United States Africa Command's Women, Peace and Security - Lessons Learned in Peacekeeping conference concluded August 24 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center.
The three-day conference presented the nearly 40 attendees opportunities to increase awareness, facilitate dialogue, and develop practical lessons learned in regards to WPS considerations in peacekeeping operations.
Participants included 13 African countries, as well as the Netherlands. United States military officials and non-government personnel presented information during the conference, which focused on preparing U.S. AFRICOM to respond to the WPS National Action Plan. The topics included the challenges, tactical perspective, and enhancing the capacity of female peacekeepers and local women in building peace in Africa.
Participants identified obstacles that currently hinder the efforts to place women in peacekeeping roles.
"It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflicts," said Retired Dutch Marine Corps Major General Patrick Cammeart.
Many female participants were eager to share their point of view from civilian and military perspectives during the panel discussions, when various gender issues were addressed.
"Many think this [gender] is being imposed on Africa by the West, but this is not true," said Lieutenant Colonel Joyce Sitieni, Instructor at the International Peacekeeping Training Center in Kenya. "We need to Africanize the concept."
All participants were in agreement that women have the capacity to play a critical role in peacekeeping operations from civilian, military or non-government positions. The common goal is to implement a plan that encourages the placement of women in peacekeeping operations without placing a preference on gender.
"It's not about equal rights," said Professor Lindy Heinecken, Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University. "It's about gender equality and equal opportunity."