Elsie Initiative

Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations

Canada launched the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations at the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in Vancouver. The Elsie Initiative is an innovative, multilateral pilot project that is developing and testing a combination of approaches to help overcome barriers and increase the meaningful participation of uniformed women in UN peace operations, with a focus on police and military roles. The Elsie Initiative comprises a number of components, including bilateral partnerships, a global fund, political advocacy, efforts to create more receptive mission environments, and significant research, monitoring and evaluation.

No one country has all the solutions needed to address the complexities of gender inequality in UN peace operations. Canada is working with partners across the UN system, member states, think tanks and civil society to identify effective ways to increase the meaningful participation of women in peace operations. The Elsie Initiative is an opportunity for Canada and its partners to create transformational change, and a more inclusive and effective future for peace operations, where missions are better prepared to deliver on their mandates and to support enduring peace around the world.

"Canada is a proud founding member of the UN, and will continue to engage partners from around the world to achieve global security and prosperity. We have renewed our longstanding commitment to UN peacekeeping, and have taken a leadership role to meet the changing nature of conflict and peacebuilding, including through innovative approaches such as the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations."

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Working to increase women’s meaningful participation

Increasing the meaningful participation of women in UN peace operations is both the right and smart thing to do. There are currently over 83,000 military and police peacekeepers serving in UN missions, with women making up less than 7% of uniformed personnel.

Canada launched the Elsie Initiative to collaborate with and support the UN and the international community to seek 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 numerous calls for change in past decades, progress has been slow. Since October 2015, the overall percentage of women military and police peacekeepers has only increased from 4.2% to 6.4%, and barriers and biases remain in place that reduce women’s ability to meaningfully participate in UN peace operations. In the context of 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 this specific area.

Canada’s work aligns closely with the UN’s efforts. In January 2019, the UN Department of Peace Operations released its Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy, which sets annual targets for the participation of women in uniformed roles (including 15% in military contingents and 20% in Formed Police Units by 2028), and identifies priority actions to create more receptive environments for all peacekeepers. These goals complement the Secretary-General’s System-Wide Strategy on Gender Parity and Security Council Resolution 1325.

"Investing in women in peace operations is more important now than ever before. In these challenging times, we see the benefits of diversity within the personnel who make up UN peace operations, as this is a key factor in making them more effective and situationally aware."

- The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, 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 are able to 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; and when their workplace is free from all forms of harassment, bullying and intimidation.

Components of the Elsie Initiative

Canada’s leadership of the Elsie Initiative comprises the following key activities:

  • Implementing bilateral technical assistance and training partnerships with the Ghana Armed Forces and Zambia Police Service, to identify best practises for other 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, which was designed by member states, the UN system and peacekeeping experts to incentivise the increased deployment of uniformed women in military and police roles to UN peace operations. The Elsie Initiative Fund is managed by UN Women, and has been established for an initial five-year period (2019-2024). Canada is the largest donor, and co-chairs the Fund’s Steering Committee with UN Women.
  • Creating 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 or absence 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.
  • Providing assistance to select UN organizations and missions to support the creation of more receptive UN mission environments for all peacekeepers, including physical, social and cultural aspects.
  • Building political momentum for change, including through the work of a Contact Group of like-minded countries.
  • Contributing to the development of effective, evidence-based policy and programmatic approaches and interventions around the world, including within the United Nations.
  • Conducting research, 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.

Through these components, the Elsie Initiative seeks to help answer the following key questions, and provide decision makers with the necessary evidence base for sustainable and transformational change:

  • What approaches are effective in the troop and police-contributing context to address barriers and create greater opportunities for uniformed women personnel?
  • How do financial incentives impact the meaningful participation of uniformed women in UN peace operations? 
  • What constitutes a receptive environment for uniformed women serving in UN mission environments? 
  • How do women peacekeepers enhance the operational effectiveness of peace operations?
  • How can UN deployment processes provide more equitable opportunities for uniformed women?

Bilateral partner countries

Canada is implementing bilateral technical assistance and training partnerships with the governments of Ghana and Zambia, specifically the Ghana Armed Forces and Zambia Police Service. Both institutions have had significant success in the area of gender equality in UN peace operations, and thus 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.

