Postnational Peacekeeping and the Construction of Sex and Gender
Postnational Peacekeeping and the Construction of Sex and Gender
Abstract and Keywords
Examining post-national defense peacekeeping practices verifies that Sweden has a gender aware post-national defense. This success was attributed to a systematic approach to gender and UN SCR 1325 training, appointed gender advisors and a committed leadership. Surprisingly, these achievements were reached without increasing female troop numbers. Probing this further reveals that gender has been translated to women. In the context of the Swedish ISAF it means the local Afghani women, i.e. gender equals the “other“ women. Gender is made into a problem-solving tool, reducing its transformative potential. The analysis suggests that it diverts from the “real” problem of legitimacy for peacekeeping missions. Their quest to win the “hearts and minds” of the people are more concerned with the view of sexuality embedded in militaries than with women. Thus it is crucial to discuss masculinity as well as sexuality in order to reach the objectives of post-national militaries when they are stationed abroad. To inform of codes of conduct is clearly not sufficient.
Postnational militaries are extensively engaged in missions abroad; they are often multilateral and have peace enforcement, peacekeeping, and peace building as their major tasks. The focus of this chapter is on the peacekeeping activities1 of the postnational military. As argued in the previous chapter, some of these militaries are cosmopolitan minded. The fact that the Swedish military sees itself as a cosmopolitan, gender-aware military is analyzed from the perspective of how gender and sexuality is performed in the peacekeeping forces. This chapter connects to the previous discussion on how sexuality and gender is an organizational resource in institutions where masculinity dominates; it takes a similar approach but applies it to peacekeeping activities and asks: How are gender and sexuality organized in peacekeeping operations, and how are masculinities and femininities constructed through missions involved in peacekeeping?
The analysis begins by discussing the Swedish military’s gender awareness through the example of its work in Afghanistan and the ambition to rethink masculinity. The chapter moves on to address how sexuality is related to masculinity constructs through cases of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers. Sexual exploitation and abuse undermines the legitimacy of United Nations (UN) peace operations. The chapter continues with a focus on what women peacekeepers are expected to contribute to international missions. The relational character of gender constructions is apparent here; the peacekeeping femininity can heal and remedy the ‘bad’ masculinity of sexual misconduct. Female presence is perceived as giving renewed legitimacy to the mission. The resource perspective discussed in chapter 2, that women are interesting because they provide something qualitatively (p.91) different to the military organization, appears relevant here. Women are viewed as resources also because they are able to talk to and engage with local women. Thereby the mission can fulfill some goals of UN SCR 1325 and provide a more complete security to all. Female peacekeepers are also able to gather information. Because they are the only ones able to talk with the local women, they are crucial for gathering intelligence in highly patriarchal settings such as Afghanistan.
Gender-aware Swedish peacekeeping in practice
With the help of a comparative study on how UN SCR 1325 has been applied in five different contingents of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan, it is possible to evaluate how gender-aware Swedish peacekeeping is in practice (Olsson and Tejpar 2009). The study’s starting point is that gender equality is expected to contribute to operational effectiveness, and the analysis consists of a comparison of day-to-day military operations of the Dutch, Italian, New Zealand, Norwegian, and Swedish Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). Each case is based on an average of 20 interviews on location during 2008 and 2009. The conclusion of the report is that the approach to gender equality varied greatly in the different teams. Only three—Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden—had National Action Plans on UN SCR 1325 to guide their work. The claims that the Swedish military is gender-aware were verified: “Sweden was the only country which applied a more systematic approach and made use of both a Gender Field Adviser and a network of Gender Focal Points” and had contacts with local women’s organizations (Olsson and Tejpar 2009, 115). Based on this comparative work, the report makes recommendations on a successful and systematic approach for implementing UN SCR 1325. It stresses the need to take gender issues seriously at the top level of leadership, exemplified by the appointment of a gender advisor who advises the leadership directly and oversees gender training activities. Gender field advisors are also important and should be connected to a network of gender focal points to integrate the gender activities in daily operations (Olsson and Tejpar 2009, 125). These were the strategies taken in the Swedish team. Although pointing to Swedish PRT as best in class, Olsson and Tejpar note that there is a problem of female recruitment in all five of the PRTs. The percentage of women among military staff ranges from 6 to 14 percent. It is notable that Sweden, ranking highest on gender awareness, is behind on recruitment. For Sweden, the number of women in the PRT studied was 10 percent.
(p.92) In the previous chapter, it was argued that Swedish security and defense politics seem to be taking gender issues rather seriously, exemplified by the support for UN SCR 1325 and 1820 in National Action Plans. They are also taken seriously within the military organization in terms of training and in appointing gender advisors. Is the result of the study by Olsson and Tejpar (2009) suggesting a decoupling of gender and women’s agency? It is Sweden’s emphasis on gender awareness in operations and UN SCR 1325 training that makes them the winners in the comparative study. The authors’ findings seem to suggest—although this is not their conclusion—that it is not necessarily the number of women present in the peacekeeping forces or in the military that is the key to gender awareness, but rather it is the systematic work with gender strategies, structured from the leadership level in the organization downward, that makes the difference.
Another interesting finding came out of this rich empirical study. That is that “all PRT personnel interviewed in connection with this study had received information about women’s and men’s situations in Afghanistan in the form of being told that male soldiers could not address or even look at Afghan women” (Olsson and Tejpar 2009, 121 [italics added]).
Can it be that the message is so easily heard and taken in because it appeals directly to the image of men as the protector and to a masculinity associated with chivalry? It fits nicely with what Vivienne Jabri (2007, 94–135) calls a discourse of protection that has often come to legitimize interventions. Iris Marion Young (2007, 121) calls the “courageous, responsible and virtuous man” (i.e., the peacekeeper) who protects the subordinate and vulnerable Afghan women against the patriarchal masculinity of Afghan men “the protector.” The Swedish peacekeeper in the ISAF is courageous because he is risking his life for Afghan people; he is responsible because he respects the security situation and considers the consequences for the Afghan woman if he breaches the rule of traditional patriarchy; and he is virtuous because he is gender-aware. Is this also a way to construct the Afghan women as vulnerable, as victims, and then depriving them all of agency? The fact that the peacekeeping men of the PRT in Mazar-i-Sharif were all convinced they should not look at or talk to the Afghan women could be the result of cultural sensitivity training, which seems highly important. Yet Lutz et al. (2009) point out that the cultural training peacekeepers receive often contains cultural stereotypes, sometimes bordering on racism. This is a complex issue. Palwasha Hassan (2010) of the Afghan Women’s Network pointed to a problem associated with what she defined as a “cultural oversensitivity.” It tends to stereotype Afghan women’s role in society as static and fixed. However, respect for the modesty of (p.93) women in Muslim culture appears to have prevented sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon2 (Lutz et al. 2009, 13–15).
