Women in UN Peace Operations Experience.” IPI Global Observatory (blog), February 9, 2023.

Verveer, Melanne. “Championing Gender – Sensitive Security Sector Reform.” Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, October 13, 2020.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Where We Operate.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Women in Peacekeeping.” Accessed February 9, 2023.

“Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance.” United Nations Peacekeeping, October 2022.

[1] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Advances U.S. Interests” (Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2016), 1, .pdf.

[2] Jennifer Pulliam, “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace – and a U.S. Priority,” DipNote: Military and Security (blog), May 29, 2020,̶-and-a-u-s-priority/.

[3] Charles Kenny, “The Elsie Fund: Good News for UN Peacekeeping,” Center For Global Development (blog), March 28, 2019,

[4] “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations,” Government of Canada, February 21, 2017,

[5] “Female Military,” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[6] Renee Coulouris, “Why We Need More Women in Peacekeeping,” Foreign Policy Rising (blog), March 27, 2019,

[7] “Female Military.”

[8] Kacie Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers: A Status Report,” PassBlue, August 7, 2018,

[9] Alexandria Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers” (United Nations University, July 9, 2014), 11 “Female Military.”

[10] “Female Military.”

[11] Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.”

[12] Arabella Phillimore, “We Need More Female Peacekeepers in War Zones,” Financial Times, October 16, 2019,

[13] Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers.”

[14] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “Increasing Female Participation in Peacekeeping Operations,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 26, 2018,

[15] Jamille Bigio and Rachel B. Vogelstein, “CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum Advocates for More Female Peacekeepers,” Council on Foreign Relations (blog), September 27, 2018,

[16] Charles Kenny, “Wanted: More Women Peacekeepers,” Center For Global Development (blog), October 11, 2016,

[17] “Where We Operate,” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[18] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender” (United Nations Peacekeeping, 31 Oct 22),

[19] Kleopatra Moditsi and Aditi Gorur, “Overcoming Hurdles for Women Peacekeepers in the Field,” Stimson Center (blog), May 29, 2020,

[20] “Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 13, 2015), 5,

[21] Daniel de Torres, “The UN Wants to Deploy More Women in Peacekeeping, so Why Are There so Few?,” Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (blog), September 10, 2018, /un-wants-deploy-more-women-peacekeepingso-why-are-there-so-few.

[22] “Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028” (New York: Department of Peace Operations, January 2019), 4,

[23] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.”

[24] “Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance” (United Nations Peacekeeping, October 2022), 4–5,

[25] “Contribution of Uniformed Personnel to UN by Mission, Personnel Type, and Gender.”

[26] “Reducing Barriers for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: DCAF’s Contribution to the Elsie Initiative” (Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance), 5, accessed February 9, 2023,

[27] Candela, “Women’s Roles as UN Peacekeepers.”

[28] Caron E. Gentry, Laura J. Shepherd, and Laura Sjoberg, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security (London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019), 342.

[29] Melanne Verveer, “Championing Gender – Sensitive Security Sector Reform” (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, October 13, 2020),

[30] Lotte Vermeij, “Addressing Taboos and Stigmas Military Women in UN Peace Operations Experience,” IPI Global Observatory (blog), February 9, 2023,

[31] Marta Ghittoni, Léa Lehouck, and Callum Watson, “Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations: Baseline Study” (Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, July 2018), 47,

[32] Solene Brabant, “Assessing Barriers and Opportunities for Women’s Participation in Peacekeeping,” A Propos 162 (September 2019): 16, .

[33] Gentry, Shepherd, and Sjoberg, The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Security, 342.

[34] “Ghana Attains UN Target of Women Deployment in Peacekeeping Missions,” Ghana Web, October 13, 2020,

[35] “Women Peacekeepers: Gender Imbalance,” 4.

[36] Ivanovic, “Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers.”

