Canada to deliver host of initiatives to UN peacekeeping conference including $15M trust fund

Canada will announce a series of initiatives Wednesday it hopes will deliver a “more coherent” approach by the United Nations for the involvement of women in peacekeeping and the resolution of conflicts in troubled nations, CBC News has learned.

Announcement could overshadow absence of firm commitment by Canada to specific mission

Retired lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire, centre, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, far right, pose for a photograph with youth representatives during a youth as peace builders working session at the 2017 United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Canada will announce a series of initiatives on Wednesday aimed at delivering a "more coherent" approach by the United Nations for the involvement of women in peacekeeping operations and the resolution of conflicts in troubled nations, CBC News has learned.

The package will be unveiled at an international meeting of defence ministers in Vancouver and is meant to address shortcoming in the UN's long-stated desire to see female soldiers, police officers and community leaders at the forefront.

The announcement could overshadow the absence of a firm commitment by Canada, in the near term, to a specific peacekeeping mission, as the Liberal government intends to pledge only what it can offer in terms of military hardware.

Among other things, sources tell CBC News that Wednesday's plan will propose the establishment of a trust fund — worth approximately $15 million — from which troop-contributing countries can draw in order to increase the number of women soldiers and police officers within their ranks and deliver better training for those already in uniform.

The UN is already doing some of those things on a less systematic basis.

"Even if Canada would be amazing enough to deploy hundreds and hundreds of women, that wouldn't move the needle," said one source.

"When you look at the big troop-contributing countries — Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, who contribute over 7,000 troops — it's only when you work with everyone else that you're going to change the conditions of the mission."

Female-only training programs

Other nations will be asked to contribute to the fund "on a voluntary basis," according to government sources with knowledge of the file, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the subject. 

They emphasized, however, that the Liberal government's plan is broader in terms of funding and desire to see women take on a central role.

"There are a number of pieces of the pie that will receive money," said one source. "There are a number of funding envelopes related to this."

There will be other specific "female-only" training programs.

It is unclear what other initiatives might be, but the UN has talked about policy options such as a so-called gender-balance premium, which would involve paying troop-contributing countries more if they send a high percentage of women on peace missions.

The trust fund proposal, however, would address one of the key obstacles faced by the UN.

Chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, will take part in a roundtable discussion with actress Angelina Jolie, the special envoy of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees. (Invision, Jordan Strauss/Associated Press)

For over a decade it has wanted countries, including Canada, to deliver a "demonstrated commitment to meet or exceed" the target of having women comprise 15 per cent of all staff officers and observers on UN military missions.

They only make up 7.4 per cent, at the moment.

Women only constitute 10 per cent of the police officers on peacekeeping missions — far short of the 20 per cent benchmark established in 2011.

A senior UN official, speaking before the Vancouver conference and the news of Canada's plan, said the dearth of women peacekeepers has been a vexing problem.

''There has been a lot of advocacy, there's been some target-setting, but not enough in terms of concrete actions,'' said Nahla Valji, senior gender adviser to the UN secretary general.

According to the latest figures from the department of peacekeeping operations, only 18 countries — including Canada — have reached the 15 per cent military target.

The statistics, which have not been published but were viewed by CBC News, show 40 countries have yet to send a single woman on peacekeeping assignments, and some 50 countries only commit female police officers, not military personnel.

To underscore the commitment to women the country's chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, will take part in a roundtable discussion with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who is also the special envoy of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees.

That event was quietly added to the schedule "at the last minute," said a diplomatic source.

Jolie was already scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the conference which will be attended by 80 countries.

Last year, at the first UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial gathering in London, Jolie delivered an impassioned plea for stepped-up prosecution of peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said 50 countries have yet to send a single woman on peacekeeping assignment and 40 other countries only commit female police officers, not military personnel. In fact, 40 countries have not yet sent any women, and some 50 countries only send female police officers.
    Nov 15, 2017 8:25 PM ET

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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