Remarks at UN Police Gender Toolkit Launch

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
New York, NY
November 10, 2015

As prepared

Before I begin, I’d like to thank Ambassador Lambertini and Ambassador Zehnder for hosting us, and for your leadership on gender and peacekeeping. I’d also like to thank all of you for being here, and for taking this issue seriously.

Far too often, I hear people say that yes, of course women should be included, but only after a litany of other things happen. And so I’m grateful to you all for recognizing just how important it is to have truly inclusive security.

Over the years, more than one million women and men in blue helmets and berets have prevented violence and preserved peace. They have saved lives and given societies a chance to rebuild.

As with almost any good work, this effort has rarely been easy. Every day peacekeepers face a range of challenges, from negotiating language differences and harmonizing training, to doing the hard work of preventing violence and protecting local populations.

All of this requires collaboration on a scale we don’t see very often in the international community. With troops, police, and civilians from 100 countries who speak countless languages, it’s a tremendous undertaking.

The fact that they have such an impact speaks to a universal truth, one that’s a cornerstone of the UN system and inclusive frameworks like UN Security Council Resolution 1325: In diversity, there is strength. That’s the promise of peacekeeping: women and men from around the globe serving together to advance global security.

Just last month I was in Bangladesh, where I met with women peacekeepers from the military and police. For them, the experience of serving was deeply personal. They spoke of themselves as pioneers. They told me how their service is both a symbol and a driver of changing gender norms in their own society—as well as the societies in which they served.

One woman told me that while she was serving in Darfur, young girls would come up to her and say “we want to be like you.” They viewed her as a role model. Another told me how the women she served with helped improve access to justice and security for local women.

To me, these stories bring home the critical importance of President Obama’s commitment to strengthen, reform, and diversify peacekeeping. That commitment reflects our belief that to truly be effective at peacekeeping and peacebuilding, we need to deepen our commitment to inclusion across our work in conflict-affected communities.

The truth is that we are all safer, and our efforts at peacebuilding are stronger when women have a say in how societies rebuild peace and recover from conflict. Thanks to the efforts of so many, including UN Women, a global study released last month makes clear that including women is a key part of peace. Researchers studying post-Cold War peace processes found that negotiations were more likely to end in an agreement when women’s groups played an influential role in the process.

According to the UN’s report, the greatest impact of women’s involvement in peace talks was “the commencement, resumption, or finalization of negotiations when the momentum had stalled or the talks had faltered.” This is one of the many reasons why the United States works to enlist women as champions of peace and security. We have the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and a new Presidential memorandum on peacekeeping.

These policy documents help us promote diverse, effective, and accountable peacekeeping. And we know that when our efforts are successful, it’s that much easier for communities to recover, rebuild, and thrive.

Today I’d like to share with you three ways the United States is working to advance gender and peacekeeping.

First, we are increasing the pipeline of women in peacekeeping. As of September 2015, policewomen made up just 10 percent of uniformed police peacekeepers. When there aren’t enough women peacekeepers, core mission tasks like protection and engagement with female community members aren’t as effective.

When there are enough women peacekeepers, community trust increases. Issues like gender-based violence are more easily addressed. And women and girls in the community see how critical women are to peace and security.

At September’s peacekeeping summit, President Obama called for more women leaders in critical mission roles. The United States is also working to level the playing field for women police officers by training them on the basic requirements for United Nations peacekeeping deployment.

Seventeen Member States sent the names of 2,000 women police officers, an unprecedented number, requesting to take part in this initiative. And around the world, countries are pledging to contribute additional women troops and police—including Rwanda and India. So we’re making good progress. And we’re hopeful that more governments will join us by recruiting and retaining women to be a part of UN missions.

Second, we’re giving women the resources they need to succeed once they are peacekeepers. Bangladeshi women told me that, as pioneers, they felt they couldn’t fail because they want to ensure a legacy for the next generation of women. And they’re right, which is why we are supporting ongoing learning, peer networking, and leadership development for women peacekeepers around the globe.

One flagship example of this is the creation of the International Network of Female Police Peacekeepers. This network creates opportunities to unite women police through mutual support, mentoring, training and advocacy.

Finally, we know that gender-sensitive policing isn’t just about increasing the number of women who serve. While having women on the team is a powerful way to improve our peacekeeping efforts, we also need to make sure that police peacekeepers have the skills, capabilities, and tools to do their jobs—and do them well.

That’s why the United States supports gender-sensitivity training across the board to increase effectiveness of police. And it’s why we are proud to have funded the toolkit being launched today.

There is no better time to strengthen global peacekeeping efforts. Global threats to peace and security are ever-changing, and they show little sign of abating. But today we’re taking steps to mitigate those threats by being proactive. Tools, lessons, and best practices in promoting inclusive security are critical to meeting the challenges of tomorrow.

Each of you is so important to these efforts—not just as peacekeepers, but as leaders who set the standard for others. We’re here to support you and hope this toolkit will be helpful.

Thank you for your leadership and your tremendous commitment to this mission.