THE BLOG
08/12/2014 04:30 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

Women in UN Peacekeeping: Groundbreakers Must Become Trendsetters

Every day, women around the world are cracking glass ceilings. This week, one of those ceilings will shatter all the way from Cyprus -- and reverberations should be felt the world over.

Major General Kristin Lund of Norway is becoming the first female to serve as a Force Commander in a United Nations Peacekeeping operation. She will take the helm in Cyprus, overseeing about 1,000 peacekeepers in one of the longest-running UN Peacekeeping missions -- an operation that was created to prevent fighting between Greek and Turkish communities, and which continues today, suppressing roughly 1,000 security incidents each year.

There's no question Lund is up to the challenge. With more than 34 years of military command and staff experience at national and international levels, she has also served as Deputy Commander of the Norwegian Army Forces Command and was Norway's first female officer promoted to the rank of major general. What's more, she served in the Middle East during the first Gulf War in 1991 and in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force in 2003.

However, more than a groundbreaker, there's hope that Lund will also be a trendsetter.

From 1957 to 1989, only 20 uniformed women served as UN peacekeepers. Today, more than 5,100 women serve as either civilian or uniformed peacekeepers, and women serve in all 16 current peacekeeping operations. Moreover, there are three all-female UN police units serving in Haiti, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This is important progress, but the fact remains that female peacekeepers comprise roughly 4.5 percent of uniformed and civilian peacekeeping personnel. We can do better, and we need to do better. That's because when women serve, it has direct implications for long-term, sustainable peace.

Female peacekeepers have a unique capacity to act as role models in the host communities. They inspire girls and women -- in often male-dominated societies -- to push for their own rights and to raise their voices as active participants in peace processes.

Women in blue helmets also make a peacekeeping force more approachable to other women in the community, and they are often the best positioned to connect with women who have endured the singularly excruciating hardships of gender-based violence. What's more, they are the exemplars and the mentors who encourage other local women to take up a role in their countries' law enforcement, so that a female presence can help advance peace for years to come.

In all fields of peacekeeping, women peacekeepers have proven that they can perform the same roles, to the same standards, under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts. This is a fact that the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations has proactively embraced. It is also a tenant that the UN Security Council championed years ago, stating that women are uniquely and disproportionately impacted by armed conflict, which is why it is critical that women participate in the peace process.

While the UN has declared it an imperative to recruit and retain more female peacekeepers, it is not up to them alone to see more women come into the fold. Troop contributing countries must also do their part to encourage women to join the ranks of UN peacekeepers. And the international community must do more to recognize their contributions.

The world's worst conflict zones need the global community to pick up the pace and put more women like Lund into action. As Major General Lund assumes her post this week, her leadership should serve as a call to women everywhere that women can make -- and sustain -- an extraordinary difference in global peace.