Gender Training For Police Peacekeepers: Approaching Two Decades Of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 – Analysis


By Dr Marina Caparini*

Nineteen years ago, on 31 October 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Commonly referred to as a ‘landmark resolution’, it was the first to explicitly acknowledge the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and girls and the undervalued contributions of women in international peace and security. One of the most important ways in which the UN interacts with individual women and girls is through the police personnel deployed on UN peace operations. By helping host states to develop effective, representative, responsive and accountable police, they can play a critical role in developing a police service that protects and serves all members of the population. By providing operational support and conducting joint patrols with host state police, they teach by example, mentor, and directly impact safety, security and public order. As the most visible UN actors that have potential to influence inclusive protection at community level as well as through national law enforcement institutions, policies and practices, the attitudes, beliefs and actions of police peacekeepers matter, particularly towards those who are often the most vulnerable in society. Training, including gender training, is necessary to prepare police to effectively perform these roles in peace operations. As Resolution 1325 approaches its 20th anniversary, it is a good time to take stock of how it has changed the way in which the UN acts by focusing on the training of police peacekeepers. 

Resolution 1325 and the women, peace and security agenda

Resolution 1325 calls for the international community and the UN to take a gender perspective into account, with attention to the specific protection needs of women and girls in conflict. It also calls for increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making and in all mechanisms to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts. It laid the groundwork for a suite of nine resolutions that collectively comprise the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda and which ‘guide work to promote gender equality and strengthen women’s participation, protection and rights across the conflict cycle, from conflict prevention through [to] post-conflict reconstruction’. 

While the WPS agenda has resulted in a higher awareness of gender considerations in peace and security, there is also a growing sense of frustration among some observers at the slow rate of progress. Even the UN Secretary-General is concerned that implementation continues to fall short. There is also alarm at the current international environment, reflected in the Security Council, which has seen a rollback of the women’s rights and human rights agendas around the world.

Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 and the emergence of the WPS agenda, the mainstreaming of gender in peace operations and security has included the appointment of gender advisers, focal points and the establishment of gender units; the integration of gender perspectives into policies, plans, standard operating procedures and other guidance; and targeted training of peacekeeping personnel on the relevance of gender concepts and how to apply them to their work in the mission. Significant recent attention has focused on creating networks to increase women’s participation in peace processes; applying gender perspectives in peace processes; monitoring trends in and increasing women’s participation in peace operations; establishing a UN system-wide policy for gender parity; and developing a UN strategy to create an enabling environment for uniformed women personnel on peace operations. Despite this, much less attention has focused on the purpose and nature of gender training for peacekeeping. 

Gender training: What and why?

Gender training has been generally defined as a ‘facilitated process of developing awareness and capacity on gender issues, to bring about personal or organisational change for gender equality’. It is about imparting knowledge about gender sensitivity to influence the work of trainees on deployments, but also more broadly about changing attitudes and mindsets.

As recognized by Resolution 1325, armed conflict inflicts particular harm on women and children. Women and girls are often exposed to higher risks of human rights violations including sexual and gender-based violence in contexts affected by conflict or instability. There is a need to protect the rights of women, to take into account their needs in conflict settings, and to involve them in all peace and security efforts. Gender training is intended to provide peacekeepers with a greater awareness of this need. It should also show them how to apply an understanding of gender in the course of their duties and interactions with host state counterparts and society and with their colleagues in peace operations.

Resolution 1325 calls for the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into all activities of UN peace operations. It further requests that the UN Secretary-General provide member states with ‘training guidelines and materials on the protection, rights and the particular needs of women, as well as on the importance of involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures’. It invites member states to integrate this into national pre-deployment training (PDT) programmes for military personnel and recommends such training for civilian police personnel in preparation for peace operations. 

The first 10 years of Resolution 1325

Despite the consistent calls for training and gender mainstreaming, a 2010 impact study by the UN on the first 10 years of Resolution 1325 found mixed results across 12 peacekeeping missions. 

The presence of female peacekeepers was found to have a positive impact on attitudes, by challenging traditional notions of gender roles. It had some influence on the introduction of gender-sensitive reforms in the security sector of host states. But in most countries, representation of women in the security sector remained low, women continued to encounter difficult working environments and harassment, with few mechanisms to lodge complaints, and there was a general failure to enforce the gender equality provisions of laws.

