Women in Peacekeeping Panel: An Impression

I was very impressed by the quality of the discussion and the depth of experience of the Panellists as well as the Moderator on the Women in Peacekeeping Panel organized this week by WLA focused on UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Having been a panellist earlier in the day I realized quite dramatically how difficult it is to structure a coherent, engaged and useful panel for all concerned and how much preparatory work goes on behind the scenes perhaps for a fairly long time before any panel actually faces an audience. After all, the fact that the audience, mostly composed of law students, was expected to attend a panel over the course of two hours in the middle of November late in the evening was a big-ask to begin with. The fact that most of the audience actually ended up staying till the end and then engaged in informal discussions with the Panellists as well as the Moderator long after the formal discussion had closed is a testament to how useful the audience found the panel discussion.

In trying to reflect on what made the panel so very good, one of the things that comes to mind is the sheer depth of diverse experiences that the panellists represented and on which they could draw to tell a coherent story. The other thing that goes perhaps to preparation before hand is the fact that the Moderator, Marcia Greenberg had asked them to speak to three points to which each Panel added more than overlapped. This had the effect that with each Panellist who addressed a particular issue the audience learnt of a new piece of the puzzle in which laws, norms, social cultures and systems of dominance overlap and co-mingle in complex ways that must be understood separately as well as holistically. The panellists did a very good job of unpacking these strands. One of the key tensions which they were able to tease out but which would have benefited from more discussion is that the fact that the framers of the Resolution were focused on the actual need for peace as broadly understood in the sense of freedom from war; in tension with this noble goal in the call for greater inclusion of women in for instance the police force as well as their inclusion in peacekeeping operations; the problem with this idea of course is that if women are trained for instance as part of a police force in much the same way that their male counterparts are trained we are not addressing the core issues of culture and social structures and the processes by which people are co-opted by a system of domination. In an international system of nation states upon which the UN system rests, this means that responsibility ultimately rests on national states to retool their training programs in ways that are more focused on building peace. In the final analysis perhaps we should be calling on retraining both women and men in new and more peaceful ways.

By Erum Sattar

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