Community engagement and strategic advising: The Gender Perspective

By Carla Pinhel Ribeiro & Marcia Andrade Braga

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE" nr. 1- 2020

Selection: "UN Sustaining Peace Strategy " , pag.18

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine1.20.4

In October 2014, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon appointed the Independent High Level Panel on Peacekeeping Operations to examine the current status of UN peacekeeping operations. The Panel was chaired by the former President of Timor-Leste and the Nobel Prize José Ramos-Horta and the report is a continuation of the 2000 Brahimi Report, which called for renewed political commitment on the part of Member States to important institutional changes and greater financial support.

            The 2000 United Nations Brahimi Report introduced a new generation of international peace operations, offering a more robust and coherent international response to violent conflicts. Although, the concept of some elements of operations was too closely linked to a Western vision of technical strengthening of institutions through the training and restructuring of the local police; Promotion of judicial and penal reform; Providing technical assistance for democratic development[1], the Report responded to the challenges that the UN faced in the years prior to its publication.

            The first report in 2010 recognized that some areas have made more progress than others and reinforced the need for the United Nations, Member States and other institutions to work together[2]. In 2012, in the second progress report, the Secretary General reported that there were improvements in: Leadership teams on the ground; Mission evaluation, planning and strategy; The provision of international support and the development of national capacities and called for a more inclusive approach to peace-building that facilitates broad national ownership of a lasting peace[3].

            In addition, in 2010, the Secretary-General published a Report on the Participation of Women in Peace-building, containing a Seven-Point Action Plan for Gender-sensitive Peace-building with regard to conflict resolution, Representation of women in post-conflict governance, the rule of law and economic recovery[4].

            Finally, during these years, so many lessons were learned and the discourse of cultural relativism gained strength, the 2015 Nyakhat Report was a more people-centered document. It provided a more upward view, inviting the UN to work on conflict prevention and mediation, establishing more comprehensive and inclusive political and diplomatic solutions. This perspective seeks to understand a country's justice system as part of its culture. According to the Nyakhat report, "Lasting peace is not achieved through military and technical agreements, but through political solutions". Therefore, "Political solutions must always guide the design and implementation of UN peacekeeping operations”[5].

            According to the Report, peacekeeping operations must not only consult local people, but also include them in their work and in the decision-making process. It says that working with local communities allows missions "to monitor how local people experience the impact of peacekeeping operations, to ensure that the mission does no harm and to devise better protection strategies."[6] This commitment is important during the peace operation, since the mandates of the Security Council must be adapted to the needs of that particular territory. Mandates must be aligned with local capacities and deficits, not the other way around[7].

            However, despite the boom in the term "local" at the UN and the speech of many organizations, the Nyakhat Report recognizes "the UN Secretariat is not yet a field-focused or field-enabled entity"[8]. Operations and other actors still act as if post-conflict countries are blank pages and people are projects and are therefore unable to set priorities for themselves and their country[9]. The Report also notes that several actors from the local community and representatives of civil society revealed that: it is difficult to interact with UN personnel who seemed remote and distant; Communication is often frustrated by language barriers; Peacekeeping operations do not take time to understand existing capabilities, "They simply replace local structures with exogenous ones"[10].

            Particularly prior to the release of the Brahimi report in 2000, criticisms of peace-building were growing[11]. Most of the problems addressed are still present today, as demonstrated by the 2015 Nyakhat Report. Among the issues faced by UN peacekeeping operations are developments to cover vast terrain making access to the dispersed population difficult; The challenge of identifying local representatives who actually speak for a particular group and getting involved with a particular network of people who speak English or French; The lack of clarity on how to help the local population and promote truly consultative processes; And the difficulties of executing a transparent process that does not raise concerns with host government[12]. In light of this, the UN peace speech has to be constantly questioned and revised.

            However, as stated in the Nyakhat Report, the goal of peacekeeping operations should be less prioritized, less tasks and better sequencing. When defining objectives, one thing to consider is the dichotomy of breadth versus depth. In other words, whether the work will be carried out in many communities, spreading resources or in some places in a more impactful way.

