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India for greater female participation in UN peace efforts

United Nations, Jan 31 To protect women caught in conflicts, India has called for greater female participation in UN peace efforts and a broader approach that focuses on “peacebuilding” rather than concentrating on traditional peacekeeping operations.

India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji told the Security Council Friday: “The participation of women in all aspects of the prevention and resolution of conflicts is an important policy measure which the Council should encourage while mandating peace operations.”

Speaking in a debate on protecting civilians in armed conflict, he drew on Indian women’s participation in peacekeeping operations and said, “Our experience in Liberia showed that the actual requirements for addressing issues confronting women in armed conflict were related to the concept of peacebuilding, rather than peacekeeping.”

A representative of non-governmental organizations (NGO), who was invited by the Council to speak about the issues facing women, said the UN should increase the number of women staff in peacekeeping operations, in both military and police components. Ilwad Elman of the NGO Working Group On Women, Peace and Security said that when there are female peacekeepers and police, women in areas of conflict are better able to communicate their concerns about safety and request protection.

Mukerji said India was the first UN member to bring about the active participation of women in peacekeeping operations when it sent an all female police unit to the UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia in 2007. He recalled what the then-US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said of India at the Council in 2009: “They have set an example that must be repeated in UN peacekeeping missions all over the world.”

India now has a total of 137 women participating in UN Peacekeeping Operations, 112 of whom are from the police and 13 are from the military. Of them 102 serve in a police contigent in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Setting out a strategy to deal with the problem, Mukerji said the Council should now split up “the complex multidimensional nature of its peacekeeping mandates, and focus on addressing issues confronting women in armed conflict situations through focused peacebuilding activities, so that the transition to a post-conflict society can be sustainable.”

This approach would give greater scope to humanitarian and development programs and fight the exploitation of women caught in armed conflicts, he said.

The nature of armed conflicts has changed since India first contributed troops to UN operations under the traditional mandate when “keeping the peace, was the best guarantee for protection of civilians caught up in armed conflicts,” he said.

“Whereas earlier, our peacekeepers were deployed to keep the peace between states,” he said, “we are now witnessing a steady increase in the deployment of UN peacekeepers in situations of internal conflicts within member states.”

The impact of the instability and violence in the areas of conflict due to the breakdown of government “has been felt by the most vulnerable of the civilian populations, especially women and girls,” he said.

Mukerji pointedly drew attention to how the working of the Council itself has contributed to the situation. “The evident inability of the Council to address and nurture sustainable political solutions to such conflict situations” was a major reason for the “open-ended” situations of conflict and instability that took a toll on women.

India speaks authoritatively on UN peacekeeping operations as it is the single largest contributor to these missions, having sent over 180,000 troops to 43 of the 68 operations which have claimed the lives of 156 Indians.

Nearly 70 nations spoke at Friday’s session because of the growing concern over the victimisation of civilians – – and women in particular – – in conflicts around the world.

“Sexual violence during armed conflict is a violation of international humanitarian law,” Helen Durham, a director at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said. “It is not inevitable. It must and can be stopped. What is required is a concerted effort by everyone concerned to prevent and put an end to it.”