[37] “Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, October 31, 2000), 1,

[38] “Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations,” August 16, 2018, 1,

[39] “Action for Peacekeeping (A4P),” United Nations Peacekeeping, accessed February 9, 2023,

[40] “Security Council Resolution 2538 (2020)” (New York, NY: United Nations Security Council, August 28, 2020), 1,

[41] “New Security Council Resolution on Women and Peacekeeping Announced,” Security Women, September 7, 2020,

By Velomahanina T. Razakamaharavo, Luisa Ryan, and Leah Sherwood

United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 expressed a global commitment to the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Many policy statements and guidance

on gender mainstreaming have followed in the 17 years since UNSCR 1325’s passage, yet peace operations on the ground appear little affected. They continue to overlook the many roles women play in conflict and conflict resolution, fail to engage fully with women’s organizations, and fail to include women fighters in reintegration and security sector reform programs.1 They even perpetrate exploitation: Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) continues to be widespread within peace missions themselves, despite increased SEA and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) training for operation forces.2 Further, peace operations have failed to address the more inclusive Gender, Peace and Security (GPS) agenda and the broader role gender plays in conflict dynamics. For example, while missions may seek to address the effects of conflict-related sexual violence on women and girls, they may miss similar impacts for male victims and their families.3

Improved gender training could help ameliorate this mismatch between policy rhetoric and practice. This policybrief outlines current gender training practice, identifies gaps, and recommends ways to strengthen training in order to help peace operations personnel better understand how to apply a gender lens in their missions.

Current Training Practice

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) impacts on women and girls and the need to engage local women as agents of change, and its efforts subsequently turned to influencing gender attitudes among peacekeepers themselves.4 Training remains one of the best mechanisms available to DPKO and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to mainstream gender perspectives in peace operations.

DPKO reiterated its commitment to gender in 2010 by issuing guidance highlighting the importance of UNSCR 1325 and gender training.5 In 2014, DPKO and DFS followed up with Gender Forward Looking Strategy (2014–2018).6 The UN is attempting to integrate gender into DPKO core business areas, such as security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), as well as promoting an understanding of gender among the civilian, police, and military peacekeeping forces.

Despite departmental cooperation on these initiatives, gender mainstreaming in peace operations rarely rises above an “add women and stir” approach. Nor does it extend to men and boys. And its inability to curb sexual abuses and other practices inconsistent with UN ethics and directives threatens to undermine the WPS/GPS agenda altogether. To be able to identify inefficiencies in, or problems related to, gender training in peacekeeping operations, it is necessary to understand the UN gender peacekeeping training cogwheel. This cogwheel is composed of interrelated, intertwined, complementary processes and mechanisms. Figure 1 illustrates the levels at which action for better, more integrated training ought to be directed.

aims to promote and advance gender equality through its policies on gender mainstreaming. DPKO initially sought to raise peacekeepers’ awareness of conflict-related

Figure 1: The cogwheel of UN gender peacekeeping training                                                materials is up to their training institutions and

therefore may vary widely. These institutions may also design and implement their own training modules.

Other training packages delivered inmission may also include gender elements. Missionwide sessions on civilian protection and on conduct and discipline regularly touch on gender issues. For instance, new civilian recruits must complete web-based modules on sexual harassment and SEA, which falls under the purview of conduct and discipline but also has a gender dimension due to associated power dynamics, gender roles, and gender-based violence. However, Civil Affairs, which may be responsible for civilian protection, and Conduct and Discipline, which incorporates gender elements, largely operate independently. These areas in reality significantly overlap. Yet they are

Different recipients receive gender training at different phases of deployment. Civilian staff receive standardized predeployment training via online modules and through induction that takes place in person over several days. Uniformed peacekeepers receive gender training within predeployment packages provided by their home country. Additional induction is generally provided after arrival in-mission, although the time dedicated to gender and the content may vary widely. Specialized, ad hoc training may also be provided on an “as needed” basis on, for example, gender issues and protection of civilians. As most training occurs predeployment or in-mission, headquarters staff may only receive training on an ad hoc basis.7 Finally, all members of mission leadership teams receive preselection, predeployment, and induction on gender. DPKO offers a specific course for emerging leaders, preparing them to be senior staff, which includes a gender component. However, as demonstrated by the continuing challenges in mainstreaming gender across missions, the current training is not having the desired impact.

