Post-conflict conditions can create possibilities for the transformation of gender relations. This paper from the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa discusses the participation of women in post-conflict organisations. A comparison of the impact of women in peacekeeping missions in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo illustrates that women help defuse post-conflict tensions and increase awareness of gender issues. The participation of women in peace processes indicates progress, but more transformative measures are needed to achieve gender equality.
While women are amply represented in peacebuilding efforts, they generally have been absent in the more official, formal and largely male-dominated bastions of peacemaking and peacekeeping. Following repeated reports of peacekeepers committing human rights violations and the increase of child soldiers, mass rapes and genocide, peacekeepers have recently expanded their missions to include more women, a wider range of stakeholders and a focus on human rights.
Studies have shown that the presence of women in peacekeeping missions improves access and support for local women, makes male peacekeepers more reflective and responsible and broadens the repertoire of skills and styles available within the mission. A study of the United Nations Observer Mission of South Africa (UNOMSA) – an all-civilian, women-led, gender-balanced observer mission – concluded that in contrast to male-dominated missions:
- Female leadership was more consultative and less hierarchical;
- Female staff displayed more concern for community and emphasised networking, information-sharing and a hands-on approach;
- The presence of women helped reduce community tensions in potentially explosive situations; and
- Women staff members were catalysts for change in attitudes among local women about their potential power.
By contrast, the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) is largely male, with less than five per cent of women on staff. Because the UN instituted a MONUC Office of Gender Affairs (OGA), gender perspectives were ghettoised from the mainstream work of the mission. The OGA and MONUC have raised the awareness of gender issues within the organisation and in the general population, but MONUC’s success using women as peacekeepers and catalysts for gender equality has been more limited than that of UNOMSA. Overall:
- Despite improvements in the status and role of women in recent years, the realities of most women’s lives have not fundamentally changed. Sexual and domestic violence against women continues at an alarming level around the world.
- Gender equality requires more than formal declarations, the incorporation of gender perspectives in peace processes and the tweaking of organisational structures.