On February 22 and 23, the Government of Canada hosted a ‘design workshop’ for the Elsie Initiative on increasing the number of women in peace operations. Government officials, female peacekeepers, UN representatives (including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UN Women), researchers and civil society representatives spent two days reviewing challenges, opportunities and recommendations. Several members of the WPSN-C participated.
Despite repeated commitments to increasing the number of women serving in military and police posts in peace support operations (with the target of 20%), progress in recent years has been virtually non-existent. As of January 2018, the percentage of women serving as military and police peacekeepers was 3.8% and 10.5% respectively.
In November of last year at the Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the Elsie Initiative. With this initiative, Canada aims to kick-start new approaches and hopefully gain traction. They have committed $6 million to pilot UN missions/troop contribution countries to improve their ability to support women’s increased participation in peace operations and $15 million of seed money toward a global fund (or financial mechanism) to support the deployment of women peacekeepers. Research and moving forward with a strong evidence base is also a component of the initiative.
Yet the initiative is not without its critics. Canada not walking the walk when it comes to female peacekeepers noted one recent headline. The article points out that Canada has a long way to go to live up to UN targets with only 6 of the 40 Canadian peacekeepers deployed as of the end of January being women. Others, including Stéfanie von Hlatky and Bepasha Baruah, have criticized proponents for making the case that increasing the percentage of female peacekeepers will lead to increased ‘operational effectiveness.’
In response to a request for inputs from civil society, members of the WPSN-C prepared an initial note. This discussion note outlined key considerations including the scope of the initiative (avoiding a narrow focus on the numbers of women deployed) and the importance of addressing the full range of issues associated with gender mainstreaming in peace operations, of putting women peacekeepers at the centre, ensuring that Canada lead by example and that our own deployment numbers also rise, investments in non-military solutions, and avoiding gender stereotypes and ‘essentialist’ arguments.
Parliamentary Secretary Matt DeCourcey opened the workshop, highlighting how the Government sees this initiative: “Canada is looking at peace operations through a new lens. It cannot just be about where we deploy, it has to be about how. And right now, few things are more important to the ‘how’ of peacekeeping than the inclusion of more women in more operations.”
During the workshop, Canadian government officials sketched out how they see the initiative unfolding. Participants heard from institutions and organizations that have worked on these issues and from women peacekeepers themselves (the highlight for many). On the second day there was discussion on options for training and technical assistance, possibilities for the financial mechanism, and opportunities (and pitfalls) for advocacy on the initiative.
It appears that the design phase of the initiative will continue for some months yet, with ongoing consultations and planning at multiple levels.
Check out the hashtag: #ElsieInitiative.
By Beth Woroniuk, Coordinator, WPSN-C. Follow her on twitter @bethottawa