In the field   

Gender and the United Nations: Operating in the field.


Sexual Violence in Conflict Unit

Women’s Protection Advisers (WPAs)

Gender Advisers

The Sexual Violence in Conflict Unit (SVCU) is a civilian Unit of the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), and it represents the first Unit of its kind in the history of peacekeeping missions.

The SVCU works in close contact with the Office of the Special Representative for the Secretary General on Sexual Violence. The SVCU was established within MONUSCO in 2009, with the main aim to support the DRC Government to comprehensively prevent and respond to sexual violence incidents occurring in the Country, with a focus on those related to the conflict. The main SVCU working tool is the Comprehensive Strategy on Combating Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a common framework and platform for action developed by the UN system for all those combating sexual violence in DRC in line with Security Council resolutions. This Comprehensive Strategy in DRC acquired a National character, being inserted as the main pillar of the National Strategy combating Gender Based Violence in DRC, under the lead of the National Ministry of Gender.

Working both at National level (Kinshasa) and in the field (Eastern DRC), the SVCU is tasked to:


- support the DRC Government in the coordination of the Strategy combating Sexual Violence, promoting the ownership of the government as first responsible for providing services to prevent and respond to sexual violence in the country, and coordinating the participation and capacity building of all stakeholders promoting the fight against sexual violence in DRC, from national institutions, to local actors, UN and donors. This implies, in order for all domains of fight against sexual violence to be adequately addressed: action against impunity, prevention and protection, multi-sectorial assistance (medical, psychosocial, legal and socio-economic reintegration of victims), security sector reform, data collection and mapping.


- participate in the elaboration and implementation of the strategies for protection of civilians, promoting the capacities of prevention, protection, reporting and rapid response to UN system, peacekeeping military Force, Government and local actors on the risks of sexual violence attacks.


- promoting knowledge of the risks and consequences of sexual violence in conflict, and its deep repercussions that are a true obstacle to the restoration of international peace and security, as stated by Security Council Resolution 1820 (UNSCR 1820).


The SVCU is active only in MONUSCO. All other peacekeeping missions do not have a similar Unit, and conflict-related sexual violence is usually dealt with by other sections, from gender Office to Civil Affairs. The SVCU presents clear needs for improvements and small dimensions, mostly due to the fact that it is provided with limited human resources to cover very vast areas. Nonetheless a Unit that was specifically constituted to promote the fight against sexual violence perpetrated in conflict is an extremely important tool among the efforts to reduce the apparently invisible, yet crucially damaging plague, which is conflict-related sexual violence.


Women’s Protection Advisers are professional experts, usually identified among civilian gender advisers and human rights protection units of peacekeeping missions, tasked to address conflict-related sexual violence within UN peacekeeping missions. They are in charge of promoting strategies to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict, and they report incidents for the Security Council to be able to take actions against perpetrators.

The WPAs were established by the Security Council Resolution 1888 (2009), which decided ‘to include specific provisions, as appropriate, for the protection of women and children from rape and other sexual violence in the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations, including, on a case-by-case basis, the identification of women’s protection advisers (WPAs)’. WPAs are part of the peacekeeping missions, and their roles ought to be systematically assessed during the planning and reviewing of each United Nations peacekeeping and political mission – including to ensure that these experts are adequately trained and deployed at the appropriate time, as requested by the Security Council Resolution 2160 (2013). While based in the field, they work in close cooperation with the Office of UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict in New York.


Today, five years after the adoption of the UNSCR 1888, the presence of WPAs in peacekeeping missions is quite limited. It often seems like their capacities and resources are not enough to comprehensively cover the tasks they are requested to perform. The first UN mission with WPAs has been UNMISS, the UN Mission in South Sudan.


Global Justice Center


Refugees International

Gender Advisers are deployed in peacekeeping operations in order to promote gender perspectives in all spheres of peacekeeping work, from protection of civilians to electoral participation, and to gender promotion within the mission itself. All multi-dimensional peacekeeping missions include a Gender Office, usually lead by Gender Advisers helped in their work by the whole Gender Advisor Teams.

The current peacekeeping operations with Gender Advisers are: UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), United Nations Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In smaller missions there are Gender Focal Points, tasked to support the promotion of gender equality: UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), UN for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFYCIP), UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Compared to SVCU and WPAs, respectively present only in MONUSCO and UNMISS since not long ago, Gender Officers have a grater and older presence in UN missions. Yet they, too, suffer from structural limitations: they are not provided with sufficient human and logistical resources to implement their tasks. For example, it is often the case that only one person in the Office Staff is meant to cover very vast areas. Moreover, their focus is often interpreted, by the peacekeeping missions themselves, as solely working on women and with women, giving almost no space for initiatives that focus on other issues that also contribute to the promotion of gender equality, such as: men’s involvement in gender promotion, empowerment of women’s voice and presence in mediation of conflict, negotiation of peace processes, peace-building efforts, and manifold representations of women in politics.