By Military Women
You asked: I hear a lot about “The Elsie Initiative” in the news. What’s it all about? What problem is it solving?
We answer: The Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations is a Canadian funded international project to increase the meaningful participation of women in uniform on UN peace operations. Peace operations themselves being a topic of ongoing debate on how to best define, especially given the increasingly complex levels of today’s world conflicts. If you aren’t already familiar with this gem in Canada’s foreign policy learn more about it at http://bit.ly/ElsieWPS.
Last month’s column highlighted the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and why the UN is so interested to increase the number of women on its missions. However, despite all the focus on the topic, the statistics have remained fairly stagnant at around 2-4 % of military and 6-10% of police personnel on UN missions being women. This has left some wondering what, if any, systemic barriers may be holding some women back from “being all they can be”?
Lucky for us, as part of its Elsie Initiative support, Canada commissioned an independent research project to answer just that question once and for all. The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) based out of Switzerland researched what, if any, UN deployment barriers are still being encountered by uniformed women. DCAF identified 14 barriers to the successful deployment and full integration of uniformed women on UN missions. These barriers were organized into six categories: (1) equal access to opportunities, (2) deployment criteria, (3) the working environment, (4) family constraints,
(5) equal treatment during deployment, and (6) career-advancement opportunities. You can download and/or read
the DCAF report at https://www.dcaf.
To give an example of the barriers, one was “lack of adequate family-friendly policies”. In many countries there were few national mechanisms offered for child support options should a parent deploy especially for the longer UN tours. DCAF recommendations include consideration of more family UN duty stations and institutional encouragement for men to take parental leave and receive child/elder support considerations where needed in order to normalize this accommodation for all parents.
Another barrier will be no surprise to readers; “sexual and gender-based harassment”. One of the many DCAF recommendations being to focus on leadership’s roles in addressing workplace culture. When workplace harassment is left unchecked by leadership, the resulting permissive environment is known to promote, not only more widespread harassment but, the occurrence of more serious events such as sexual assault and sexual coercion to also occur.
Another barrier that you might not have thought of is “lack of appropriate medical care”. There have been recommendations made to include at least one female physician and one obstetric and gynaecological specialist on all UN mission medical teams.
The DCAF report names barriers women are encountering from around the globe. Every UN mission participating county is however unique, so have been encouraged to consider completing its own national baseline barrier assessment study as well. Canada is leading by example on this front and has contracted DCAF to just that. So, stay tuned for that upcoming DCAF report on what, if any, deployment barriers are still being experienced by Canadian military and policing women. When we know better, we can do better.
P.S. If you don’t know all about the amazing Canadian icon Elsie MacGill, after whom the Elsie Initiative is named, please Wikipedia her and/or read about her in one of the many books available on this inspiring Canadian trailblazer!