It’s Time to Disturb the Peace(keeping forces): Gender Disparities in the UN

Livingston James’ No Diversity, No Deal series has discussed gender diversity within the private equity industry and created a platform for leaders to talk about how best to continue tackling inequality. 

As we look to continue this conversation, it is useful to understand how gender inequality impacts other sectors. Livingston James’ Isla Martin looks at IGOs and gender inequalities in the UN below.

Gender inequality is prevalent across most professions. It can be seen on a local, national and international level across both public and private spheres. Similarly, this is also reflected across intergovernmental organisations  (IGO) – entities created by two or more nations that work together to achieve shared goals. Perhaps the most well-known IGO is the United Nations (UN) who have recently focused on addressing gender disparities in their workforces.


The United Nations

There are 3.9 billion women in the world – roughly half of the population. With access to the right opportunities, there is no doubt about the vast impact women can have on international relations. As a global institution with significant influence, the United Nations is in an excellent position to play a leading role in ensuring that this happens. However, it has yet to fully take advantage of its unique position.

International relations and governing international institutions have historically been very western-centric and male-dominated. However, in recent years, the UN has been making an effort to have their peacekeeping forces mirror the populations that they aim to help, reflected by Security Council resolution 1325 which urges equal participation of women in all sectors of peacekeeping operations.

In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniform personnel. In 2020, women made up 4.8% of military contingents and 10.9% of formed police units; this is 6.6% of peacekeeping forces overall. While this is a significant change, it is not reflective of global populations and is proof that the UN has not yet done enough. Their goal for 2028 consists of women making up between 15% and 30% of the various branches of their peacekeeping forces. Given that women make up 49.5% of the population, there will still be cogent room for improvement.

With that being said, responsibility for change does not rest solely with the UN, it is also largely dependent upon Member States. UN military personnel belong to the armed forces of their own nation and are seconded to work under UN command. As such, ensuring gender diversity within each individual nation’s armed forces is a sensible starting point for increasing the balance within wider peacekeeping forces.


UK Government

The UK is the 5th largest financial contributor to the UN, and contributes troops to be deployed on UN missions. Recent deployments have included those based in Cyprus, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan. In April of this year, 11.3% of the UK’s Regular Armed forces were female – roughly 16,700 personnel.

The government has recognised the value of including women in the state’s armed forces and has achieved several milestones in recent years. In 2016, the ban on women in ground close combat was lifted, meaning that women can now apply for any role within the British Armed Forces. Several other initiatives have been introduced focusing on creating more equitable provisions, including better uniforms and tailored training to support women’s fitness during and after pregnancy.

Following this trend, the UK government has also looked to support the involvement of women in peacekeeping specifically. In 2019, it contributed $1.3 million to the Elsie Initiative Fund; a trust fund which encourages and funds innovation, to accelerate the pace of change in security institutions and enable more uniformed women to meaningfully deploy to (and participate in) peace operations. The UK Government has also donated to the UN Secretariat’s flagship gender parity projects: the Global Call and the Senior Women Talent Pipeline.

While the programmes and funds put in place to promote female engagement within Armed Forces and wider peacekeeping operations have positive outcomes – highlighted by the increase in diversity within troops – the success has remained limited. The UK failed to meet its 2020 target (15% of new recruits being female), echoing similar shortcomings throughout the UN more broadly. As such, there is still scope for significant improvement.


Taking Action

Going forward, member states and the UN should look to continue their focus on encouraging females to engage with the meaningful work of peacekeeping forces. The inclusion of women should not be a box-ticking exercise and change must be inherent and systemic. Tangible action must be taken to facilitate the journey to greater diversity, by ensuring that everyone has equal access to information, opportunities and resources; thus, enabling peacekeeping forces to maximise their impact.

Recently, Livingston James has focused on creating frameworks that enable recruitment processes to be as inclusive as possible. This involves methods such as ensuring that opportunities are advertised to the widest talent pools possible, utilising gender decoding software to avoid the use of any potential masculine or feminine coded language and ensuring all promotion of opportunities appropriately highlights an organisation’s commitment to diversity.

These simple tasks have a monumental impact on the audiences that an opportunity appeals to, addressing inequalities from the offset. They are exceptionally versatile and easy to implement, making them useful across all sectors when recruiting. Whether an organisation is a local charity or an international governing body, committing to taking proactive steps to address inequality can truly be transformative.


For a confidential discussion about creating inclusive recruitment processes for your leadership requirements, please contact [email protected].

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