Wonder Women: U.S. Partnership Expanding Roles for Female Peacekeepers

The role of women in peace and security is more crucial than ever. Yet in too many post-conflict countries, women’s voices remain absent from conversations about their country’s future. Ensuring that women are at the forefront of these efforts is essential to forging more stable societies. That is why the United States is leading global efforts to address the growing global demand for peacekeepers. The United States is also at the forefront of the effort to increase the participation, perspectives, and protection of women in some of the world’s most challenging global hotspots.

Through the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), the U.S. Department of State directly works to engage, include, and protecting women in all aspects of peace operations. GPOI is the U.S. government’s flagship program to build international capacity to conduct United Nations (UN) and regional peace operations. Through GPOI, the United States has partnered with more than 50 countries to deliver the training and tools needed to help stabilize countries in conflict and set the stage for peace. To date, GPOI has facilitated the deployment of nearly 200,000 personnel to peace operations worldwide, and supported the training of nearly 6,000 female peacekeepers.

Peacekeepers from across the globe recently came together in Vicenza, Italy, at the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (COESPU). There, through the support of GPOI, the United States and Italy partnered to provide training for Formed Police Unit (FPU) leaders and instructors preparing to deploy to UN and regional peace operations. In this round of courses, COESPU offered training on unit tactics, civilian-police-military relations, and gender protection. In particular, the Gender Protection course included representation from 20 countries and, remarkably, was two-thirds women – a striking statistic in the field of UN police peacekeeping forces where just nine percent are women. 

Gender Protection 04 course graduates pose for a picture on graduation day with CoESPU Director, Brigadier General Paolo Nardone, Italian Carabinieri, and Deputy Director, Colonel Darius Gallegos, U.S. Army. [Photo courtesy of COESPU]

The women peacekeepers that attend COESPU are strong, dedicated, and successful in a profession historically dominated by men. Women have a variety of important roles in peacekeeping, one of which is expanding access to, and protection of, local women in post-conflict countries. As Maria Virginia Ruiz Bravo of Chile said, “The course gave us the tools to empower women and reach them in the place that they are hurting…the course taught respect for human rights; that women and girls have rights, and they have different needs that we have to listen to. Here are few more of their stories:

  • Saru Shiwakoti from Nepal is preparing to deploy to the UN Mission in South Sudan where she will command roughly 15 women in the 140-strong Nepalese police unit. At COESPU, she received tactical unit training along with 28 of her colleagues from Nepal. When she returns home, she will translate this training in her role as a specialized instructor to prepare and lead the women of her unit on their upcoming peacekeeping mission.
  • Al Beli Afifa from Bangladesh emphasized the need for peacekeepers to take part in these types of training programs. During her unit’s recent deployment to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, she experienced firsthand how, by working closely with women in one community displaced by conflict, they were able to overcome initial resistance to the effort to relocate the population to an area with more space, security, and services.
  • Ratna Karlinasari from Indonesia has spent many years investigating cases of sexual and gender-based violence in her home country and will soon be putting her new training and 20 years of investigative experience to work in support of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. There, she will train local Haitians on investigative procedures to protect local vulnerable communities and support the rule-of-law.
  • Khansa’ Mosleh Hamdan of Jordan is a team leader in her country’s Police Special Operations Unit that responds to civil emergencies – like an American SWAT team. Her unit performs missions such as special operations, public order and security, counter-terrorism, and relief and rescue operations. She plans to integrate her training with her team to stop crimes at home: “to protect all victims, women, children, and men alike.”

These stories illustrate that when women participate as peacekeepers, these missions are not just more diverse -- they’re more effective. As Grace Ansah-Akrofi Asamoah from Ghana noted, “Fighting for women’s rights, it isn’t strange…it’s a collective fight, and inspiration is needed everywhere. Applying gender protection principles to peace operations is important and cannot be left to gender units -- it applies across all the work that we do.”

Saru Shiwakoti stands with members of her Nepalese Formed Police Unit in training at COESPU for an upcoming UN mission. [Photo courtesy of COESPU]

Alongside their male counterparts, women peacekeepers perform the same difficult tasks to uphold and support the rule-of-law, deter sexual and gender-based violence, and assist victims of violence. Their participation and perspectives are crucial to engaging vulnerable populations so that everyone in a conflict-affected community has the opportunity to build peace.

About the Author: Stefanie Purdie, a Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is a Department of State Veterans Innovation Partnership (VIP) Program Fellow in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs where she serves as a Program Analyst for Strategy. She previously served in the U.S. Air Force as an Instructor Combat Systems Officer.

Note from the Author: Thank you to COESPU Co-Director, Colonel Darius Gallegos for his assistance with the interviews for this blog post, and to the course graduates for their time and insights on gender protection in their missions.



Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
April 30, 2016
Congratulations, on completing the Gender Protection Course 04. I'm glade women are now able to work along side their male counterparts and protect the rights of people that can't protect them selves. I hope your able to put your training to good use in your upcoming UN Mission.
N N.
Colorado, USA
May 4, 2016
I had three Peace Keeping tours to Bosnia and really saw the need for what you are doing. Thank you for supporting this important mission.
Graduates from the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units with Deputy Director Colonel Darius Gallegos, U.S. Army, center.
Posted by Stefanie Purdie
April 27, 2016


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