            As stated in the Nyakhat Report,"Throughout their duration, missions must work to avoid creating patterns of dependency or marginalizing national partners. In this regard, the Nyakhat report stresses that United Nations peace operations must work more integrated, supported by mutual respect and mutual responsibility, it is therefore important that the Special Representative of the Secretary General, at national level, invite regional actors, international financial institutions, United Nations staff Nations and Member States around a “big table”[13].

            Although in very broad terms, the Nyakhat Pal Report, led by José Ramos-Horta, presents more decisively the importance of multi-dimensional peace operations in engaging with a country's local population and ensures that they are the main stakeholders, as well as the beneficiaries of the peace process. A significant sign of this conceptual shift can be seen in the fact that the 2000 Report was nominated with the Chair of the High Level Independent Panel on Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, while the 2015 Report was nominated with a South Sudanese 3 years girl.


            Strategic advising: an introduction                       


            By definition, according to Nadia Gerspacher in the introduction of her book “Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: a practical guide” strategic advising is a tool used by the international community to build the capacity of governments to govern societies emerging from conflict or transitioning from authoritarian to democratic regimes. For her, a strategic adviser is sent by the international community to work alongside a high-ranking official in a transitional or post-conflict state and offer guidance that can contribute to the development of effective policies and procedures, where transferring knowledge is a key component.[14]

            According to Nadia Gerspacher[15], capacity-building endeavors are not new, but the way in which they are conducted is. The building capacity entailed transferring capital and individuals from stable, wealthy countries to unstable, usually poor countries to implement foreign assistance projects is predicted by the old model. This model now has been replaced by a paradigm that emphasizes the transfer of knowledge, skills, and information. Although this efforts, there is no consensus on which knowledge, skills, and information should be shared.                                                          Following Gerspacher in her argument, another problem posed by the current approach to knowledge transfer is that it recruits practitioners who are undoubtedly expert in their subject areas, but who are not trained to impart that expertise in a way that local officials will find helpful. The judges, police officers, logistics experts, human resources professionals, and other practitioners who are recruited and deployed know how to manage programs in their own systems, but that expertise is not necessarily relevant to the contexts and cultures in which they find themselves[16]. This point was observed in the section before, the reason why UN needed a more people oriented approach, what affects also in the way strategic advising must be conducted. This approach brings a more effective completion of the mission, as the case study below will show as a role model of good practices and lessons learned from the field.


            Case study using a gender perspective with military teams engaged in a UN mission 


            The situation in the Central African Republic, from April 2018 to May 2019, was of great instability, with the presence of armed groups among the population, implying strong interference in the daily routine of the different locations in the country. The number of rapes was too high, especially against women and girls who were largely affected by conflict-related sexual violence, despite efforts to reverse the situation.

            The population in most agricultural, suffered from the constant need for internal displacement, a situation that resulted in high numbers of women and children on the roads fetching water, wood for the fire, but mainly, by accessing the old plantations. This need for travel increased exposure to threats present on the ground, especially when conflict was stablished in the area.

            Thus, in order to fulfill the Mandate of MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in the country, which had as its main objective the protection of civilians, it was vital to use a gender perspective in the activities of its military component, seeking a better understanding how the conflict affected the different groups, men/women/boys/girls, but also understanding the differences in each of them, such as age/social status/religion, studying the routine, as well as its possible changes still in the initial stage.

            With the expansion of situational awareness about what was happening in the area of responsibility of the mission, it would be possible to use the information obtained in military planning, seeking to prevent violations by the presence of deployed troops, thus achieving greater effectiveness in fulfilling the mandate.

            In this sense, there are groups of engagement, mixed or composed only of women (Female Engagement Team s - FET), which have been established in different sectors, at the operational and tactical levels. In general, such groups were formed in battalions with a significant number of female soldiers and their main purpose was to meet the special needs of local women, by greater interaction, mainly due to the high number of violations they suffered and the fact that their participation was essential in the peace-building process.

