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Mongolia’s Female Peacekeepers: A Case Study for Gender Parity

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Mongolia’s Female Peacekeepers: A Case Study for Gender Parity

The U.N. has set a goal of full gender parity in peacekeeping operations. The experience of Mongolian women shows both the progress made and the serious challenges that remain.

Mongolia’s Female Peacekeepers: A Case Study for Gender Parity

Mongolian peacekeepers of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) stand in formation during a medal ceremony at their base in Bentiu. Nov. 8, 2013.

Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

In a traditionally patriarchic sectors – such as the military, police, and security forces – women around the world have faced political, social, and cultural barriers for centuries. Since the 1950s, the United Nations’ operations have led and promoted the inclusion of women in global missions. However, to this day, the number of women in higher ranks and leadership positions remains disappointingly low. The experience of Mongolian female peacekeepers can exemplify these global shortcomings.

Throughout history, women from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds have served as shieldmaidens, wartime strategists, and behind-the-curtain contributors in making modern history. Unfortunately, in modern times, women’s roles when serving the armed forces were switched to support functions, such as nursing, cooking, caregiving, and administration. These roles, in turn, prevent women from receiving promotions, blocking them from advancing in career and rank due to their lack of experience in other fields within the security sector.

In 1957, female peacekeepers were introduced in the U.N. However, from 1957 to 1979, there were only five women out of a total of 6,250 soldiers. From 1980 to 1989, the number increased to 15 women out of approximately 13,750 military personnel, and these women “served mainly as nurses in medical units.” The early 2000s showed consistent growth of women soldiers, bringing the numbers to 1,034 women out of 71,673 soldiers in 2007, finally breaking the 1 percent mark. As of 2020, the U.N. reports that “out of approximately 95,000 peacekeepers, women constitute 4.8% of military contingents,” and has set a goal to increase that to 15 percent by 2028.

The end of the Cold War promoted a new era of U.N. involvement in global and regional peace and security efforts. Many countries began to participate in these efforts, and so did women.

The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was created in 1992. Two years later in 1994, the General Assembly set a goal to reach gender parity – 50 percent men and 50 percent women – in peacekeeping operations by 2000. To implement this goal into the U.N. missions, the secretary-general extended the goal to all “field mission and mission replacements posts” in 1995. On the U.N.’s part, there has been a consistent push for the inclusion of women in peacekeeping missions. In order to accelerate this goal, in 2000, the U.N.’s commitment to gender equality was reinforced with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). This was the first time the UNSC discussed and promoted women’s participation in promoting peace and security.

Since the UNSC resolution 1325, DPKO has called on member states to “double the number of female service uniformed peacekeepers every year for the next few years.” A year later, in January 2007, the First All-Female Police Unit (FFPU) from India was sent to Liberia. The FFPU played a significant role in security in Liberia, and their presence encouraged Liberian women to join the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the national police force. India’s mission to Liberia became a role model for women worldwide who serve in the military and security forces, including Mongolia.

Even though Mongolia joined the U.N. in 1961, it was not until 1996 that Mongolia expressed an interest in contributing to U.N. peacekeeping operations. In 1999, Mongolia and the U.N. signed a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Contributions to the United Nations Standby Arrangements. In 2002, Mongolia adopted a “Law on participation of Military and Police personnel in the United Nations peacekeeping operations and other international operations” and began sending military observers to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Since joining the U.N peacekeeping operations, Mongolia has successfully pushed forward a foreign policy aimed at developing the state’s military capacity through multilateral cooperation in international military operations. Since 2002, Mongolia has deployed more than 19,000 peacekeepers to the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Chad, Sudan, West Sahara, Congo, Ethiopia, and Georgia. Moreover, Mongolian military observers are working in Congo, West Sahara, and South Sudan. As of August 2021, Mongolia ranked 24th among 117 U.N. troop-contributing countries and had sent 62 female and 824 male soldiers to U.N. operations.

The first female soldier from Mongolia joined a U.N. peacekeeping mission in 2006, as an unarmed military observer to the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. Two years later, in 2008, Mongolia sent the first six female peacekeepers with the military contingent in Sierra Leone. In 2010, the first female Staff Officer was stationed in the mission Force Head Quarter (FHQ) MINURCAT Chad, the Central African Republic.

In 2013, Bolor Ganbold (one of the authors of this piece) served as the first female Section Head (Chief J6) in the FHQ in UNMISS, South Sudan. After serving in UNMISS, she was the first woman to be deployed as a Peacekeeping Affairs Officer in U.N. headquarters in New York. The same year, Mongolia deployed the first female contingent Commander of Level II hospital to the UMAMID in Sudan. The following years saw an increase in Mongolian female participation in global forces such as in Sudan. In 2019, the first female troops from Mongolia also participated as a member of the German Joint Forces, who took part in Operation Enduring Support in NATO in Afghanistan.

As of 2021, more than 900 Mongolian women have served as military observers, staff officers, and military contingent members in both U.N. peacekeeping operations and NATO coalition forces. The successful deployment and the completion of their missions has a significant influence and promotes women’s participation in the military and the security forces. These accomplishments must be recognized at an international level.

As the next step, female peacekeepers should be considered for senior-level posts within the U.N., not only as contingent members. However, several challenges prevent women from accelerating into higher-level positions or posts within U.N. peacekeeping operations.

In U.N. peacekeeping missions, most women serve as doctors, nurses, cooks, laundry staff, or administrators. In interviews conducted by Bolor Ganbold, for example, female Mongolian peacekeepers expressed that there are many levels of barriers that prevent them from fully reaching their potential as peacekeepers.

For example, one of the significant problems experienced by female peacekeepers across the board, but especially in military contingents, was that they could not leave the compound to interact with locals. Having access to the local communities is particularly important to the roles envisioned for female peacekeepers, but in practice it is impossible to inspire, assist, and engage with the local community of women from the compound.

Education and training gaps – including on language study – are another issue. Mongolian female peacekeepers do not have the opportunity to study at the Mongolian Army Command Staff College before being selected and deployed, and this lack of access is a significant hurdle that blocks their career path as a whole. More female Mongolian Army Command Staff College officers should qualify for special education and specific training. In that case, the female soldiers will have a chance to hold senior positions in the Mongolian Armed Forces and peacekeeping operations abroad. Therefore, it is crucial for the government to invest in female soldiers, training both key officers and non-commissioned officers. In the past, only a few female English-speaking officers from Mongolia have had the opportunity to study abroad in the United States, Australia, or India and had a chance to work the selected U.N. missions.

Today the U.N. peacekeeping operations continue to see slow improvement on gender parity. While it is difficult to address the situation within contingent troops, the Office of Military Affairs (OMA) goal is to reach 25 percent women by 2028. To overcome these challenges and find a noticeable solution, critical operations and missions by the U.N. must increase the number of women in senior roles and decision-making posts. Alongside these changes, it would have a direct impact if the U.N. missions were to deploy all-female contingents in global missions and integrate them into mixed-gender environments. Finally, international coalition missions must deploy women ready to bring about substantive changes in the peacekeeping environment.

The challenges ahead concern not only Mongolian female peacekeepers but also all the women in the world’s armed and security forces who possess strength, knowledge, and dedication to serving. UNSCR 1325 is quite explicit in urging the secretary-general to seek to expand the role and contribution of women in United Nations field-based operations, especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights, and humanitarian personnel. From a military perspective, increasing women’s contribution strengthens both the U.N. missions and the serving country and their female population immensely.