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Gender Parity in Top Levels of UN Peace and Political Operations Is Still Out of Reach


In the Central African Republic, Valentine Rugwabiza, above, is the boss of the UN peacekeeping mission. Although the number of women in such operations has risen since 2016, gender parity has not been achieved. Part of the problem is member states not submitting enough women candidates, the UN spokesperson says. LEONEL GROTHE/MINUSCA

In a follow-up to our recent analysis on the status of gender parity among United Nations senior-level appointments, which found that almost half of them replaced a woman with a man, we look now at the senior leadership of field missions, which are less equal overall.[/caption]

In December, Secretary-General António Guterres said that among the heads and deputy heads of “peace operations,” the UN had reached gender parity. Not quite.

Since Guterres announced his gender parity strategy in 2017, the number of women in leadership positions in peacekeeping has risen. Each year, in Guterres’s annual report to the Security Council on women, peace and security, the number of women’s participation in senior positions within peacekeeping are tracked. In 2016, according to the 2017 annual report, only 13 percent of overall peacekeeping leadership positions, which include the highest professional level at the UN, or P5, were occupied by women. Today, it hovers around 36 percent.

Yet responsibility in reaching parity at the senior field-staff level cannot be placed solely on Guterres, said Stéphane Dujarric, his spokesperson. Heads of peacekeeping as well as political missions are chosen in consultation with the Security Council, where only five of the 15 members are currently women. Dujarric noted that Guterres has more direct authority over naming deputy heads of missions.

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“From the moment he assumed office, the Secretary-General has been committed to achieving gender parity throughout the system and has put in place a strategy to that effect,” Dujarric said. “His efforts have real and demonstrable impact for posts under his hiring authority, including resident coordinators and envoys.”

Currently, the UN deploys personnel to 36 field operations. These include 12 peacekeeping missions falling under the Department of Peace Operations, which is run by Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Abyei (Sudan), Central African Republic, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Golan (Israel/Syria), India and Pakistan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, Mideast (Jerusalem), South Sudan and Western Sahara. The missions’ mandate is to help “countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace,” with the ability to deploy multinational military and police troops.

The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, run by Rosemary DiCarlo, has 24 missions: 14 special political missions, nine other political presences and one support mission, in Somalia. These field operations support appointments of the secretary-general who help nations and regions to practice “crisis diplomacy.” Operations run from Colombia to Afghanistan, and leading each is a head of mission, or envoy, sometimes assisted by one or more deputies. A head of mission/envoy position is equivalent to an under secretary-general.

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Looking at the top echelon of all UN field operations:

• 23 of the posts are held by men and 13, women
• Of the 36 total, 8 people are special envoy, special coordinator or personal envoy of the secretary-general. Among the 8, only 2 are women. One man, Geir Pedersen, envoy for Syria, has a deputy, Najat Rochdi, a woman. Including Rochdi in the numbers, the envoy deployment ratio favors men 2-1
• Among the other 28 mission heads, 2 posts are empty; 16 are men and 10 are women, so 40 percent are women. (Mission heads also serve as special representatives of the secretary-general, and their second-in-commands are deputy special representatives by title.)
• Within peacekeeping missions, more women serve as deputy heads than as top bosses, as 9 men and 3 women serve as heads of mission, while 7 men and 7 women serve as deputy to six of the missions.

Missions may have more than one deputy head, and every one that has a woman leader has at least one deputy, obscuring gender parity goals.

Valentine Ruqwabiza is the head of Minusca, the peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic. Her deputies are Mohamed Ag Ayoya and Lizbeth Anne Cullity. Bintou Keita, head of Monusco, in the Congo, is assisted by Bruno Lemarquis and Kassim Diagne. Only one mission, in Kosovo, has an all-women team, with Caroline Ziadeh as head and Barrie Lynn Freeman as deputy. Eight peacekeeping missions, all of which are led by men, do not have a deputy.

• For political missions, parity exists only among the top post. Of the 16, they are split evenly between men and women. Four of the women have no deputies. Among the other 4 women heads, 2 have male deputies, 1 has a single male deputy and 1 a woman deputy.

• In political missions, 8 men and 6 women are deputies.

Despite Guterres’s commitment to parity, the numbers are not always easily accessible or clear. As a source who had a lengthy career at the UN wrote to PassBlue in an email: “If someone wants to obtain full and accurate statistics on the breakdown of women holding posts across all levels of UN peace operations and in the lead Secretariat departments supporting those operations, it is a nightmare. There is no ‘one-stop shop’ to access such comprehensive statistics which reflects a lack of transparency, the figures are spread out across different websites depending on the category of personnel concerned (civilian, military, police), and the civilian staff figures often do not include temporary positions. In addition, the annual reports of the Secretary-General [Guterres] to the Security Council on Women, Peace and Security often tend to present combined statistics for women holding either the posts of Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) or Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) in peace operations instead of presenting each of these two posts separately, which would be more transparent in revealing the actual situation of the numbers of women holding each of these top leadership positions.”

According to Dujarric, several factors are involved in naming personnel, including member states proposing women candidates. To date, he said only 80 of the 193 member states have nominated a woman to field operation posts.

“The Secretary-General has issued a number of global calls for nominations since his pledge to achieve gender parity to expand and diversify the talent pool for these senior appointments,” Dujarric said. “This has expanded and diversified the pool of candidates for special representatives and deputy special representatives of the secretary-general roles, with official nominations received from 80 member states, in addition to referrals from organizations, as well as individual applicants, who could ‘self-nominate’. And the results have been visible.”

This article was updated to include revised numbers. 

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on gender equality in peace ops' top ranks?

Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.

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Gender Parity in Top Levels of UN Peace and Political Operations Is Still Out of Reach
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1 year ago

Reality is at the tactical and operational level who is doing the hard work? Easy to appoint Administrative High ranking and call it: Achieved Gender Balance. But who is building rations fuel transport aviation some Working in Austere conditions 24/7/365= Male Staff Members.

Niall McCann
Niall McCann
1 year ago

Brilliant article. As a former UN staff for 15+ years in multiple duty stations, I cannot stress enough on the accuracy on one of your final points; due to a lack of an overall centralised recruitment portal, it is practically impossible to determine overall gender statistics across the UN system, including only at senior level, and only for those DPO and DPPA missions that, in theory, should be easier to get accurate statistics for.

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