The study further found that overall protection lagged behind as sexual and gender-based violence remained widespread in the conflict-affected countries where peacekeepers were deployed. It also found gender balance in peacekeeping missions to be unsatisfactory. With increasing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, there was a need for robust enforcement of the UN’s zero-tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse. Finally, the 10-year study noted the need to develop tailored gender training for missions, including for senior managers, gender advisers and programme staff ‘to help them to integrate gender perspectives into their work’. 

A much stronger emphasis on the importance of gender training of peacekeepers was one of the conclusions of a leaked confidential 2013 report by a small team of UN experts who examined sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. According to the experts, sexual exploitation and abuse in missions ‘has been judged as the most significant risk to UN peacekeeping, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians’. Inadequate training of peacekeepers, ineffective impact assessment of training and lax enforcement of the UN’s zero-tolerance policy were among the experts’ key findings.

The women, peace and security agenda in 2019

The most recent addition to the WPS agenda, Security Council Resolution 2467, was adopted in April 2019. It focuses on sexual violence in conflict-affected settings and calls for a victim-centred approach. It reiterates the principles of Resolution 1325 but with greater precision and stronger language, as in paragraph 24, which 

Recognizes the role of United Nations peacekeeping contingents in preventing sexual violence, and, in this respect, calls for pre-deployment and in-mission training of troop-and police-contributing country contingents to include training on sexual and gender-based violence and encourages integration of this competence into the performance and operational readiness standards against which troops and police are assessed.’

However, observers have criticized the deletion—as a result of pressures within the Security Council—of language from draft versions of Resolution 2467 that called on donors to redress the huge funding gap for civil society organizations and women-led groups that mainly deliver victim-centred services in conflict-affected settings.

Observations from gender training for peacekeepers

Over the course of 2014–16, in four pre-deployment and in-mission training courses for police peacekeepers, the author was able to participate, observe, or conduct interviews with course participants, trainers and course directors. The four courses fell along a spectrum in terms of the extent to which gender was integrated into the content and in terms of how this was done. (A full analysis in given in a book on the WPS agenda.)

No gender component

One PDT course, focused on mission-specific preparation for deployment to a mission with a stabilisation mandate, lacked any specific gender component. Although gender was likely addressed in the preceding generic PDT course, the mission-specific PDT course missed the opportunity to provide context-specific training on gender dynamics and sexual and gender-based violence in the host state. 

The standardized United Nations approach

One of these courses was based on the standardized UN approach to police PDT using the UN’s core PDT materials and specialized training materials for police. Gender was taught as a single topic covering 2 hours in the 10-day course, with some additional time in the session addressing conduct and discipline (specifically the prohibition against sexual exploitation and abuse). In the standardized UN approach, gender is simply one topic among many in a dense curriculum.

Despite the high quality of the trainers and lectures in this PDT, the time allotted to gender was short and gender was not treated as a cross-cutting theme but as one of many complex topics. Limitations of this approach were indicated by the inability of the trainers to respond to the police trainees’ questions about legal liability, status of forces agreements and immunity, about how to report witnessing incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by colleagues, and about the failures of the UN to hold perpetrators responsible in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse. Indeed, as this course took place there was much media coverage of a case of a UN official who was sanctioned for whistleblowing on the failure of top UN leadership to respond to instances of child sex abuse by peacekeepers. The course participants also contrasted the normative agenda of gender equality with the small proportion of female leadership in the UN. 

Adapted, story-based pre-deployment training

A second PDT course took an adapted story-based approach. This 10-day International Police Officer Course for European Union and UN Missions (IPOC) had an online course run followed by an in-person segment—an approach known as ‘blended learning’. The in-person part of the course integrated a gender perspective from the beginning by linking discussion and learning activities to a specially written short novel about a family in a country that slides into conflict and a foreign police officer who is deployed on a mission to that country. By enabling trainees to see the conflict and its effects through the perspectives and experiences of each of the four family members and the deployed police officer, the novel explores gender roles within the family and their implications, and how the developing conflict affected each family member differently. This includes accounts of conflict-related sexual violence from both a victim and perpetrator perspective. The course asked participants to reflect on their policing role in their home country and on gender and masculinity in the home country and mission contexts. 