While gender, women, and UN SCR 1325 are by now—at least to Swedish contingents—familiar concepts, other related concepts such as masculinity or sexuality are not part of the peacekeeping colloquial. The masculinity of the patriarchal Afghan leaders and the bad masculinity of the Taliban warriors is taken to be a given or only anxiously treated in the frequent encounters of daily military operations. An example of this anxious, careful approach to ‘the other’ masculinity is narrated by a Swedish female peacekeeper. She went with her male peacekeeping collegue to visit a village and beforehand was advised by him about the local culture. He said that she should not offer her hand to the Afghan men but instead simply nod, place her hand on her heart, and then stay in the background. He would do the talking. When they entered the village, the Afghan men were very hospitable; they enthusiastically shook hands with her and patted her shoulder. When it came to discussing their business, the group was very interested in hearing what she had to say. This experience made her male colleague realize that a female officer can actually contribute by relaxing the atmosphere. This was the lesson learned (i.e., that a woman’s presence can contribute positively to the atmosphere of village-level negotiations; see Ivarsson and Edmark 2007, 23). Another interpretation would be that her colleague acted as the masculine protector and took on the responsibility of protecting her from the ‘other’ masculinity, which he was nervous and unsure about. Her presence, as a Western woman in uniform, was a curiosity and neutralized, for the moment, the tension of the different ‘masculinities’ in the room. Furthermore, the account suggests that the ‘cultural oversensitivity’ that Hassan spoke about relates to Afghan men and their masculinity as well.
In the gender-aware Swedish cosmopolitan military there is space for thinking differently about masculinity, and some Swedish peacekeepers seem aware of the importance of conveying an image of a new and different masculinity as related in interviews (see Ivarsson and Edmark 2007). In speaking about male peacekeepers, many female officers emphasized the importance of the male peacekeeper adopting alternative gender roles as examples of alternative images of masculinity. These informants said that the Swedish male peacekeepers often exhibited a different masculinity, which was also conveyed to the locals. One example occurred when the troops based in Kosovo made regular visits to orphanages. The peacekeepers played with and showed an interest in the children at the orphanage. Simultaneously, they provided an alternative image of an activity—an (p.94) activity that the group of peacekeepers saw as valuable. This way they also projected an alternative picture of masculinity and showed that a man, too, can care for, enjoy, and value playing with children. Another example was that of a male military officer, in uniform and cooking dinner for himself. While he was cooking the locals could see him through the open door in the kitchen. Thereby this military officer was seen doing something perceived in the local context as a solely feminine task. This challenged traditional gender roles as perceived by the local community (Ivarsson and Edmark 2007, 29) at the same time it conveyed and projected an alternative image of masculinity.
Sweden’s cosmopolitan-minded military has conducted various gender mainstreaming efforts, including systematic organization of training in UN SCR 1325 and gender issues. The peacekeeping missions also open up opportunities to articulate ‘alternative’ masculinities, and both the men and the women of the mission can become models of an alternative gender order where they are deployed. Yet the task of questioning or reformulating masculinity was not part of a strategic or collective effort of the organization.3 Processes of identity construction were imbued with cultural understandings and stereotypes.
Peacekeepers’ masculinity and sexual misconduct
The construction of masculinity in relation to sexuality is an important aspect of peacekeeping missions and their relation to the local community, but it is not approached in a direct way. Sexual abuse and rape seem always to have been part of armed conflict and war. To that end, it has been treated as a normality of war. This does not mean that rape in war is a universal phenomenon or that it has to be this way (Goldstein 2001, 362). However, it is only during the past few decades that rape and sexual abuse have come to be viewed as elements of conscious conflict and war strategies, rather than as unfortunate side effects of war and violent conflicts (Diken and Laustsen 2005; L. Skjelsbaek 2001; Stiglmayer 1994). Ruth Seifeirt (1996, 35) writes that: “Mass rapes have occurred in all modern wars, but not until the gender-specific atrocities committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina have they attracted worldwide attention.” It has also become a central part of security and conflict analysis (Hansen 2001; Mukwege 2009; Münkler 2005, 81–87) and has brought the issue of sexual violence against women and girls to the global agenda (Farwell 2004) of the International Criminal Court and the UN with SCR 1325.
The urgency of the issue was confirmed in June 2008 when the Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 and with it “demanded the immediate (p.95) and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.” It also expressed a deep concern regarding the finding that, “despite repeated condemnation” through other UN work and in previous resolutions, “violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones was not only continuing, but, in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to reach appalling levels of brutality” (“Security Council Demands Immediate and Complete Halt” 2008). Resolutions 1888 in 2009 and 1960 in 2010, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s appointment of Margot Wallström as the special representative on sexual violence in conflict, attest to the increased urgency of the problem and the salience of it in the UN context.
Since rape, sexual violence, and abuse are widespread in current conflicts, it is highly relevant to investigate sexuality and its conceptualization in regard to military engagement in peacekeeping activities. Peacekeepers are sent out to protect locals from human rights abuses and help them resolve conflicts, ultimately creating the conditions for peace. Any type of abuse, sexual or other, undermines these efforts and threatens the legitimacy attached to peacekeeping missions (L. Anderson 2010; Grady 2010). Unfortunately, it is all too common. The most well-documented cases of wide sexual misconduct concern the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or MONUC (Higate 2004). A UN report states: “Interviews with Congolese women and girls confirmed that sexual contact with peacekeepers occurred with regularity, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money. Many of these contacts involved girls under the age of 18, with some as young as 13” (United Nations General Assembly 2005).
