Joint Statement by Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka and Pramila Patten on the launch of the Elsie Initiative

This statement is attributable to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, and Pramila Patten, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.


Yesterday in Vancouver, at the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launch of a new initiative, named after the trailblazing Canadian feminist icon Elsie MacGill, to help increase women’s participation in peacekeeping operations. In the same ceremony, Major Seitebatso Pearl Block from South Africa was presented with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award for her work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and particularly her outreach to women’s organizations in remote areas.

We congratulate Major Block for her well-deserved award and applaud Canada’s leadership and initiative. In 2015, after fifteen years of repeatedly calling for more women in peacekeeping operations, the Security Council set a target of doubling the number of women in the police and military components of UN missions by 2020. However, as Prime Minister Trudeau noted today, “at the current rate, it would take us another 37 years to reach the goal we wanted to reach in five.” Like him, we believe that “although it will not happen overnight, a lot more can happen a lot faster with specialized technical assistance and additional resources.” Canada’s lead contribution of 15 million dollars to start the "Elsie Initiative" is a much needed and welcome step.

When we do not have enough women in our peacekeeping operations, when our blue helmets do not receive the right training to adequately protect women and girls, when we do not have the right systems in place to curb abuses and sexual exploitation, the UN pays a daily price in our reputation and our effectiveness. Increasing the number of women in peacekeeping is an operational necessity. We see, time and time again, that women have a comparative advantage in reaching out to local women and addressing their security concerns, including to prevent and respond to the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. We in the international community have been saying this for seventeen years, including in eight resolutions of the Security Council. If we hope to turn Security Council resolutions into solutions, and to make peace and security interventions work for women, we need to increase both the presence and influence of women in all peacekeeping operations.

We hope that Canada’s initiative will help incentivize and encourage the deployment of more women in peacekeeping operations, including in leadership roles and protection-related tasks. With today’s announcement, Canada is taking action on several of the concrete recommendations on gender-responsive peacekeeping put forward in 2015 by the Global Study on Women, Peace and Security, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, and Security Council resolution 2242, and making this issue an important piece of their feminist foreign policy. We believe that they will find many partners to join them in this endeavor, and they can count on our support.