German Policewomen in Peace Operations: Understanding and Overcoming Barriers

29 October 2020   ·   Nina Steinitz

To permanently increase the number of German policewomen in foreign deployments and to prioritize gender issues, German decision-makers should systematically examine and address specific obstacles for policewomen, expand gender aspects in preparatory training courses, and promote greater exchange with and between women returning from missions.

Twenty years after the adoption of UNSC resolution 1325, one of its central demands remains unfulfilled. To this day, the proportion of uniformed women in peace operations is still below the target values. The German government intends to contribute to the implementation of the goals formulated within the frameworks of the Global Effort Campaign initiated by the UN and the so-called Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations. The National Action Plan for the Implementation of Resolution 1325 for the period of 2017-2020 (NAP II) has set the goal of increasing the proportion of women among German military, police, and civilian personnel in international organizations, consolidating the proportion of seconded women in peace missions, and providing continuous training for German military, police, and civilian personnel on the principles of UNSC resolution 1325. Significant progress has been made in these areas in recent years. Nevertheless, much remains to be done.    

There Is No Systematic Survey of Why Women Police Officers Apply for Missions Or Why They Do Not  

According to information from the office of the joint federal-state working group on international police missions (AG IPM), the proportion of women among the on average 97 German police officers participating in foreign missions, such as peace operations and the bilateral police project in Afghanistan in 2019, was just under 16% (in 2017 and 2018, women represented approximately 13%). Preliminary figures indicate a further increase in the proportion of women to over 20% for 2020 (in July 2020, a total of 66 police officers from the federal police, state police, and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) were involved in peace operations of the UN, EU, OSCE, and in the bilateral police project in Afghanistan).  

Systematically collected data that could explain the current figures are not available yet. However, the increase in recent years could be explained by the decreasing total number of German police officers in peace operations. Moreover, it is related to the requirements of missions in francophone regions. Women police officers often score points with better French language skills, for example in the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) where, currently, more than half of the German police forces are women. Despite these positive signs, there is still a need for action concerning more far-reaching goals: for example, a permanent and sustainable increase in the proportion of female Individual Police Officers (IPOs) to 25% by 2025 for all peace operations with German participation and an increase in the number of female senior police officers holding leading positions in a foreign mission. Currently, there is only one woman in such a position in all of Germany´s international police engagements.  

To date, there has been neither a systematic survey of German policewomen’s motives to participate in international peace operations nor an investigation of the obstacles leading to a lower number of women applying for deployment on such operations than their male colleagues. In 2018, the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) conducted a Baseline study commissioned by the Elsie Initiative that analyzed these aspects on a cross-national basis and formulated recommendations for follow-up studies (“Barrier studies”). Amongst others, the study showed that while the UN and its member states recognize the importance of increasing the proportion of women in peace operations, it has not yet led to a measurable increase in the proportion of women. The study has also shown that the low proportion of women in foreign missions cannot be sufficiently explained by a correspondingly low proportion of women in national armies and police forces. Instead, the identified obstacles varied greatly from country to country and were found at both the organizational and individual level.

Systematically Examine the Reasons for the Low Proportion of Women Police Officers in Foreign Missions  

A positive development is a so-called Barrier study recently commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Defense which is based on DCAF’s Baseline study. It examines the obstacles to the increased deployment of female Bundeswehr soldiers in UN peacekeeping missions. While some results might be applied to German police forces, this study cannot replace a police-specific investigation: fundamental differences between the military and the police with regards to the objectives of international peace operations, the organizational prerequisites, and personnel recruitment clearly underscore the need for a separate analysis. DCAF’s Baseline study provides a valuable reference point since the barriers identified also apply to the participation of women police officers in UN peacekeeping missions.  

Germany should pay specific attention to aspects weakening equal opportunities. These include the lack of access to information about opportunities to participate in peace operations; restrictions due to the police work environment in the mission, e.g., inadequate accommodation and equipment; family-related restrictions in connection with women's disproportionate responsibility for the care and nursing of children and elderly relatives; lack of equal treatment in the mission; higher risk of sexual and gender-based harassment and violence; insufficient (further) support at the level of the sending organization; and lack of career development opportunities (e.g., due to the lack of professional support networks).  

Therefore, the specific obstacles preventing German women police officers from applying for international peace operations must be systematically surveyed. Policewomen, Germany’s police training institutes in Brühl, Böblingen, and Lübeck (which conduct preparatory and follow-up seminars), the sending authorities at federal and state level, as well as the AG IPM should be involved in the planning processes.  

More Female Police Officers for More Effective Missions  

Numerous Security Council resolutions, strategy papers, guidelines, and standard operating procedures of the UN Police Division show that the participation of female police officers in peace operations and gender-sensitive policing (which takes into account the different security needs of women, men, girls, and boys across the entire spectrum of police tasks in a UN peace operation) is considered highly relevant within the UN for the operational effectiveness of missions. Simply put, more gender-balanced participation in UN peace missions has positive effects. The operational effectiveness of missions is improved and important contributions are made to the implementation of the "Women, Peace and Security" (WPS) agenda and the principle of equal rights to serve. Current gender equality debates often overlook that it is not sufficient to simply focus on a quantitative increase in the number of female participants – the qualitative factors that speak in favor of increased participation of policewomen should be prioritized.   

