SA deploys more women UN peacekeepers to curb sexual abuse

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.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

Related stories

Uphill battle but Tehran aims to become bike-friendly

A new bike-sharing initiative in the Iranian capital is trying to ameliorate the city’s traffic and pollution problem

Madibeng has a ‘blatant disregard for the law’

The local municipality irregularly spent at least R443.8-million according to the auditor general’s latest report

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…