UN peacekeeping missions tend to frame conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) narrowly both in terms of who its victims are and who is best placed to address it: the victims of CRSV are usually assumed to be women and girls, and there is often an expectation that women peacekeepers will be better able to address CRSV than men. These assumptions reflect the frequent conflation of “CRSV” with “violence against women and girls,” as well as with “sexual and gender-based violence” (a broader phenomenon that encompasses CRSV). They also reflect the broader conflation of “women” and “gender” throughout UN policy documents and training resources for military peacekeepers.
This narrow understanding of CRSV harms victims of sexual violence who are not women and girls, including men and boys as well as sexual and gender minorities. Increasingly, UN documents recognize that women and girls are not the only victims of CRSV. However, their recommendations still tend to frame women and girls as the victims. Other groups (if they are named) are treated as add-ons, and little to no guidance is given on how to address their unique needs and vulnerabilities. This narrow understanding of victimhood is also reflected in—and perpetuated by—peacekeeping trainings, where victims are usually presented as women or girls.
Beyond the victims, narrow understandings of CRSV also harm women peacekeepers. Those pushing to increase the number of uniformed women peacekeepers often emphasize their added value in preventing and responding to CRSV. However, there is little data to back up the assumption that women are better than men at addressing CRSV. Moreover, this assumption can perpetuate the idea that women peacekeepers’ primary added value is their gender identity and saddles them with additional responsibilities, often without adequate training, resources, or authority. Assigning these responsibilities to women peacekeepers is also a disservice to men peacekeepers who might benefit from learning more about how to prevent and respond to CRSV.
While it is important to keep in mind that military peacekeepers are not (and should not necessarily be) the primary responders to CRSV, they are often the first responders. They therefore need to be able to recognize different types of victims and to refer victims to appropriate service providers. Critically, skills for addressing CRSV need to be built among all peacekeepers—not only women. More broadly, peacekeeping policies and trainings should move beyond neatly binary, gendered categories such as man/woman, perpetrator/victim, and violent/peaceful and avoid reinforcing the idea that “gender” is equivalent to “women.”