Despite encouraging progress in international affairs careers over the past two decades, women still remain significantly under-represented in security careers (especially at senior-level positions).  There is not one simple explanation for the disparity.  It is a complex issue with both institutional and individual factors that inhibit women from reaching their full potential.  However, research by Women In International Security (WIIS) indicates that women are not benefiting from the same level of mentorship and career support as male counterparts and that institutions often lack the gender awareness to design effective initiatives and approaches to reverse the representation gap.  As a result, women are repeatedly passed over, or eliminate themselves, from advancement opportunities.

There are three main problems: Women are not receiving the types of mentoring that are needed for career advancement; women are not mentoring other women in the ways that are necessary to strengthen the pipeline of female talent, and women are not getting the institutional support that they need to succeed in many organizations.  Advancement success requires mentorship that goes well beyond general advice.  It hinges on “sponsorship.”  Young women who are sponsored by their older peers have access to advocates for their career progression, recommendations on contacts, encouragement to overcome insecurity and gain confidence, and persuasion to push mentees to consider new opportunities that are vital stepping stones in advancement.  For women, sponsorship is critical because women tend to self-eliminate from opportunities.  Research shows that young women often choose not to pursue positions due to perceptions about the limits of their own abilities.

The second problem relates to how women mentor each other.  Although it is less discussed, young women often have mixed reactions to female managers and leaders, often due in part to generational divides.  Research indicates that many of the path-breaking women in male-dominated working environments felt a need to be “tough” and not give other women “special treatment.”   Also, there is a distinct perception among accomplished women that younger women are not ambitious when they step out or “lean back” at certain points in their careers.  Younger women often say that the highly-successful women are not giving them honest reflections about their experiences and regrets that would help them navigate difficult career and life decisions.  The good news is that women are engaging in more dialogue about mentoring and even broaching the difficult subjects pertaining to career advancement and sacrifices along the way.  Although these fields are always highly-competitive, the momentum around women supporting women is gaining ground.

Moreover, institutions like the OSCE are often ill-equipped to tackle gender imbalances at the highest levels.  Whether public or private, national or multilateral, the norm is for organizations to pay insufficient attention to women’s retention and advancement at every level.  Institutions are not gathering the data that is needed to fully understand patterns in advancement and loss of talent.  But quantitative AND qualitative data is desperately needed in this area.  Institutions often lack formal mentoring and leadership development programs.  Although WIIS research has highlighted that informal mentoring relationships are most beneficial for women, it is still important to establish formal channels for access to mentoring advice.

Ultimately, effective leadership is the key to reversing the persistent gaps in women’s participation in the peace and security field.  Gender-sensitive mentoring and leadership approaches by both women and men will be powerful drivers of change for the younger generations to come.  With a deeper understanding of mentoring needs and implementation of better approaches, more women will be able to advance, support the pipeline of talent behind them, and ultimately, improve the workplace for everyone.

The Gender Advisor Guest Expert Jolynn ShoemakerJolynn Shoemaker, Esq., is a recognized leader and expert on women, peace and security, and on women’s leadership. She is an independent consultant, and a Non-resident Fellow at SIPRI North America, and Non-Resident Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


The Gender Advisor | Social Media and Peace Operations
Photo credit: Peace Operations 2025, a collection of future scenarios of peace operations in the year 2025 published by the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF).  

This spring, I  was asked to take part in an online brainstorming for NATO’s Innovation Hub, on how NATO should use social media.  This exercise got me got me thinking more broadly about using social media in peace operations to implement the goal of “consulting with women” as required by the Women, Peace and Security mandate.

Both women’s participation, and the protection of women and girls in armed conflict are key pillars of the Women, Peace and Security mandate. The full participation of women relies, in large part on “consulting with women.” This is a key action point to enable women to fully participate in matters of international peace and security decision-making.  NATO’s Bi-Strategic Directive 40-1 on Women, Peace and Security recognizes this, as does the UN Department of Peacekeeping policy on gender in peacekeeping operations.

But finding key entry points within local communities to actively engage with women’s organizations and women leaders can be challenging.

New media tools can help peace operations in this regard in several ways: through crowdsourcing a gender perspective on armed conflict, using mobile devices to consult with women, and using social media platforms like Facebook to recruit more women into national forces.

