Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations
Canada announced the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations during the Vancouver UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in November 2017. The Initiative’s goal is to help increase the meaningful participation of women in UN peace operations. Originally scheduled to last 5 years (2017-2022), Canada announced, at the Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting in December 2021, that the Elsie Initiative would be extended for a further 5 years, and its mandate expanded. The second phase of the Initiative, from April 2022 to March 2027, will reinforce Canada’s commitment to gender equity and to the reform of UN peace operations.
Led by Global Affairs Canada, the Elsie Initiative focuses specifically on uniformed women serving in police and military roles. This is an area where the international community has struggled the most to reach gender parity goals. The Initiative also seeks to move beyond a discussion of numbers by working to increase the meaningful participation of women. This means ensuring that substantially more women are represented across ranks and functions—in non-traditional roles and positions of authority; in assignments that correspond to their experience and training; and in an environment that offers parity of deployment conditions and a professional culture conducive to their participation.
On this page
- The six components of the Initiative
- Working to increase women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations
- How the Elsie Initiative defines ‘meaningful participation’
- Milestones of the Elsie Initiative pilot
- Troop and police contributing partner countries
- Sara’s story
- United Nations Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations
- Contact Group countries
- Research and publications
- About Elsie MacGill
The six components of the Initiative
The Elsie Initiative consists of 6 broad components:
- bilateral partnerships with select countries that contribute troops and police
- the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations, a global, multi-partner UN fund
- work with and at the UN to create more receptive environments in the context of UN missions
- targeted research on women in peace operations
- global advocacy
- monitoring and evaluation
Addressing gender inequality in UN peace operations is a complex undertaking. No single country, acting alone, can provide the needed solutions. That is why Canada is working with partners across the UN system—with member states, think tanks and civil society—to identify how best to increase the meaningful participation of women in peace operations. The Elsie Initiative is an opportunity for Canada and its partners to create a more inclusive and effective future for peace operations, where missions are better prepared to deliver on their mandates and support sustainable peace around the world.
Working to increase women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations
Today, more than 70,000 military and police peacekeepers serve in UN missions—but women account for less than 8% of uniformed personnel. Increasing the meaningful participation of women in UN peace operations is the right thing to do, as well as the smart thing to do.
Canada launched the Elsie Initiative to collaborate with and support the UN and the international community. The Initiative pursues transformational, sustainable and comprehensive change to advance the meaningful participation of uniformed women police and military peacekeepers, and to create peacekeeping missions that better reflect the populations they serve.
Despite many calls for change over the years, progress has been slow. Women’s representation in peace operations remains low: today, only 7.8% of those working as military and police peacekeepers are women—a 4.2% increase since October 2015 when Security Council Resolution 2242 (2015) was passed. Many barriers and biases remain in place that reduce women’s ability to participate meaningfully in UN peace operations. The UN and the international community have struggled most to improve the representation of women in military and police roles. For this reason, the Elsie Initiative is mandated and designed to help create change in these specific roles.
Canada’s work is closely aligned with the UN’s efforts. In January 2019, the UN Department of Peace Operations released the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-2028. The Strategy sets annual minimum targets for the participation of women in uniformed roles and identifies priority actions to create more receptive environments for all peacekeepers. The Elsie Initiative further complements the UN Secretary-General’s System Wide Strategy on Gender Parity, Action for Peacekeeping+ and Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).
In August 2020, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2538 (2020) on women in peacekeeping operations. This landmark resolution is the first to exclusively focus on issues related to women peacekeepers. It also specifically mentions previously contentious topics like sexual harassment and child care. Bolstered by Resolution 2538, the Elsie Initiative is well-placed to continue championing efforts to create more inclusive and representative peace operations, and to champion the full implementation of the UN Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy.
“Peace is why Canada launched the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations in 2017. People and partnerships are key to ensuring progress to create meaningful change for women in peace operations.”
