SA deploys more women UN peacekeepers to curb sexual abuse

President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres prior to their meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Reuters)

President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres prior to their meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Reuters)

The United Nations believes that putting more women peacekeepers in the field may curb sexual abuse by its own troops. South Africa, which has been accused of some of the worst sexual offences in the UN, currently has the highest number of women deployed on peacekeeping missions according to Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, but two reports of sexual violence have been made against South African peacekeepers in 2017.

Earlier this week, senior officials in the UN held a meeting in New York, where the UN General Assembly is being held, about the allegations of sexual exploitation by its peacekeepers. In an interview with TimesLive after the meeting, Mapisa-Nqakula said that South Africa deployed more women on peacekeeping missions because they are more capable of dealing with instances of sexual abuse.

“We deploy a number of women as part of the peacekeeping force because we know women will be more sensitive‚ but also because women will feel more free to report incidents of abuse‚” she said.

In a report released in 2015 by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, it was revealed that UN peacekeepers frequently buy sex with everything from jewellery, televisions and even shoes in the countries where they are deployed. 

The report was released after global outcry against African and French UN troops were accused of sexually exploiting children in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Since then,  the UN has been criticised for not doing enough to take action against their peacekeepers accused of sexual abuse. 

UN secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that deploying more women peacekeepers will result in “higher reporting of incidents and lower numbers of incidents overall”.

Zuma: peacekeeper abuse among “worst violations”
President Jacob Zuma attended the high-level meeting on Monday, where he commended Guterres for establishing the Circle of Leadership as a global initiative to curb the tide of sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers.

Zuma, whose own history of sexual abuse allegations has  resurfaced in a newly released book, said South Africa was committed to ending sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers. 

“This is especially worrying when these acts of exploitation and abuse are committed by the very peacekeepers who are entrusted to protect these vulnerable communities.
When women and girls are preyed upon and abused, the international community has a responsibility to speak out on their behalf and to act as their advocates and guardians,” said President Zuma.

When the UN report was released in 2015, South Africa was found to be the worst offender of all UN peacekeeping nations. The report focused on offences in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, South Sudan, Liberia and Haiti. South Africa had more than 2 000 troops stationed in the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan, according to media reports at the time.

Although South Africa didn’t contribute the highest number of troops to the DRC, it had the highest number of sexual allegations against its peacekeepers. There were nine allegations in total, with some incidents including more than one soldier. The details of the allegations were not revealed.

According to TimesLive, South Africa has been implicated in 15 such cases since 2015. Two were incidents of sexual abuse and 12 were incidents of sexual exploitation. In 2016, there were 7 incidents reported and Mapisa-Nqakula confirmed two incidents have been reported in 2017 already.

“I’m not proud of the fact that we’ve had one or two cases reported to us‚ I’m not. I’d rather have no cases‚ but we do find ourselves in that kind of situation‚” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Women peacekeepers are more competent
The peacekeeping mission in the DRC was criticised for not having more women in 2015. Later in that year, a training programme for South African women peacekeepers showed that women are better negotiators, have more emotional intelligence and are more likely to defuse conflict successfully

At that time, South Africa was already contributing 10% more women troops on peacekeeping missions than other nations. In the DRC and South Sudan, South Africa had a troop population that was 14% women, while the global average was 4%, The Daily Maverick reported

Lieutenant-Colonel Irena Dzisiewska, an experienced peacekeeper from the British army, told the publication that victims of sexual violence were more likely to report abuse to a woman.

“For a lot of women, or even men, who have suffered sexual violence, history has shown us they only want to speak to women.”

Years after the first allegations against its troops became public, the UN is still wrestling to stop the violence. Zuma said on Monday that investigators would deal with complaints of sexual abuse and exploitation within 72 hours of the incident being reported. Mapisa-Nqakula, meanwhile, highlighted that the power dynamics between peacekeepers and vulnerable communities is strongly tied to sexual violence.

“Sometimes there is this idea that where there is consent‚ then it’s okay. The point is you are there to protect the most vulnerable‚ and therefore to say there was consent - what consent?” she said.

Ra'eesa Pather

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