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UN Peacekeeping Operations and Gendered Threats to the Protection of Civilians

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By Laura Cuzzuol and Welmoet Wels

Executive Summary

The intersection between the protection of civilians (POC) and gender has been addressed in Security Council resolutions on POC and on women, peace, and security (WPS) since the late 1990s. Nonetheless, understanding how POC and gender converge, and translating this convergence into implementable action plans, are challenging tasks for peacekeeping missions.

One challenge is that neither UN policies on POC in peacekeeping nor UN policies on making peacekeeping gender-responsive focus on the intersection between POC and gender. Likewise, the language in peacekeeping mandates does not always include firm and clear language related to gendered POC threats.

At the mission level, POC strategy documents vary greatly in the extent to which they mention gender mainstreaming, and few provide concrete guidance. Accordingly, most missions do not undertake a structured, gender-sensitive analysis of threats. When they do, they often focus on sexual and gender-based violence against women, with less attention to other gendered POC threats or POC threats to men, boys, and girls. Moreover, many missions do not systematically disaggregate POC-related data by sex, age, and other relevant demographic factors.

Another challenge is the lack of coherence within the UN and between the UN and other stakeholders in conceptualizing and responding to gendered POC threats. While there are conversations on gendered POC threats within missions, and, to some extent, with interlocutors outside of missions, these usually amount to a relatively shallow form of coordination. To ensure the sustainability of their efforts to address gendered POC threats, missions also have to work with national and local actors. While there are many examples of missions grounding their POC work in local structures, it is difficult for missions to sustainably address gendered POC threats that are culturally grounded.

To address these challenges, UN peacekeeping missions could consider developing “safeguarding frameworks” on the intersection of POC and gender. These frameworks could provide more detailed guidance that challenges the conflation of “gender” and “women” and the association of gender-related protection primarily with sexual violence. They could also dictate that missions need to assess the gender aspects of every threat and could help move missions from coordinating to integrating their work on POC and gender.