United Nations peacekeeping efforts are one of the most underrated humanitarian undertakings. They lack the visceral thrill of a good coercive “humanitarian intervention” but in part for that reason they work better. The basic issue is that it’s difficult for warring parties to make peace even if they both want to. After all, if you were fighting someone last week it’s doubtful that you’re going to trust him next week. Finding an enduring peace is much easier if there’s some kind of third party enforcement, and the guys in blue helmets are well-suited to providing it. But of course nothing’s perfect and Emily Musil Church makes the excellent point that peacekeeping could be greatly improved by including more women in the forces that are dispatched:
Women peacekeepers are seen as a potential solution to one of the most critical feminist issues in contemporary Africa: systematic sexual violence in areas of conflict. Rape is so common a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ongoing civil war that the country has earned the title of “the worst place in the world to be a woman.” Making matters worse, the primarily male United Nations peacekeeping forces there have reportedly sexually assaulted Congolese women.
Female security forces offer hope on many fronts. Victims are more likely to report sexual violence to women in authority than men. Women peacekeepers are particularly vigilant about gender-based violence, even training local women in self-defense and community policing. And the symbolic presence of women in positions of authority can be empowering. For instance, after India deployed the first all-female UN police unit to Liberia, in 2007, sexual violence reporting increased and many more women joined the Liberian national police force. The unit set up health initiatives and skills training for women and girls, including child and maternal care.
There’s a larger issue here about the changing missions of a modern day military. Most countries are more likely to send soldiers on a peacekeeping mission than to fight a war against a neighboring state. But relatively few militaries are really organized around that fact.