Despite the fact that by 2003 the UN Secretary General had already instituted a zero-tolerance policy against ‘the blue helmets’ sexual relations with locals, it continues to be a problem. Many different nationalities are involved (Hull et al. 2009, 42; Lutz et al. 2009). A television documentary from 2010 verified that sexual relations and prostitution continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo and that Swedish staff have also been involved in this. There seems to be a broad tolerance for sexual relations of all kinds through the UN peacekeeping organization, and impunity prevails (Yllner 2010). Because the main goal of a peacekeeping mission is to create trust in the operation among locals, sexual misconduct threatens and will sever that relationship.
Higate and Henry (2004) argue that sexual misconduct is connected to how masculinity is constructed within the military organization that provides the staff for peacekeeping operations. According to the authors, male peacekeepers’ masculinity is reconfirmed in relation to local women, (p.96) and sexuality often continues to be constructed in line with the traditional understanding of men’s sex drive. Men’s sexuality is often understood in terms of men’s ‘need’ of sex. Typically, men’s sexuality is perceived as a natural, instinctual, and largely uncontrollable phenomenon. Lutz et al. (2009, 7) speak about the UN’s “hydraulic model” of male sexuality: Male sexuality builds up and has to be released. It is similar to the traditional understanding of rape in war (i.e., as an unfortunate but ‘natural’ thing). Such an understanding assumes that men cannot control their own sexuality. Men are assumed to lack agency when their sexuality is constructed in a way that simply presumes it to be about a biologically generated ‘drive’. Often associated with this is an understanding of women as passive sexual objects and/or women as the property of men (Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic 2009, 12).
Paul Higate (2007) calls attention to the way masculinity was understood in the context of peacekeeping forces active in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Masculinity was conceived as simultaneously both strong and weak. Based on interviews, Higate (2007, 106) concludes that, in general, “the male sex drive was seen to reflect an integral component of deep masculinity.” This was a view beyond question, endorsed by both peacekeepers and the locals. Thus local women and girls provided sexual favors ‘needed’ for the strong masculinity in terms of the sex drive. At the same time, the economic desperation of many local women and their families gave rise to the construction of a weak masculinity that could not withstand and was “vulnerable to the predatory approaches of women and girls” (Higate 2007, 107). It was a weak masculinity because male peacekeepers felt like victims of women soliciting sex. Lutz et al. (2009, 6) describe this happening among peacekeepers stationed in Haiti, where women in mission areas “throw themselves at peacekeepers.” Again, masculinity and male sexuality becomes something out of the hands of the male peacekeeper, who could not possibly be responsible for an innate biological drive or for the lecherous solicitation of sex by young local women. Sexual desire, as articulated by the men involved, becomes constructed also as something outside a man’s own agency.
Yet when male peacekeepers were asked to tell their stories, they seldom articulated it as a natural sex drive; instead they preferred to tell stories of sexual liaisons with local women and girls as “carefree, sexual and romantic” (Higate and Henry 2004, 491). This was also the picture that emerged from Swedish peacekeeping in Congo in the television documentary referred to previously. Elise Barth (2004) noted something similar in the UNMEE forces based in Eritrea (United Nations Peacekeeping Department 2008a). The peacekeepers that Elsie Barth interviewed felt they were (p.97) helping the girls when they gave them money. Although the soldiers had codes of conduct to follow, it was unclear to them where to draw the line between prostitution and relations that they perceived to be of mutual consent. Yet there were cases of sexual abuse; for example, Irish soldiers made pornographic movies using Eritrean girls, and Danish soldiers were convicted of having had sex with a 13-year-old Eritrean girl (Barth 2004, 13–14; cf. Hull et al. 2009, 40). Although it has been documented (e.g., Otto 2007) that there are a range of different types of relations between locals and peacekeepers, and some may very well be romantic and based on true love, most are probably not. However, male peacekeepers do not tell their stories as those of sexual misconduct and abuse; neither do they tell of the deep asymmetries of power and privilege that clearly exist between peacekeepers and locals in any peacekeeping setting. The peacekeepers in Eritrea did not see themselves as exploiting the women, even though “compared to the Eritreans, the soldiers are rich” (Barth 2004, 15–16).
From the perspective of poor local women and girls, such sexual relations may look less romantic. Sexual and other relations with peacekeepers can offer a venue to a different life and many times a way to earn an income to support themselves and their families. They perform survival sex. This brings some nuance to a dominant view that often comes across in UN and other documents on sexual abuse in conflict. It is a view that constructs women and girls’ vulnerability in terms of a complete lack of agency facing a predatory military, an inaccurate portrayal. Women have some agency, although often very circumscribed; they have made a choice to sell sex for their and their family’s survival. Nevertheless, taken into consideration the unequal power relations between peacekeepers and the local community, sexual liaisons and prostitution often look a lot like exploitation. It was clearly the case in Congo and in Sierra Leone (Higate 2007). Furthermore, gendered and racialized stereotypes are frequently combined. Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic (2009, 6–7) found evidence of this in the context of Haiti and Liberia. Peacekeepers identified those societies as normally promiscuous and of the women as subservient. Therefore, they could justify having sexual relations with locals for money and food, because the women were perceived to be ‘easy’ and think differently ‘about sex’. Haiti and Liberia are countries with a permissive state policy on sex work. Due to this, the peacekeepers, including their superiors, found it difficult to reinforce the zero-tolerance policy. The argument was they could not be expected to behave different toward local women than the local men did (Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic 2009). Rather, it seems as if the peacekeeping missions’ organization and leadership is lax about the codes of conduct and are unwilling to follow and enforce the rules and regulations that apply, such as the UN codes of conduct (Lutz et al. 2009).
