Until we fully embrace the voices of women we will not achieve the sustainable peace and freedoms we all deserve, it is why he is on a mission to increase the meaningful participation of women and men who share this mission who are working in Security and Justice Sector Reform countries in or emerging from conflict.

Why Women Matter To Security, Justice, And Peacebuilding

Apr 03, 2022






Peacekeeping operations are an important tool for managing armed conflict and building world peace. The United Nations has been working on this for over 70 years, and they have found that when women participate in peace processes, they make a valuable contribution to peace and security.


The meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping is critical to the overall success of these operations. Women often have a unique perspective on conflict and can bring different skills and insights to the table. They can also act as role models for other women and promote gender equality. In addition, studies have shown that including women in peacekeeping operations can improve the safety and security of civilians, as well as the quality and sustainability of peace agreements.


Despite these benefits, women are still underrepresented in peacekeeping operations. This is largely due to a lack of costing and funding for women’s participation programs, as well as a lack of political will on the part of member states.


The UN has called for greater gender parity in peacekeeping, and member states are gradually beginning to respond. There are 10 UN Security Council resolutions that support the Women in Security and Peace agenda, (WPS) the combination of which promote women’s meaningful participation in all stages of peace processes and conflict prevention. These resolutions are an important step forward, and we must continue to work to ensure that women are fully integrated into peacekeeping operations. However, Governments often see resolutions on women and girls in conflict countries as just policy documents. This means that they are not legally binding and the National Action Plans that come from these resolutions do not allocate funding or support to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).


This article highlights the importance of women's participation in peacekeeping and discusses some successes and challenges that need to be addressed. It will also look at the plight of Afghan women since the Taliban takeover in 2021 and the plight of women and children in Ukraine since Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.


Meaningful Participation of Women in Peacekeeping 

Women have been participating in peacekeeping operations for many years; however, their participation has not always been meaningful. In some cases, women have been relegated to supporting roles or have been assigned tasks that are not related to their expertise. This is due to the misconception that women are not capable of performing complex tasks or that they are not strong enough to handle dangerous situations, or in some cases, to get numbers up for political success only. This is changing, but not at the pace it should be.


Women have a great deal of expertise and experience in peacekeeping; they play a vital role in security sector reform, and their participation is essential for the success of any peacekeeping operation.


Conflict affects groups of people in different ways and this always needs to be taken into account, here are two examples: The plight of Afghan women since the Taliban takeover in 2021 has been a stark reminder of the importance of including women in all aspects of security. The Taliban regime was notorious for its treatment of women, which included restrictions on their freedom of movement, education, and employment. And now, women and children in Ukraine are suffering since Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded the country in February 2022.


Women have not only been victims of these conflicts; some have been active participants, and many have also played a crucial role in helping to resolve them. Many women have participated in peace-making efforts in Afghanistan despite the risks involved. In Ukraine, women have taken up arms in the service of their country.


The Plight of Women in Afghanistan 

The Taliban have mostly closed down girls' education since reclaiming Afghanistan in 2021. However, a new generation is prepared to fight for the right to learn. Parveen Tokhi was 12 when the Taliban arrived in her village in western Afghanistan. She remembers the day clearly: "They burned our school down, and we were very sad. We had no teachers, no books." 


Under the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, girls were not allowed to school. When they took control of the country again in 2021, the Taliban quickly moved to close all girls' education. In some cases, schools were burned down or turned into mosques.


Parveen is now one of those women in Afghanistan, standing up for the future generations’ girls’ right to education.


Ukrainian Women and Children Suffering

According to UNICEF, the conflict in Ukraine is an immediate and severe danger to the country's 7.5 million children. Humanitarian demands are increasing by the hour, with children particularly impacted. Children are terrified, shocked, and seeking safety in large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes; the vast majority are women and children. Families are being split apart because of this turmoil.


The last eight years of fighting have caused devastating and long-term damage to children on both sides of the contact line. Due to infrastructure damage in eastern Ukraine, thousands have been without safe water for months. UNICEF increased humanitarian aid and scaling up as needed in the east.


More than 750 schools have been damaged since the war, and by the time this article is published, more than One Million Ukrainians will have already fled abroad. The conflict may drive millions more from their homes throughout Europe's worst refugee crisis since Yugoslavia's break-up in the early 1990s.


Many women are fighting in the service of their country, including some older Ukrainian women like Valentyna Konstantinovska, who was told in 2014 that she was too old as she’d be knocked off her feet with the recoil. Still, she insists she is ready to fight.


Now let's explore the reasons why the meaningful participation of women matters, through the lens of Security Sector Reform, (SSR) and Justice Sector Reform, (JSR).


The Importance of Gender-Inclusive Security Sector Reform 

For this section SSR and SJR are covered as one, at a high, generic level. There are differences but this article does not cover that level of detail and does not cover areas for incorporating other threats such as climate change, where improved promotion and women’s participation would also be of benefit.