            At first, only the Zambian battalion had an engagement group working with the population and received training in phase before split, presenting a professional job and facing the area conditions responsibility. Such a group also had a type of patrol made up of women only, called Confidence Patrol, which served mainly the areas with the highest concentration of women and children, but also local men, who felt confident in talking to the military .

            As a result of good engagement group of Zambia, rates of violations against women and children showed very low in addition to the improvement of services, such as health and education. Additionally, with the information obtained from the population, the military's situational awareness of the role of armed groups and the way in which they interacted with the locals was substantially expanded, facilitating the fulfillment of the mandate.

            The performance of the engagement groups was considered to be a successful model and with the support of gender advisers, they were replicated and consolidated throughout the mission. In the end, all sectors had engagement groups in the area, which greatly improved the acceptance of the mission and included the population in the country's stabilization process, acting as partners, which made all the work much more effective.

            In the role as Force Headquarters Military Gender Adviser at MINUSCA, during that period, it was part of the action plan to implement the engagement teams throughout the mission  something they only had in very few battalions and working fully in the Zambian battalion. The work developed by Zambia was a great inspiration for the development of step 5 present in the plan, which referred to the engagement groups, due to the excellent results they were obtaining in the locality of Birao.

            At the end of the mission, several of the groups newly formed began to interact with the local population, seeking more information and the development of projects, such as community gardens proximity to the residences, among others, so that they decrease exposure to threats.

            Importantly, the engagement groups also contribute with the development of locations, such as improvement of markets, schools and health centers, as well as lectures on the importance of schooling for girls and hygiene measures in dealing with food and childcare.

            In conclusion, the application of engagement groups in peace missions brings effectiveness to the fulfillment of the mandate, through to obtain information, but above all, enables the inclusion of the local community, especially women, as participants in the process of stabilization and consolidation peace in areas affected by conflict, improving the acceptance of the mission and the understanding of its objectives by the population served, allowing the restoration of normal life in the locations where they operate.




BELLAMY, Alex J.; WILLIAMS, Paul D. Understanding peacekeeping. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010.

GERSPACHER, Nadia. Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: a practical guide. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016.


UNITED NATIONS. United Nations Security Council, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, A/55/305–S/2000/809, 2000.


UNITED NATIONS. United Nations Security Council. Report of the Secretary-General on peace-building in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/64/866–S/2010/386, 2010.


UNITED NATIONS. United Nations Security Council. Report of the Secretary-General on women’s participation in peace-building, A/65/354–S/2010/466, 2010.


UNITED NATIONS. United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on peace-building in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/67/499-S/2012/746, 2012.


UNITED NATIONS. United Nations Security Council. Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on uniting our strengths for peace: politics, partnership and people, (A/70/95–S/2015/446), 2015.


[1] Brahimi Report, § 3.

[2] Ibid, Report of the Secretary-General on peace-building in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/64/866S/2010/386 (UN 16 July 2010) para 71-72.

[3] United Nations Security Council, ‘Report of the Secretary-General on peace-building in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/67/499-S/2012/746 (UN 8 October 2012) para 6-20; 61-62.

[4] Ibid, Report of the Secretary-General on women’s participation in peace-building, A/65/354S/2010/466 (UN 7 September 2010) para 27-49.

[5] Nyakhat Report, para 43.

[6] Nyakhat Report, para 38 and 255.

[7] Ibid, ,para 186 .

[8] Ibid, para 59.

[9] Nyakhat Report, para 134-135.

[10] Ibid, para 254.

[11] BELLAMY, Alex J.; WILLIAMS, Paul D. Understanding peacekeeping (2010)

[12] Ibid, para 253.

[13] Nyakhat Report, para 146.

[14] GESPACHER, Nadia. Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: a practical guide, p. 1.

[15] Gerspacher, also provides an analytical definition of capacity building and its relation with the tasks of the strategic adviser must perform, in many levels: individual, institutional and societal level. GESPACHER, Nadia. Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: a practical guide, p. 10.

[16] GESPACHER, Nadia. Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: a practical guide, p. 2.