(p.98) If the leadership of peacekeeping missions understands men’s sexuality in the traditional interpretation as a natural and biological need that should be tapped and controlled within the organization but must have an outlet, then this may explain the leaders’ willingness to accept sexual misconduct in spite of UN policies. This interpretation of men’s sexuality tends to individualize the problem of sexual misconduct and thereby conveniently exclude the role of the peacekeeping organization, the military, and other societal organizations. It is well known through Cynthia Enloe’s (1993, 2000) work, for example, that military organizations have problematic relations to heterosexual men and their sexuality in part because militaries have used sexuality as an organizational resource. For example, the military organization’s emphasis on group loyalty or unit cohesion is “a significant factor in creating a wall of silence around misconduct” (Lutz et al. 2009, 9). Chapter 2 discussed the importance of enforcing heterosexuality to achieve homosociality for group cohesion and military effectiveness. Here, homosociality and group loyalty can become a part of fostering a culture of impunity around sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
Regarding the UN’s stance on peacekeepers and their sexuality, Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic (2009, 20) write that the view of male sexuality that comes across in UN actions and policies illustrates that there is an “unwillingness on the part of the organization to see itself as part of the problem”—after all they have a zero-tolerance policy. The view projected through the UN’s policies and actions is that peacekeepers’ sexual misconduct is an unfortunate and exceptional act, the acts of a few delinquents—a few bad apples—among the peacekeepers. The solution to the problem is seen as coming through the fine-tuning of organizational rules and sanctions. However, a failure to address the understanding of men’s sexuality that is embedded in the institutions involved means the problem of sexual misconduct cannot be ‘resolved’. The UN’s message on sexual misconduct is double-edged: it is concerned about the gravity of the practices and wants to take stringent action against them, but it also wants to make sure that the conduct is not seen as too general of a phenomenon as to damage UN peacekeeping legitimacy (Kanetake 2010, 209).
Organizational aspects on sexuality in peacekeeping
As evidence shows, there are recurring incidents of sexual misconduct despite the UN zero-tolerance policy that has been in place since 2003. Cynthia Enloe (1993, 2000) and Katherine Moon (1997) have stressed the connection between militarism and sexual exploitation as a factor influencing (p.99) the emergence of sex economies. Enloe (2000, 51) writes: “Ideologies of militarism and sexuality have shaped the social order of military base towns and the lives of women in those towns.” She considers this highly relevant for peacekeeping as well. Where militaries and international missions are stationed, peacekeeping economies develop (Enloe 2000, 91). This is the experience from missions in the past, such as those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Cambodia, and Liberia. Kathleen Jennings (2010) argues that it is a common economic phenomenon that develops when a peacekeeping operation arrives in an area. Peacekeeping economies develop due to the resources that the missions carry with them, their need for local staff to assist them, and the difference in income between peacekeepers and the locals. Sexual relations can become a part of and a resource in this, explored by local women and men as a way to earn extra income. The sex economy (sex work, trafficking, sex tourism) depends on locals being sexually available for peacekeepers and other international actors. When locals are not available or cannot fully cater to the demands, trafficking becomes an alternative. Thus, sex industries are often an important element of the peacekeeping economies that are, it should be noted, “highly gendered—but … the ‘normalization’ of peacekeeping economies allows these gendered effects to be overlooked or obscured” (Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic 2009, 2). A failure to recognize this undermines and counteracts the efforts to gender-mainstream peacekeeping operations.
Experiences from Bosnia and Kosovo show that the sex industry continues its operations after peacekeepers leave as, for example, sex tourism. The effects are often lasting and spread throughout the region (Jennings 2010; Jennings and Nikolic-Ristanovic 2009, 15). An economic, ethnic, or postcolonial view needs to be added to the analysis of sexual misconduct of peacekeepers and the sex work of locals (cf. Agathangelou and Ling 2003). It must be recognized that survival sex offered by locals “generates income or leads to access of privileges and resources that are necessary for everyday material survival” (Otto 2007, 260). Dianne Otto argues that the UN’s approach to sexuality and peacekeeping ignores and thereby also perpetuates the complexity of sex economies and that the cultural and economic inequalities between peacekeepers and the local population are silenced. By ignoring this element of peacekeeping missions and the economies they generate, the UN fails to address the underlying questions relating to social justice and inequality. The impact of the peacekeeping missions is, in this respect, neither localized nor temporary. Often the legacy of the peacekeepers’ presence remains and develops into a sex tourist site, as in Cambodia, or sex trafficking, as in Bosnia. Kathleen Jennings (2010, 231) does say, however, “Afghanistan seems to be the most obvious exception to this generalization.”
(p.100) For the current situation in northern Afghanistan, where the Swedish ISAF are deployed, it may be taken as a given that no sexual relations or fraternization with locals are possible, first because, as shown earlier in this chapter, the staff in the PRT teams received the message loud and clear to avoid addressing or looking at Afghan women. The second reason is that the local gender regime dictates a very strict control of local women, although evidence suggests that this may not be true (Dixon 2010; Nasuti 2009). Prostitution was sanctioned by the regime during the Taliban rule (“Prostitution under the Rule of Taliban” 1999), and there is evidence of an emerging sex economy in Afghanistan. This also includes trafficking, particularly of Chinese girls. By now, it is widely known that young Chinese women work out of Chinese restaurants in Kabul and cater to the international community that is based there (Huggler 2006). The sex economy also involves local women (Zimmerman 2008). “While Afghanistan’s strict Islamic law forbids prostitution, there are signs the work is taking formal root, with brothels operating in some cities and pimps managing prostitutes. Bribes take care of unwanted police attention” (Qadiry 2008). Despite severe punishment if caught, women (and possibly some men) in Afghanistan take part in the sexual economy just as they do in many other impoverished places of the world. Women who have lost or been ostracized by their families may be particularly prone to sex work, since other jobs are rarely available to them (Mänskliga rättigheter i Afghanistan 2007, 4; U.S. Department of State 2009). They engage in survival sex. Qadiry (2008) tells of two young female sex workers in the area of Mazar-i-Sharif, in the vicinity of where the Swedish peacekeepers are based. In both cases the women do it to support their families.
While it is clear that a sexual economy and prostitution are developing in Afghanistan, including in the area where the Swedish ISAF mission is stationed, this does not mean that Swedish peacekeepers necessarily engage in prostitution or sexual relations with locals. The Swedish defense bill of 2005 (Prop 2004/05:5) recognizes that the gender approach may profoundly challenge the military units’ traditional behavior but also simultaneously improve the relationship between peacekeeping units and the local population. The bill stresses, for example, that prostitution and trafficking around international missions is a violation of UN SCR 1325 and thus is not acceptable. In an effort to curb this kind of behavior among Swedish peacekeepers, the government proposed a “Code of Conduct” applicable to all Swedish citizens on all types of international missions and based on Swedish legal codes. To buy sex is a criminal act, as are discrimination, abuse of power positions, and any type of sexual abuse and violence. This law was introduced in the domestic context in 1999 and is applicable outside the country (p.101) as well; it is also the base on which Swedish peacekeepers using prostitution are prosecuted.