The security sector and justice sector are important institutions in any society and are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of citizens, and it often has a direct impact on the quality of life of civilians. Therefore, reforming these sectors is critical to ensuring that all members of society have access to essential services and protection from violence.


However, SSR and JSR are not always inclusive. Too often, initiatives suffer from failures to consider the perspectives and needs of women and girls. This can hurt their ability to participate meaningfully in their societies. It can also limit the effectiveness of efforts overall. That's why it's so crucial that SSR and JSR be gender inclusive


When women are included in these efforts, they bring critical perspectives and insights to the table. Their involvement can help ensure that reforms are more effective and responsive to the needs of all members of society.


For example:

- In Liberia, the inclusion of women in security sector reform efforts helped to reduce gender-based violence.


- In Nepal, the participation of women in peacekeeping operations has helped to promote gender equality and empower local women. 


- In Sri Lanka, the presence of female police officers has led to a more positive attitude towards the police among women and girls. 


That said when the Sri Lanka Police appointed its first-ever Woman Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Bimshani Jasin Arachchi, a petition by 32 male Senior Police Officers was submitted against the appointment citing that the laws allowing for the appointment of DIGs do not include the word "woman", evidencing that such procedural inequalities, failure to harmonise legislation and redundant thinking persist.


Despite setbacks, we can see that success stories demonstrate the importance of gender-inclusive security sector reform. When women are included in these efforts, they make a real difference in their communities.


The inclusion of women is not only about filling quotas; it is about understanding and addressing the needs of half the population. It is also vital to ensure that any measures put in place to promote the meaningful participation of women are sustainable and have an impact on the ground.


Too often, initiatives to promote the inclusion of women are not adequately implemented or lack funding and support, or worse still, fail due to being intended as mere political soundbites, which are not equivalent to sustainable success, leading in some cases to momentous failures; these usually happen when political success and media promotion are prioritised over the proper processes without robust consideration to gender-based analysis. Such as Afghan female police officers who faced widespread abuse by their colleagues, many of these women were too scared to report the attacks, often perpetrated by their superiors.



In the next section, we briefly explore how the meaningful participation of three leading women of influence is a positive signal of future possibilities.


How Women are Changing the Face of Peacekeeping

Women are now playing a more meaningful role in peacekeeping operations, and their contributions are making a difference. Here are just three examples of significant contributions by women to peacekeeping operations:


  1. Margareta Wahlström is a Swedish diplomat and President of the Swedish Red Cross, who served as the first Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict from 2010 to 2012. Among many other contributions, she played a crucial role in developing the United Nations' first strategy on preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.


  1. Christine Schuler Deschryver is a Belgian human rights activist who has worked extensively in the Democratic Republic of Congo, playing a leading role in campaigns to stop sexual violence in the DRC and around the world, through her efforts and successes with the Panzi Foundation, V-Day Congo and the City of Joy she has supported the transformation of systems, cultures and the lives of women victims of war. 


  1. Alexandra Papadopoulou is a senior Greek diplomat who has worked extensively in the Balkans. She is currently the Greek ambassador to the US and was a co-founder of the European Centre for Minority Issues. She has played a leading role in efforts to promote minority rights and resolve ethnic conflicts in the region. She works tirelessly to promote the importance of the meaningful role of women in the field of security and justice sector reform. 


Personal Note: Ambassador Papadopoulou is one of the most incredible and balanced people I had ever had the pleasure to work for, whilst she was the Head of the EU's largest civilian crisis mission.


The Significant contributions, by each of the women mentioned above, and many others are helping to make the world a safer place for women and girls. Their contributions are essential, and they provide a valuable perspective without which lasting peace would remain a pipe dream!



Women perform complex tasks and handle dangerous situations extremely well. They have a great deal to offer in peacekeeping, and their meaningful participation is essential for the success of any operation. There is clear evidence to support the need for more women to be involved in every aspect and at all levels of Peacebuilding, Security and Justice Sector Reform.


Despite the dangers, women in Afghanistan find ways to get an education – often in secret and against all odds. In Ukraine, women are also active participants, fighting for their country.


The vital role of women in peacekeeping cannot be overstated. We must do everything we can to promote their meaningful participation and ensure a voice at the table and that we actively listen. By including women in peacekeeping operations, we can create a more peaceful and sustainable world for all.


It is essential for organisations and donors working on security sector reform to prioritise gender equality and Positive Action (Not Positive Discrimination). They need to invest in initiatives that will help to ensure the meaningful participation of women, and they need to provide adequate resources so that these initiatives can be effectively implemented. These should include tailored mentoring, coaching and other programs supporting a changed mindset in managers, recruiters, and women candidates to redress the imbalance that exists because of historical discrimination.

In my next article, I talk about “The Inner Critic” bringing out the voice within which holds us back.

To discuss this and my other articles, email me at [email protected]

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