[Herald Interview] 'UN peacekeeping forces need better gender equity'
United Nations peacekeeping force officers who visited Seoul earlier this month emphasized the need to enhance gender inclusivity within peacekeeping forces and to recruit more talented women into the military.
Colonel B. Maureen Wellwood, the first woman in the Canadian Infantry to attain the rank of colonel, said women’s strength plays a key role in situations where peacekeepers should build trust with suffering residents, referring to her missions in several countries including Afghanistan and Congo. She was one of the speakers for the Korea Peacekeeping Forum for Women's Empowerment held on Sept. 4 in Seoul to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Women's Military Peace Operations Course. In the WMPOC, a training program designed to increase women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in UN Peace Operations, 20 female soldiers from 12 countries participated.
"Within the process of conflict resolution, often we'll find that women can bridge across factions more easily than men can. When we walk into a room or a situation we automatically have commonalities and understand other women in the room in a way that the men are not going to understand them,” Wellwood told The Korea Herald in a roundtable interview.
Including Wellwood, officers from different backgrounds expressed earnest support for the UN’s “Women, Peace, and Security” agenda. Under the WPS, the UN is working to increase the proportion of female soldiers within the UN peacekeeping force to 15 percent. Statistics show that the proportion of female soldiers participating in UN peacekeeping operations was only 1 percent in 1997 and rose only slightly in past decades, reaching 4.8 percent in 2020.
Recalling her mission in Congo, Wellwood said women were actively involved in the resolution process to protect local female residents. “The local population was being attacked while they were going from village to fields to harvest crops. As many of the men had left the village to fight and protect their communities, the local factions saw this as a vulnerability and exploited that opportunity to attack the women. Peacekeepers in Congo increased patrols and actively dissuaded the belligerent factions after grasping the situation,” the colonel explained.
She emphasized that the incident was meaningful as it was the first initiative raised to protect women. It was also one where a problem was resolved through a chain of women – from women in the community to civil society, female NGO agents and to the peacekeeping team that was made up with a good proportion of women.