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The demystification of masculinity and gender in United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa South of the Sahara: a critical Afrocentric feminist ethical study.

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Globally, there are intensified efforts towards gender changes in peacekeeping operations. Females are gradually assuming some of the critical roles in United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs). This development is slowly displacing the conventional belief that male soldiers are by nature more courageous than their female counterparts. In the African context, the prevalence of both intra- and inter-state conflicts has created an imperative to integrate women into several peacekeeping operations. A more perplexing development however, is that both female soldiers and female civilians working under the UN peacekeeping missions find themselves vulnerable to sexual abuse? Male soldiers and male civilians serving under the UN peacekeeping operations are usually the perpetrators. The problem has been amplified by the mere fact that in most cases, males take command responsibility of the peacekeeping missions and suppress the cases of abuse that are reported to them by the female victims. This perverse challenge of female sexual violation during peacekeeping operations explains the continued existence of masculinities, patriarchy and stereotypes deeply entrenched in most African societies. The UN system is not immune to this problem. Since women are the main victims of sexual abuse in UNPKOs, this study questions why the UN has allowed the abused women to report these gross violations of their dignity to the same perpetrators who are in most cases in charge of these UNPKOs. This deficiency in UNPKOs points to the ethical institutional shortcomings of the UN as well as the deep-seated cultural, unethical and social beliefs and practices which foster gender disparities and emphasize masculinities. The research problem therefore relates to the ethical gender dimensions and considerations of UN peacekeeping, particularly in Africa, in relation to the sexual exploitation and abuse of women during the UNPKOs by both male civilian peacekeepers and male combatants. Considering the above profiled problem, this study sought to elucidate the effects and impact of masculinity and gender in UNPKOs in Africa south of the Sahara. Examples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan have been selected, given the volatile nature of the political situation in the two countries. The DRC and South Sudan have also been selected because they are currently among Africa’s most troubled zones and have recorded high incidents of female sexual abuse. More disturbing is that UNPKOs have been running in these selected countries for a long time without proffering a lasting solution to the challenge of sexual offences against women in peacekeeping operations. A triad theoretical approach involving gender and masculinity, the feminist ethical theory of care, and the gendered dimension of conflict reconstruction for peace and security were deployed as lenses through which to analyse the challenge of female sexual abuses during the UN peacekeeping operations. The qualitative nature of the problem being examined made it imperative to utilize documentary research as a tool for data gathering. This involved reviewing official UN reports on women and peacekeeping, DRC and South Soudan reports on gendered dimensions of the conflict, as well as the general human security situation in the two case studies. Reviewed also are scholarly writings on gender, masculinity and peacekeeping that resonated with the problem being examined. Inductive content analysis was utilized to extract key themes and ideas from the reviewed documentary sources. Study findings were that the human security ramifications of conflict and war have shown that women and young girls are affected differently compared to their male counterparts. They experience violence prior to, in the course of, and subsequent to armed conflicts differently, and have dissimilar vulnerabilities, insecurities and coping mechanisms as well. It emerged that societal interpretations and perceptions of gender and masculinity have contributed significantly to the marginalisation of women in UNPKOs as well as the sexual abuse of women and young girls during conflict. Further findings from the study revealed that throughout the evolution and development of peacekeeping, there has been a challenge of militarized and hegemonic masculinities. This has contributed to systematic undermining of women and gender issues from peacekeeping processes. The study found that gender imbalances within the UNPKOs created an impetus for ethical considerations regarding the need for gender equity to attend effectively to the needs of women in conflict, to recognize the status and contribution to peacekeeping initiatives, as well as to include women in peacekeeping, considering that armed conflict affects them in a relatively greater way than their male counterparts. As a contribution to the body of knowledge, the study argued for an Afrocentric feminist ethical perspective in UNPKOs to promote gender inclusivity. It recommends research towards integrating indigenous conflict management approaches in African conflicts particularly to reinforce the UN methods. In view of continued sexual exploitation and other vulnerabilities among women and young girls in conflict situations, the study recommends the adoption of more female-oriented approaches that will help in mitigating women-related abuses. An evaluation of the efficacy of various gender-based protocols adopted by the United Nations such as the Resolution 1325 of 2000 and the eight other resolutions that affirm protection of women during UNPKOs and conflicts showed that their effective implementation is hampered by a lack of political will by member states, as well as the deep-seated masculine culture which results in these gender-based protocols and resolutions being ‘talk shops’. The study calls for further research towards finding a framework for mobilizing political will to address conflict-related women abuse. In addition, the study observed a methodological gap because the study was purely desk-based research encompassing the reviewing primary and secondary data sources. Hence it recommended that there is need for future research to consider conducting interviews with female peacekeepers and female victims of peacekeeping operations as it will facilitate in capturing their original voices and lived experiences of conflict and peacekeeping-related sexual abuse.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.