Nearly a decade ago with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, the United Nations and member states made a commitment to promote the participation of women in decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes, expand the role and contribution of women in UN field-based operations, and to integrate gender perspectives and training into peacekeeping.  Where are we now, what has worked, what has not worked, and why?  The panelists will address these questions on women as peacekeepers, and other policy-related questions.

As the peacekeeping field was first emerging, Lynn Holland, then an Oklahoma law enforcement agent, saw an ad on television calling for U.S. police officers to serve as police training forces in Haiti.  Answering the call for help, Lynn joined the executive management team for the Haitian National Police Initiative on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training and Assistance Program (ICITAP) becoming the first U.S. female peacekeeper.  Upon completing her tour in Haiti, Lynn continued to work as a peacekeeper developing a program to assist victims of rape as an act of war in Bosnia, and serving as the sole women on the law enforcement team in Kosovo.  Holland blazed the path for female peacekeepers, however there continues to be a lack of female participation in international peacekeeping missions, despite UN Resolution 1325, which distinctly recognizes the importance of women in peacekeeping operations and encourages their increased participation in the field.  To address this pressing issue, the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Women, Conflict and Peacebuilding group hosted Lynn Holland, Jolynn Shoemaker of WIIS, and Colette Rausch of USIP in a public event to discuss, Where are the Women Peacekeepers?

When Resolution 1325 passed in 2000, there appeared to be great momentum and support for institutionalizing greater participation of women in peacekeeping operations, and an understanding that women make a unique contribution in their ability to better help rape and sexual violence victims.  However, by 2007 the attempts at encouraging greater female participation had largely failed and there continues to be a general uncertainty of how to approach the issue.  The panelists explored the many barriers facing women in the field of peacekeeping operations and possible solutions.

One of the greatest institutional barriers in the UN for women seeking senior level peacekeeping positions is the appointment process.  The current system allows politically charged negotiations for high visibility positions within the UN to occur behind closed doors with little to no transparency, effectively keeping advocates for women out of the process.  Additionally, these appointments tend to be drawn from the heavily male upper-diplomatic segment of the profession and are often militarily biased, continuing to exclude women.  In this system, women are relegated to less visible positions within the system which deny them the important recognition they are needed to continue to get promoted. Panelists agreed that an overhaul of the nomination system is necessary to allow more appointments of qualified women to senior positions.

Coupled with an opening of the nomination system, women also need more mentorship opportunities. In order to rise to senior level positions within the UN, individuals often need a higher-up advocate to push for them.  The lack of networks and connections between mid and entry-level women and those at the senior levels stops women from getting an important leg up.  Establishing greater support and formal career development networks and mentors would help increase the number of women peacekeepers in leadership positions.

Perhaps the most troubling issue facing female peacekeepers, however, is self-exclusion from high-level positions.  The Women in International Security (WIIS) study on women who have served in peacekeeping operations, cited by panelist Jolynn Shoemaker, executive director of WIIS, found that women are more likely to assume they simply do not qualify for senior positions.  Instead of seeing qualifications from their past peacekeeping experience, they choose to focus on the aspects of the job they are less familiar with making them less likely to even attempt to apply. Women are also more likely to opt-out of the promotion process citing work-family balance concerns as peacekeeping duties are generally assigned in non-family duty stations, even though other agencies often allow families to serve in these same areas. Panelists suggested a restructuring of missions to incorporate a seamless job-share system that would allow women with families or other commitments back home to serve for shorter time periods. While the UN should institutionalize strategies to create a more inclusive appointment system, female peacekeepers must also be willing to push themselves to apply for and accept challenging positions in the field. 

In addition to these institutional barriers facing many female peacekeepers, women also face cultural barriers that limit their participation in peacekeeping operations.  Panelist Colette Rausch, Acting Director of USIP’s Rule of Law Program, felt that women often feel the need to, “go along to get along,” losing their voice in the male-dominated field along the way.  Rausch stressed that female peacekeepers must value their own abilities and understand their contributions as unique and important. They must not allow themselves to be marginalized and strive to work side by side with colleagues.  In the end, women peacekeepers should look at being female as a strength to build upon, not a hindrance.

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Resolution 1325, it is clear that the strength and passion of women like Lynn Holland is necessary to ensure women are equally represented in peacekeeping operations.  The UN not only should encourage qualified women to hold senior level peacekeeping positions, it cannot afford not to.  With a large retirement phase coming up and a personnel crisis in staffing peacekeeping operations, the UN must strive to honor its commitment to a 50-50 gender balance in all areas of its operations.  The USIP Gender, Conflict and Peacebuilding Working Group will continue to look for ways to encourage and support women in peacekeeping operations. 


  • Lynn Holland
    Female Peacekeeper, and Law Enforcement and Security Consultant
  • Jolynn Shoemaker
    Executive director, Women in International Security (WIIS) Co-author of "Women in UN Peace Operations: Increasing the Leadership Opportunities"
  • Colette Rausch
    Acting Director, Rule of Law, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Robert Perito, Moderator
    Senior Program Officer, Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Kathleen Kuehnast, Welcome and Introductions Associate Vice President, Grant Program, U.S. Institute of Peace Chair of USIP's Women Conflict and Peacebuilding Group

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