Women Can Reduce the Negative Impacts of Missions and Increase Their Legitimacy  

So far, the argument that the participation of uniformed women should be particularly promoted to increase the missions’ effectiveness has only appeared sporadically in political debates. There are, however, many reasons to support this assumption. For example, a study by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior found that the participation of female police officers in missions increases the implementation of gender equality measures in the police structures of the respective host states. Visible participation of female police officers also makes it easier to establish contact with victims of sexual violence and human trafficking and improves the external image of a mission.  

The DCAF Study emphasizes that teams with larger proportions of women can establish contacts with the local population more easily and develop a better understanding of their needs. This aspect is particularly relevant in the context of community policing and for combatting sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The study also found a demonstrable reduction in the use of violence and firearms and a greater willingness to de-escalate and build trust when more women were deployed, indicating a reduction of negative impacts of peace missions. Finally, the presence of women leads to greater legitimacy of the mission from the perspective of civilians.   

The positive contribution to a mission’s operational effectiveness is particularly visible in so-called All-Female Teams in UN missions – for example, closed Female Formed Police Units (F-FPUs) or units consisting only of female soldiers. A good practice example is the Indian F-FPU within the framework of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) which was praised by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for its role model function for Liberian women. A recent study by the Effectiveness of Peace Operation Network (EPON) on the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) also showed that the presence of female UNPOL officers and female soldiers from the Zambian battalion's Female Engagement Team had a lasting effect on the sense of security and increased motivation for a career in the security sector among Central African women.  

Systematic Consideration of Specific Obstacles for Female Police Officers in Peace Operations  

How can the participation of women police officers in international peace operations be further promoted? Which implemented measures were successful and can be further expanded or optimized? Which concepts successfully adopted by other states can be applied? The German government's third NAP for the implementation of resolution 1325 should include clear measures to consolidate and pursue the goals formulated in the second NAP. Recent positive developments, such as the increase of female police officers in some missions, should be given special recognition and consolidated in peace operations with German participation. Both, the specific obstacles that German women police officers face and the specific potential of their deployment in missions should be systematically taken into consideration. In June 2020, the Department of International Police Relations of the German Police University submitted a research proposal on these issues at the ministerial level.    

Expand Gender Aspects in Education and Training  

Important impulses for NAP III can also be expected from the forthcoming publication of the implementation report for NAP II. This report will highlight current developments, such as the increased consideration of gender aspects in the training and education of police officers in Germany and other countries and regional organizations. The process of including gender-sensitivity and its practical implementation in relevant training courses and training curricula, as done by, for example, the German police training institutes and Germany’s Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), is particularly important. Currently, the basic preparatory seminar for international missions, which is mandatory for all German police officers, deals with the contents of UNSC resolution 1325 and its follow-up resolutions. In addition, special training courses on WPS and SGBV are offered at the State Police College Baden-Württemberg in Böblingen. These courses provide concrete instructions for the implementation of the goals of resolution 1325 and are targeting Bundeswehr and civilian personnel.  

In the preparatory training courses for both male and female police officers, gender mainstreaming skills for police tasks and capacities in international peace operations should be promoted and, if possible, expanded. Similarly, including the implementation of gender-sensitive measures in the context of security sector reform (SSR) in preparatory trainings or advanced training courses would meet the needs of current strategic orientations of German foreign and security policy.      

Include Women Returnees’ Perspectives and Promote Exchange

The follow-up courses organized by the training institutes can promote an exchange on valuable practical experiences gained in peace operations to improve knowledge management for future missions. A first low-threshold measure would be a comprehensive and systematic survey on mission experiences among returnees, which would enable a focus on gender-sensitive information. A deeper exchange between the office of the AG IPM and the training institutes would also benefit a possible survey of gender-sensitive aspects, for example, in the context of fact-finding missions.  

According to the findings of the DCAF Barrier study, the lack of women’s integration into informal career-promoting networks should also be taken into account when examining specific factors that have caused an underrepresentation of women police officers in international police missions. This provides important explanations for why policewomen are less likely to apply for international peace operations and why their careers might develop less favorably after returning home than those of their male colleagues. Time has come to promote an institutionalized network which allows for an exchange of information and ideas among policewomen deployed on or interested in international peace operations and women returning from missions.

Friedenseinsätze Frauen Polizei

Nina Steinitz

Nina Steinitz is a research associate at the Unit for International Police Relations at the German Police University in Münster. Her research focuses on the evaluation of German police engagement in international peace operations and bilateral projects as well as on the participation of women police officers in international peace operations. @nina_steinitz