International: Peacekeeping Training For Female Officers Salutes Role Played by Women in the Military

International: Peacekeeping Training For Female Officers Salutes Role Played by Women in the Military

Date: September 22, 2015
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Pretoria, September 10 – The second UN peacekeeping training for female officers, convened by UN Women in collaboration with the South African government, kicked off to a great start yesterday morning at the South African Army School’s Peace Mission Training Centre in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.

The training, which will equip female military officers with the skills to be successful peacekeepers, is being attended by 40 female officers from 23 countries worldwide, and follows a successful pilot held in India earlier this year. The next two weeks will feature modules on gathering intelligence, interviewing victims, cultural awareness and gender, conflict-related sexual violence trafficking and the rules of engagement and use of force, among others.

It is an initiative that is critically needed. In UN military components, women still account for only three percent of military personnel, an improvement of two percentage points in 21 years. This is despite repeated calls for there to be more women in peacekeeping since the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 was adopted in 2000.

Several of the officers present at the training recounted how they had battled for years to be deployed because they were women. “I am here to get that time back”, said Brazilian Lieutenant Commander Carla Peixoto, who tried for ten years before she was selected for a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon last year.

In Southern Africa, progress is being made. The 2015 Southern Africa Gender Protocol Barometer coordinated annually by Gender Links reported that eight out of the ten SADC countries that send peacekeepers on UN missions send women peacekeepers. At 29%, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent the highest proportion of women on peacekeeping missions in 2014. The barometer also reported that there has been a vast improvement in the provision of sex-disaggregated data on security services since 2010 when it started tracking this parameter.

UN Women Special Advisor, Ms. Nozipho January-Bardill, delivering the opening speech at the course on behalf of Dr. Auxilia Ponga, the Representative for the UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office, explained how the presence of women improves the outcomes of peacekeeping missions. “Commanders on the ground themselves often recognize that women peacekeepers broaden the range of skills and capacities among all categories of personnel, enhance the operational effectiveness of all tasks, and improve the mission’s image, accessibility and credibility among the local population.”

However, as instructor Vasant Mande emphasized, the content of the course is not about the gender of the officers. “It is about training peacekeepers.”

Asked why she chose to attend the training, South African Major Mahlatse Malatji explained: “As a soldier you are trained to fight. So when I am faced with women and children in the field, I only know how to help them by using my rifle. But peacekeeping missions are something else. If you pass a hungry child and you’re carrying your rifle, he doesn’t understand the security you provide. But if you can offer him milk, for him it’s heaven.”

South Africa deploys peacekeepers to 3 missions: MONUSCO, UNAMID, and UNMISS (the missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and South Sudan respectively). And, according to UN data, the percentage of women in these missions is much higher than global averages. In MONUSCO and UNMISS, women account for fifteen percent of the peacekeepers. In UNAMID, women account for more than half, at 52%.

The conflicts in these regions follow a trend that is changing the nature of peacekeeping worldwide. Civilians, and especially women and children, are now more than ever before the victims of extreme violence in conflict zones.

“The world is going through a particularly turbulent moment,” said Ms. January-Bardill, “and it is painfully obvious that our current models cannot respond effectively to today’s peace and security challenges. Any revisions of our current models that do not include gender equality and women’s leadership as one of their most important ingredients are inconceivable and doomed to fail.”

This was in keeping with a call that rang clear throughout the day. Instructor Major General Patrick Cammaert, previously Military Advisor to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, warned too that it is necessary to change the approach to conflict, because the nature of conflict itself has changed. “Be unconventional!” was his order during a lecture on the operational environment. “You will find when you are in the field that a path has been nicely cut for you. What I want after this course is for you to grab a machete and carve your own path.”

Cammaert was referring to peacekeeping missions, explaining that it is the duty of peacekeepers to seek out the signs of violence in order to prevent it, rather than waiting to correct damage that has already been done. But the idea of being unconventional summed up the many reasons for the training course. Firstly, in that conflict worldwide is no longer conventional – peacekeepers now deal with organized crime, suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, and diseases like Ebola.

Secondly, as stories emerged throughout the day of women in the field being extraordinarily successful. Unconventional in that they were women, who had fought harder to get where they were, far outnumbered by their male colleagues every step of the way, and in that they made especially great impacts while there.

Interviewed after the opening ceremony, South African Lieutenant Colonel Felicia Maganwe recounted her first mission, to DRC in 2008, where she led three platoons, rescuing her own platoon from the crossfire between the rebel groups, mediating between the groups to open borders to civilians, and providing a safe haven for children who were being targeted for recruitment as child soldiers. She was later honoured as the best company commander on the mission. “I must say, I was proud of myself.”

(Loveness Jambaya-Nyakujarah is a Women, Peace and Security Specialist in the UN Women, South Africa Multi-Country Office and Helen Sullivan is a Communications Consultant at UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office. This article forms part of the GL News Service that offers fresh views in every day news)







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