Canada is also supporting Senegal to implement its Armed Forces’ Gender Integration Strategy (2012-2022), beginning with an audit of progress achieved to date. Senegal has a clear plan to increase the representation of women in its military and gendarmerie, as well as in peacekeeping missions.

"Women peacekeepers are role models, and their presence gives a sense of comfort to the vulnerable and the affected, especially women in conflict and crisis situations."

- Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration

"We come with the proud record of a government that has steadily laid the groundwork for equitable female representation in peacekeeping."

- Joseph Malanji, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister

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, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Canada and UN Women serve as the 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, with a focus on substantially increasing the representation of women overall and in positions of authority. There are three funding streams available through the Fund:

  • Flexible project funding: Allows troop and police-contributing countries and UN bodies to access financial assistance to support evidence-based activities and the deployment 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, which may serve as an incentive to rapidly, responsibly and sustainably increase the meaningful deployment of women to UN peace operations. A gender-strong unit is defined as a military unit or Formed Police Unit that includes a substantial representation of women overall and in positions of authority, has provided gender-equity training to all unit members, and has adequate equipment and other materiel to ensure parity of deployment conditions for women and men peacekeepers.
  • Barrier assessments: Funding for troop and police-contributing countries to conduct assessments of the barriers limiting the meaningful participation of uniformed women within military and police institutions. Countries must undergo a barrier assessment in order to receive flexible project funding through the Elsie Initiative Fund.

"As the Secretariat of the Elsie Initiative Fund, UN Women is committed to creating an enabling environment that allows and encourages uniformed women to serve in peace operations. The funds provided by Canada and other Member States will help to boost the number of women participating in decisions and actions relating to their own security, and that of their communities, and ensure that women’s unique perspective is included, whether they are in the field or at the peace table."

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Contact Group countries

The Elsie Initiative is supported by a Contact Group of like-minded countries that have demonstrated a commitment to women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations. This small and diverse group meets regularly to provide practical support to the Elsie Initiative throughout the design and implementation process.

  • Argentina
  • Canada
  • France
  • Ghana
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Senegal
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • Uruguay

Support to ongoing efforts

  • As part of the Elsie Initiative, the Canadian Armed Forces will undergo the same barrier assessment as Ghana and Zambia, with the goal of identifying areas for improvement and to further increase the recruitment and advancement of women’s participation.
  • Canada has provided $5.4 million in assistance to the UN Department of Peace Operations and Department of Operational Support to improve the ability to support and benefit from women’s increased participation in peace operations. This funding is being used by the UN to create improved gender-responsive guidelines for UN camp accommodation, support the implementation of the UN’s Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy, deliver specialized training for women personnel and increase the capacity of gender advisers deployed to UN peace operations.
  • In November 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands hosted a workshop entitled Research to Action to help inform the design of key Elsie Initiative components on the basis of research to date, including the Elsie Initiative Baseline Study.
  • In August 2019, Canada supported the Ghana Armed Forces to hold a workshop that promoted and raised awareness of the Elsie Initiative across the military.
  • The Elsie Initiative has been featured at the following events:
    • Elsie Initiative International Design Workshop, Ottawa, Canada (February 2018)
    • The 62nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, United States of America (March 2018)
    • The 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York City, United States of America (September 2018)
    • The Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding regional conference on Enhancing the Performance of Peacekeeping Operations in Cairo, Egypt (November 2018)
    • The United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial Preparatory Meeting on Women, Peace and Security in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (January 2019)
    • The 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York City, United States of America (September 2019)
    • The Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa in Dakar, Senegal (November 2019)
    • The Focal Points Network regional workshop on Women, Peace and Security in Montevideo, Uruguay (December 2019)

Who was Elsie MacGill

Elizabeth “Elsie” Muriel Gregory MacGill was born on March 27, 1905, in Vancouver, British Columbia. At the University of Toronto, Elsie was the first woman graduate of electrical engineering (1927) and was also the first woman to earn her master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (1929). In 1938, Elsie became chief aeronautical engineer of Canada 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 was a commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. In 1971, Elsie MacGill was awarded the Order of Canada.

"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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