#WPSAdvice: How Canada can better address gender equality issues as part of its contribution to international peace and security missions

By Kristine St-Pierre, Director, The WPS Group and WPSN-C Steering Committee Member. Follow her on twitter @Kristine_StP

In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325. This was a landmark resolution as it recognized that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and that peace is only sustainable if women are fully included (Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325). The resolution, along with eight subsequent resolutions, form what is known as the ‘WPS Agenda.’ The agenda covers a wide-range of issues including women’s participation in peace processes, the protection of women and girls in conflict, and the integration of gender perspectives into all aspects of conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.

To support the implementation of the agenda, Members States are asked to develop National Actions Plans (NAPs). To date, 82 countries have adopted a NAP (42% of all UN Member States). Canada launched its second National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security in November 2017. One of the government’s commitments is to strengthen the capacity of peace operations to advance the WPS agenda, including by deploying more women and fully embedding the WPS agenda into Canadian Armed Forces operations and police deployments.

While the media over the last two years has in large part focused its attention on total deployment numbers (and how the current government has yet to fulfill its pledge), not much has been said of the activities undertaken on the women, peace and security front.  (See for example: https://www.hilltimes.com/2019/09/02/liberals-un-peacekeeping-re-engagement-promise-left-half-finished/213316; https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/peacekeeping-mission-200-1.5206364).

For example:

  • Canadian female military and police personnel currently account for 28% of those deployed as part of Canadian peace and security operations. ( These operations include military and police deployments as part of UN peacekeeping missions, as well as Canadian police deployments in Ukraine, Iraq and Palestine. They do not, however, include military training missions in Ukraine and Iraq for example. Data used combines information from Walter Dorn and the RCMP.) The percentage of Canadian military women deployed to UN missions is 18% (21 out of 122), while the percentage of women police deployed as part of UN and other international missions (including police contributions to Ukraine, Iraq and Palestine) is at 45% (35 out of 77). 
  • The government launched the Elsie Initiative, a multilateral initiative that will see a combination of approaches to help overcome barriers to increasing women’s meaningful participation in peace operations.
  • The CAF has deployed 8 Gender Advisors (GENADS) as part of overseas missions since 2016; two more will be deployed in 2019.
  • A female Canadian police officer took on the position of Contingent Commander and Gender Advisor in Iraq, and gender advisors are included as part of the Ukraine, Haiti and Mali missions. 
  • Canadian police missions, through the work of their gender advisers, have also undertaken important work and initiatives to advance the WPS agenda, including developing education material on gender perspectives, conducting training on sexual and gender-based violence, working specifically with women police officers and supporting the creation of networks among female police officers, and consulting with women civil society groups. 

At the same time, however, it is crucial to mention the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Canadian uniformed personnel while on mission, and Canada’s inaction when it comes to conducting investigations and rendering disciplinary measures.

In addition, while the above strides are important, much more work needs to be done to ensure that they are not one-offs, but are part of a systematic approach to international peace and security. 

To support this work, I would like to offer three recommendations to the incoming government on how Canada can better address gender equality and women, peace and security issues as part of its contribution to international peace and security missions.

They are:

  1. Prioritize women’s voices as part of discussions around Canada’s international peace and security commitments, to ensure a clear understanding of women, peace and security issues and to identify appropriate solutions. This means seeking participation from civil society, women’s rights groups, Indigenous women, and women from diverse communities (including refugee, diaspora, and immigrant communities) to attend meetings. This means creating a deliberate space for civil society to gather and provide collective input. As such, I recommend that the incoming government sets a new standard for collaboration with civil society – both within Canada and in countries where Canadians are deployed – and specifically commits to supporting the women’s movement and women’s rights organizations working to advance the WPS agenda. 
  2. Prioritize women, peace and security issues as part of every Canadian peace and security mission objectives. In addition to continuing to deploy a higher percentage of uniformed women, it will be important to better prepare and support officers selected to deploy as gender advisers. Gender advisers cannot and should not act on their own. In order to succeed in their work, they must have the support of their leadership, and of the rest of the team, as well as adequate resources. In addition, a mission shouldn’t just rely on its gender adviser to prioritize WPS issues. It should have a plan in place for how it will advance these issues as part of its mandate and make it a public document. Doing so would ensure coherence within the mission in terms of priorities, approach and messaging, and support a more sustainable approach to the peace and security work Canadian uniformed personnel do abroad.   
  3. Fund gender equality and women, peace and security training that is accessible to military, police and civilian personnel in Canada. There is currently no organization in Canada devoted to comprehensive and multidimensional peacekeeping training, and very few working specifically on gender equality and women, peace and security training. This means that Canadians, whether police, military or civilian, in search of both basic and more in-depth training on women, peace and security must look to Europe or other parts of the world. Yet, the knowledge and expertise exists in Canada. As a result, I urge the incoming government to recognize that Canada, through Canadian civil society, academics and practitioners, has the capacity to lead in this area and to invest in multidimensional peace operations training with guaranteed investments in gender equality and women, peace and security. 

Please note that the views in these blog posts are those of the authors and may not represent the views of all members of the WPSN-C.

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