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Women in Peacekeeping Missions in Africa : The Case of the Ethiopian Army deployed in Abyei (Sudan / South Sudan border)

par Seble Menberu [1]

Ce billet présente une recherche de Master menée en 2015 à l’Université panafricaine (à l’Institut de la gouvernance, des sciences humaines et sociales, Yaoundé), consacrée aux femmes dans l’armée éthiopienne servant sous casque bleu dans l’opération de paix des Nations Unies à Abyei, à la frontière entre le Soudan et le Soudan du Sud. Le terrain ainsi réalisé à Abyei a permis une immersion dans le quotidien de ces femmes. Il offre certaines pistes de réflexion sur les défis qu’elles rencontrent, concernant en particulier les préjugés auxquelles elles font face dans la vie civile, dans les familles, également les conditions de vie sur le terrain, les relations avec leurs « frères d’armes » masculins, ou encore les logiques d’assignation des missions par leur hiérarchie. L’auteure, Seble Menberu, a réalisé ce travail académique en anglais, en utilisant des citations collectées en amharique. Elle est aujourd’hui une chercheure associée à un think tank éthiopien basé à Addis-Abeba.

In May 1991, victorious rebel forces led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) toppled the military regime (known as the Derg, meaning, “the Council”) of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam and seized power. What followed was a fundamental restructuring of the old imperial unitary centralized state into an ethnic-based federal government. The new EPRDF regime disbanded the entire armed forces of the state, which were initially built after 1941 liberation from Italian occupation along modern principles with modern, imported armaments by Emperor Haile Selassie. A new national force was reformed from scratch. The former liberation fighters served as the core of the army. In addition, new recruits proportionally representing diverse ethnic groups in the country were added.

In 2000, the government also opened recruitment in the army to women. During the 1990s, some women were already part of the new army. They had been integrated as former members of the rebel movement, in which women played an important role[2]. But they were only few. The current government does not release information about the current numbers of the newly reconstructed force nor about the exact female representation in it. However, it has policy directives designed to attract and enhance female participation. Nevertheless, it is not at all clear that these directives are seriously followed up in practice. There is no statistical data available to the public to allow an examination of the gradual increase in female composition. Concerned officials only state that the national defense forces guidelines allow up to ten percent (10%) of female representation. What remains a fact is that women representation in the armed forces is woefully low. Nevertheless, during 2010, Ethiopia has attained the top position by the UN for the number of troop contribution for peacekeeping missions worldwide.

Concerning the role of women, scholars have advocated an increase in their participation in peacekeeping operations as a response to increasing reports of operational inefficiency including accusations of sexual exploitation, rape of locals by male peacekeepers, etc. These demands have resulted in the adoption of a policy of gender balance in peacekeeping operations by the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on 31 October 2000. It is also often argued that, in addition to minimizing sexual-related abuses by UN missions, increasing the number of women serving in peacekeeping operations can make some unique contributions to improve the operational effectiveness of a peacekeeping unit and guarantee the human security of vulnerable groups. However, in spite of the strong case made and efforts by the United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations in order to increase women involvement, troop contributing countries remain reluctant to do so.

A case study: The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA)

This study, conducted in 2015, was aimed at describing and analyzing the factors that have affected the participation of Ethiopian women in United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA)[3]. The Abyei Area covers about 4,000 square miles of desert, farmland, and oil fields located along the ill-defined border between Sudan and South Sudan. Abyei is claimed by both countries and has been a source of conflict for over 50 years. Its rich oil reserves make the region economically desirable to both Sudan and South Sudan. Its border location has also led to conflicting ethnic, cultural, and linguistic claims. On 20 June 2011, the belligerents signed a peace agreement to demilitarize Abyei and allow a peacekeeping mission under the UN to monitor the area. In July 2011, the UN established the UNISFA. Ethiopia has been the sole troop contributor of this mission. Continuer la lecture de Women in Peacekeeping Missions in Africa : The Case of the Ethiopian Army deployed in Abyei (Sudan / South Sudan border)