This article is part of the World Economic Forum's Geostrategy platform

The United Nations and many other organizations are committed to increasing the participation of women in multilateral peace operations.

Yet translating this into clear results on the ground remains challenging. At the same time, monitoring progress and the effectiveness of gender balancing has been difficult as many of the organizations that are conducting peace operations have not systematically produced and preserved gender-disaggregated data on their deployments, or have not made such data publicly available.

The SIPRI Policy Paper, Trends in Women’s Participation in UN, EU and OSCE Peace Operations, describes the key trends in the participation of women in UN peace operations, European Union (EU) Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations, and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) field operations in 2008–17.

It is based on unique gender-disaggregated data from SIPRI’s Multilateral Peace Operations Database, which has been gathered through multiple years of systematic data collection.

The paper also takes stock of the quality and availability of the data that is being produced and distributed by the UN, EU and OSCE.

The UN conducted 48 peace operations in 2008–17 in which it deployed military, police and civilian personnel.

The proportion of women in the military personnel increased from 1.9% to 3.9% over that period, while the proportion of women in the police initially increased but remained relatively constant between 2011 and 2017, at around 10%.

The proportion of women in the international civilian personnel in UN peacekeeping operations decreased from 29.8% to 28.2% between 2008 and 2017, but increased from 27.3% to 30.6% in UN special political missions between 2011 and 2017 (complete data is not available for earlier years).

The EU conducted 26 CSDP missions and operations in 2008–17 in which it deployed military, police and civilian personnel. The proportion of women in the military personnel ranged from 5.3% to 8.4% between 2013–17 (complete data is not available for earlier years).

Between 2008 and 2017 the proportion of women in the international personnel in civilian CSDP missions increased from 11.3% to 22.8%, although this includes both police and non-uniformed personnel. The available SIPRI data on the police suggests that the proportion of female police was around 10% between 2014–17.

The OSCE conducted 22 field operations in 2008–17 in which it only deployed civilian personnel and no uniformed military or police. The proportion of women in the international personnel increased from 34.5% to 37.7% between 2008 and 2013.

In 2014 the OSCE established the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine. Between 2014 and 2017, the proportion of women decreased to 21.6%, primarily because the OSCE was deploying more international personnel in the SMM than in all the concurrent field operations combined, but relatively few of those personnel were women.

The majority of the international personnel in the SMM were monitoring officers. The proportion of female monitoring officers peaked at 19.2% in mid-2015, but decreased to 16.2% by the end of 2017.

Improvements in the gender balance are more difficult to achieve when the demand for additional personnel is high, and more likely when this demand is low.

The main findings of this paper with regard to the key trends in 2008–17 that can be identified by the new data are that the representation of women (a) continued to be lowest among the uniformed personnel, in particular the military personnel; (b) was higher among the international civilian personnel, albeit far removed from gender parity at the aggregate levels and in most missions; (c) often stagnated or decreased while organizations or missions were deploying more personnel; and (d) often improved while missions or organizations were scaling down personnel deployment because they were deploying fewer men rather than more women.

This suggests that improvements in the gender balance are more difficult to achieve when the demand for additional personnel is high, and more likely when this demand is low.

In addition, it underscores the importance of focusing not only on improving female-to-male ratios alone, but also on increasing the actual number of women that are being deployed to multilateral peace operations.

More and better data

The main finding on the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data on multilateral peace operations is that there continues to be ample room for improvement in the way in which conducting organizations are producing and distributing such data.

The UN is an exception to this and is leading by example when it comes to producing gender-disaggregated and transparent data on its deployments, especially for uniformed personnel.

The data that the EU produces on its deployments in CSDP missions and operations has the most weaknesses of all the data sets under review, especially with regard to the military and police personnel.

More research is needed to better understand at which levels the participation of women in peace operations is improving and at which levels it is lacking, how meaningful the participation of women is, and which barriers are persisting.

This includes research on the key trends identified in this paper, their causes and their implications for gender balancing.

Importantly, such research requires better data than is currently available.

By not systematically collecting sufficiently disaggregated data on the human resources in their own missions and operations — that is, by gender, but also by age and other characteristics — the organizations that are conducting multilateral peace operations are denying themselves and others the evidence base required for monitoring and evaluating efforts to increase the meaningful participation of women.

Trends in Women’s Participation in UN, EU and OSCE Peace Operations, Timo Smit and Kajsa Tidblad-Lundholm, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute