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Women in Blue HelmetsGender, Policing, and the UN's First All-Female Peacekeeping Unit$

Lesley J. Pruitt

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520290600

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520290600.001.0001

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Women at Work

Women at Work

Securing the Peace

(p.50) 3 Women at Work
Women in Blue Helmets

Lesley J. Pruitt

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 3 explores the key responsibility of the FFPU—providing security—and how they have carried out this role in Liberia. The chapter shows how, while facing many challenges, the FFPU have nevertheless succeeded in doing a great deal to break down barriers to women’s participation in peacekeeping in particular and peace and security in general. Through their actions (and public recognition they earned), the FFPU have shown that women, including those working in women-only units, can meet and, indeed, exceed expectations in providing security, both in traditional law-and-order policing and in dealing with gender-based crimes. This is a direct challenge to discourses that represent women as victims in need of protection.

Keywords:   security, Liberia, peacekeeping, participation, women, post-conflict, discourse, protection, masculinity, femininity

Seema and her commanders … I’d been a SWAT guy for many years, I’ve been shot, stabbed, everything. They stood their ground. She said, “If you’re fighting, I’m fighting. If they overtake us, I’m staying with you. We don’t run.” I said, “We can laugh about it in heaven, we can laugh about it in the hospital, or we can stand here in victory on the ground.”

Lt. Sal Rodriguez, the coordinator of the UN’s formed police units in Liberia at the time of the all-female formed police unit’s first deployment

Traditionally, women have been excluded from defending the state and “defined as the protected rather than the protectors, although they have had little control over the conditions of their own protection.”1 However, this tradition is slowly but surely being eroded both locally and globally. As more and more women enter the security field around the world, they are often faced with pressure to legitimize their presence and their right to take up space in the security context. For example, the founder of Securico, now one of Zimbabwe’s largest security firms, stated that her gender was among the greatest barriers she faced in setting up her company, since “Obviously, as a woman, people would not believe that I could run a security company.”2 Likewise, the all-female formed police unit (FFPU) has received extensive attention for its community activities, which are also discussed later in this chapter. However, up until now “One thing that has not been properly documented or accounted for has been the actual impact the FPU [formed police unit] is having on security in the county—which is after all their primary function.”3 Thus this chapter first emphasizes that (p.51) providing security for both the state and human beings is one of the biggest parts, if not the biggest part, of the FFPU’s story. “Security” is most often “understood and enacted in a militarized and masculinist way.”4 Recognizing this, and given the special vulnerabilities women face at home and in society, this book applies J. Ann Tickner’s feminist perspective in defining security as “the absence of violence, whether it be military, economic, or sexual.”5

Discussions with the staff of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and review of UN documents confirmed that officers of the FFPU do the same security work as their male colleagues in FPUs that are all male or male majority. Members of FFPUs see their work keeping the community secure as their biggest achievement.6 As one FFPU officer has explained, “People say they feel confident, safe and secure when they see us.”7 Given their many successes in policing, UNMIL’s former special representative to the secretary general, Ellen Margrethe Løj, said of the FFPU, “We are first and foremost … proud of them being our best Formed Police Unit.”8

Even a current DPKO staffer who was dismissive about FPUs in general (“FPUs are a lesser form of policing”) and who adamantly disagreed with the introduction of an all-female unit, favoring gender “integration,” admitted, after visiting the FFPU, that “they were impressive.” Others agree that the FFPU officers have performed their security tasks impressively. Former DPKO police adviser Mark Kroeker described the Liberian FFPU as “a strong tactical team withstanding the rigors of crowd control and high demands.” And the FPU coordinator on the ground when the first FFPU deployed to Liberia said of the group:

On the first day they arrived and were unpacking we had a major riot. I called the Jordanian and Nigerian FPUs. The Nepalese had trouble getting across town. They started fighting the crowd. My two commissioners showed up, and I said, “You need to leave my area of operation. I don’t want a hostage situation. You’re going to agitate the crowd more.” Then here comes the rock throwing. I called Seema [FFPU commander], and she said, “How many do you need?” I said thirty. She showed up with fifty ready to go and they provided the perimeter security. Most FPUs [which were mostly if not entirely male] would chase them [the rioters], and the Jordanians did that. All the others did. But when they came from behind, the Indians (p.52) [women of the FFPU] let them have it. They started throwing smoke grenades. They did such a good job of controlling the crowd. No one got hurt, and it sent a message that if you want to play silly games we’re a lot better at it than you.

