Despite efforts to increase the participation of women uniformed peacekeepers, military women continue to face taboos and stigmas that are barriers to their inclusion and successful deployment. These range from gender stereotypes that cause military women to face more scrutiny than their male counterparts to difficulties speaking up about discriminatory and sexualized behaviour, including racism, sexual harassment, and assault. Being confronted with persistent taboos and stigmas can have far-reaching consequences for military women before, during, and after deployment.

"Woman First, Soldier Second: Taboos and Stigmas Facing Military Women in UN Peace Operations" is a report written by Dr. Lotte Vermeij and published by the International Peace Institute ( The paper, which is based on interviews with 142 military women from fifty-three countries, assesses the taboos and stigmas facing military women at three levels: (1) at the individual and community levels; (2) within their national defense structures; and (3) during deployment to UN peace operations. It also looks at the strategies women use to mitigate these taboos and stigmas and the formal and informal support structures they turn to.

The paper concludes with recommendations for national defense structures and the UN:

  • For national defense structures, it recommends improving standards of behaviour and accountability, educating men and women on taboos and stigmas, recruiting and retaining more women, proactively reaching out to and selecting women for deployment to peace operations, providing women the support they need, and designing equipment that better suits women’s needs.
  • For the UN Department of Peace Operations, it recommends strengthening narratives on the importance of female peacekeepers, ensuring that all peacekeepers respect UN values, developing mission-specific gender strategies and plans, engaging more firmly with troop-contributing countries, making recruitment and selection processes more gender-sensitive, holding personnel accountable for discriminatory and sexualized behaviour, and establishing in-mission support systems.

You can download the paper at