(CNSNews.com) - Posing a question that is "near and dear" to her, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz asked U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power on Wednesday, "What else can we do to train more women and put more women in peacekeeping roles at the U.N.?"
According to the Florida Democrat, "It is important to have in very specific circumstances a woman on the front lines of the U.N.'s peacekeeping efforts versus men. Not that men can't do a very effective job. But obviously with cultural sensitivities and gender sensitivities, having more women for a variety of reasons is really important."
Wasserman Schultz also asked about "ongoing efforts to deter sexual exploitation in U.S. peacekeeping operations," stating that "we have sexual abuse in U.N. peacekeeping missions simmilar to what's gone on in our own military. And I'd like to know what steps are being taken to address that issue."
Ambassador Power told Wasserman Schultz, "These issues are very close to my heart. And they should be easier to fix than they are."
Appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Power said the U.S. is encouraging more countries to establish programs like the one in India, the first nation to train and deploy all-female units. UN Women in India also hosted a summit on "Women in Peacebuilding" in New Delhi in 2013.
Power endorsed the Indian model: "We're constantly talking about it publicly as a way of encouraging more countries to institutionalize programs like this."
Power also noted that the U.N. Security Council recently reaffirmed its commitment to Resolution 1325, which calls on countries to increase the recruitment of female soldiers and female police within their own militaries, which are the pipeline for U.N. peacekeeping missions.
"I have certainly seen in the field, in places like Darfur, the effect it has when women police officers are the ones to go and engage young women who have been raped en route to get firewood. It's a wholly different dynamic and the sense of shame and that, you know, trying to tell that story to a male foreign -- you know, not even from your own country or your own community, but from somewhere that doesn't speak your language and is a guy, it's sort of really, really challenging and compounds the pain these people are experiencing.
So we, the United States, I think since 2005 have trained about just over 5,000 women peacekeepers through our GPOI (Global Peace Operations Initiative) program. But we also, through our national action plan on Women, Peace and Security, the implementation of (resolution) 1325, have made a commitment to try to increase that.
"I think the more we talk about it, the more we emphasize it. It's a big priority for the secretary general. But the way the U.N. works, of course, is the secretary-general's at the mercy of what each of the member states puts forward."
"So the world we need to change is the world inside member states," Power added. "And that's why having these normative resolutions and political push is important. But we need to do it at the ground level."
On the questions of sexual exploitation and abuse among U.N. peacekeepers, Power said the U.N. has improved its vetting of troops and police: "Individuals who have been alleged to carry out these acts are generally sent home while investigation takes place. There though does need to be far more follow-up in the host country...We need to work through our embassies to also keep the pressure on those countries that say, yes, we're going to do an investigation."
Wasserman Schultz suggested that congressional delegations, when they travel, could carry the message about female empowerment in peacekeeping ranks to host countries. "I know many of us would be happy to do that," she said.