A factor that influences peacekeepers and their officers’ attitudes toward sexual conduct is the way that sex work and sexuality is viewed nationally. Attitudes about sexual relations vary among countries taking part in multilateral missions. For example, the Netherlands and Sweden have very different views on the topic of prostitution as well as on policies of conduct; thus there are differences in levels of tolerance of sexual relations and fraternization among nations. National policies affect how sexual conduct is viewed when on international missions, although the UN’s zero-tolerance policy is supposed to override national policy. Part of the problem is that the UN bears only partial responsibility for the realization of its own zero-tolerance policy. The states that provide peacekeepers as well as troops also have to be equally committed to the zero-tolerance policy (Kanetake 2010).
Furthermore, policies on conduct have a norm function and influence the understanding of what is considered appropriate sexual or love relations. The UN policy that the peacekeepers must conform to discourages having sexual relations with the local population, but it also forbids its personnel from having sex with anyone under 18 and from buying sex from prostitutes (United Nations Secretariat 2003). Because it forbids prostitution and particularly because it sets the age of consent at 18, it is considered a very strict policy in relation to the national policies of countries providing peacekeepers. Dianne Otto (2007) is highly critical of the Secretary General’s zero-tolerance policy, because, she says, it exemplifies a highly conservative understanding of sexuality, one that is matched only by national legislation in a few very sexually conservative countries. In comparison, the Swedish code of conduct reflects the restrictive position on prostitution or sex work in Swedish society. According to Swedish law (enacted in 1999), it is illegal to buy sex; this is one of the more radical legislations against prostitution in the world. The law criminalizes the buyer of sex and any organized solicitation of sex (C. Ritter 2008). It is also valid outside the country’s borders. The Swedish code of conduct is thus similar to the UN zero-tolerance policy, although it differs on the age limit for consensual sex. In Sweden the minimum age of consent is 15, whereas the UN sets it at 18. In this respect, the UN policy is more restrictive than Sweden’s and many other countries’ around the world.4
Otto (2007) points out that the sexual conservatism constructed through the UN zero-tolerance policy goes further to make the only acceptable relation between a local and a peacekeeper a heterosexual marriage. This is not only a conservative understanding of sexuality but also a form of “sexual negativity,” she argues. In an attempt to deal with impunity on (p.102) sexual abuse, the policies that emerge also generate norms on sexuality. Extreme control of sexual relations is exemplified by the U.S. military deployed in Iraq and is perhaps the most extreme way by which to also construct a deeply negative view on sexuality (Kramer 2010, 365). Sexual negativity contradicts attempts to enhance the understanding of sexuality and to, for example, increase acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Just as in militaries in general, homosexuality in peacekeeping forces is basically a silenced issue. One reason for this is that homosexuality is defined completely outside UN’s understanding of sexuality. Otto (2007) argues that through the zero-tolerance policies, the heterosexual male also becomes the dominant norm for the peacekeeper. A way to deal with this is to differentiate between rules on sexual conduct and fraternization within missions as an operational matter and sexual preference as a private concern (cf. Kramer 2010).
Tolerance and acceptance for differences in sexual preference have been difficult to deal with in the Swedish military organization at home, as pointed out earlier. It is likely to be more problematic in peacekeeping forces due to clashes between different value systems that come to the fore in international peacekeeping operations. Alan Ryan (2004, 66) notes that “while there is great value in asserting and pursuing a clear set of cosmopolitan objectives when committing troops to cosmopolitan operations, it also needs to be recognized that liberal Western commitment to cosmopolitan democratic values is not always matched by similar value systems elsewhere.” This is particularly so when we look at more specific elements of democratic values and the extent of human rights, such as those involving sexuality. Although the Swedish military has made a move to openly discuss and aim for sexual tolerance, it is a vision and an objective that cannot easily be implemented in the peacekeeping forces that are often also multinational. As mentioned, different gender orders, exemplified by the understanding of sexuality and sexual appropriateness, are represented within multilateral peacekeeping forces. Views can be very different among nationalities within multinational peacekeeping forces but also in relation to the view of sexuality in the local context where the forces are deployed (cf. Levy 2007, 187).
Homosexuality is not widely tolerated. It is even criminalized in many countries, and in some countries homosexuals face death penalties. The question for a cosmopolitan military is how to cooperate with military personnel and civilians who have radically diverging values and views on sexual rights. Even among the fairly like-minded countries within the EU, there are important differences, and EU countries are supposed to cooperate in peacekeeping efforts. For example, in Italy, Greece, Hungary, and (p.103) Croatia, there is no tolerance for sexual diversity in the military, whereas countries such as Belgium and France have a somewhat relaxed attitude, and the Netherlands has the most tolerant policy (Parliamentary Memo 2004). For LGBT military personnel in peacekeeping forces, these different attitudes and policies make them possible targets for harassment. This was recognized in the Swedish government’s budget bill of 2007. It points to the problem that LGBT persons can encounter in international operations under other countries’ command. According to Proposition 2006/07:1, “Since in many countries there is institutional discrimination or legal limitations on homosexuality, the Armed Forces have to secure that Swedish soldiers are not discriminated against during multilateral operations abroad” (61). Having LGBT peacekeepers in the mission may present a security problem.
This issue is relevant for the Swedish international peacekeeping force because it must assure protection from harassment for its own staff. It can be very difficult or even impossible to ensure tolerance and acceptance for LGBT persons in peacekeeping missions if the local understanding of sexuality does not allow for this tolerance. This is the case in Afghanistan. However, in the many reports and material that I have collected, it does not come up as a problem. I can only speculate why: It may be that the issue is silenced, or it could be, as Bateman and Dalvi (2004) show in their somewhat dated but still relevant study, that to be a gay male peacekeeper in multilateral operations is not really a problem or concern because there are much more pressing issues that take priority over the sex preferences of individuals. For the cosmopolitan-minded military, different values are positioned against one another, and it may be necessary to take a stand on what is the prioritized concern—is that to gain the trust of the local community for the mission, or is it to uphold norms of sexual freedom and rights? Indeed, this puts the cosmopolitan military to the test.
