The UN/NATO, Academia and Gender Policies in Peace Operations

The UN/NATO, Academia and Gender Policies in Peace Operations

Velomahanina Tahinjanahary Razakamaharavo

Gender mainstreaming has become a flagship policy within UN and NATO peace operations. Feminist movements and the Security Council Resolution 1325 brought an impetus to gender equality and triggered the implementation of projects, programmes, initiatives or designs of National Action Plans all over the world. The UN and NATO work with various entities from the public and private sector, governments, think tanks and grassroots organisations to implement the Women as well as the Gender, Peace and Security agendas (WPS and GPS). Despite all of this, various research and reports have demonstrated that the implementation of these is lagging and in various areas failures can be noticed.

Would a better governance of partnership with stakeholders improve the efficiency of gender mainstreaming in peace operations? UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and NATO do not engage enough with researchers and scholars working on gender although the publications of the latter are significant sources of information, best practice for legislation, as well as policy work.

Is there systematic collaboration between the UN/NATO and scholars/researchers? At the UN, some scholars have been invited to attend workshops and conferences. Researchers were able to communicate the findings of their research by briefing the Security Council. Some big think-tanks, long term partners with the UN, also get the opportunity to brief the Security Council. Moreover, DPKO organises brown bag lunches to which they invite researchers and scholars for informal discussions. Although these are good signs of partnership, the people who get invited are those with resources, strong connections and networks within the UN, from the global north or are based in the capital cities where these organisations are based.

The facts themselves show a system entertaining elitism in those practices, something that I consider to be an “elitist collaboration”. The NATO Gender Committee on Perspectives has been inviting scholars to speak during its annual meetings. So was Allied Land Command (LADCOM) on its first gender week in 2018. That being said, the collaboration between NATO and academia in the field of gender is hardly noticeable. One rather sees a strong tendency towards cooperation with civil society organisations. Indeed, it has even institutionalised the Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace, and Security which meets officially with NATO officers.

What are the implications of these realities regarding such a partnership? How does that weak collaboration between the UN/NATO and academia or the elitist collaboration I mentioned earlier affect gender-related work in those organisations? Those dynamics affect how gender itself is understood, conceptualised and approached in peace operations. During the interviews I conducted with gender advisors from both organisations, it became clear to me that, for the majority of them, the greatest priority is to increase the number of women in the peace operations.

Gender is mainly understood in terms of equality. In the field of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), such a framing of gender can be seen through who gets priority in policies, legislation, and projects implemented. The majority of these are focused on women and girls’ issues. Due to that interpretation of gender at both headquarters and at the political level, many of those who collaborate with the two institutions follow suit.

However, academic findings are diverse in terms of how gender is understood, conceptualised, and approached on the ground. The work of these two organisations does not yet reflect such diversity. As examples, some scholars point to the importance of intersectionality, others offer evidence highlighting the fact that the issues of men and boys are left out of the equation and therefore need to be taken into account while other academic articles offer cutting-edge analyses of policy-related work in other institutions on the assessment of the implementation of gender mainstreaming, explaining conceptualizations such as gender evaporation, invisibilization, and resistance along the policy cycle. These are just examples of the myriad of literature that could be used to support work in peace operations.

Another problem related to that lack of systematic collaboration with academia is the missing voices that need to be included in UN and NATO peace operations, those of the locals. As mentioned, those who have important resources and representation in the capital cities where these organisations are located get to be heard and the same happens in the academic world. Let us add to this the fact that the publishing system in academia has its own shortcomings. For example, paywall access or the fact that only those who have resources to publish and the big names get to be heard and listed on Google Scholar. And most importantly, it is widely known that, although there has been currently a wave of discussions about the problem and attempts to find ways to fix the issue, literature in those fields is still predominantly western.  This means that those advisors who are at headquarters might miss a wealth of literature from the local researchers and scholars working on gender.  To obtain deep and knowledgeable insights on the matters concerning local challenges and problems, who better to consult than the researchers including local ones who spend a lengthy amount of time in the local community?

This all leads to the following question: if there is a need for the UN and NATO to collaborate better and more with the academic world to get more efficient results, how could this be done? It is necessary to come up with a better partnership governance and mechanism systematizing and institutionalizing collaboration between them. Inviting scholars and researchers to attend annual events, conferences, workshops is not enough to appreciate the wealth of finding on gender in peace operations. It is crucial to set up a mechanism where people from academia in those fields meet DPKO and NATO in a similar way to the Civil Society Advisory Panel in Brussels. It is important to create an entity working in this way. And it is crucial that such an entity would have good representations from the global north and the global south, gender, races etc., in other words, an inclusive and intersectional approach supporting the process.

Second, the initiatives of some entities within the UN are laudable in the sense that they are starting to incorporate findings from academia in their work; for example, those from the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Directorate (CTED) who compile literature reviews on CVE/PVE. Again, doing this is not enough. Along with the setting-up of the entity I mentioned, an online platform should be specifically established by this entity where researchers and scholars could freely upload their research (full length) and provide highlights of the findings along with short policy proposals. Those working for that entity need to make sure that findings of local researchers and scholars are also uploaded and they actively support the work done by these groups of people. A one stop shop platform for academic gender-related findings in UN and NATO peace operations would be really supporting the work of gender advisors as well as that of policy makers and all key stakeholders. These would be gems of lessons learned and most importantly, bottom-up ones. This is a way to democratise academic findings on gender in UN and NATO peace operations and fight against the academic bias in terms of knowledge production and dissemination. A democratised platform would systematically include the ideas of the locals.

And third, such an initiative needs to be backed by politicians and all stakeholders. It is important to start discussions on how to establish a stronger and long-lasting collaboration between the UN/NATO and scholars as well as researchers at all levels (at the headquarters, among the member states and contributing countries, among policy-makers as well as the people from academia). Depending on the institutions, a policy cycle in those organisations might take between two to ten years. Consequently, it is high time that a policy on such a systematised and institutionalised collaboration supporting gender-related work in UN and NATO peace operations is implemented.


Velomahanina Tahinjanahary Razakamaharavo is a Policy Leader Fellow at the School of Transnational Governance, EUI in Florence, Italy and a Research Associate/ Scientific Collaborator at UCLouvain in Belgium.  She tweets at: @razkmv

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.