Close to 100 countries, including South Africa, will attend a two-day United Nations ministerial meeting beginning on Tuesday in Vancouver, Canada where improving the gender balance of peacekeeping operations and ending the recruitment of child soldiers will be among the main focal points.

The host government has also appealed to United Nations member states to sign up to the Vancouver Principles, a set of 17 focal points to provide concrete steps on how to prioritize and further operationalise child protection within UN peacekeeping operations.

This as UN Women has raised concern over the low levels of female representation in peacekeeping operations worldwide.

As the world’s defence ministers and security officials gather to discuss how best to close capacity gaps.

Michael Grant is one of Canada’s Ambassadors serving at the UN in New York.

“Every single day, peacekeepers play a critical role in addressing grave violations against children in armed conflict, including recruitment and use of children but there is still more to be done.  First, we must equip our peacekeepers with the doctrine, training and support they need to deliver on child protection mandates; second, we must resource child protection advisors to play a unique role in peacekeeping missions.”

A former UN peacekeeper and the Commander, who tried but failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, now runs a child soldier initiative in his own name.

General Romeo Dallaire says, “We believe that through the more effective preparation of peacekeepers, as well as clarity in doctrine, in tactics, in rules of engagement and in SOPs that speak to the realities that peacekeepers face on the ground.”

Gender parity will also be a strong focus with women making up less than 4% of military and less than 10% of police personnel in UN missions despite women and children suffering the most in conflict situations.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, speaking in the Security Council, says, “This council has debated peacekeeping reform multiple times in the last half a year alone. Peacekeeping operations are one of our most important tools and the face of this organization in many corners of the planet.”

“We have been calling for more women in peacekeeping for 17 years now, and the numbers are still very low. We have been trying to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers for almost as long, and we have fallen short at every turn. Thankfully, the Secretary-General is taking this issue very seriously.”

South Africa currently only has troops serving in the UN’s peacekeeping and force intervention brigades in the DRC after withdrawing troops from UN operations in Darfur in 2016.

The two-day summit officially gets underway late on Tuesday with the South African delegation-led by army Chief Lt. General Lindile Yam.

Major Seitebatso Pearl Block, who serves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also expected to be honoured as the best UN Military Gender activist at an awards ceremony here on Wednesday.