- The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs
How the Elsie Initiative defines ‘meaningful participation’
Meaningful participation is demonstrated by the presence and leadership of women in UN peace operations, across all ranks and functions. Women can participate meaningfully:
- when they contribute to, and are included in, all aspects of operational and mission planning, and decision-making processes
- when they hold operational command and leadership positions, and non-traditional as well as non-stereotypical roles
- when they have access to the same training, promotion and career advancement opportunities as their colleagues who are men
- when they hold positions that are in line with their training, rank and area of expertise
- when their workplace is free from all forms of harassment, bullying and intimidation
Milestones of the Elsie Initiative pilot
Canada’s Elsie Initiative achieved the following milestones during the pilot phase (2017-2022):
- Partnering with the Ghana Armed Forces, the Senegalese Ministry of the Armed Forces, and the Zambia Police Service
- These partnerships identify best practices for troop and police contributing countries, and test solutions to overcome barriers
- This component is led by Global Affairs Canada, with collaboration and support from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, Public Safety Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Establishing the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations
- The Fund was designed by member states, the UN system and peacekeeping experts to incentivize and accelerate the increased deployment of uniformed women in military and police roles to UN peace operations
- The Fund is managed by UN Women, and has been established for an initial 5-year period (2019-2024)
- Canada is the Fund’s largest donor, and co-chairs its Steering Committee with UN Women
- Financial support for the creation of a publicly accessible and comprehensive barrier assessment methodology for military and police organizations worldwide
- The Measuring Opportunities for Women in Peace Operations (MOWIP) methodology, developed by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) and Cornell University, identifies the presence of universal and context-specific barriers to women’s full integration in a military or police organization, and their access to deployment opportunities in UN peace operations
- Several military and police organizations have made their barrier assessment reports publicly available, contributing to an evidence base of common barriers for women in uniform wishing to deploy to UN peace operations
- The Canadian Armed Forces published their Elsie Initiative Barrier Assessment Report in August 2022
- Providing voluntary contributions, beyond Canadian-assessed contributions to UN organizations and peacekeeping missions, to support the creation of more receptive UN mission environments for all peacekeepers, including physical, social and cultural aspects
- This funding is being used by the UN to create gender-responsive guidelines for UN camp accommodations and pilot these in multiple field locations; and to support the implementation of the UN’s Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy
- Building political momentum for change, including through the work of a Contact Group of like-minded countries
- Based on consultations with peacekeepers, extensive research and advice provided by the Contact Group, Canada regularly contributes gender-responsive policy recommendations to improve mission environments for all peacekeepers, including during negotiation of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34), and the Contingent-Owned Equipment (COE) Working Group
- Contributing to the development of a women-in-peace-operations evidence base through research partnerships with the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF), Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), and the International Peace Institute (IPI)
- Monitoring and evaluation of the Initiative’s activities to gather evidence on which approaches are effective in sustainably increasing women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations
The expansion and extension of the Elsie Initiative until 2027 will help ensure that gains made during the pilot phase will be sustained and will contribute to ongoing efforts in member states and at the UN to increase the meaningful participation of women in UN peace operations.
Troop and police contributing country partnerships
Canada is implementing bilateral technical assistance and training partnerships with the governments of Ghana, Senegal and Zambia, specifically the Ghana Armed Forces, Ministry of the Armed Forces of Senegal, and the Zambia Police Service. These partners have had significant success in the area of gender equality in UN peace operations. They are well positioned to partner with Canada to share best practices and develop and test innovative approaches to increase women’s meaningful participation in uniformed military and police roles.
All technical assistance and training that Canada and its partners provide through the Elsie Initiative is supported by strong research, diplomatic and political engagement, and monitoring and evaluation. The Initiative’s partnerships to address and remove barriers were informed by the application of the Measuring Opportunities for Women in Peace Operations (MOWIP) barrier assessment in each country:
- Canadian Armed Forces: MOWIP Report (2022)
- Ghana Armed Forces: MOWIP Report (2020)
- National Police and Gendarmerie of Senegal: MOWIP Report (2020-2021)
- Zambia Police Service: MOWIP Report (2020)
Learn more about the barriers facing women in UN peace operations (YouTube video)
United Nations Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations
In March 2019, UN Women, alongside the UN Executive Office of the Secretary-General, the UN Department of Peace Operations and the UN Development Programme’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, announced the launch of the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations. Canada has contributed a total of $17.5 million to the Fund. Other donor countries include Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Canada and UN Women serve as co-chairs of the Fund’s Steering Committee.