The training that in-coming police or military officers receive depends on their country of origin. The only training DPKO HQ is responsible for is the gender component of the Core Predeployment Training Materials (CPTM).8 It covers issues such as the differences between women and men (gender versus sex), the differentiated impacts of conflict on women and girls, the importance of the WPS/GPS agenda, the Women in Peacekeeping Legal Framework, gender equality, and other conceptual issues. These materials are available to member states, troop contributing countries (TCCs), police contributing countries (PCCs), gender units working for the missions, or any entity providing training to peacekeepers. However, how these units and states choose to use the compartmentalized in training, when they

ought to be addressed at multiple levels through cross-cutting and intersectional lenses. Integrated training can help solve this problem.

Key Challenges

There are numerous challenges associated with gender training in peace operations. Table 1 offers an overview of the nature of these challenges. First, it categorizes the root causes of poor gender training outcomes. Second, it breaks gender training down into the main stages it is offered: before and during. Lastly, the table shows challenges at training design, trainer and recipient selection, and training administration. The table shows where challenges cluster and reveals opportunity for change by identifying possible synergies. The conceptual approach taken is an adaptation of conflict diagnostic approaches commonly used in the peacebuilding field.9

Predeployment Gender Training

There are four main challenges for training at the predeployment stage: compliance, relevance, quality, and access.

First, although UN-developed gender training material is provided to them, its use by TCCs and PCCs during predeployment training is voluntary. Though the DPKO has declared gender training mandatory for member states, it has no authority to enforce compliance. As a result, the quality and comprehensiveness of the training varies widely, and personnel enter UNPKO service with differing levels of gender knowledge and exposure to the WPS/GPS agenda.10

Second, TCCs and PCCs bring their own varied cultural interpretations of gender to their missions. In some cases, contributing countries may not prioritize gender issues within their domestic military and police establishments. In this environment, the trainer’s and the recipient’s existing opinions and practices related to gender relations may therefore go largely unchallenged.

Third, there is room for improvement in the quality of gender training content. For both civilians and uniformed personnel, the predeployment gender module’s generalized nature makes it a poor-quality tool for recipients. Gender training is short and presented in passive learning environments, neither of which is conducive to developing understanding of complex ideas.

Finally, the training given to existing leadership or emerging leaders before deployment is not gender training per se; it is leadership training with a gender component. This difference is subtle but significant because gender training ought to generate comprehension of the WPS/GPS agenda. In practice, leadership training tends to outline UNSCR 1325 and provide checklists to implement it. Largely generic, nonmission-specific training on gender does not support mission leadership of gender mainstreaming or present a gender lens for understanding the conflict to which they are deployed. In addition, UN volunteers (nationally and internationally engaged) and national staff, who are vital to peace operations, often are overlooked in predeployment training.

In-Mission Gender Training

In-mission training challenges are present in training design, provision, accountability, and prioritization.

The limited capacity for gender training means that it often does not extend beyond the generic level. A lack of facilitators ensures that brief, superficial, siloed gender training will continue.11 Additionally, the staff who are available for designing and delivering training have varying degrees of expertise in gender issues and teaching skills. The difficulty

