Peacekeeping Economies and Domestic Sex Industries
MICROCON has released a new report, UN Peacekeeping Economies and Local Sex Industries, by Kathleen Jennings and Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic. It’s a rarely examined topic despite the very obvious association of prostitution, sexual violence and trafficking with modern peacekeeping missions (although a fair bit of media attention has been given to problems with peacekeepers in DRCongo over the past five years).
The concept of ‘peacekeeping economies’ is not widely discussed in the literature; the authors start with definitions.
Early use of the term “peacekeeping economies” is traceable to the 2002 UNIFEM report Women, War and Peace (Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf 2002), which attempted to assess the impact of armed conflict on women and make a case for expanding women’s roles in peacebuilding. Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf used the term to refer to the industries and services (e.g. hotels, bars, restaurants, transportation) that spring up when a peacekeeping operation comes into an area, cater primarily to international actors, provide some jobs for locals, and depend on the custom and cash supplied by the operation and associated international presence. In this paper, it is also used to encompass the skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled jobs available to local staff in UN offices or the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that set up shop in the wake of the UN presence…; unskilled and mainly informal work … for international staff; and “voluntary” or “forced” participation in the sex industry, whether independently or mediated through a third party (e.g. pimp, madam) (see also Jennings 2008a; 2008b). Cumulatively, this expanded understanding captures the wider impact of peacekeeping economies, encompassing those employed – whether formally or informally – by the mission or mission personnel, but also including those whose livelihoods depend on the presence of a large cadre of international personnel but are not directly employed or contracted by them. Accordingly, however, it is difficult to assess the size of a peacekeeping economy, much less how much of it depends on or is linked to the sex industry.
They also hypothesise the lack of attention to the issue, as well as why it should be given more focus:
The relative dearth of analytical or policy attention to peacekeeping economies is to some degree understandable: peacekeeping economies are ill defined, share many of the characteristics of an economic bubble, and probably overlap to a greater or lesser degree with organized crime and/or the business interests of powerful local actors, limiting the extent to which closer attention is welcomed. Lack of scrutiny may also owe to the perception that peacekeeping economies are incidental to the mandated priorities and activities of a peace operation, and thereby unworthy of dedicated examination; or that they are inevitable and unavoidable, and thus unremarkable. Yet the peacekeeping economy is the context in which most local residents have their main (or only) contact with civilian and military personnel in peace operations. The distortions and excesses of peacekeeping economies, and the services and activities they encompass, help shape local perceptions of the mission (and vice versa), and of the roles, relations, and status of local citizens vis-à-vis international personnel.
The report offers evidence from Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Liberia (including a look at how organised crime is embedded within the peacekeeping-sex trade dynamic in the Balkans). It also evaluates the UN’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, claiming it may ‘have some effect on demand for transactional sex (or simply drive more activity underground), but is unlikely to change the fundamentals of the highly gendered peacekeeping economy, which include extreme (and typically gendered) income inequality, an informal and exploitable labor force, corruption and criminality…’
While people tend to see peacekeeping economies as temporary, I thought one of the more interesting aspects of this report was its take on the enduring effects of peacekeeping missions on local economies, sex industries and gender relations. For example, the growth in the sex trade associated with the peacekeeping missions in both Bosnia and Kosovo facilitated the expansion of human trafficking operations throughout the region that continues today. The authors argue that greater awareness of these lasting effects will help undermine the prevailing attitude that changes in local economies and social relations as a result of peacekeeping missions are unavoidable but temporary, and instead bolster an understanding that peacekeeping-sex trade dynamics are usually systemic and not isolated phenomena.