The headlines have been fairly consistent. “Canada Introduces a New Era in Peacekeeping,” notes Legion magazine. “UN Peacekeeping in a New Era,” is the title of a policy piece by the Routledge Group. The Globe and Mail headline read, “Liberals Grapple with a New Era of Peacekeeping.”
It’s remains a difficult thing to discern exactly what this new era entails, but with much of the emphasis on troops, helicopters, the risks and dysfunctional nations overseas, we could be missing the most important resource. One headline from 2015 asked a key question: “Peacekeeping Has Evolved: Is Canada Ready?” Well, that depends on if, and how, that resource is utilized.
The resource is women, in all of their wisdom, lived experience, survival skills, military knowledge, understanding of conflict regions, proven depths of empathy and social justice, and the importance of providing security for children. Emphasis has been laid at times on the need for a strong women’s representation in peacekeeping missions themselves. At present, over 100,000 troops designated as peacekeepers are deployed around the world, and yet a small percentage are women.
But the key to peacekeeping is creating the conditions in which violence is no longer acceptable. Peace itself contains so many dimensions – education, proper healthcare, child and maternal health, growing economies, land ownership, access to resources like the internet and tools, responsible governments and a world willing to invest so that such conditions remain.
It’s something Nahla Valji understands all too well. Deputy Chief of the UN’s Women’s Peace and Security Section, Valji understands the lengths and depths of violence and the lack of accountability in troubled regions. As co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on Gender and Conflict, she writes and speaks about such issues around the world. Following years of research on the role of women in world affairs, her key message is always consistent:
“One key finding has emerged – women’s meaningful participation is the most important and overlooked ingredient for sustainable peace … Research shows that the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least 15 years is 35% higher when women are included,” Valji wrote in a 2016 article published by the Huffington Post.
That’s 35% – the consequence of which could revolutionize the world’s pursuit of a more peaceful and secure future. But there is a caveat: “However, our actions and policies are yet to respond to this evidence,” she adds.
It’s always the same intransigence leading to the same results. Mountains of research point to the necessity of more women involved in society’s key sectors. People everywhere talk about it, say they support it, and confirm they understand the issue. And then nothing changes. This is not merely a gender issue, nor a social justice issue. It is a survival necessity and that outcome isn’t a sure thing in a violent world. Every resource must be deployed to alter civilization’s direction and that especially includes generous resources of women and men applying their skills and commitment. The Trudeau government says they get this, but its implementation is taking too long.
The studies and reviews referred to by Valji lay out a clear path forward of recommendations and ideas, including everything from targets to temporary special measures. One of them is crucial: the creation of a new mechanism in the UN Security Council called “The Informal Expert Group on Women.” “As the very least,” she notes, “the Security Council cannot hear only once a year that women’s leadership and participation is a missing ingredient in crisis response and stabilization efforts. It must hear it all year-round, directly from the people it deploys on the ground and act upon it.”
She’s right, and chiefly because she understands that peace is not just about the absence of violence but the consistent presence of human development that provides people the resources they require to build better, healthier and more stable lives. It is just as Eleanor Roosevelt stated it 70 years ago: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” A noble sentiment that will prove impossible unless women and girls take their rightful role in finding the peace that has eluded us.