Table 1. Gender Training Problems: (Q) (I) (P) (T) (C) 
Predeployment(Q), (C)(I), (Q), (C), (P)(Q), (C), (P)(Q), (I), (C), (T)
In-mission(Q), (T), (C), (P)(I), (Q), (P), (T)(Q), (C), (P)(Q), (T), (I), (P)
Categories: (Q) Quality Varied level of excellence, consistency, and fragmentation (of units, departments, and trainers) (P) People Mission leadership teams, gender advisors, future leaders (T) Time Physical time to complete task within budget and with resources allotted (C) Cultural Biases, lack of information and awareness, stereotypes, prejudices (I)              Institutional HQ, UN 

in translating concepts like gender into practical training was identified by the Integrated Training Service (ITS), which is responsible for periodic needs assessments to identify training required to implement UNSCR mandates, including UNSCR 1325. ITS’s 2013 report identified gender training as a priority, stating that more “understanding [is needed]of how to integrate cross-cutting issues like gender into work” and that gender concepts need to bebroken down into components so individual staff members understand the meaning of protection of civilians and how it relates to his or her job function.”12

The development of training materials and training itself have to compete with enormous workload demands that many staff face in-mission in difficult contexts. Uniformed staff may be deployed for only six-month periods, so there is limited time to learn new ways of analyzing social contexts and turnover is incredibly high. Yet gender training recipients need time to internalize and apply concepts. The 30- to 60-minute induction sessions are inadequate, for example, to explain that gender is not synonymous with “women’s issues.” It is also not enough time to internalize how to apply the gender lens, especially when other messaging, such as acknowledging that male staff may engage sex workers, contradicts it. As personnel arrive in-mission with varying levels of knowledge, effective gender training in-mission is essential.

Mission Leadership Teams (MLTs) have myriad competing demands to contend with, and gender issues may not seem to be the most pressing. Especially in ongoing conflicts, stopping active fighting and bringing the main parties to the negotiation table understandably are likely to receive highest priority. A comprehensive understanding of gender as an analytical tool has progressed but slowly, further hampered by those who perceive it as a development issue that can be taken up once the immediate crisis has passed.

However, a gender lens strengthens and complements the traditional security lens, by ensuring, for example, that women participate in peace processes or that appropriate provision is made for understanding how the conflict may be affecting women/girls and men/boys differently. Fostering an understanding of gender and the use of gender as a lens for analyzing unfolding conflicts would help UN peacekeeping staff identify vulnerabilities and opportunities in conflict and postconflict contexts. Highly specialized, contextspecific training should be provided to the MLT so they can incorporate gender into their own management strategies and ensure that gender training is a mission priority. In the context of recent cuts to mission budgets for dedicated gender activities and staff, this is particularly important.

Ways Forward

  1. General recommendations to improve UNPKO gender training:
    1. Gender training must be more responsive to the educational background, experience, and cultural backgrounds of recipients but also better reflect the cultural sensitivities of countries where the missions operate. Although gender training must meet requirements set by the UN, it should be presented in culturally relevant ways.
    1. Experiential learning ought to be applied in gender training. The use of scenarios, role-plays, and opportunities for discussion and debate will foster applicable, practical understandings of gender. It is vital to leverage new tools and pedagogy to convey concepts in digestible and useful ways. A Behavior Change Communication (BCC) approach could strengthen internalization of the GPS framework among UN staff.13 BCC envisages social change and individual change as two sides of the same coin.14 A BCC approach can support gender training as it focuses on the implementation of advocacy programs, communication techniques, and similar areas of best practice. Modifying recipients’ behavior is also a goal of gender training, so linking them could be helpful.
    1. Opportunities for those leading gender training in-mission to participate in academic conferences and other settings should be encouraged so that trainers stay abreast of the latest thinking on applying gender in conflict and postconflict contexts.
    1. Training must also address the experiences of men and boys so that gender is more robustly understood and not confined to “women’s issues.”
    1. The WPS/GPS agenda must be translated into accessible, practical knowledge that highlights its importance. Much of current training is conceptual.
  2. Recommendations to improve in-mission gender training:
    1. Context-specific gender training should be developed that encompasses gender dynamics in the host country, gendered aspects of the conflict, and how to apply an analytical lens to appropriate, real scenarios.
    1. The silos that surround UN units for the protection of civilians and conduct and discipline should be broken down during training to emphasize gender’s cross-sectional nature. While civilian protection training should be conducted by content experts, gender teams could contribute to discussions on the utility of a gender lens when assessing threats to civilians or opportunities for peacebuilding, for instance.
    1. Targeted training should be developed for all categories of actors and should be cross-cutting, covering all aspects of gender (e.g., SEA, gender equality,


