Deploying women into peacekeeping forces will make missions more effective and make civilian women feel safer in reporting abuses, experts say.
Vida Nyekanga, a warrant officer in Ghana’s military, has been deployed for peacekeeping missions across Africa and in Lebanon. Being a woman, she says, gives her certain access to people and information her male counterparts might not have.
Women felt more comfortable speaking to other women, she found, especially when they took part in their daily activities.
“When we see the local women cooking, we try to join them to do the cooking,” Nyekanga said. “In the farms, we go to help them, and in the medical outreach we try to interact with them and we see them coming close, so through that we get vital information from them.”
Ghana is well known for its contributions to peacekeeping forces, and deploys large numbers of women in a field that generally has few.
Currently, women make up 4.9 percent of global peacekeepers, but the United Nations has a target of 15 percent by 2028.
At the first day of the Africa Endeavor 2019 conference, female military personnel from across the world gathered to discuss the roles men and women play in peacekeeping operations.
Studies show an increase in the number of female peacekeepers increases mission effectiveness and leads to a higher reporting of sexual- and gender-based violence, as well as lower levels of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Ghana Armed Forces Brigadier General Constance Edjeani-Afenu can attest to this.
“Women have specific roles to play in conflict areas where we have had cases of rape, sexual violence and stuff like that,” Edjeani-Afenu said. “We have women who, when they go on patrols, reach out to these women and they open up and are able to talk and they get help when they are supposed to get help.”
In recent years, there have been widespread allegations of peacekeepers sexually abusing civilians while stationed in African conflict zones.
The United Nations has launched a project on improving peacekeepers’ performance and behavior, with a strong emphasis on leadership and accountability.