The international community’s reliance on United Nations peacekeeping continues to deepen. Deployment is at a record high, with the number of troops, civilians and police totaling more than 113,000.
The personnel who serve under the UN flag do so in some of the most difficult and inhospitable areas on earth, where they face instability, disease and violence on a daily basis. These brave men and women have shown tremendous dedication, making a tangible difference in the lives of many while showing to the world the caring and committed face of the United Nations.
These efforts often come at high cost to the peacekeepers themselves. In 2008, 132 peacekeepers lost their lives in the line of duty – the highest one-year total in the history of UN peacekeeping . Whether felled by acts of violence, disease or accidents, each left an important legacy.
The loss of ten women among those who died reminds us that female personnel are playing an increasingly important role in peacekeeping, and that they now shoulder grave risks as well.
It has been nearly a decade since the Security Council adopted its landmark Resolution 1325 – the first omnibus text to recognize that women bear the brunt of armed conflicts, and should have a commensurate role in their prevention and resolution.
Since then, the United Nations has pressed forward with intensive efforts not only to involve more local women in peacemaking and peacebuilding, but also to recruit more women into our own operations. The point is not to achieve gender parity for its own sake; the imperative is to draw on the unique and powerful contribution women can make. Female blue helmets, human rights monitors and other mission staff offer new skills and styles of functioning in the ever-evolving field of peacekeeping. Often, they can better communicate with local women, generating a greater sense of security while serving as an example of women’s empowerment.
As the Security Council has acknowledged, women frequently suffer most during conflicts, including from horrific acts of sexual- and gender-based violence. By including female police among our ranks, we foster a safe environment for victims to get the help they need and deserve. And by enabling victims to feel secure enough to come forward and press charges against perpetrators, we fight the culture of impunity that has prevailed for too long.
There are still far too few women peacekeepers. With women joining national militaries and police in greater numbers, it is critical that Member States contribute even more female personnel to the United Nations. On this International Day, let us draw on the power of women to strengthen UN peacekeeping while helping women and girls themselves to transform their destinies – and societies – for the better.