Female military officers from the Kenya Defence Force during the 8th UN Female Military Officers Course (Photo by UN Women/Kennedy Okoth)
UN-Female Military Officers Course (FMOC) series is giving hope to not only female military officers but also women in conflict areas by boosting the numbers of women in peace keeping missions around the world to partake in effective conflict resolution.
Commander Karen Ward, a participant of FMOC 8, has previously deployed to UN missions and acknowledges the need to bolster the number of female offices in peace keeping missions.
“When on peace keeping mission [these] women look at us and they see hope, they see that we are women who have achieved something and playing an important role and we can hopefully help to facilitate that for the women and the communities we are involved in by working with the local non-government agencies and other UN actors to be part of a whole network of women and other actors to actually make things better for the women, men, boys and girls in the community.”
She further adds, “We have realised the vulnerabilities of some of the women we will see in the communities that we will be operating in as peace keepers and also recognize that as women we identify with these women because we are women first and representing the uniform the second thing to those women.”
To build on the ongoing advocacy and work around United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, UN Women organized the 8th UN Female Military Officers Course (FMOC) in Kenya for the second time at the International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) in Nairobi. 41 female military officers representing 30 countries from the global south and north and 11 facilitators representing another 5 countries attended this training, which was made possible through the generous support from the Governments of Finland and the Netherlands.
Commander Karen Ward (center) of the New Zealand Military during the 8th UN Female Military Officers Course (Photo by UN Women/Kennedy Okoth)
UN Women has been embarking on this unprecedented initiative of providing targeted training for female military officers to build their capacities on promoting gender equality in peacekeeping efforts and on becoming leaders in their respective functions. UN Women has now supported seven of such international courses, hosted by countries such as South Africa, India, China and Kenya. To date, roughly 75% of the past participants have since been deployed to peace-keeping operations, or are currently undergoing pre-deployment training to do so. This initiative is anchored on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, and strives to increase the number of women in UN peace keeping operations.
In her remarks at the opening ceremony of the course, Ambassador Fernández emphasized the important role women play in peace processes as agents for change with immense value and contributions encouraging the participants to share experiences, and learn and inspire one another.
Brigadier Patrick Nderitu of IPSTC then provided the local context of how UNSCR 1325 is being implemented in Kenya as he remarked on the deliberate steps that IPSTC has taken towards the goal of “increasing the number of female participants in the courses, integrating gender in all our courses, conducting gender specific research, and inclusion of gender standards in the strategic plan in which we are planning to establish a gender regional hub.”
During the closing ceremony for the course, UN Women Kenya Country Director Ms. Zebib Kavuma highlighted the positive role of female peacekeepers in broadening the range of skills and capacities among all categories of personnel, in enhancing the operational effectiveness, credibility of the peacekeeping operation with the local population and the higher level of discipline among all personnel. She called on the participants to work together to come up with innovative ideas, solutions and commitment to promoting gender equality in peacekeeping operations.
UN Women Kenya’s work in promoting the role of women military leaders in Kenya
Recently, more than 60 countries, including Kenya, committed to double the number of women in the military in peacekeeping operations by 2020, and to reach at least 15 per cent of female representation among military experts. In Kenya, the first female officer was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in 2015, and since then, several others have risen to higher ranks, creating a pool of senior female military officers at the top of decision making processes in Kenya.
The Ministry of Defence in Kenya with support from UN Women, formulated and adopted its first ever Gender Policy in May 2107, demonstrating the Government’s commitment and continued leadership in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with international frameworks, specifically the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The policy articulates the importance of gender mainstreaming within the armed forces and proves a strategic direction and tools to institutionalize gender, including in peace-keeping operations.
H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya hands over a signed copy of the Gender Policy to Defence Cabinet Secretary Amb. Raychelle Omamo at the National Defence College, Karen (Photo by UN WOMEN)
Currently, Kenya is ranked first in the world among troop-contributing countries in the deployment of female officers in UN Peace-keeping missions. . More than 19 per cent of the Kenyan peace-keeping troops deployed in the field, including military experts, are women, followed by South Africa at 18 per cent.
Why is women’s participation in Peacekeeping Operations critical?
Seventeen years since the passing of the landmark UNSCR 1325, which called for women’s participation in peace building, and in spite of the growing recognition of women’s pivotal role in securing lasting peace, they constitute only three percent of the UN peacekeeping operations, overall .
Military operations require a diversity of qualifications and resources to ensure that peace and security is achieved and maintained. The complementary skills of both male and female military officers are essential for operation effectiveness especially in line with the increasing complexities of civil military interaction, public protection and intelligence gathering. Women officers are likely to identify the obstacles of ending inequalities and are more likely to be sensitive to the needs of women and girls whose safety and security the military is mandated to protect. They are in a better position to reach out to local women and children to build trust with the local communities which is Key in addressing GBV in conflict areas.
UN Women, through the UN Female Military Officers Training, provides a key entry point for the inclusion of female military officers in UN peace-keeping operations, which in turn will lead to increased participation of female military officers across all roles and ranks, which will in turn lead to the promotion of sustainable and lasting peace.
 UN Security Council (2016). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security, p. 7.