In further showing his respect for the FFPU commanders and officers and their strength and capacity for protection, he stated, “They’ll put a bullet in you if they need to.” This is interesting because the FFPU tend to try to avoid such engagements more than their fellow FPUs do. Indeed, the original commanders of the FFPU went out of their way to purposefully request more nonlethal weapons, which they favored relying on in operations. One commander noted in an interview that her unit had borrowed certain nonlethal equipment from another domestic Indian group, the Rapid Action Force, to take to Liberia. As she explained, “We have tear gas solutions and a lot of things, which are really needed, are really effective in order to patrol a mob. So earlier the unit, which had gone to Kosovo, they had not taken such kind of equipment, but we took along with us the less lethal sort of weapons … tear gas solutions and other things and body protectors and other things for the requirement of female [officers].”

So there do appear to be some differences in the way the FFPU works. But although the women of the FFPU are working as women and sometimes for women they are not necessarily in gender-specific roles—indeed, they usually are not. While they participate in a whole range of extracurricular or “second shift” jobs, as discussed later, security is their main job. This of course also has important impacts for local women, since “Violence is a barrier to women’s participation in postconflict peace building, perpetuated by women’s absence from decision making about political and economic reconstruction.”9

Although India is credited with having the world’s first all-female policing units, many other countries have used all-women’s police stations or units to some degree, including Pakistan, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Uruguay.10 The reasons for creating women’s police stations and the activities they undertake differ a great deal and link closely to specific local, regional, national, and sociocultural processes.11 The all-women police forces vary in the ways they are employed in various countries’ contexts, including the degree to which they specialize in gender-based crimes.12 Sarah Hautzinger explains that (p.53) women’s police stations have seen three unique types of gender difference in practice: policing solely by female officers, policing that is available only to women citizens, and policing that specializes in gender-based violence, along with structural adaptations to the police organization to allow such a concentration. All of these types link in unique ways to the broader issues, advantages, and disadvantages encountered in specialization and gender segregation.13

Research on other gendered policing initiatives shows that the FFPU shares some similarities with approaches taken in other contexts, but it also has some unique characteristics. South Africa’s all-women motorcycle police squad may be the closest to the FFPU, as the focus is not on gendered crimes and as the women police are seen as positive role models who can empower women through their work. They prevent crimes and protect VIPs and are noted for their quick response times due to motorcycles’ maneuverability in traffic.14

Outside India, scholars focusing on Latin American domestic initiatives have conducted the most in-depth research on gendered policing.15 Hautzinger has engaged in deep exploration of Brazil’s first women’s police stations, or delegacias da mulher (DMs), which opened in 1985. Pointing to examples from her work in Brazil—and noting the all-women police stations in India—where governments have chosen to consolidate all three features of gendered policing, Hautzinger suggests that this “triple cocktail” of “serving women citizens, staffing with women police, and institutional compartmentalization” has brought more value than consternation.16 Hautzinger explains that while the DMs do have quite limited capacity, and while some women officers in the DMs may hold unhelpful attitudes, in general the DMs can be seen as quite successful because they are widely recognized, many women (over four million between 1985 and 2004) go to them to request help, and just the presence of the DMs has enabled some women to benefit from them even if they do not access them directly (for example, some women have been able to stop spousal abuse they had endured by threatening to report their male partners to DMs).17

Sally Engle Merry’s work suggests that implementing such frameworks may be fundamental to ensuring that women develop a consciousness about their rights.18 At the same time, the development of “rights consciousness” and the ability and willingness to claim such rights may depend (p.54) on the presence of security structures and processes offering reliable support.19 Likewise, Hautzinger highlights that women dealing with conflict (which they may or may not take to the police) are not inherently winners or losers, victims or victors: each woman’s outcome depends upon the security resources she can access and how she perceives her chances of success if she chooses to use them.20

Ensuring women’s rights to live in situations characterized by peace and security, and to participate themselves in all aspects of peace and security are two separate but often strongly related goals that have broader implications. As Shannon Drysdale Walsh argues, practicing one’s rights to participate in democracy may be unimaginable when one is facing fears of violence at home or in public. Hence, “When the state [and here I would add the international community] systemically fails to protect women from violence, it truncates their potential to engage fully in political citizenship.”21 Better addressing women’s rights to security can exponentially increase their ability to exercise other rights more broadly.

The Strong Protectors

The discursive impacts of the FFPU may also be significant. As Mark Goodale and Sally Engle Merry propose, such practices may have the potential for transforming the way rights are understood.22 Calls for women’s participation in peacekeeping often essentialize women as possessing “feminine” characteristics such as peacefulness and empathy, but the FFPU’s actual training includes “shooting, assaulting, and marching exercises” and antiriot tactics.23 Significantly, from Indian press reports surrounding the deployment of the first FFPU, it appears that the discourse about it may play an important role in reshaping attitudes around the role of women in peace and security by showing that women can successfully participate in traditionally masculine spheres and by emphasizing that femininity can include strength and the capacity for protection.24

In media discourse on the topic by far the most common construction of the FFPU has relied on images of its members as strong, competent protectors. Media reports, including reporters’ commentaries as well as quotes from members of the Indian FFPU and other UN and Indian (p.55) government officials, have described the all-female force as a group and as individuals in ways that contrast with traditional, stereotypical understandings of women. The women are portrayed as a strong and well-trained group. Indeed, they are referred to as the “first ever all-women fighting contingent,” including “103 female fighting force and a few male supporting staff.25 Consider what it means for a group of security sector personnel to include women as “fighters” and men as “supporting staff.” It certainly appears to undermine the dominant existing notions of gender roles in international peace and security.

The broader body from which the women are drawn, the Central Reserve Police Force, is “the world’s largest para-military force,” through which these women “have been providing support … in counterinsurgency operations for nearly a decade now and conduct independent cordon and search operations.”26 The FFPU has been variously described as trained in “riot control, firing and unarmed combat”; as having “endurance [and] advanced unarmed combat tactics”; and as being familiar with “crowd and mob control, modern sophisticated weapons, counter-insurgency operations and disaster management.”27

In the context of their international deployment, the women of the FFPU have been described as “police-soldiers” who wear “combat fatigues” and are “better armed than a regular unit”; their major tasks “includ[e] protecting UN officials and civilian police as they perform their duties.”28 In 2008 Seema Dhundia, the commander of the group, was described as “a master in martial arts and combat weaponry,” qualifications that enabled her to lead her “soldiers” to “control riots, patrol the capital Monrovia, and tackle armed robberies and mob violence.”29 Reports explained that “an elite squad of these AK-47 totting [sic] women personnel keep a round-the-clock vigil on the office of the President which also houses the West African nation’s foreign affairs department in capital Monrovia” and said they were maintaining law and order and combating violence.30 Further reports claimed that they had “disarmed more than one lakh [one hundred thousand] of ex-combatants, supported the country’s first democratic elections in decades and provided the security necessary for reconstruction and economic development.”31 Moreover, reporters lauded the group for playing “pro-active” roles “in quelling riots and breaking drug rings,” thereby “giv[ing] Liberia the strength to come out from the shadow (p.56) of the UN peace-keeping forces and strengthen its own Liberian National Police by inducting women.”32 As the group with the “muscle,” the women could also “respond to calls for armed back-up from the national police who, unlike the Indian unit, do not carry arms.”33

The media statements of battalion commander Dhundia directly counter portrayals of women as lacking skills and authority, particularly in traditionally male-dominated occupations. In one article she stated: “We’re prepared to take casualties. My girls know the hazards of the call of duty—they have to do it, they’re soldiers.”34 Elsewhere she stated that the contingent had been “carved out from a paramilitary force,” that “as far as training is concerned, it is almost on the same line of what army recruits get, and that they would carry out their work “with utmost professionalism.”35 Dhundia situated herself as a protector among protectors: “My aim was to keep my troops safe and also to live up to the expectations of the UN, my own organisation and the Liberians too.”36

Other UN officials have similarly emphasized the leadership, authority, competence, and strength of the female police officers and have been careful to describe them, not as somehow “different” from other women, but as exemplifying what women can do. For instance, Løj, the UN special representative to the secretary general for Liberia, commented that “the unit hit the ground running on arrival and showed itself a capable force, protecting UN officials and VIPs, as well as protecting various installations.” Løj further commended “the superb professional performance of the first batch of female Indian police peacekeepers” in fulfilling essential roles, including helping to “deal with possible civil unrest such as violent demonstrations and communal tensions.”37

Løj and some other UN officials were careful to emphasize the potential cooperation and similarities between FFPU members and local Liberian women. Løj stated that the Indian women not only had helped to make the streets of Monrovia safer but had set “a shining example for the women and girls of Liberia … [, motivating] more Liberian women to become police officers” and launching a joint UN–Liberia campaign against rape.38 The campaign thus offered a construction that embraced collaboration and input from local women. Andrew Hughes, a UN DPKO police adviser, reported that, “to have strong, confident and capable women police officers in that environment sends all the right messages. If these women can do (p.57) it … then why can’t women who are in this society do the same thing? The answer is … they can and they should.”39 Others described the FFPU’s presence as an “encouragement for Liberian women to come forward, and help rebuild their country by participating in the forces of law and order.”40

Indian officials have placed FFPUs in the larger context of women’s crucial role in establishing peace. Hardeep Singh Puri, permanent representative of India to the UN, for example, praised the FFPU initiative on the grounds that “greater participation of women in areas of conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacekeeping and post conflict reconstruction is the sine qua non for lasting peace and security.”41 Indian leaders have also challenged prevailing norms by situating the women as strong protectors, in contrast to traditional notions of women as victims needing protection. Lt. Gen. Randhir Kumar Mehta remarked, “They are not just tokens but operationally proven… You know, in our legends, the male deities are occasionally defeated, but the female deities never are.”42 Comments have tended to link the FFPU’s advancement of gender equality to its capable performance in the field: “Though a new beginning for gender equality in peacekeeping, this deployment is a continuation of India’s consistent commitment to peacekeeping operations… It is about performance. You have all performed your duties well and met our high expectations.”43

The representation of the FFPU in the Indian media suggests a need to broaden the feminist analysis of women’s participation as peacekeepers beyond short-term material outcomes. Such participation may also have longer-term impacts through shifts in the discourse that challenge gender norms regarding peace and security. The introduction of the FFPU is a significant step, both in ensuring that women are directly engaged in such processes and in shifting gendered discourses of peace and security.

The UN’s Appraisal of the FFPU

The UN has touted the Indian unit in Liberia as a role model for women’s involvement in security, leading to greater numbers of women joining the Liberian national police force.44 A UNMIL 2010 study looking at the FFPU alongside other (predominantly male) FPUs from Nepal, Nigeria, and Jordan, found that the women in the FFPU viewed their mission more (p.58) broadly. While the all-male FPU saw their outcomes in terms of reducing crime rates for armed robbery and assault, they paid little attention to the wider provision of human security.45 In contrast, FFPU members were encouraged, by unit and mission leaders, to develop an enhanced sense of contribution, including through developing outreach activities to the local population. This led to their having a broader outlook compared to their male colleagues—including greater attention to human security and using resources in innovative ways to improve the security situation.46 The FFPU members were strongly motivated, not only to provide safety, but to serve as role models; though facing their own challenges, they could see how their work affected women and girls and thus felt a “a strong sense of personal responsibility for continuing this trend.”47

The UNMIL report highlighted the FFPU as an example of best practice.48 It noted that according to community members in the area where the FFPU was stationed, women peacekeepers had enhanced security through their armed presence and through such practices as lighting systems and night patrols.49 One focus group member stated, “Their presence is our safety.”50 In addition to effectively providing security for government buildings and for people, the FFPU seems to have effectively modeled women’s ability to do police work for the Liberian population: their presence has correlated with the rise of the percentage of women in Liberia’s national police force.51

Policing of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

UNMIL states that the FFPU has acted as a UN resource in combating sexual violence, and the Liberian community has cited the FFPU as providing both deterrent and response mechanisms.52 Research has likewise found that the FFPU has reduced the rate of sexual harassment and rape in Liberia,53 and another researcher adds that since the FFPU arrived sexual abuse and exploitation rates in the area have plummeted.54 Furthermore, a DPKO gender a ffairs associate has noted that when these crimes do occur under the FFPU’s watch, the FFPU officers, by their presence alone, appear to “encourage Liberian women to report instances of sexual violence.”55 Increased reporting of sexual and gender-based violence may in itself (p.59) indicate confidence in the security sector, which can be understood as a significant move toward security for women.56

Many commentators have attributed the FFPU’s enhanced responsiveness to crimes of sexual and gender-based violence to “natural” qualities of women. For example, one female officer is reported as saying that “with peacekeeping contingents frequently facing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation, the presence of women naturally inspires confidence.”57 Løj, the UN special envoy, echoed such views in her official statements, suggesting that Indian policewomen had “infused a culture of tolerance, a tradition of respect and a natural inclination towards peaceful coexistence in UN operations.”58 Likewise, the FFPU commander understood the special capacity of her unit to reside in their natural ability to relate to people, especially women and other mothers: “What mattered, perhaps, was that we were caring and knew how to behave and were thus able to generate more confidence among the local people than men. The Liberian women didn’t hesitate to come to us since we understood their issues as well as that of the children.59 Others commented that women had special abilities to relate to people, particularly women, so they “expected that victims would find it easier to confide in female officers.”60

Representing the FPPU women as mothers positioned them as able to relate to other mothers and children. Not only is motherhood associated with making sacrifices, but evoking such images of domesticity may legitimize women’s public roles by challenging the public/private divide.61 Indeed, women around the world have often drawn on their respected status as mothers to gain political leverage.62 In this sense, motherhood can be understood as malleable, resilient, complicated, and contingent.63 While mobilizing motherhood in radical and innovative ways, women’s groups centered on their status as mothers have rarely been able to destabilize dominant views.64 However, by drawing on their status as mothers while taking on other roles that contradict traditional expectations, the Indian women of the FFPU may be perceived in unique ways that destabilize dominant assumptions.

While recognizing these possibilities, it is important to critically engage with the existing framework, which assumes that, because of experience in “mothering,” women (of the FFPU and in general) can “naturally” deal with crimes against women, including conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. For one thing, most, but not all, women in the FFPU are (p.60) mothers. Motherhood is not a “natural” state for every woman everywhere. Second, when women are mothers and draw on that experience in positive ways in their work, this ought to be recognized as a skill developed through relevant experience in empathetic and appropriate responses, rather than an innate trait. Likewise, the FFPU’s capacity for dealing with sexual and gender-based violence is probably evident, not because “women are inherently better at dealing with the emotional aspects of conflict, but because it is more socially acceptable for women to do so and less acceptable for men, especially male soldiers.”65 Moreover, as Robert Rubinstein notes, the way an individual peacekeeper will respond to a challenge depends on the training he or she receives; the social environment in which he or she operates, and the personal motivation he or she carries into the situation.66 All of these must thus be considered in approaching new innovations in peacekeeping practice and policy.

Assuming that women peacekeepers can “naturally” handle such important and serious crimes may leave both them and the communities they serve underprepared and lacking in appropriate training, resources, and strategies. After all, just like men, women peacekeepers need adequate and appropriate training for doing all aspects of their job, including responding to crimes against women. Because security work has not traditionally been seen as natural for women, much of the discourse around the FFPU has focused on how well trained the officers have been to do their job of providing security fully and well. Yet because it is often erroneously assumed that women somehow, as if by instinct, know how to deal with things like sexual and gender-based violence, policewomen in the FFPU have often been left to fend for themselves in learning how to respond to such crimes.

Hautzinger has documented a similar situation in her research on Brazil’s women’s police stations, where she noted it was hit-or-miss as to whether women police received training on dealing with violence against women. Most women officers had no qualifications or training relevant to being “women’s police” other than being women themselves.67 Some policewomen working in women’s police stations at times acted in dehumanizing, distancing, and authoritative ways as compared to crisis center staff, who related to the victims in ways that were more cooperative, nonjudgmental, and intimate. Again, this was probably because crisis center (p.61) workers had actually been trained to deal with gender-based violence, rather than being assumed to have expertise in the area merely by virtue of being female.68 Moreover, Hautzinger suggests that policewomen’s strong identification with being police and thus to some extent masculinized, potentially violent workers could impede their capacity for identifying with the female victims of crime requiring their assistance.69 After all, research suggests that both women and men police are more accepting of the need for regular, official violence than are their civilian counterparts.70 When policewomen in Brazil received training on gender-based violence, they tended to have a stronger sense of purpose and heightened resolve; however, most of the time such education and training was unavailable, exacerbating the resentment and alienation many policewomen faced.71 Overall, Hautzinger found that the assumption that women would do policing differently just by virtue of being women was not supported. Women did policing differently only when they received “specialized training about violence and gender dynamics.”72

The Liberian National Police seeks to recruit more women in order to improve responsiveness to sexual and gender-based violence. “The idea is that women will be more likely to view crimes through a gendered lens and be better at investigating gender related crimes (women are better suited to interview female victims).”73 But although they have relied on narratives of women’s “natural” abilities, they also have taken the important step of recognizing the need for providing female recruits with adequate training in such cases. A similarly contradictory approach to women’s recruitment has come up again and again in policing organizations around the world.

Throughout the interviews for this book, training kept coming up again and again as a crucial element. As one previous FFPU commander had to say:

I insist on this issue, [this] point that they must be fully well trained, fully equipped…. [Whether one is] a male peacekeeper or a female peacekeeper, the training has to be good. Training, the sensitization, the acclimatization, this thing has to be good. Because if you have a female peacekeeper who is not trained properly … and who is not able to handle her equipment properly, who is not aware of the environment, what is happening around her, so there is no need…. What is the point of having a female peacekeeper there (p.62) if she’s not trained? So training is the most important thing, whether the peacekeepers are female or male, the training has to be really good. The peacekeepers are really [needing] to be properly sensitized. If they are not, they will be a failure.

Specifically regarding gender-based crimes, she went on to say, “You can’t deny the fact that having a female peacekeeper will definitely lower the [incidence of] gender-based crimes. Definitely, it will come down, but that female peacekeeper has to be trained properly. Because if she’s not trained, then she’s of no use. Even … a male peacekeeper, if he’s not properly trained, he’s of no use.”

Later contingents of the FFPU benefited from this emphasis on training that the first commander had made a cornerstone of the FFPU’s work from the beginning. As one later commander said, when her contingent arrived, they could take advantage of training that had already been designed for those that had come before and that was now in place for her use. “So what we do is, we just augment it. We just talk to the predecessor: ‘Is there something else that you need to include in this?’ If they tell you, ‘Yes, this is what we are facing right now, maybe this is something we should include,’ we would just incorporate it into the curriculum and we would go ahead.”

In this way the first FFPU has made serious contributions to sustainable, well-developed, and adaptive training practices for both traditional law-and-order security and issues like sexual and gender-based violence. Overall, the FFPU’s responsiveness to dealing with such cases was based not on “natural” abilities but on knowledge obtained by the first commander’s initiative to ensure that officers would receive special training on this issue. Since it had been assumed that female police could naturally undertake such duties, even though they had been trained only in traditional security such as riot control, FFPU officers were left with the responsibility to seek training for themselves and the rest of the contingent. They should be commended for doing so. At the same time, their example should serve as a reminder that all peacekeepers, both male and female, need to be properly trained in all aspects of security for all people, not just traditional law-and-order activities that focus on protecting a male subject as the default citizen.74

