The United Nations needs to make a space to hear from young people
Guest post by UN Peacekeeping’s Rachel Grimes
Over 500 delegates from more than 70 countries and international organizations are gathering this week in Vancouver, Canada, to discuss improvements to UN peacekeeping operations. The conference is also focusing on securing new pledges from Member States. The integration of gender perspectives are at the heart of the talks that will revolve around four themes:
- Smart pledges
- Innovation in training and capacity building
- Protecting those at risk
- Early warning and rapid deployment
Military Gender Adviser Rachel Grimes was one of the first speakers at a special event with young people in the audience. Here is what she told attendees.
I have been asked to look at the linkages between peacekeeping and peacebuilding within the framework of UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 2250.
It might be helpful to offer a loose definition of peacekeeper and peacebuilder from the outset.
Within the UN a peacekeeper is either a civilian, police or military member of staff working in a post-conflict environment. Today I will focus on the military component.
Traditionally the peacekeeping role was to keep the peace either by maintaining the separation of rival parties or by monitoring ceasefires. But 21st century peacekeeping has evolved from purely military tasks to broader multi-dimensional operations — with the military assuming wider responsibilities. More on this later.
Peacebuilding involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of areas lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening their national capacities and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development ideally based on national ownership.
Before looking at the peacekeeping/peacebuilding nexus I would like to consider UNSCR1325 and 2250.
1325 was the first resolution on women, peace and security and signed in 2000 whilst 2250 the resolution on youth is more recent being signed in 2015. Both resolutions were born out of the activism of civil society and external actors. And they share similar principles.
The resolutions seek to give groups traditionally ignored in security dialogue a voice. Both resolutions want to see the participation of people who aren’t holding guns and who are invested in sustaining peace.
All too often these people, the women, girls, men and boys who seek an alternative narrative to that of conflict are marginalised and not included in the peace processes. Yet their contributions are vital to creating a meaningful and just peace.
Both resolutions also ask for the protection from and prevention of sexual violence and other human rights violations against civilians.
And it is here that I feel slightly uncomfortable — for resolution 1325 overlooked the fact that men and boys could be victims of sexual violence too. Its estimated that while almost 3 million women in DRC have been raped since 1994 just under a million men have also been raped.
Resolution 2250 addresses this omission as do later resolutions on conflict related sexual violence.
Both resolutions highlight the need for relief and recovery efforts. This could be in the form of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of armed groups — looking at education and employment opportunities for former–combatants, many of whom are under the age of 29 and some whom are women and girls.
The resolutions highlight that root causes of inequality and exclusion have to be addressed or else the peace won’t be enduring. The role of youth in these areas is important to understand the dynamics of the conflict and how best to see peace achieved.
Turning back to the nexus of peacekeeping and peacebuilding — traditionally viewed in isolation and separate pillars — we can see the roles are now blurring.
Just a casual glance at what peacekeepers are doing right now reveals that static peacekeeping tasks are a thing of the past.
Let’s consider the Canadian military officers based in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, one officer is assisting with the elections which are imminent, others are mentoring and advising the Congolese military on conduct of operations and even International Human Rights law, for it should be noted that often attacks on civilians can come from the host nations own security forces.
Another Canadian officer based in South Sudan is working out how to get supplies into one of the many internally displaced persons’ camps.
These are not traditional peacekeeping military tasks. They are fundamentally contributing to long term peacebuilding operations.
As the Military Gender Adviser working in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations I could be seen as an example of how a peacekeeper can contribute to peacebuilding.
My role is based upon the principles of UNSCR1325 and the women, peace and security agenda. The role also encapsulates Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 16 — seeking equality between all and the inclusion of a gender perspective into security sector institutions.
I am tasked to enhance the participation of women and girls in peacekeeping and how to prevent and protect women, men, girls and boys from conflict related sexual violence.
I have also had to grapple with how to get a mostly male military component to include an awareness of gender roles in their planning and conduct of operations. Non-traditional military tasks which support peacebuilding efforts are becoming the norm.
We saw in Afghanistan that the soldiers in Kandahar were simultaneously involved in conventional military tactics but also supporting peacebuilding activities. The Canadian run Provincial Reconstruction Team overseeing the improvements to the Dahla Dam, the mentoring and liaison teams attached to Afghan security forces. Today’s soldiers are being required to be peacebuilders from the outset of operations.
This can come with friction — soldiers deploying as peacekeepers need training in gender, child protection, assisting with elections, human rights, civil affairs, security sector reform to list just some of the cross-over peacebuilding areas.
These subjects are not “typical” military areas and there may be resistance to include them in national training. Soldiers themselves may question why they are learning these subjects.
Similarly civilians don’t always want to see the military working in this area or to be associated with the military for reasons of perception and impartiality.
Peacekeepers need to be better prepared to be peacebuilders — and part of tomorrow’s conference will address this. It will look at the capabilities of the peacekeepers, their training and readiness.
It will also ask Member States to deploy more women personnel. A peacekeeping military component that is 97% male will struggle to ensure that the concerns of local woman and girls and indeed men and boys are heard.
By way of a conclusion the fact that the UN has a Military Gender Adviser I hope demonstrates that peacekeepers can be peacebuilders.
Both resolutions discussed this morning are simultaneously linked to peacekeeping and peacebuilding tasks. They address the immediate impact of conflict but also seek to establish a foundation for peace.
The participation of youth — be that young women or young men — is critical to preventing conflict and for establishing a long-term peace based on inclusivity and equality for all.
What I realised whilst preparing this brief is that although the UN military component is aware of its role in protecting civilians it needs to make a space to hear from young people in the areas where it is operating. This will be one of the points I share with the senior military leadership when I return to New York at the end of the week.
Find out more:
- News story: Largest gathering of defence ministers dedicated to UN peacekeeping to kick off in Vancouver
- United Nations Peacekeeping
- United Nations Youth Envoy
- UN Women