Canadian researcher investigates gender and peacekeeping

A female member of Task Force-Mali’s Canadian Medical Emergency Response Team provides direction during a forward aeromedical evacuation exercise aboard a CH-147F Chinook helicopter in March. Photo by Corporal François Charest, 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (430 Tac Hel Sqn)

A female member of Task Force-Mali’s Canadian Medical Emergency Response Team provides direction during a forward aeromedical evacuation exercise aboard a CH-147F Chinook helicopter in March. Photo by Corporal François Charest, 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (430 Tac Hel Sqn)

Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs ~

As the United Nations and militaries across the world work toward greater female representation in peacekeeping operations, a Canadian researcher is delving into this little-studied area to shed more light on the potential implications.

Andrea Lane, a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University, is on a year-long contract at the Canadian Forces College where she has been invited to teach as part of its National Security and Joint Command and Staff programmes.

As Director of Dalhousie’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, she notes she has long-standing research interests in Canadian defence policy and in particular women in the military.

As she began research relating to Canada’s part in the UN mission in Mali – where Canadian operations ceased on Aug. 31, 2019 – the federal government rolled out a pilot project in 2017 known as the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, which seeks to increase women’s meaningful participation in peace operations.

While she is generally supportive of efforts to make male-dominated militaries more open to women, Lane said current thinking on women’s roles in peacekeeping may not be entirely beneficial.

“There are a whole bunch of assumptions that are largely untested about women as better communicators, as people who are more likely to tone down conflict versus add to conflict – women being seen as warmer and more approachable by civilians,” she explained. “So it sets a different burden on women peacekeepers that is really about singling them out as different than the norm for peacekeeping, which is male.”

“On the surface, getting more women into peacekeeping is clearly a win for women,” she adds. “How can you argue that’s bad? It’s when you start looking at the reasons behind that inclusion you realize that actually there are effects that may make it more difficult for their complete integration. It’s not fully integrating them within the military and saying, ‘We want women soldiers because of everything they bring to the table.’”

The UN recently took the step of directing member nations to form peacekeeping engagement teams – soldiers responsible for outreach to civilian populations – with a minimum of 50 per cent female representation. The body of research into the effects of such initiatives on those they are designed to help, Lane noted, is small.

“Some evidence from the deployment of female engagement teams in Nordic militaries –  Sweden, Denmark – in Afghanistan found that the women who were involved were viewed by their male colleagues as women first and soldiers second and that they needed to be protected. But that was a small study. Rigorous evidence for some of these claims about female peacekeepers is really lacking and there’s no Canadian evidence, so actually adding to the body of evidence is one of the main reasons I’m doing the research.”

The contract with Canadian Forces College is not related to her research but is a “happy coincidence,” given that it will provide access to female military officers for interviews that will inform her dissertation.

At the time of writing, Lane was still waiting a go-ahead from the College and Dalhousie before she could begin interviews. However, some media coverage is already attracting attention.

Word of mouth is also playing a part, and she is finding other potential subjects through her own personal networks and those of her spouse, a Royal Canadian Navy officer.

“What I have found, and I’m very grateful for this, is that women are interested in talking about this because of the way that it affects their professional lives.”

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