“We will have everybody on board”: How the Elsie Initiative Fund and Ghana Armed Forces support gender parity in UNIFIL
By: Maya Kelly & Camilla Stamp
For the first time ever, a peacekeeping mission was awarded funding to help create conducive environments for women peacekeepers. On 27 January 2022, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) received a grant from the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations (EIF) to build gender-sensitive accommodations for women peacekeepers from the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF).
The EIF, established by the UN and Canada in 2019, is a UN Trust Fund financed by Member States. The EIF grant of USD $357,000 will enable UNIFIL to install four accommodation buildings, an ablution unit and a welfare area for women, thus improving their living and working conditions as Ghana increases its deployments of women peacekeepers. It will also help the mission in its efforts to reach gender parity and equality.
Ghana has been deploying personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions since the 1960s and is a leading troop and police contributor with longstanding support to women’s participation in peacekeeping. The EIF grant coincides with the Ghana Armed Forces’ pledge to increase its deployment of women peacekeepers to UNIFIL. Ghana is aiming to deploy approximately 130 women (14%) as part of the Ghana Battalion (GHANBAT) that rotates into UNIFIL later this year.
The Ghana Armed Forces has participated in over 30 peacekeeping missions, and currently deploys peacekeepers to Lebanon (UNIFIL), South Sudan (UNMISS), and Mali (MINUSMA), and is working towards deployment in Abyei (UNISFA) and the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
Though Ghana’s contributions to peacekeeping have always included both women and men, historically women have not been deployed in combat roles. “Women are usually left out of command and decision-making roles as well as foot and night patrols,” explains Ghana Armed Forces Acting Gender Policy Advisor, Group Captain Theodora Agornyo. “This is both as a result of a culture of “overprotection” of women, as well as stereotyping [which] has created a limited eligibility pool for deployment,” she says. “But this is not the end of the road, I can assure you that the Ghana Armed Forces is working hard to change the situation.”
Despite those challenges, Ghana has consistently worked to increase the number of women in peacekeeping. Between 2017 and 2018, up to 15% of deployed Ghanaian military personnel were women. This was considerably above the rates of women deployed in the UN as of January 2018 as Military Observers and Staff Officers (8.2%) and in contingents (3.9%).
In addition to increasing the number of women peacekeepers, within the last 15 years the Ghanaian Armed Forces has made, “conscious efforts to broaden the scope of deployment for women to perform [including combat roles] and participate more meaningfully in peacekeeping operations,” adds Group Capt. Agornyo. This also goes for the national security forces, where expanded recruitment and enlistment “is actually targeted towards recruiting women into more technical areas where they have the capacity,” she explains. This will help ensure there is increased female representation in “areas that were once only male dominated,” specifically, “top notch professional positions in order to leverage participation”.
In 2019, Ghana’s first woman Brigadier General, Brig. Gen. Constance Emefa Edjeani-Afenu made history as the first woman Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Brigadier Ejeani-Afenu, who recently passed, was a pioneer for women in peacekeeping and leaves behind a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire.
As a recognized gender parity trailblazer within UN peace operations, Ghana was one of the founding members of the Elsie Initiative Contact Group. Ghana has also represented the Contact Group on the Elsie Fund Steering Committee since its establishment by Canada in 2019. Canada established bilateral technical assistance and training partnerships with the Ghana Armed Forces, relying on Ghana’s expertise to share best practices and assist in developing and testing innovative approaches to increasing women’s meaningful participation in uniformed military and police roles.
It seems fitting that it is now a grant from the Elsie Initiative Fund (EIF) that will directly support the construction of a conducive environment for Ghanaian women peacekeepers to successfully deploy in greater numbers to UNIFIL.
Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNIFIL, Major General Stefano Del Col, expresses his gratitude for the funding from EIF, and his commitment to increasing women’s equal participation within the mission.
Group Capt. Theodora emphasizes that the goal is not only to increase the sheer number of women peacekeepers, but to make accessible positions of power and leadership for women within peacekeeping operations.
The Elsie Initiative Fund (EIF) grant to UNIFIL to create an enabling and inclusive environment for women peacekeepers is, “in line with the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, which is critical to increasing performance and mandate implementation,” explains Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
“This project represents an expression of our shared values for gender equality and the promotion of women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in our workforce.”
Established by the UN and Canada in 2019, The Elsie Initiative Fund (EIF) supports the sustainable deployment and meaningful participation of uniformed women peacekeepers by providing financial assistance and incentives.The EIF is Funded by contributions from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. For more information on the EIF, please visit https://elsiefund.org/ and follow @ElsieFund on Twitter.