By Katharina P. Coleman
On 16-18 June 2022, Mongolia welcomed the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, other UN officials and representatives from over thirty countries to a three-day conference on “Strengthening the Role of Women in Peacekeeping”. The conference allowed for detailed and candid discussions of the obstacles to increased meaningful participation of uniformed women in peace operations and lively exchanges about ways to address these challenges. It also highlighted Mongolia’s willingness to play a leadership role on this issue and the resonance its engagement has in the UN and with other states.
Day 1: Commitment and Candid Conversations
The conference began with opening speeches by President U. Khurelsukh and Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, underlining the political importance both Mongolia and the UN accorded the conference. President Khurelsukh used the opportunity to announce that Mongolia intends to increase the proportion of women in its own peacekeeping contributions to 15% for military contingents and 25% for staff officers and military observers by 2027. This is an ambitious and significant goal: as of April 2022, Mongolia is the UN’s 24th largest uniformed personnel contributor with 884 individuals deployed, of whom 73 (8.3%) are women.
During the opening session of the international conference on #WomeninPeacekeeping in Ulaanbataar, the President of Mongolia???????? reaffirmed his commitment to the #WomenPeaceSecurity agenda and to recruit, train & promote women peacekeepers. #A4P
— UN Peacekeeping (@UNPeacekeeping) June 16, 2022
For the remainder of the first day, conference participants exchanged insights on the barriers to the recruitment of women into uniformed services and to the training, deployment and meaningful participation of uniformed women in peace operations as well as best practices for overcoming these obstacles. Discussions took place over three panels in which a wide range of states (Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Korea, the Netherlands, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Rwanda) shared their perspectives and also – just as importantly – in many smaller, informal conversations in breaks and over delicious food.
Two factors made the discussions particularly powerful. One was the fact that all countries recognized and acknowledged challenges in their own efforts to recruit women into their armed forces and deploy them as peacekeepers. This made seeking solutions a collective endeavor in which all participants had a stake. The second factor was that most of the participants – both international and Mongolian – were women serving in their countries’ military or police forces who had themselves deployed on one or more peace operations. They generously shared their own experiences as well as national perspectives, enabling rich and deeply informed conversations.
Day 2: Five Hills Peacekeeping Training Centre
On the second conference day, participants were fortunate to visit the Five Hills Peacekeeping Training Center, where the annual multinational Khan Quest exercise was being held. The day included a panel on Mongolian experiences deploying women peacekeepers, a visit to the training lanes and a briefing on the Women, Peace and Security training that was being offered alongside the Khan Quest for the first time. We were then privileged to experience a Mini-Naadam – complete with traditional music, wrestling and horseback riding – before returning through stunning scenery to Ulaanbaatar.
Day 3: Next Steps
The conference ended by looking forward. One panel focused on mechanisms to support states seeking to increase their ability to deploy women peacekeepers, including Canada’s Elsie Initiative, the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance’s barrier assessment methodology; and the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations. A final moderators’ panel summarized discussions and identified major lessons learned. The closing session saw three important announcements. Under-Secretary-General Lacroix indicated that the Department of Peace Operations would launch a pilot virtual network of deployed women peacekeepers. Ghana revealed that it would host the 2023 Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting and place Women Peace and Security high on the meeting’s agenda. Mongolia closed the conference with a proposal to host follow-on conferences every five years.
Given Mongolia’s warm hospitality and how rewarding and constructive the conference was, I’m sure I was not the only participant who welcomed this announcement – and hoped to be able to participate again!
About Katharina Coleman
Katharina P. Coleman (PhD Princeton) is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Her research focuses on international organizations, peace operations, the politics of international legitimacy and the creation and impact of international norms. Her regional area of expertise is sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Coleman helped draft the Terms of Reference for the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations and now serves on the Fund’s Technical Committee.