OTTAWA - Canada is looking at ways to help other countries boost the number of female peacekeepers, despite itself having only a handful of Canadian women in blue helmets and berets.
Global Affairs Canada hosted a special two-day session starting Thursday with representatives from several countries as well as the United Nations, civil society and academia to brainstorm ways to get more female peacekeepers deployed.
The Trudeau government and the UN have emphasized the need for more women in peacekeeping as an essential contributor to long-term peace and stability in war-ravaged parts of the world, and last year committed $21 million toward that goal.
Yet one expert says as much as there is a genuine need to increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions, Canada is not walking the walk: only six of the 40 Canadian peacekeepers deployed with UN at the end of January were women.
Five were police officers in Haiti, while the sole military member was posted to Cyprus.
"It's completely obvious to me that the first thing Canada has to do is lead by example," said Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and one of the country's leading experts on peacekeeping.
"We lack moral credibility if we go to the international community and push other countries to provide more women when our own military is providing only one."
Only about seven per cent of the 13,000 police officers deployed as peacekeepers and two per cent of the 87,000 military personnel were women - and those numbers have remained stagnant despite promises to double them.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally unveiled Canada's plan to help other countries boost the number of female peacekeepers during last November's peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.
The commitment includes $6 million to help the UN better integrate women into various peacekeeping missions and $15 million for a global fund that will be used to reward countries that deploy more female blue berets and blue helmets.
The pledge was made amid a growing recognition that female personnel are essential when it comes to many peacekeeping tasks, such as helping victims of sexual violence and interacting with local women in the field.
It also coincided with ongoing concerns about peacekeepers themselves sexually abusing or exploiting the very populations they have been ordered to protect.
This week's meetings were specifically designed to figure out how to use the global fund to encourage other countries to deploy more women.
"The idea is out there of increasing the number of women in peacekeeping, but the actual way to do it is not clear," Dorn said.
The meetings also come amid continued uncertainty about the Trudeau government's long-term plans for peacekeeping, and as Canada's contributions continue to plummet.
The Liberals first announced in August 2016 that Canada would contribute up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to UN missions as part of a renewed commitment to peacekeeping.
The government revealed in November that it was making military helicopters, aircraft, trainers and a 200-member rapid-reaction force available for peacekeeping.
But it still has not decided where to deploy those troops and equipment, aside from a promise to send a transport plane to Uganda, and has no plan for when or where to contribute the police officers.
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