Advancing Women’s Participation in Peacekeeping at the 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial. Meet Major Dokyoung Koo.
By: Maya Kelly & Minji Ko
The 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, hosted by the Republic of Korea, took place on 7 and 8 December 2021. The event brought together over 70 countries to pledge their political support and make concrete pledges to improve peacekeeping operations and fill gaps in line with Secretary-General António Guterres’ Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) and A4P+ initiatives. At the 2021 Ministerial, strengthening women’s roles and participation in peacekeeping was at the center of the discussions.
Of the 75 Member States and two international organizations that attended the 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, 62 Member States announced new pledges to help enhance the performance and impact of peacekeeping, including 23 Member States citing their ongoing efforts to increase the number of women in peacekeeping in particular.
Among the 23 countries that pledged support to increase the number of women in peacekeeping was the Republic of Korea.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) currently has around 600 peacekeepers deployed across four missions. From 2016–2017, Major Dokyoung Koo was one of them, serving with the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). We had the opportunity to speak with Dokyoung, who shared with us the successes and challenges she experienced as a woman in peacekeeping.
After serving with the Korean military for 11 years and being promoted to Major in 2016, Dokyoung knew she wanted to contribute further at the international level. She explains, “when I became a major, I felt I needed to broaden my perspective. Having obtained a higher military position, I wanted to see a wider world, outside of Korea.” This desire to immerse herself in different cultures and military contexts led Dokyoung to Domel, Pakistan.
Upon arrival at the Domel Field Station, Dokyoung quickly became aware of the simultaneous advantages and challenges of being a woman peacekeeper. Dokyoung found that local women were more willing to speak with her than her male counterparts. She recounts one event where local women school teachers approached her and asked her to give a presentation to their class to educate students on her role and experience as a woman in uniform. Dokyoung, who later pursued a Master’s degree in International Affairs, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University in New York, explains,“I met many children, many girls, and tried to inspire them. I wanted to show them that maybe in the future, you can be one of us, you can be like me, you know, a woman in uniform.” Though her presentation was brief, Dokyoung felt the depth of her impact on the girls: “Their response was:, ‘oh you’re so cool. I want to be like you.’ And they asked me how to apply for the job.”
Women peacekeepers serve as powerful mentors and role models for women and girls in host communities in conflict and post-conflict settings, setting examples for them to pursue non‐traditional careers.
Increasing women’s representation and participation in peacekeeping operations is an aspect of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. UN Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015) called for doubling the number of women in uniformed components of peace operations by 2028. As of August 2020, only 6.6% of all uniformed military, police and justice and corrections personnel in field missions were women. Though significant progress has been achieved since the adoption of the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy in 2017, efforts are still needed to reach the targets for 2028 and beyond, and sustain those that have been met.
As the numbers of women peacekeepers and women in national security institutions have risen, Dokyoung has seen positive changes in her work environments. “I think the biggest feeling of change was the number of women in the organizations, because it’s not really rare anymore. They are everywhere.” Dokyoung notes that the increase in women officers has influenced work culture. She recalls, “the working environment used to be kind of stiff and hierarchical, but once more women were involved the work environment felt more friendly.” Dokyung noticed in certain cases that rather than receiving direct orders, she was given opportunities to sit down with those ranked higher than her and discuss solutions over coffee. She welcomes this shift in military culture.
Though Dokyoung’s UNMOGIP experience was overwhelmingly positive, she did face barriers. She explains, “There were some times when I was not allowed to shake hands with local populations. They saw me as a woman, not as a peacekeeper or a soldier.”
Dokyoung, however, reflected on the instrumental role that her male colleagues played in creating enabling environments for the women serving with the mission. “My male colleagues were really helpful,” Dokyoung recalls. “They recognized how local male populations perceived women peacekeepers, and so my colleagues tried to involve me in many, many situations.” This helped to emphasize to the local community that Dokyoung and her fellow women peacekeepers, were equally contributing and capable members of UNMOGIP’s operation.
When asked if there was a message she wished to share, Dokyoung said, “I want to send a message to youth and women in the world about peace: Please remember that there are people around the world putting their maximum effort into maintaining peace. Why don’t you become one of them? All of us should.”
The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has been mandated across UN Peacekeeping operations since 2000, following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and the ten subsequents resolutions on WPS. Spearheaded by women’s movements, 1325 was the first resolution to recognize the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and acknowledge the contributions women and girls make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding.
Advancing the implementation of the WPS agenda is a key priority of the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative. In addition to increasing the number of women in peacekeeping, the A4P WPS commitments cover peacekeeping’s support to ensure women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace processes and the integration of gender perspectives in peace operations. While progress has been made these last 20 years, much more remains to be done to close implementation gaps on WPS.