Liberia: Women Peacekeepers and Human Security

Kristen Cordell
8 October 2009

In her second report from Liberia Kristen Cordell looks at the impact of the all female Indian police unit working in Monrovia.

The deployment of female peacekeepers has recently become recognized as not simply "desirable, but an operational imperative." In the words of Rachel Mayanja UN Assistant Secretary-General, "without women's participation in peace efforts there can be no peace and security."


One highly visible step to including women in peacekeeping operations has been the all- women police unit serving as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). 130 Indian policewomen currently make up the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in Liberia, the third such unit to be installed post conflict. The primary function of the group is to provide security within the city during public events with high profile leadership. I spent time with the group during my recent work with the UN in Liberia. I found the experience nothing short of inspirational.

Since their arrival, the all-women police unit has received much attention, mainly focused on the social impact the women are having in the country and the fact that their presence is slowly but surely improving gender equality within the UN system. Both of these effects are clear and present. However, one thing that has not been properly documented or accounted for has been the actual impact the FPU is having on security in the county - which is after all their primary function.

Reports of the impact they are having on social dynamics and in particular local cultural gender norms, is not difficult to understand. Unlike their male counterparts, they devote their personal time and resources to interacting with the community and that work has had an astonishing impact. The female FPU staff are not shy when they notice changes in the community, approaching women and men they think might be having a problem at home, should they become absent or withdrawn from activities.  Their community summer camp, which teaches school age Liberian girls self-defense, first aid, and classic Indian dance, is awe-inspiring. As one policewoman told me "We try to provide the example of motivation to the girls at the orphanage and the school." During the class young Liberian girls danced to the tune of Jai Ho, and spoke about the personal confidence and esteem they learned from the Indian policewomen in their midst. As one local resident stated "there have been many changes, since they [FPU] came in". Rates of sexual abuse and exploitation in the community have dropped sharply. The number of girls enrolling in school has risen dramatically in the past three years with the ratio now of girls to boys 70-30. In a nation where few girls are finishing primary school this result is staggering.  In the Congotown suburb of Monrovia it means that less girls on are the streets or involved in sexual relationships with older men (the most prevalent reason most girls leave school.) According to the principal of the elementary school: "the girl students are getting tutored how to take care of their body and forget about the other issues, about men, every day the FPU are keeping them busy and the girls are excited by what the FPU is doing".

In the larger frame of human security, the all-female police units provide free medical services and clean drinking water for the community which has led to a reduction in the number of poverty motivated petty crimes. The FPU regard their work securing the community as their greatest achievement, as one officer stated "people say they feel confident, safe and secure when they see us." They point to successful riot patrol at a recent international colloquium, the group night patrols and the installation of their lighting system which has reduced the number of intruders. In addition, monthly community clean up days has inspired community pride in the area, an effect which has been shown to dramatically decrease crime through stronger community participation and ownership.

As a composite, improvements in security and human security by the presence of the Indian women peacekeepers have been dramatic. They have inspired women and girls take on non traditional roles- and led to a large  increase in the number of women in the security sector in Liberia (including the police and defense forces). The need to draw more women into peacekeeping missions has both a demand and dynamic- as stated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her remarks as chair of the UN Security Council. The United Nations must work with member states to continue to build on groups similar to the FPU in Liberia, enhancing the impact both of and on women and girls in the missions around the world.

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