Everyone wants his or her life to stand for something. Some people join the military. Others become the president and CEO of their own business. Still others start a family. For some people meaning and purpose are derived from a role that will bring them neither fame nor fortune, comfort nor luxury. These people give up almost everything they have to fight on the front lines of the war against poverty, disease, water scarcity, environmental degradation, and intrastate conflict. They do not have guns to protect themselves. They do not have the security of a soldier’s national uniform to guarantee them safety in a tough situation. These people are the UN peacekeepers.
May 29, 2009 marked the 61st anniversary of the day the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)—the first United Nations peacekeeping mission—began operations in Palestine. In 2002, the General Assembly designated May 29 as an international day of tribute to the dedication and courage of the men and women who have or are currently risking their lives to serve others around the world. Since 2002, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers has commemorated the high professionalism of these people and specifically honored those who have lost their lives in the ‘cause for peace.’
In today’s world, the need for UN peacekeepers is greater than ever. This year’s commemorative ceremonies, presided over by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, honored the 132 peacekeeping personnel, 10 of them women, who lost their lives in 2008 UN peacekeeping missions. Special emphasis was given to the role of women peacekeepers, who remain sorely underrepresented among UN forces. Given the importance of empowering women and girls in conditions of conflict or extreme poverty (which often go hand-in-hand), the need for greater deployment of women in UN missions is indubitable.