The course received positive feedback from several former trainees. For example, one police officer who had taken the story-driven PDT and who subsequently became a PDT trainer in her home country, said that this approach was far more effective at applying a gender perspective to conflict and peace than other training courses she had taken based on the traditional UN approach. The crucial element identified by several participants was the use of the accompanying novel, which served to engage course participants on an emotional level and build empathy by showing them how a conflict affects individual women and men and girls and boys.

Specialized in-mission gender training

The third course was specialized in-mission gender training over 10 days. The group of trainees included police officers already deployed and serving in a peace operation and a number of police officers from the state hosting the operation. The course provided a comprehensive and in-depth introduction to concepts of gender, gender analysis and gender mainstreaming in various types of activity likely to be undertaken by a mission’s police component. It also included some subjects traditionally covered in PDT, such as sexual exploitation and abuse, community policing, and mentoring and advising.

The course provided the most intensive formal coverage of concepts of gender, gender analysis and gender mainstreaming. However, problems arose due to the course director’s lack of policing expertise and the police trainers’ lack of gender and WPS knowledge. Moreover, the course took an overly theoretical and academic—and sometimes simplistic—approach in terms of reference documents and materials whose relevance for practical policing and peacekeeping were not clearly demonstrated or understood. While the police trainers agreed that some conceptual and abstract discussion was necessary, there was a need for the course to use less jargon and address more concrete gender-related problems and experiences. These could include the responses of local police and police peacekeeper to sexual and gender-based violence in a mission environment. More important, the specific types of sexual and gender-based violence found in the context where the trainees in this particular course (who were already deployed) should have been addressed.

Assessing the approaches

Viewed together, these four courses demonstrated that gender training efforts and subjective effectiveness vary considerably. Although the UN provides extensive guidance and training materials to encourage a standardized approach to pre-deployment training, the course that most clearly followed this approach did not appear to result in a better understanding of gender in peacekeeping or how to apply a gender lens to peacekeeping. 

Standardized curricula serve a useful purpose of establishing a common understanding of UN principles and policies for the extremely diverse police personnel deployed to peace operations, who have come from 129 member states. However, while standardization may produce a basic minimum, efforts to develop more effective approaches to training should not be discouraged. 

Although the sample of courses reviewed here is small, it highlights the value of using teaching methodologies adapted for adult education to draw out the practical implementation of gender perspectives for police peacekeepers. It also demonstrates the value of innovative approaches to training, such as the use of storytelling. 

The review also suggests that gender training does not occur in a vacuum: the weakness of the UN in seriously addressing gender inequality in leadership positions as well as allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers has introduced inconsistency. It has also undermined the norms that the UN sought to inculcate in peacekeepers about their role in promoting gender equality and in combating sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual and gender-based violence. 

The effectiveness of gender training often remains unclear, and more effective ways of evaluating training need to be found. Without careful post-training monitoring and evaluation of police peacekeepers’ attitudes and behaviour in the mission, there is no way of knowing for certain what impact the training has. Course evaluations are usually completed by students at the end of training courses; however, these often appeared to merely test participants’ ability to recall course content and were of limited or no utility in determining the impact of training and its effectiveness in changing attitudes. A general pattern of excessively positive feedback regarding the course was common to trainings. Evaluations were frequently returned with few, if any, negative or critical ratings, even when trainees had displayed visible signs of boredom or disengagement. Monitoring and evaluating attitudinal change should be considered at the end of training, as well as at the end of deployment, to better understand training needs. A more serious effort by police-contributing countries to refine peacekeeper training techniques is necessary in order to advance gender equality and combat sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual and gender-based violence.

A concrete path forward on women, peace and security

As the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325 approaches in 2020, there is likely to be more talk about initiatives to increase women’s participation in all activities contributing to sustainable peace, including mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to apply gender perspectives and promote gender equality in peace and security. Looking at how to improve gender training approaches for police, but also for the military and civilian components of peace operations, requires similar efforts if implementation of the goals of the women, peace and security agenda is to improve.

*About the author: Dr Marina Caparini is a Senior Researcher and Director of the SIPRI Governance and Society Programme.

Source: This article was published by SIPRI


SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public. Based in Stockholm, SIPRI also has a presence in Beijing, and is regularly ranked among the most respected think tanks worldwide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *