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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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Who’s Afraid of the Girls?

Who’s Afraid of the Girls?

Fears about FFPUS

(p.84) 5 Who’s Afraid of the Girls?
Women in Blue Helmets

Lesley J. Pruitt

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 5 explores how the FFPU evoked a number of common gendered fears, both around women’s participation in security and women’s participation as women working in all-female units. The latter represents concerns based on a global culture of gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping wherein women’s involvement is typically considered legitimate only when they are participating as a small minority in male-majority units. Efforts at including more women in peacekeeping may be limited or stalled by strictly adherence to this culture of gender mainstreaming. Alternatives to that culture may foster greater traction in achieving gender equity, peace, and security. Moving forward requires efforts from both men and women within the United Nations and beyond, including efforts to challenge existing gender norms.

Keywords:   gender, fear, participation, women, global culture, gender mainstreaming, legitimacy, gender equity, peace and security, gender norms

They’re either capable or they’re not. If not, they shouldn’t deploy. But not only are they capable, they are excellent. No one ever asked if we should have an all-male unit. Why should we ask if all-female?

Mark Kroeker, former civilian police advisor to the UN Police Division and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

Up until now little progress has occurred around gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping.1 India’s creation of the all-female formed police unit (FFPU) offers new ways to think about gender mainstreaming and women’s participation in global security in contrast to typical approaches that rely on women’s ability and willingness to fit into male-dominated institutions and male-dominated policing units. In evaluating broader meanings of the FFPU in the global normative environment, it is crucial to explore not only the logics driving this policy innovation but also the logics contesting it. In countering existing global norms around how gender mainstreaming is pursued through the UN, FFPUs challenge policy makers, humanitarian agency staff, and members of community organizations seeking to go beyond official rhetoric to achieve gender equality in practice.

The notion that mixed-gender units are the only and best option for including women remains dominant, despite evidence that women face many barriers to participating in mixed-gender contexts and may have many sound reasons for choosing not to do so. Gender equity has become more recognized as crucial for sustainable peace, marking a significant shift from previous global norms. Yet existing global culture understands gender mainstreaming as women fitting into male-oriented institutions. (p.85) UN officials have thus tended to dislike or distrust policy options—like the FFPU—that counter existing gender mainstreaming norms and to distance themselves and the organization from the implementation of such practices, despite their perceived effectiveness and public approval.

Strictly adhering to existing global culture around gender mainstreaming without considering alternatives that might better promote women’s rights or enhance effectiveness may limit or stall the inclusion of more women in peacekeeping. It may also obscure aspects of the problem of women’s limited inclusion in peace and security processes and ways of understanding whether and how women peacekeepers can contribute where they are deployed. In contrast to mixed-gender formed police units (FPUs), which have received many gendered critiques, FFPUs may provide an alternative or additional option for women wishing to pursue roles as peacekeepers yet not wishing to take on many burdens that women in male-majority units have reportedly faced. Indeed, at present mixed-gender units may well pose significant barriers to increased participation by women that could be addressed to some degree by FFPUs.2

To explore these points, this chapter, after defining global culture and current understandings of gender mainstreaming, describes UN officials’ views on the FFPU concept. The data gathered suggests that the group’s presence raises a number of common gendered fears, expressed by both men and women, around women’s roles and capabilities as well as around what constitutes “good” or “real” participation by women. These understandings evidence two different kinds of fears: those based on stereotypical assumptions that women should not engage in peacekeeping and those based on a liberal-informed tendency to be suspicious of gender “segregation” in all forms. The chapter concludes by summarizing the broader implications of the reliance on existing norms around gender mainstreaming in global culture.

The Global Culture of Gender Mainstreaming

To understand how the FFPU represents a divergence from norms of “global culture,” it is necessary to consider the term itself. Peacekeeping, as an effort undertaken by humans and communicating meaning, is necessarily (p.86) influenced by cultural considerations.3 After all, as Sharon Hays points out, culture influences both what we think about and “how we think about it.”4 Consequently culture affects peacekeeping in many ways and at many levels.5 Here I consider the function of “global culture” in UN peacekeeping practice around gender mainstreaming.

According to Roland Paris, the international normative environment—“global culture”—significantly influences the way peacekeeping is understood and carried out. Peacekeeping institutions and their components design and put in place strategies that reflect norms conforming to global culture. At the same time, they reject strategies that diverge from existing norms, even when these might have a greater chance of achieving the goals of peacekeeping.6 Thus “Global culture limits the range of possible policies that peacekeepers can realistically pursue.”7

Drawing on the work of James March and Johan Olsen, Paris proposes that the logics of appropriateness (in light of global norms) and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive, and any political action relies on elements of each.8 In focusing on how the “appropriateness” logic shapes peacekeeping, he argues that looking deeper at how global culture affects peacekeeping can improve our bases for understanding reasons for behavior of those charged with peacekeeping.9 This may partly be driven by external pressure, as outside actors make efforts to hold the UN to its stated principles and policies.10 At the same time, international organizations such as the UN also have internal cultural norms that influence how individuals working within the organization understand and interact with the outside world.11 As a policy maker, Anne Marie Goetz, formerly chief advisor on Peace and Security for UN Women, says, “You cannot risk your project by taking the critical perspective that you could as an academic…. It means that there is sometimes too much that can’t be said.”12

The character of peacekeeping is not “determined” by global culture; rather, global norms significantly and repeatedly shape the way peace operations are designed and conducted, though those charged with peacekeeping can also opt to resist existing norms by implementing policies and practices that challenge them.13 Moreover, as global norms are evolving concurrently with international behavior, shifts in norms can over time lessen concerns about particular policies or practices that are currently seen as normatively unacceptable.14 Paris suggests that peacekeeping institutions will dismiss (p.87) out of hand strategies seen as contravening existing global norms without considering their chances of enhancing effectiveness or peacebuilding, as sometimes worries about norm adherence will be prioritized over reflections on operational effectiveness.15 In analysis of the FFPU, global culture norms relating to gender in peacekeeping are particularly relevant.

While the military, the police, and peacekeeping operations have long been understood as traditionally masculine and occupied predominantly by men, in recent decades the global community through the UN has supported the notion that women ought to have equal access to participation in these areas. Mady Segal suggests that if women are going to participate more in institutions like militaries those institutions must adapt to be more compatible with women, or women must be transformed in ways that make them appear better adapted to serving there.16 From this perspective, cultural change can lead to structural change, but structural changes can also lead to culture adapting to justify those structural changes.17 And as structures continue to change, culture may also.18 Segal claims that when social values relating to gender become more egalitarian, women will join institutions such as the military (and policing or peacekeeping, presumably) in greater numbers.19 At the same time, Annica Kronsell argues that institutions and subjects are mutually constitutive, so that when institutions historically seen as masculine, such as UN peacekeeping, become more open to “others”—for instance, by rejecting rigid gender segregation—significant potential for changing and developing the institution arises and with it opportunities for altering gender relations.20

How does this apply to the current issue of gender mainstreaming in peace and security initiatives? Gaining popularity in the early 1990s, the concept of gender mainstreaming emerged from feminist theory and moved to application in policy;21 it was purported to shift the focus away from “women’s issues,” instead asserting the political importance of breaking down traditional roles for men and women and gender-integrating traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” occupations.22 Emerging as a radical concept driving policy innovation, the controversial goal was to alter existing political and social frameworks that resulted in gendered outcomes.23 Gender mainstreaming gained support through rapid, global norm diffusion, including UN General Assembly endorsement in 1996 and Resolution 1325 (2000), which asks member states to mainstream gender across all (p.88) peacekeeping missions.24 Consequently, “[gender] mainstreaming has become a central component of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations worldwide.”25 In peacekeeping practice, this has often been understood to mean pursuing gender balance in operations. Gender balancing aims to achieve equal participation by women and men across all activities of a particular institution.26 The concept has been most particularly adopted in postconflict activities.27

In recent years, gender mainstreaming has been understood as the UN’s central tool for better including women and has been espoused and taken on by the majority of the biggest, most powerful international agencies.28 According to the UN Economic and Social Council, gender mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”29

While initially a radical notion that involved pursuing gender equality through developing policies specifically for women, gender mainstreaming has been defined as requiring programs and institutions to take both men and women into account.30 But exactly how women may be “legitimately” included in areas where they have faced historic marginalization is left ambiguous. In fact, gender mainstreaming has been criticized for being abstract and therefore understood differently within and between governments and nongovernmental organizations.31 Research has found that many UN staff readily admitted they did not know what gender mainstreaming might include or how they could implement it in their work.32 Since translating the term can be difficult, stakeholders may come to a wide variety of interpretations of its meaning.33 Moreover, as the term can be extremely oversimplified or can have threatening connotations in some languages, the process has sometimes been ignored or inaccurately pursued, leading to results that may cause more harm than good.34 Implementation has differed significantly across countries, as at the national level the norm has been interpreted in ways that greatly vary, at least in part because the (p.89) norm itself is vague.35 Consequently, “Implementation ranges from changing existing processes to reaffirming the status quo. The varying interpretations make it difficult to determine precisely what constitutes a breach of the norm.”36

Given this context, it is unsurprising that contestations of the way gender mainstreaming can be implemented and what constitutes a breach of norms pertaining to gender mainstreaming came up regularly in my own research on the FFPU. In particular, it became clear that many UN staff saw FFPUs as “not the right kind” of gender mainstreaming. In terms of the existing global culture of peacekeeping, the approach of having all-female units was often deemed not appropriate or legitimate, regardless of how it might support the upholding of rights or operational effectiveness.

Gendered Skepticism at the United Nations

Putting together and deploying the FFPU required overcoming many hurdles, including the opposition to women’s participation in peacekeeping from those not on board with gender mainstreaming generally and opposition to FFPUs specifically as “not the right kind” of gender mainstreaming because of concerns that it introduced “gender segregation.” However, notably this latter concern emerged only around all-female units; the same actors failed to express any such concerns about the long-standing presence of all-male units.

In many of the most developed regions in the globe, such as North America, Australia, and Europe, police organizations are clearly gender integrated, even though they sometimes include gender-based violence specializations.37 Indeed, “Western” or “global North” countries such as these have tended to see gender segregation in policing as an unattractive option whose disadvantages would be greater than its advantages.38 Likewise, Sarah Hautzinger argues that many of the difficulties that all women’s police efforts have faced stem from the same cause—their sex segregation, which can also arguably be seen as their greatest asset.39

The interviews cited here highlight that many UN officials’ understandings of the FFPU reflect a suspicion of “gender segregation” in all forms (though in practice applied only to all-female spaces or policies), with little (p.90) discussion of whether or how it may affect theory, policy, or practice positively or negatively. The assumption tends to be simply that having separate women-only units is “not a good thing.” Gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping has tended to be understood through a perspective that emphasizes the need for women to adapt to existing institutions and norms in gender-integrated programs that were created primarily with men’s needs, abilities, and interests in mind. The introduction of FFPUs represents a contested divergence from such assumptions.

As noted earlier, police advisers from both India and the United States who were active at the UN during the decision-making process and initial deployment of the FFPU had a role in supporting the initiative. However, this buy-in was apparently not transferred to New York–based UN staff that joined the organization later. Indeed, a police adviser who served later stated emphatically that the FFPU was not a UN decision but India’s decision: in response to the call for more women, India had offered an all-female force. Moreover, the adviser said, the more recent Bangladeshi FFPU also was a member state initiative rather than a UN initiative. It became clear that while some actors within the UN championed this cause, there were also doubters who did not like the FFPU concept because of ideas about women’s roles or because they preferred a liberal feminist model for gender mainstreaming. It appeared that the group’s presence incited a number of common gendered fears, both about women’s roles and capabilities and about what constituted “good” or “real” participation by women.

Fears of Women’s Participation in General

Attitudinal barriers to women’s participation in general were evident at the local level of UN involvement in Liberia, where the FFPU was deployed. At least some UN staff on the ground in Liberia at the time of the first FFPU’s deployment were against the deployment, and some even actively tried to block it. Salvador Rodriguez, the FPU coordinator in Liberia at the time, explained that a lot of collaboration went into getting the contingent into place, including dealing with negative statements and obstructions from (p.91) those who opposed the group’s deployment. He noted that he and the deputy police commander, a Norwegian woman, “went to the FPU leadership conference and met … the first female FPU commander. She said she was trying to get an FFPU going but was meeting with a lot of resistance.”

When asked about the process of deploying the first FFPU, an official who came on board later stated, “There was nothing extraordinary about it except it’s an all-female formed police unit.” Yet that official still noted, “There was particular care taken due to being female.” Presumably this “particular care” was not the female peacekeepers’ need for extra care, since they were seasoned security professionals. Rather, the extra care was needed to deal with a vocal minority who opposed the introduction of more women into peacekeeping. As the FPU coordinator stated: “Everyone but a few people thought it was a good idea. Logistics was very difficult, but UNMIL [the UN Mission in Liberia] helped us. [One commander] was at first resistant, but then he saw the benefit, though reluctantly. [Another (female) commander] twisted his arm a bit and got it going. The guys didn’t want to take on the females.”

Some UN officials, both men and women, specifically challenged the assumption that in peacekeeping men should be the sole actors and decision makers. For example, as noted at the start of this chapter, when the legitimacy of the FFPU was questioned, former UN police adviser Kroeker directly challenged those sexist views. Because questions that assume women are not legitimate actors are nonetheless continuously asked, those organizing the FFPU’s deployment from India had to ensure that the FFPU could be deployed in conditions in which they could successfully do their jobs. According to Rodriguez, “Credit goes to the Indian government because before moving or deciding to send them [the Indian general] wanted to send officers to make sure they weren’t sending them into an abyss. And he came out as a guest of [the UN Mission in Liberia], and he and Seema [Dhundia, FFPU commander] came to check it out themselves for a week and a half to tour around Liberia and see where camps and plans would be and what training.”

While those who resented or rejected women’s participation in peacekeeping made the job of implementing the FFPU more difficult, in the end they were merely another obstacle to overcome.

(p.92) Fears About All-Women’s Units

Those pushing for the FFPU’s introduction also met with challenges from actors at the UN who believed that single-gender units, at least in the case of women, could not be legitimate. As Kroeker recounted, when the idea of the FFPU first came up, people asked, “Do they have the right equipment, qualifications, and is the mission willing to have them? … The questions started coming: Are you sure an all-woman unit is really appropriate?”

Such questions are very commonly asked about women-only units making incursions into areas that have been historically unquestioned for being all-male spaces. For example, when an all-women contingent was created in the Civilian Protection Component of the Mindanao People’s Caucus in the Philippines’ Mindanao conflict region, the organization’s secretary-general Mary Ann Arnado reported being asked almost exactly the same questions: “Are these women trained? Can they possibly do it? Will they be effective? Can they make a difference?”40

Arnado’s response challenged the veiled sexism and inherent instrumentalism such questions rely on, and implicitly voiced a more rights-based approach: “Why is it that women should bear the burden of proof of showing that they could make a difference while the men have long been making a total mess of our security situation? Again, the naughty answer can be, “Well we don’t even have to make a difference. Like you, we have the right to be here. Period.”41 Part of what is interesting about this is the notion that this would be a “naughty” answer, as opposed to a straightforward response to an unfairly loaded question that undermines women’s authority and capacity to participate in peacekeeping. In the UN as in Mindanao, the people who questioned the introduction of FFPUs—solely on the basis of gender—whether all-female units could be “effective” or “fair”—were not asking those same questions of the previous all-male units.

At the global level, this may be related to the allegation of a “bias against gender equality within the United Nations system, a function of the myriad of identities and associated ‘baggage’ that staff personnel bring to their jobs, as well as flaws in the personnel and human resources management structures.”42 Angela Raven-Roberts notes that, despite resolutions on gender balance, little change has occurred in several key UN bodies, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.43 Moreover, when the UN has (p.93) implemented “affirmative actions”—such as special efforts to recruit more women, requirements for training in gender sensitivity, and the appointment of “gender focal points,” or staff focused on supporting the implementation of gender mainstreaming—the response has been “a great deal of bitterness in some male staff who see their years of accumulated experience being washed away by a tide of new ‘token’ women appointees.”44

In the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in particular, a number of actors have expressed concerns that “using quotas for women tends to generate a perception that women are there because of the quota rather than as a result of their needed skills and competencies.”45 Again this is interesting in that it reifies the assumption that somehow all men in previously all-male units got there solely because they possessed the needed skills and competencies, rather than, for example, possessing the body type and gender performance most strongly associated with a “natural” disposition to provide security or peacekeeping, or their connections to male decision makers in police, military, or other security sector roles. Women, when appearing in roles as women, were often subject to scrutiny and suspicion of their perceived inadequacies, while men’s possibly unearned privilege as sole actors in peacekeeping remained unexamined.

In this environment, UN staff, especially those who started working for the UN in New York after the initial deployment, did not see the introduction of the first FFPU or those that followed as meeting UN needs or requests or even really fitting UN intentions. Indeed, a later police adviser shared this hesitant position, stating, “We were on one hand pleased, but it really wasn’t what we were on about with gender mainstreaming. We’d rather see a mixed-gender contingent like the Nigerians.” Those who worked with mixed-gender contingents in Liberia reported that women who deployed in male-majority units as police officers were often tasked mostly with jobs like cooking and cleaning on arrival, leaving little chance that they would gain significant police experience while deployed, yet those women reportedly appeared as more legitimate, appropriate peacekeeping actors in the UN context.

Furthermore, two current UN staff members emphasized as a key point that the FFPU had to be “the same quality” as their male colleagues. Interestingly, when a new men’s unit is deployed in these roles there does not appear to be an inherent concern that this particular group of men (p.94) will not be equal to the previous group. The question seems to arise only because the contingent in question is entirely staffed by women. A former high-ranking UN official who served in Liberia also noted that, although she saw how professional and successful the group was, she still,

heard the FFPU of India was not one of the best we have professionally. People say it’s just because they’re women and not on par, and I think it’s dangerous. I remember once in Nigeria … they entertained the idea of an FFPU, but I said, “You can have mixed units, so why don’t you do that?” That’s why I underline that they [the Indian FFPU] are very professional. I don’t want them to be a token of gender parity. Then I think it’s dangerous that if you signal to be a female in the national police force you can succeed by being less qualified. Then it’s a short-term success rather than a sustainable one.

Again this indicates a problem where women, without a substantiated basis but solely because of their gender, are often assumed to be tokens, less qualified, and less professional. Yet these assumptions do not tend to be made about male peacekeepers solely on the basis of their gender.

Although some officials recognized the FFPU’s positive contributions, many were uncomfortable with or outright objected to their being an all-female unit. Nonetheless, even a current staffer who adamantly disagreed with the introduction of an all-female unit, stating a preference for gender “integration” and saying that FPUs were “a lesser form of policing,” did admit, after visiting them, that “They were impressive.” Moreover, one former high-ranking UN official who was in Liberia with the FFPU stated “It was extremely important that they were women and protected their gender, but it wouldn’t have worked if they weren’t professional. If not the best, they were one of the best professionally. They happened to be women, and it demonstrated the importance of women in the security.”

Still, as mentioned earlier, this official too was hesitant about extending the policy of introducing FFPUs more broadly, saying, “I think it’s fine, but I want to underline that the goal is not to have a lot of FFPUs. It’s to showcase women in policing to then get gender parity in national forces. I think it would be very well justified if we have these challenges about deploying women and men side by side, fine, but I’m nervous that our goal is to make the national police force functional, and I cannot see that would be through separate men and women’s units. It should work as an integrated force.”

(p.95) For officials like this one, who supported women’s participation in the security sector, such hesitancy often appeared to come from a position of seeking to avoid the chance for detractors to make unfounded accusations that women were unqualified tokens. That is, the hesitancy was not based on any concern that a peacekeeping unit staffed by women would be unable to meet the demands of their job, but rather on how the unit might fit within broader aims of the UN and perceptions about what the UN supported. In other words, challenges could emerge between integrating the UN’s day-to-day operational goals with its long-term aspirational goals.

Broader Implications of the Fears Raised by FFPUS

These explorations confirm some significant theoretical observations that have been made in the existing literature. For one, objections to the FFPU on the grounds of their being women bring to mind Cynthia Enloe’s discussion of the anxiety created around femininity when women are mobilized in wartime situations and concern grows about whether such participation will lead to their losing “their supposedly essential feminine qualities: domesticity, sexual reserve, emotional sensitivity, and maternalism.”46 At the same time, those questioning the women’s capacity solely on the basis of their being women reconfirm that often men remain “the unmarked, default category—the generic human against which others are compared and potentially deviate.”47 In other words, legitimate participation for women is defined as participating “like men” in mostly-male units. The UN’s tendency to rely on norms of global culture around implementing gender mainstreaming has broader implications on a global scale, where gender norms regularly impede women’s potential to participate in peacekeeping, as well as their ability to be heard in peace processes, both formally and informally.

As shown in this case, those seeking to implement and expand this innovative policy have encountered obstacles. Some obstacles have been individual, as when initially certain UN staff members on the ground in Liberia did not want women peacekeepers coming in to participate. Other obstacles have been structural, as when UN policy and policy makers in New York showed a preference for a normative framework, tying equal (p.96) participation to gender “integration” in peacekeeping. Both of these attitudes to FFPUs can thwart the goal of increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping, a goal the United Nations Security Council has explicitly linked with achieving and sustaining peace.

The dominant UN view of gender mainstreaming as synonymous with gender integration has meant involving women as a small minority in a male-led group, with possible material, cultural, and practical challenges around gendered issues like accommodation and job roles. Relying on such a narrow range of options may obscure important differences that warrant further examination in constructing more nuanced approaches. As Sally Engle Merry argues, gendered identities are located within regionally specific and historically created ethnic and class structures; thus men and women hold “historically produced subject positions, shaped by larger institutional structures and adopted or discarded only within the constraints of wealth, color, and class.”48 These differing identities, locations, and subject positions can lead to differences in focus of movements combating violence against women. Uma Narayan, in her study looking at discussions around “dowry deaths” in India and domestic violence in the United States, argues that such “asymmetries in focus” relate to the different ways issues of violence against women come up within, and have been addressed by, women’s movements in different locations.49

As Mark Goodale and Sally Engle Merry explain, today’s international and transnational actors aiming to end violence against women may see this as a fairly straightforward goal, yet “the emergence of different means through which these goals are met has created a transnational normative pluralism whose full effects and meanings are still unclear.”50 Indeed, factors influencing feasibility of approaches to addressing violence against women can vary greatly between different contexts.51 For example, “battered women’s shelters” have been seen as successful short-term interventions in the West, but some argue their utility may be limited to particular contexts. These authors suggest that the usefulness of these shelters is dependent on the presence of a welfare system providing things like free schooling for children and subsidized housing, an employment scenario that differs greatly from India’s, a low level of stigma against women moving around or living on their own, and the presence of certain employment opportunities that would not be considered appropriate for Indian middle-class women.52 (p.97) In contrast, women in India who separate from their husbands or live “on their own” are far more stigmatized.53

Narayan similarly points out that feminist agendas are, and need to be, shaped by different national contexts and the varying conditions women experience within them. This is because issues affecting women are themselves “‘shaped’ within different national contexts” and because a lack of awareness of these contexts can “affect the project of ‘cross-cultural understanding.’”54 In particular, she suggests that the West and Western feminists, who focus on the “Indianness” of issues such as dowry murders, often poorly understand issues around violence against women in the Third World because they position them as things “that happen elsewhere,” focusing on their most extreme and exotic manifestations, and as “unlike ‘things that happen here,’’’ even though, for instance, the rates of dowry murders in India and of spousal killings of women in the United States are similar.55 Narayan suggests that racism or ethnocentrism alone cannot account for the “distortions” that emerge when issues from the Third World are taken up in Western national contexts.56 She suggests that “multiple mediations” take place between (1) the ways such issues are shaped in Western contexts, (2) the “life” the issues may have in their home arenas, where the local public have the diverse contextual information needed to see the issues “in perspective,” and (3) the decontextualizing and recontextualizing processes that occur as the issues cross national borders.57 In light of her points, understanding the FFPU and its potential necessarily involves paying attention to both the Indian context from which it has emerged and the culture of the international organization through which it operates—the UN.

The FFPU’s challenge to existing norms around gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping may have important effects. By gaining legitimacy through their clearly strong performance, the FFPU may significantly disrupt norms that limit women’s involvement in general or restrict their involvement to acting as a small minority in male-majority contingents. As Kroeker explains, “It’s put the idea of gender mainstreaming to the test to say, “We either believe this or we don’t.’”

The FFPU could also be seen as a temporary special measure. From this perspective, more FFPUs could be developed alongside existing efforts at increasing gender integration in peacekeeping units. As Charlotte (p.98) Anderholt suggests, gaining better representation of women in peacekeeping will require

  • promoting practices and policies that address the material and procedural barriers that limit women’s likelihood to apply to police units or finish their police training

  • collecting evidence to clarify why women do not apply for more police jobs

  • countering the male-dominated culture of police agencies within member states

  • developing procedures and policies that address barriers to women’s deciding to deploy in FPU missions, including respecting and supporting women in the family responsibilities that they carry, typically in contrast to their male counterparts.58

Such changes will not happen easily or quickly, but they are necessary. Meanwhile, participation in FFPUs may offer the women who participate in them significant leadership opportunities and relevant security experience that may be used both in later FFPUs and in mixed-gender contingents.

Efforts to create and deploy the FFPU evoked a number of common gendered fears, including fears both of women’s participation in security in general and of women’s participation specifically in all-female units. The latter set of concerns relate to a global culture of gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping that typically views women’s involvement as “legitimate” or “appropriate” only when it comes in the form of participating as a small minority in male-majority units. Sticking to such a limited ideology obscures aspects of the problem of women’s limited inclusion in peace processes and ways of understanding whether and how women peacekeepers can contribute to enhancing peace and security where they are deployed.

Attempts to include more women in peacekeeping may be limited or stalled by strict adherence to existing global culture around gender mainstreaming and a refusal to critically engage with alternatives that may foster greater traction for achieving gender equity, peace and security. Raising the numbers of women peacekeepers and the impacts of those already deployed requires efforts from both men and women within the UN and beyond, including a willingness to challenge existing gender norms. The case of the (p.99) FFPUs—in highlighting an innovative approach to gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping—also tells us important stories about norms. Specifically, it highlights how norms, which are seen here as dynamic and evolving over time, can be shaped by and can shape notions of legitimacy. At the same time, what is seen as legitimate—or appropriate—can be contested and can evolve over time. Looking at legitimacy in this way is important for better understanding the perceptions and intentions of various actors who have a role in shaping the norms.59

FFPUs represent an alternative approach to women’s inclusion in peacekeeping that gives serious attention to women’s needs and motivations. It does so by pursuing gender mainstreaming through structural change to incorporate women as peacekeepers who can access women’s spaces, rather than waiting for individual women to decide that the existing male-dominated system is for them. While this approach is not perfect and does not perfectly meet the UN’s ultimate goal of having women and men work together side by side to achieve peace and security, it is a timely measure that pragmatically seeks to pursue long-term goals while working with available options in the short term. In doing so, FFPUs may enhance security for women and men here and now.


(2.) These barriers are explored in more detail in the next chapter.

(7.) Ibid., 441, 443.

(14.) Ibid., 463.

(15.) Ibid., 451.

(17.) Ibid., 769.

(21.) However, as Natalie Hudson notes, “The concept … has been important, although often misunderstood, in development policy circles since the 1970s.” N. Hudson, “En-gendering UN Peacekeeping Operations,” 794.

(23.) Ibid., 33.

(26.) Mazurana, Raven-Roberts, and Parpart, introduction to Mazurana, Raven-Roberts, and Parpart, Gender, Conflict, and Peacekeeping.

(38.) Ibid., 185.

(43.) Ibid., 53.

(55.) Ibid., 68, 69.

(56.) Ibid., 70.