The Elsie Initiative Fund is designed to use collective resources to increase the meaningful participation of uniformed women in UN peace operations, with a focus on police and military roles. It allows countries that contribute troops and police, as well as UN organizations, to access flexible funding to support the deployment of trained and qualified uniformed women. The Fund focuses on substantially increasing the representation of women overall and in positions of authority, in meaningful roles. Three funding streams are available:
- Flexible project funding: Allows troop and police-contributing countries and to the UN to access financial assistance to support evidence-based activities for the meaningful participation of trained and qualified uniformed women in police and military roles
- Premiums for gender-strong units: Financial premiums for troop and police-contributing countries for the deployment of gender-strong units. These are defined as military or formed police units (FPU) having a substantial representation of women overall and who are in positions of authority; that have provided gender-equity training to all unit members; and that have adequate equipment and other materiel to ensure parity of deployment conditions for women and men peacekeepers. These premiums may serve as an incentive to rapidly, responsibly and sustainably increase the meaningful deployment of women to UN peace operations.
- Barrier assessments: Funding for troop and police-contributing countries to assess the barriers limiting the meaningful participation of uniformed women within military and police institutions. Countries must undergo a barrier assessment to receive flexible project funding through the Elsie Initiative Fund
See Elsie Initiative Fund - Funded Projects for a list of current Fund beneficiaries.
Contact Group countries
The Elsie Initiative is supported by a Contact Group of countries committed to women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations. The small and diverse group represents peacekeeping donors and troop and police contributors, from nearly every region of the world. The Contact Group provided important practical support to the Elsie Initiative throughout the design and early implementation process, and now serves in an advisory and coordination role.
- The Netherlands
- Republic of Korea
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
Research and publications
The Elsie Initiative worked with research institutions to improve global knowledge of the barriers—both contextual and systemic—facing women’s participation in peacekeeping. These institutions also helped to disseminate findings within the international community. Through the Initiative, Canada has helped make the issues surrounding women’s participation in peacekeeping less reliant on anecdotal and stereotypical claims about women peacekeepers and more focused on a fact-based approach that relies on tangible evidence to support effective changes in policy and practice.
The following is a partial list of research products produced with the support of the Elsie Initiative:
- Expanding Conceptions of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence among Military Peacekeepers (June 2022)
- Global MOWIP Report - Fit-for-the-Future Peace Operations: Advancing Gender Equality to Achieve Long-term and Sustainable Peace (June 2022)
- The Impact of Women Peacekeepers on Public Support for Peacekeeping in Troop-Contributing Countries (May 2022)
- Blue on Blue: Investigating Sexual Abuse of Peacekeepers (April 2022)
- Gender-Responsive Leadership in UN Peace Operations: The Path to a Transformative Approach? (February 2022)
- From Female Engagement Teams to Engagement Platoons: The Evolution of Gendered Community Engagement in UN Peace Operations (November 2021)
- Perceptions and Lived Realities of Women Police Officers in UN Peace Operations (June 2021)
- Gendered Impacts on Operational Effectiveness of UN Peace Operations (June 2021)
- Women, Peace, and Security Mandates for UN Peacekeeping Operations: Assessing Influence and Impact (January 2021)
- Woman First, Soldier Second: Taboos and Stigmas Facing Military Women in UN Peace Operations (October 2020)
- Uniformed Women in Peace Operations: Challenging Assumptions and Transforming Approaches (June 2020)
- Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations: Baseline Study (July 2018)
About Elsie MacGill
Elizabeth “Elsie” Muriel Gregory MacGill was born on March 27, 1905, in Vancouver, British Columbia. She attended the University of Toronto, becoming the first woman to graduate in electrical engineering (1927) and also the first woman to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (1929). In 1938, Elsie became chief aeronautical engineer of Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F), where she headed the Canadian production of Hawker Hurricane fighter planes during the Second World War. After her work at CC&F, Elsie ran a successful consulting business, and from 1967 to 1970 she served as a commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. In 1971, Elsie MacGill was awarded the Order of Canada. She died in 1980, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“I have received many engineering awards, but I hope I will also be remembered as an advocate for the rights of women and children.”
- Elizabeth “Elsie” Muriel Gregory MacGill
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