1.    Crowdsource a Gender Perspective on Armed Conflict

Social media tools, like crowdsourcing, are being used to track timely information about specific protection issues–like incidents of sexual and gender based violence in conflict situations.  Crowdsourcing is when a community is mobilized to do specific tasks on behalf of an organization, without the support of the physical presence of an organization, but with virtual management by the organization using social media tools. The Women Under Siege project, which uses crowdsourcing to track sexual and gender-based violence incidents is a good example.   Peace operations can either work with organizations like Women Under Siege, or develop their own crowdsourcing tools to track similar gender-specific trends. Social media tools are also being used to monitor and verify specific forms of violence as early warning signals.   For example, tribal and ethnic violence, like gender-specific violence, are often early -warning indicators of escalating conflict. Uchaguzi, another crowdsourcing tool, used to monitor hate-speech in Kenya during the 2013 elections. Crowdsourcing tools like Uchaguzi could be used to track gender-specific violence, such as hate-speech targeted at women around elections, peace processes, or in other fragile political situations.

2.    Use Mobile Devices to Consult with Women

Humanitarian relief agencies have found that social media tools enable the voiceless and powerless to have a two-way dialogue with first-responders in crisis situations. For example, right after the crisis in Libya in 2012 erupted, humanitarian workers and key decision-makers faced a huge information gap about what was happening on the ground. In response, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs activated a Standby Task Force comprising of more than 150 volunteers skilled in online crisis mapping. This was the birth of LibyaCrisiMap. Andrej Verity, information management officer at UNOCHA said “Given that the UN had virtually no access to the country, we now had situational awareness.” You can find the full story here

Similarly, mobile devices in the hands of both local women’s groups, and peacekeepers, can also add value and increase situational awareness in peace operations. For example, a Standby Taskforce comprised of women’s organizations in a conflict zone can enhance situational awareness through a coordinated effort to share updates about what is happening on the ground, in real-time, about any barriers to fully participate in election processes, or their pressing needs for protection, food, and or healthcare, to help inform interventions.  Micro-tasking of information during crisis is “the key to the future” says Patrick Meier, thought leader on new media technologies and humanitarian response.

3.    Use Mobile Devices to Collect Sex-Disaggregated Data

It is well known that sex-disaggregated data collection and documentation of the gendered aspects of peacekeeping is sparse and ad hoc. Mobile devices such as iPhones or tablets with video cameras in the hands of local women’s organizations, and in the hands of Military Gender Advisors and Focal Points in peacekeeping operations, can support a more systematic documentation of positive and negative effects of peacekeeping operations.

Micro-tasking using tweets to carry out a rapid security assessment is something that women’s organizations could easily do to engage with a peace operations. Micro-tasking using tweets has been used to carry out a rapid damage needs assessment by the UN through the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) on December 3, 2012. The DHN carried out a rapid damage needs assessment in response to Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines. More specifically, the UN requested that Digital Humanitarians collect and geo-reference all tweets with links to pictures or video footage capturing Typhoon damage.  Of course this is new technology that faces several challenges including, setting up the appropriate workflows and technologies, enough time for the tagging, verification and analysis of the multimedia content pointed to in the disaster tweets. More details on this project here.

In addition, part of the work of Military Gender Advisors and Gender Focal Points in operations is to track and monitor how a gender perspective is impacting the operation. “Citizen journalism” techniques and tools can enrich their reporting on lessons learned, and on good and bad practices. Regular video updates from the field mission to HQ can provide a rich source of data. Even basic internet tools and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, can be used to gather background documents, identify key issues and contact key women’s organizations and leaders in the fact-finding phase of a mission’s work.

4.    Use Social Media Platforms to Recruit Women Peacekeepers

Although the UN set goals to increase the number of women in peacekeeping operations, the recruitment of female uniformed personnel into operations has many challenges.  Social media platforms like Facebook can be used to target and recruit more women into national forces, and into peacekeeping. For example, the Irish Defense Force is currently conducting a social media campaign using Facebook to recruit young women into its armed forces. Similar campaigns could be targeted at potential female peacekeepers—for civilian, police and military positions within operations.

These are just a few examples and ideas of how to use social media in peace operations to implement the Women, Peace and Security mandate. It’s clear that social media will alter the way peacekeeping is done on the ground when civil society groups have more access to mobile devices and are trained in how to use these new media tools skillfully. But first, we need to get new media tools into the hands of women. Instead of asking “how does social media impact peace operations,” we need to start asking “who is using it?” and why.