Women bring legitimacy to the peacekeeping mission
In light of the experience with sexual misconduct among UN peacekeepers and what has previously been argued, it is possible to understand why the importance of women peacekeepers and their ability to create trust in the mission has been highlighted lately. Women peacekeepers are thought to improve the mission’s legitimacy in the eyes of the local population. This is crucial. Locals continuously consider and evaluate the peacekeepers’ use of authority and their general behavior in providing the security that should mean stability and eventually peace. Although not explicitly part of the five (p.104) peacekeeping principles (Hansen et al. 2001, 3), it is likely that the level of trust that locals have of peacekeepers impacts the success of the mission (Mersiades 2005). One of the challenges for peacekeeping missions is to help the local population understand why certain actions are taken (Pouligny 2006). Rubinstein et al. (2008, 545) argue that this “hinges on peacekeepers’ ability to interact with local peoples in ways that communicate genuine partnership and respect.” The local population makes judgments of peacekeepers that they encounter, and both Mehler (2008) and Pouligny (2006) point to the need to further investigate and explore the role of peacekeepers in the local social fabric. Judgments can be positive or negative, and it is obvious “that these judgments influence the chances of peacekeeping missions being successful” (Mehler 2008, 55).
Sexual misconduct like that documented in many past missions has undermined local populations’ trust of peacekeeping troops. The United Nations Peacekeeping Department (2008b, 36–37) recognizes that a high legitimacy for peacekeeping forces contributes to their success. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a threat to both their legitimacy and their effectiveness. Arguments for the inclusion of women in peacekeeping forces often articulate a hope that women can increase the legitimacy of the troops. This is one of the main arguments given by the Swedish military for including women in peacekeeping operations. A report on the unintended consequences of peacekeeping operations with a particular focus on the Swedish military has a similar approach; that is, according to Hull et al. (2009, 53), the presence of female peacekeepers is crucial, and one of their most important recommendations in dealing with sexual misconduct and abuse is to include more women.
Based on an empirical study of Australian peacekeepers, Bridges and Horsfalls (2009, 120) confirm that “female personnel assist in engendering trust, allaying fears, improving the reputation of peacekeepers, normalizing the presence of troops, and positively facilitating the peace process.” One of the most important roles of women in peacekeeping is to temper inappropriate behavior. They also introduce a different kind of culture, which can install trust in the host nation for the presence of peacekeepers and thus make them more effective. The conclusion in Bridges and Horsfalls (2009) study is unique in that they make an explicit connection between the history of sexual abuse and misconduct and the view of troops with females as more trustworthy. Having said this, their conclusion seems slightly problematic. When male peacekeepers have been portrayed as perpetrators of abuse, women are to come in and “clean up the mess,” to install trust and legitimacy toward the local population. Oliviera Simic (2010) is critical of this approach taken on by the UN. She sees it as a way (p.105) to encourage women to “join peacekeeping operations as sexual violence problem-solving forces” (Simic 2010, 188). Underpinning the call that women should help increase the legitimacy of the UN operations by their presence is the idea that female peacekeepers, through their pacifying and nurturing presence, will discipline male peacekeepers into proper conduct toward locals (Simic 2010, 189).
When the efforts of UN peace operations turn to women peacekeepers with the hope that they will save their tarnished reputation and restore confidence and legitimacy to the operations, it may be both an unfair and all-too-difficult task. The way that femininity is constructed here is in terms of ‘saving angels’ or ‘beautiful souls’ that rescue men from their uncontrollable sexuality and militarized masculinity. Also, Swedish female peacekeepers are, in the view of the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF), expected to bring renewed legitimacy for the mission, and (re-)install the trust for the mission in the local population. The Cecilia Hull et al. (2009) study does, however, recognize that there is contradictory evidence as to what role female peacekeepers play in mitigating sexual exploitation and abuse among their own contingent. Yet the authors insist on the particular importance of women as part of the peacekeeping operations so that local female victims who have experienced sexual violation have someone they can trust and turn to. Again, there is a specific burden put on women here; Hull et al. (2009, 52) suggests having “female soldiers participate in peace support operations to deal with the impunity that often surrounds SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] acts.”
The expectations put on women are indeed high and, when placed within the stark reality of a peacekeeping operation, represent a daunting task. Try to imagine the setting in which these female peacekeepers operate. While there has been a very slow increase in the number of female military staff serving in peacekeeping, women have never comprised more than 2 percent of the total (Simic 2010, 188).5 Johanna Valenius (2007a, 517) writes that: “Peacekeepers’ camps are masculine spaces. Men dominate and define the space by their sheer numbers and uniform bodily presence. More precisely, it is not exactly men who characterize the space, but there is a certain type of masculinity that permeates and defines it, the heteromasculinity of 22- to 24-year-old-men” (italics added). In these spaces, gender is produced and performed; peacekeepers’ security practices produce gender (Higate and Henry 2010, 37). Because young men take up peacekeeping spaces, their gender subjectivity completely dominates. In that space, is it realistic to expect that a few women should monitor their colleagues and report them while also fending off unwelcomed sexual invites and dealing with sexual harassment?
(p.106) Furthermore, feminist research on militaries in general suggests that female military recruits are likely to try to fit into the military rather than criticize it. Although some women become radicalized in the setting and choose to be critical, most women are likely to turn their heads the other way when they suspect that their male colleagues are, for example, soliciting local prostitutes. Many actually avoid the company of male peacekeepers when they have leisure time because they do not want to take part in barhopping and drinking or in fraternizing with local women. Female peacekeepers are often careful because they want a good reputation. Their behavior and sexuality is under the constant surveillance of a disciplining male gaze. Swedish female peacekeepers tell of such experiences in the study by Ivarsson and Edmark (2007, 24–26). They must be more careful in their contacts with men but also when drinking and going out, because such actions can damage their reputation. Furthermore, sexual harassment is as frequent in the international missions as it is at home; according to the 2005 SAF general survey on sexual harassment, it may even be more extensive, as suggested by another survey directed toward military staff who had leadership positions in international missions (Ivarsson and Edmark 2007, 64).
Are women better peacekeepers?
In addition to the view that women are expected to bring legitimacy to international missions, another tendency is to perceive women as equipped with special and unique skills. There is a lot of ambiguity in how the contribution that women make is viewed. Gender difference has, in the past, been articulated within the Swedish military in terms of a resource that can be used to ameliorate military performance (Ds 2004:30, 11–14).6 In peace operations, women have been viewed as those who have the skills needed to secure good relations and solve conflicts with the local and civilian population, because, for example, they are better communicators and equipped with the ability to calm aggression. Women are often perceived as softer, more peaceful, and more prone to cooperation (DeGroot 2001, 37; Rhen and Sirleaf 2002, 63; I. Skjelsbaek 2007, 20). This is in line with a traditional view of women as associated with peace and more likely to promote peace (Ruddick 1989).7 Women as peacekeepers have been stereotyped with characteristics such as a “tendency for discussion, negotiation, and compromise” and associated with the “avoidance of more aggressive alternatives” (Fox 2001, 17). Hence, femininity is often articulated as being more cooperative, deliberative, and prone to peaceful solutions. When such (p.107) behavior is taken to be exclusively associated with women’s special nature and this is why they are considered a resource, it tends to affirm an essentialist view of gender. In the international peacekeeping discourse in general, women’s contribution as peacekeepers tend toward an essentialist construction of femininity (Charlesworth 2008; Puechguirbal 2010, 181).
Rather than disassembling typecasts of gender characteristics, this view runs the risk of playing into gender traditionalism (D. Smith 2001, 44). It is ironic that the female stereotypes that have been seen as barriers to women’s participation in the military in the past make them effective as peacekeepers (DeGroot 2001, 24, 34) and thus an attractive resource for the Swedish military today. The tendency to consider femininity a resource for the postnational military can be interpreted as a sign of this paradigm shift and, more specifically, as associated with dissolving the military-civilian boundaries. This shift implies that the skills and attributes historically connected to women and the civilian sphere and of slight or no interest to the national military have become the skills and attributes needed in the postnational, cosmopolitan-minded military, necessary for making peace, and thus highly valued and sought after (see also Penttinen 2011). Indeed, there is a contradiction in this, of women being both “idealized and undervalued” at the same time (Willett 2010, 143). On the other hand, equating gender to certain individual features of women does not question the gendered norms traditionally associated with military institutions. The argument that gender is a social construct and gender difference the result of historic socializing processes is excluded from that interpretation (cf. Väyrynen 2004, 137).
When looking more specifically at the material on Swedish female peacekeepers in the ISAF in Afghanistan, the view of female peacekeepers does not fully match this pattern. Female peacekeepers are expected to provide specific resources; however, the resources that women are thought to contribute to the ISAF are related to their bodies and their appearance, coupled with the expectations generated among the locals about them as female peacekeepers. It has little to do with possessing different skills, or at least it is not something that is stressed. In the SAF bimonthly newsletter (Insats & Försvar 2006 no. 4, 24–26), a case is made that the only way toward sustainable peace is through an emphasis on women. It is important for peacekeeping units to secure the engagement of local women in the peace process and cater to local women’s needs. To accomplish this, it is argued, it is necessary to have women in the peacekeeping units (Insats & Försvar 2006 No. 4, 19).
Female peacekeepers become a resource to the military because it makes possible the engagement of the military with Afghan women. Female (p.108) peacekeepers are important and sometimes provide the only channel to talk to, engage with, and obtain information from local women. It is only through the female peacekeepers that the ISAF mission can reach out to the entire society. Recall that the male peacekeepers had been told not to address or look at the Afghan women. Local women, who are subject to peacekeeping efforts, more readily cooperate with female soldiers and police in international peacekeeping forces. The oppressive patriarchal regime in the context of Afghanistan means that some local women’s agency in the public sphere is closely checked and restricted to contacts with other women. The only way to include local women in the peacekeeping process and thus live up to the spirit of UN SCR 1325 and contribute to a more inclusive security is to engage female peacekeepers. The alternative way to communicate with and obtain any information from the local civilian women would be through men related to them. In this context, it is appropriate to point out that the UN SCR 1325, despite its many flaws, has provided women agency in global security matters, while it still remains the military peacekeeping organization’s decision whether to include women and on what terms.
As a way to fully benefit from the resources that female peacekeepers can contribute, a special military observation unit was set up within the ISAF in Afghanistan in the spring of 2006. The Military Observation Team (MOT) Juliette was unique, as it was the first Swedish unit to consist of only women. It had as its one and only task to interact with local women.8 Something similar had been tried informally a few years earlier in Kosovo, with some success. MOT Juliette exemplifies how a military can use gender difference as an integral part of the military organization’s strategy in peace enforcement. Through the work of MOT Juliette, Afghan women were able take part in building security in their society. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (UN Security Council 2008, 4) talked about another example similar to MOT Juliette, the all-female Indian civil police unit deployed in Liberia. He saw this as a possible model and “as an excellent example of the unique contribution that female personnel can make.” He continued, “Through their sheer presence, the members of that Indian contingent were showing Liberian women that they, too, could play a role.” When MOT Juliette interacted with the local community, it also increased awareness of the possibility of a different role for women. An alternative femininity was projected through MOT Juliette. There was thus some type of power associated with the female presence. The members of MOT Juliette showed that women could be peacekeepers too and that a different gender order is possible (“Hon riskerar livet varje dag” 2006). Perhaps a way to encourage societal and institutional change and (p.109) promote the transition to a humane system of governance is also a task of a cosmopolitan military (cf. Elliot 2004, 25).
In a document issued by the SAF on gender and operational effect (SAF Information leaflet, 2009) it is argued that “a mixed force consisting of both men and women will achieve greater success when gathering information and creating trust for the aim of the operation.” There is a notion that cooperation will build legitimacy when local women are also able to take part, voice their opinion, and be heard by the international forces. Talking to the local people, both women and men, is part of creating a more complete security. There are two sides to this: On the one hand, it is about increasing local women’s participation, for example, through the building of networks that include women, as Madeleine Jufors (2008), gender advisor for the ISAF argued, it becomes clearer how security can be strengthen. On the other hand, it is also a way to obtain information that is needed for operational effectiveness, for example information on where weapons are hidden. In gathering intelligence, women peacekeepers become a real resource to the military in the case of the ISAF in Afghanistan. An important way to gather intelligence information, such as who carries or hides weapons and where ammunition and explosives are hidden, is through the contact with local Afghan women who can provide this kind of information to female peacekeepers. This rather functional approach to integrating (p.110) women in peacekeeping efforts on the ground fits well with an organization that is oriented to perform specific tasks in an efficient way. If women have the specific skills needed for peacekeeping, namely, dealing with and engaging local women, then the tendency is to appoint women in those positions. However, this should also be recognized as a possible risk for Afghan women; when they provide information that can increase the general safety in the region, it means that they may also be putting their own kin (sons, cousins, and other male relatives) under scrutiny, which can jeopardize their own individual security. Judging from the number of positive references to MOT Juliette floating around on websites of the SAF and elsewhere, it appears to be a flagship project. However, security problems put an end to the project.
Peacekeeping predominantly involves men because peacekeeping forces reflect the composition of national militaries that are traditionally male dominated. Once within the peacekeeping forces, as in national militaries, men are usually assigned military and policing tasks while women tend toward civilian-like tasks and work as “legal and political advisor, election and human rights monitors, information specialists and administrators. Women’s involvement in military peacekeeping remains almost insignificant” (Hudson 2005, 114). According to the Genderforce project, which specifically speaks of the Swedish situation: “Female participation in international service varies depending on the type of mission and ranges between 4.8 percent in the case of Liberia and 11.4 percent in the mission in Kosovo. Many of these women work in nursing and medical care and very few have leadership responsibilities” (Genderforce 2007). In July 2011, that figure was 9 percent women in Swedish international military missions.9
The low representation of women in international missions is problematic in many ways. The objectives of UN SCR 1325 calls for an increased participation of women among peacekeeping forces at all levels, but it is equally important that local women are engaged in conflict resolution, peace negotiations, and the peace-building processes. International missions are deployed to help initiate such processes. As I have argued, in cases where local women are subject to oppression and, for example, are allowed to speak only to other women, which are frequent such as in the case in Afghanistan, the mission’s success depends on the presence of women in the peacekeeping contingent. If only a few women are deployed in international missions, the objectives cannot possibly be attained, and it matters less whether the peacekeeping forces are considered the most gender friendly. If there are no or too few women to speak with and engage locals, a main objective of UN SCR 1325 cannot be fulfilled. A low number of female peacekeepers also means that the few women present in the (p.111) organization are, whether they like it or not, needed for and possibly put in charge of tasks relating to the fact that they are women. This means that female peacekeepers are pushed into specific tasks that relate to them being women rather than to their capacity as soldiers or peacekeepers.
This chapter verified that Sweden has a gender-aware post-national defense. Gender training has been successful and was attributed to a systematic approach with appointed gender advisors, gender field advisors, and gender focal points and a strong commitment from the leadership. These achievements have been attained without gender parity, as there has not been any significant increase in the number of women in the troops. At the same time, the analysis of the Swedish material fully supports Hilary Charlesworth’s (2008) conclusions about the UN peacekeeping context that gender has basically become equated with women. In the context of the Swedish ISAF PRT in Mazar-i-Sharif, gender has been largely associated with the local Afghani women (i.e., gender equals the ‘other’ women). This way gender is depoliticized into a simple problem-solving tool (Väyrynen 2004, 140; Willett 2010, 144). The problem is solved by including local women in the peacekeeping process, taking their view into account, and making sure that there are a few women in the troops who can talk to the local women. By reducing gender to a simple problem-solving tool, the critical and transformative potential of taking a gender perspective on militaries engaged in peacekeeping practices is lost.
The chapter also pointed to spaces where gender awareness nevertheless had led to or at least opened up the possibility for rethinking masculinity within the peacekeeping forces. This is a positive development. The conclusions are that it is absolutely crucial to understand and discuss conceptualizations of masculinity as well as sexuality to reach the objectives of postnational militaries when they are stationed abroad. Many of the problems related to peacekeeping missions and their legitimacy have little to do with women but rather with masculinity and particularly the problematic view of sexuality embedded in militaries and peacekeeping. It seems important to include as part of gender training constructions of masculinities in relation to femininities and different masculinities in relation to one another (e.g., the Swedish-Afghani masculinities). The way that sexuality, and particularly male heterosexual sexuality, is constructed and understood within the UN, the peacekeeping forces, and the militaries that provide troops for peacekeeping needs to be included in gender-awareness (p.112) training, as it is intimately related to the legitimacy of the peacekeeping endeavor and key to winning the hearts and minds of the people. To inform of codes of conduct is clearly not sufficient. To equate gender with women has apparently not succeeded in attracting more women to the peacekeeping forces, nor has the appeal to their feminine skills. An understanding of gender that includes and investigates the masculinity, femininities, and sexuality constructions embedded in the institutions of the postnational defense might in the long run be more successful in attracting women to the job of peacekeeping.
(1) . I use peacekeeping as a generic term for all international missions of the UN, EU, and NATO.
(2) . UNIFL: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unifil/. Accessed April 27, 2011.
(3) . I conclude this based on my general research in the field but also confirmed in a response to a direct question regarding whether masculinities have been discussed in the military to Major General Bengt Andersson, Chief Logistic Officer of the SAF, and Colonel Jan Blacquiere, Head of Current Operations, Dutch Defense Staff at the Second Swedish-Dutch Conference on Gender Equality: Women in War Zones, December 3, 2009, Peace Palace, The Hague.
(5) . http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/contributors/gender.shtml. Accessed June 15, 2010.
(7) . See also the 1995 Beijing platform of action, Objective E4, which concerns this http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/armed.htm. Accessed August 30, 2011.
(8) . http://www.forsvarsmakten.se/sv/Om-Forsvarsmakten/Verksamhet/Internationellt_arbete/Genderforce/. Accessed August 30, 2011.
(9) . http://www.forsvarsmakten.se/sv/Internationella-insatser/. Accessed August 30, 2011.