  • Military and civilian training should be combined so that both share an understanding of challenges and opportunities related to gender across the spectrum of mission activities.
    • Training evaluation should be central to the UN, member states, and training institutions.15 Such evaluation will help determine training effectiveness but also identify opportunities to strengthen training and determine best practice.
    • Senior mission leadership, and the MLT in particular, should be given context-specific gender briefs before deployment. These briefs should be interactive and generate actionable plans on how to integrate a gender perspective into their team’s workstream.

Gender is a vital analytical tool for UN peacekeepers. Broader, more adept employment of a gender lens would contribute to better understanding of conflict dynamics in their areas of operation. It would enable them to identify vulnerabilities and challenges in early warning, protection of civilians, and peacebuilding. Currently, gender is still underused and poorly understood in missions, where personnel may see it is a lesser priority in the face of active conflict or as a development issue that other UN agencies and partners can take up at a later date. More effective training can deepen peacekeepers’ understanding of gender and how to use it as a tool in their everyday work. This brief has recommended improvements to gender training at the staff level and at the mission leadership level in order to ensure that a gender lens becomes an entrenched, critical element of the peacekeeping skill set.


  1. Robert Muggah, Security and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Dealing with Fighters in the Aftermath of War (London/New York: Routledge, 2008).
  2. Stephen Moncrief, “Military Socialization, Disciplinary Culture, and Sexual Violence in UN Peacekeeping Operations,” Journal of Peace Research 54, no. 5 (2017), pp. 715–30.
  3. Élise Féron, “Support Programs for Male Survivors of Conflict-

Related Sexual Violence,” in Ronald E. Anderson, ed., Alleviating World Suffering: The Challenge of Negative Quality of Life (Cham: Springer, 2017), pp. 335–47.

  • Comfort Lamptey, “Gender Training in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” Gender and Peacebuilding in Africa Occasional Papers, no. 5 (Cape Town/Nairobi: Pambazuka Press, 2012).
  • DPKO/DFS Guidelines: Integrating a Gender Perspective into the Work of the United Nations Military in Peacekeeping Operations (New York: UN, 2010).
  • UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support, DPKO/DFS Gender Forward Looking Strategy 2014– 2018 (New York: United Nations, 2014).
  • For example, no specific gender training was provided to HQ staff in 2017.
  • United Nations Peacekeeping Resource Hub, “DPKO-DFS Core Predeployment Training Materials (CPTM 2017) for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: CPTM Introduction,” UN website, 2017.
  • See Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Network,

Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment Handbook, (September, 2005)

  1. The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces

(DCAF) and the Partnership for Peace Consortium (PfPC), PfPC

SSRWG and EDWG Handbook on Teaching Gender in the Military

  1. Lamptey, “Gender Training in UNPKO,” p. 18
  2. Aïssata Athie and Sarah Taylor, UN Peacekeeping: Where Is the Gender Expertise? (New York: IPI Global Observatory, 2017).
  3. Shanthi Kalatthil, John Langlois, and Adam Kaplan, Towards a

New Model: Media and Communication in Post-Conflict and Fragile

States (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Communication for Governance & Accountability Program, Development Communication Division, External Affairs, 2008), p. 54.

  1. Communication for Development: Strengthening the Effectiveness of the United Nations (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Health Organization, 2011), p.7.
  2. Alberto Cutillo, Deploying the Best: Enhancing Training for United Nations Peacekeepers (New York: International Peace Institute, 2013).