Speech for Matt DeCourcey, Member of Parliament for Fredericton and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Design Workshop on the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations


February 22, 2018 - Ottawa

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Colleagues, friends, I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. Welcome to the City of Ottawa and this Design Workshop on the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations.

We gather today in a building that bears the name of a former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, who well understood that the pursuit of international peace must command our continued engagement and a willingness to work, not just with the likeminded, but also with those with whom we disagree.

It was as Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs that Mr. Pearson earned the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his creative and effective idea of establishing a United Nations peacekeeping force to help stabilize and resolve the Suez Crisis.

For Canadians, this distinction is still an immense source of national pride, both for the global significance of the Nobel Prize for Peace and because the peacekeeping mechanism that Mr. Pearson helped to devise remains a form of intervention abroad that commands unique popular support in Canada.

That we are meeting today to define what the Elsie Initiative can do for peace operations in the world builds on Lester B. Pearson’s peacekeeping legacy.

But it also reflects the fact that the groundbreaking peacekeeping structures developed in the 1950s and 60s do not adequately respond to the new and ever-evolving challenges of today.

The 2015 UN Resolution 2242 asked for doubling the number of women in military and police peacekeeping. Since then, the rate has only gone from 4.2% to 4.4%, a 0.2% increase. At this rate, it would take 37 years to achieve this goal.

A new approach is needed.

At the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference last November, Prime Minister Trudeau announced new Canadian contributions to support UN peacekeeping operations. 

These include as many as 200 ground troops for a quick reaction force, as well as the availability of helicopters, cargo transport planes and other equipment; an innovative approach to enhance the protection of children in conflict; and of course, the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations.

The Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations seeks to deploy more uniformed women as military and police peacekeepers, reduce barriers for women who want to benefit from these opportunities and bring about long-term and sustainable peace.

This initiative is a response to new realities, including the important fact that women and girls experience conflicts differently than men and boys.

Think of the monstrous tactics of Daesh against Yazidi women in Iraq. Or South Sudanese communities in conflict where children are kidnapped and women and girls sexually assaulted in cycles of revenge and retaliation that keep fueling violence, food insecurity and extreme poverty.

No human being should ever be forced to live with such threats looming over them. But simply acknowledging this fact is not nearly enough. For change to truly take hold, women need to be involved in institutions and activities that define how we respond to conflict. This includes UN peace operations. 

The ongoing and severe under-representation of women in peace operations is both a strategic and tactical deficit for UN missions and contributing countries. We know that women make a difference; we can see that they strengthen leadership and improve governance at the national level, the UN level, and in civil society.

And the time for change is ripe.

Never has there been stronger leadership and awareness at the UN, with the Strategy on Gender Parity in UN missions, with a network of gender advisors and growing numbers of women in influential positions, and in positions of political power within Member States.

Through this workshop, we will learn more about the impact of women in peacekeeping operations.

It has been said that when patrolling conflict zones, women manage to access a greater diversity of information about threats and conflict dynamics because they can connect with groups of the local community differently than men can. Uniformed women are able to go to spaces where women gather, speak with them and build trust.

And we know that women peacekeepers also serve as role models for other women and girls. Not only do they become role models in host communities, but they return home with new skills and experiences. After India sent a contingent of women peacekeepers to Liberia, for example, the percentage of women in the Liberian security sector climbed from six to 17 percent.

But increasing women’s participation is not just a question of operational effectiveness. This is also about gender equality and women’s rights.

We have named this Initiative after Elsie MacGill, a Canadian woman born in 1905 who overcame major obstacles—both as a woman and a person with a disability—to become the first practising Canadian woman engineer.

She was a trailblazing feminist who had to fight against the idea that women were ill-suited for certain jobs, including physically and mentally demanding tasks—something we still hear today when it comes to women serving in uniformed roles in police and military organizations, and in peacekeeping missions.

Even when they do join their country’s security forces, women often are not given the same opportunities as men to develop and use many of the basic skills needed for the range of activities undertaken during peace operations.

And when they deploy to UN missions, women peacekeepers often find that these environments—while challenging for everyone—especially lack the amenities or services that meet their particular needs, including regarding their own safety.

Through the Elsie Initiative, we are eager to address these challenges alongside other countries that share our ambition of providing strong, coordinated support to recruit, train, equip and deploy women peacekeepers.

Canada is looking at peace operations through a new lens. It cannot just be about where we deploy, it has to be about how.

And right now, few things are more important to the ‘how’ of peacekeeping than the inclusion of more women in more operations.

It is just a basic fact. If we want global peace and security, we have to involve women in every aspect of it.

As we develop this pilot initiative, we will need to challenge biases and old ways of thinking. We will need to listen to one another, and approach challenges and barriers with new ideas, determination and hope. 

We are here to develop options for operationalizing the various components of the Elsie Initiative.

To identify advantages and risks associated with these options. To develop additional questions for further consideration. And to build a network of partners to support this initiative.

Your participation today and continued engagement allows for us to make the biggest impact possible. We value your input, expertise and creative ideas and we see a great opportunity in having civil society, parliamentarians, international organizations and academics come together and find the best possible outcomes for the Elsie Initiative.

Above all, we are here to pave the way for a catalytic increase in the number of women deployed to peace operations worldwide.

So I want to thank you for joining us in support of this initiative as we work together to make that happen. And in the spirit of today’s day and age, I also encourage you to follow this workshop on social media with the hashtags: #WomenPeaceSecurity, #FemmesPaixSécurité, and #ElsieInitiative, #InitiativeElsie.

Thank you. Merci.

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