The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) has released a barrier assessment that highlights comprehensive issues needed to increase female participation in the armed forces for peacekeeping missions.
The report finds that the three main barriers to women participation in peace operations are deployment selection, peace operation infrastructures and social exclusion.
It added that priorities to consider includes improving the living conditions at barracks, setting up childcare facilities or subsidies, and ensuring increased and consistent pay and additional health care benefits to increase retention among women personnel with special attention paid to single mothers’ needs.
Speaking at the report release, the Director of the Kofi Annan International Conflict Transformation at the University of Liberia, Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, called on authorities of the AFL to ensure that female soldiers have the opportunity to participate in peacekeeping missions.
“The research shows that there are already good practices in the AFL, which includes gender policy. But the issue of capacity training expresses barriers that need to be considered to ensure the female soldiers have opportunity for peace keeping,” he said.
The report, “Measuring Opportunities for Women in Peace Operations (MOWIP)” examines the AFL’s ability to deploy women on United Nations peace operations.
It was conducted by the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT) of the University of Liberia (UL) with support from UN Women in Liberia, the Elsie Initiative Fund, and DACF.
Other issues outlined in the report include improved infrastructure related to deployment, access to mental and productive care before, during or after deployment, and to provide pre-deployment training — either in-service training or ad-hoc specific training — to ensure that personnel develop necessary and adequate skills for deployment, among others.
The report was released on September 7, in Monrovia at a program attended by some high ranking AFL women and men, officials of the Ministry of Defense, and other Government Ministries, Ambassadors of foreign countries and development partners.
Since the end of the Liberian civil conflict, the AFL has gone through a rigorous security reform process so as to not only represent the better image of the country, but the global community as well.
However, the strength of the AFL still remains limited and with very few females. According to a report, the current strength of the AFL can be estimated at 2,000 troops, women comprising only 80 of them.
Meanwhile, Sayndee noted that though the security sector shows that there is limited manpower, it is also important that for Liberia to fully ensure security, the AFL must also engage communities to help keep the security of the country.
“I am not convinced that limited manpower is really an issue for us as a country, though we lack the resources to address adequate manpower to ensure our security. I think the AFL must strengthen the sector by engaging community members to keep the security,” he explained.
According to the UL professor, there is a need for members of the AFL to stay clear of political, religious, and economic influences if they are to maintain professional integrity.
“Don’t allow political, economic and religious issues to compromise the role you play to protect the citizens,” he said.
He used the occasion to challenge the AFL leaders to take the report seriously and make sure the recommendations are implemented for the improvement of female soldiers on peacekeeping missions.
The Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Urban Sjostrom who launched the report said that Liberia has done well in protecting democracy and peace over the years.
He said that the government of his country was working to ensure that the Liberia security sector is strengthened. Sjostrom likewise called on the leadership of the AFL to ensure that recommendations within the report are implemented accordingly.
Also speaking, the Chief of the Staff of the AFL, Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III, said that they were doing all they can to ensure that women’s issues and wellbeing within the arm forces are addressed.
He said that the women's role in keeping peace and security is very important and, as such, his administration is working to recruit more women into the armed forces.
Johnson used the occasion to thank the UL’s KAICT for the report and promised to implement the various recommendations.
For his part, the Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Defense, Tibu Olandrus Dickson, Sr., said the welfare of female soldiers remains a priority of the Defense Ministry and that is why they have made the issue gender inclusive.
“To ensure gender inclusiveness, we have increased the recruitment of more females into the strength of the AFL. We are therefore working to implement every recommendation of the report. Women participation is very critical to ensuring peace and security, something we take very seriously,” he told his audience.