United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 15, 2016. March 15 marks the 5th anniversary of peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad, leading to the devastating civil conflict in the country. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir(reuters_tickers)
By Jo Griffin
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More women must be included in United Nations peacekeeping missions to help restore credibility to troops marred by accusations of sexual violence and to protect women in conflict, speakers at a U.N. defence summit said on Thursday.
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, an active campaigner to stop sexual violence in conflict, joined defence ministers and military chiefs from around 70 countries at the summit aiming to improve the performance of U.N. peacekeeping operations.
UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon and other speakers called on U.N. member states to double the number of women peacekeepers by 2020 after UN Women data showed just four percent of peacekeepers in 16 missions globally were women.
The U.N. is currently investigating accusations of sexual exploitation by foreign peacekeepers in Central African Republic and reports South Sudan peacekeepers failed to respond during an attack on foreign aid workers where women were raped and beaten.
Fallon said they needed to "redouble efforts to enable women to participate in all aspects of peacekeeping", saying women's participation could help drive success.
"If we are honest, there are far too few women in our peacekeeping missions when a gender mix can have a major impact on operational effectiveness," Fallon told the one-day summit that followed a meeting in New York last year.
JOLIE'S LEADING ROLE
Boosting women's involvement was a recurrent theme with a final communique urging U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to prioritise the appointment of women in senior peacekeeping roles and double the number of women peacekeepers by 2020.
Jolie, a special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), made a surprise appearance and speech at the summit, praising the work of service men and women around the world.
The actress has played a leading role in combating sexual violence in conflict since co-founding an initiative in 2012 with Britain's former foreign secretary William Hague to rally global action on such crimes.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there was a need for "the indispensable skills women bring to resolving conflict".
All roles in the British Armed Forces have recently been opened up to women following a review of women in close combat.
Fallon said sexual abuse and exploitation must be eliminated and the U.N. must adopt a "zero tolerance" policy towards it.
He cited "shocking examples of poor performance" by peacekeepers, without giving details but saying that he was referring to cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
Women's rights groups have long lobbied for more women to be involved in all aspects of peacekeeping, but numbers of female peacekeepers have been slow to increase.
(Reporting by Jo Griffin, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)