Moreover, it is important to avoid framing the issue in terms of the need for women to solve “women’s problems” of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, as opposed to recognizing the broader gender (p.63) norms that contribute to the issue and the persistent reluctance or inability of men or masculine institutions such as peacekeeping organizations to sufficiently address it. As noted earlier, women often state they would prefer to report crimes to female police, but it is important to recognize that this preference may be partly due to female police’s better training around crimes committed against women. At the same time, Kyle Beardsley and colleagues report that evidence from their study in Liberia “suggests that training can make police more attuned to SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] regardless of a police officer’s sex.”75 Thus it is necessary to ensure that male officers receive appropriate training and have the chance to develop more empathetic attitudes around working with women, rather than expecting women to take on full responsibility for a “double shift” involving both traditional security work and to respond specifically to crimes commonly deemed “women’s issues.” It is also important to ensure that women officers are not pigeonholed into working solely with particular crimes against women, given that they may contribute to achieving a much broader range of peace and security goals. After all, women cannot solve these issues alone. It is crucial to remember that “violence against women is a men’s issue”76 and an issue for institutions designed by and run by men, including the UN.

While facing many challenges to their legitimacy as peacekeepers due to their being women or their working in an all-female unit, the FFPU have clearly done a great deal to break down barriers to women’s participation in peacekeeping in particular and peace and security in general. Through their actions and public recognition for them, the FFPU have shown that women, including those working in women-only units, can meet and exceed expectations around providing security, whether in traditional law-and-order policing or in dealing with gender-based crimes. This is important for advancing the interests of women who may wish to take on careers as peacekeepers, for women in postconflict zones, and for women who may wish to have the option of reporting to female security personnel. The FFPU women’s presence is also significant in its capacity for disrupting widely accepted narratives that pressure men and boys to participate in violence in order to “prove” their manhood and that marginalize the participation of women in peace processes by limiting what roles are (p.64) perceived to be “appropriate” or “natural” for women. This is a direct challenge to discourses that represent women as victims in need of protection.

At the same time, it is clear that the FFPU and women in peace and security in general have to contend with stereotypes that have emerged from false assumptions that women inherently possess the skills and abilities needed to provide adequate protection and security for other women. This must be and has been challenged by the hard work of the FFPU commanders in ensuring their recruits are well trained across the board. In acting as well-trained, capable security providers who also make space for the use of nonlethal options and training that include attention to care for victims of crime, the FFPU may unsettle existing dominant discourses around gender and peacekeeping. After all, they show that self-proclaimed girls and mothers can create secure environments as effectively as men, and perhaps at times even more effectively. Likewise, the presence of the FFPU may challenge binary views of masculinity and femininity, highlighting a need to (a) critically reflect on expectations of both male and female peacekeepers and how these may be shaped by gender norms in ways that hinder the provision of security; (b) ensure adequate training; and (c) support women working in peacekeeping, including acknowledging their capacity for making significant and crucial contributions to provision of security.


(11.) Ibid., 184.

(12.) Ibid., 183.

(13.) Ibid., 214.

(14.) Ibid., 184.

(17.) Ibid., 137, 91.

(19.) Ibid., 347, 343.

(24.) This study referred to English-language resources, which limited the scope of data available, given that India is home to hundreds of languages, with Hindi being the first official language and English the secondary official language. Nevertheless, “More Indians speak English than any other language, with the sole exception of Hindi’ (“Indiaspeak”). Future research could include other languages as well as Liberian and international discourse around the Indian FFPU.

(48.) Ibid., viii.

(49.) Ibid., 40.

(50.) Ibid., 41.

(57.) “Women on Top,” emphasis added.

(68.) Ibid., 222.

(69.) Ibid., 223.

(70.) Ibid., 225.

(71.) Ibid., 207.

(72.) Ibid., 217.

(74.) Some policewomen in Brazil, for example, have argued that states should not be “letting male police off the hook,” suggesting that instead they too should (p.134) be trained and equipped to play valuable roles in reducing violence against women. At the same time, these women still see the need for women-run police stations, and none would like to see men leading those stations. See Hautzinger, Violence in the City, 267.