Female peacekeepers take the helm, to end gender-based violence

A training course piloted in India aims to equip female military officers in peacekeeping missions to tackle sexual and gender-based violence.


Some participants in the peacekeeper training course pose for a group photo (from left to right): Maj. Sarah Amir (Bangladesh); Maj. Catherine Chacha (Kenya); Maj. Chizu Kurita (Japan); Maj. Berna Kayirangwa (Rwanda); Maj. Florence Oloyede (Nigeria); Lt. Gen. Maqsood Ahmed (MILAD, DPKO UN); Lt. Cdr.Feyisara M Solebo (Nigeria); Maj. Fatuma A Kaloya (Tanzania); Capt. Arnet Naija (Kenya); Maj. Naranjagral Dashdondog (Mongolia). Photo: UN Women/Sarabjeet Singh Dhillon

UN Women, in partnership with the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (CUNPK) in India, recently launched a pilot project that aims to train female military officers to prevent and address sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.

This new two-week course builds on previous courses which targeted all peacekeeping personnel, men and women. For the recent training in India, 32 female military officers from 24 countries took part in the Special Female Military Officers’ Training Course, which also aims to address the serious shortage of women military personnel in United Nations peacekeeping missions across the world.

“All of the militaries in the world are male-dominated; the majority of the leadership is male-dominated,” observed Major Rachel Grimes, of the British Army. “So a young woman thinking of this career may be put off because there doesn’t seem to be an infrastructure in place to support her.”

Participants engage in a group discussion (left to right): Maj. Himika Kalyani (India); Maj. Florence Oloyede (Nigeria); Lt. Cdr. Jennifer Macklin (Australia); Capt. Sophie Sarchet (UK); Maj. Norashikin Awang (Malaysia); Capt. Nora Terjeki Ignacz (Hungary); Maj. Sarah Amir (Bangladesh). Photo: UN Women/Sarabjeet Singh Dhillon

Maj. Grimes served in the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) as an Intelligence Planning Officer. Her role was later extended as the UN Force Commander's Child Protection and Gender Field Advisor.

Women’s participation in the security sector has been recognized as essential for the success of UN peacekeeping missions. However, the number of female military personnel deployed in current peacekeeping missions and military operations is very low.[1] On average, only three percent of military personnel in UN missions are women, most of whom are employed as support staff rather than in protection tasks.

“Courses like these will bring more women forward and upward in the ranks to challenge the stereotypes and biases that have kept their numbers small and their roles limited,” said Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women Multi-Country Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Ms. Tavares also called upon the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to make effective use of these trained women officers “who are a valuable resource for UN peace operations.”

Lt. Col. Sofiya Qureshi introduces the various modules as part of the training course. Photo: UN Women/Sarabjeet Singh Dhillon

Over the past four years, UN Women India has partnered with CUNPK to conduct 26 courses for UN peacekeepers – both men and women – on gender and sexual or gender-based violence prevention, as part of pre-deployment trainings. The Special Female Military Officers Course is the first on ‘protection from violence’ and the first specifically for women.

The course is expected to be used as a model by national peacekeeping training centres in all countries that contribute troops to United Nations peace missions. It also seeks to create a critical mass of women military officers ready to be deployed in UN missions. A total of 100 women officers globally are expected to be trained during the first year.

The 10-day technical course included training on a range of skills such as communication techniques for interacting with survivors, warning signs of conflict-related sexual violence, information/intelligence-gathering to identify risks, threats, and vulnerabilities, knowledge of child protection, and gender-responsive peacekeeping.

Closing Ceremony- 1st Row (L-R): Maj. Florence Oloyede (Nigeria); Col. Kalyani Addya (India); Maj. Norashikin Awang (Malaysia); 2nd Row (L-R): Maj NS Thys (South Africa) partially seen; Cdr Yada Thiemthip (Thailand); Capt Merina Acharya (India), Capt Pooja Karki (Nepal)Photo: UN Women/Sarabjeet Singh Dhillon

The course included tactical training components – for example, the detection of early warning signals that might point to impending conflict, such as higher levels of domestic violence or withdrawal of adolescent girls from schools. Operational training emphasized, among other things, the importance of undertaking night patrols. The presence of female peacekeepers in marketplaces and in areas where women go to gather firewood has been shown to prevent cases of sexual and gender based violence. The inclusion of women in peace missions is also known to result increased reporting of conflict related sexual violence.

One of the key elements of this two-week course was the prevention and response to violations of women’s rights. It includes a two-day scenario-based module on sexual violence in armed conflict – which uses videos, photos, stories and real examples of situations encountered in missions – focused on detecting, reporting, preventing and fighting sexual violence. Since 2011, more than 1,000 peacekeepers have taken this module in 18 countries.

“The course is very important for the female officers,” said Major Ivana Mara Ferreira Costa, from the Brazilian Military Support Section for UN Missions. “Not only are we recycling all the knowledge considering our experience on ground but … it has also opened our mind for the future, in terms of female inclusion in peacekeeping operations. This course is important because it enables us to live in the situations that we usually have no idea can occur on ground.”

Lt. Gen. Maqsood Ahmed, Military Adviser, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, speaks at the closing ceremony of a training course for female peacekeepers, held in India. Panelists, from left to right: Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Patrick Cammaert, Course Mentor; Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, UN Women; Lt. Gen. Philip Campose, Vice Chief, Indian Army; and Munu Mahawar, Ministry of External Affairs. Photo: UN Women/Sarabjeet Singh Dhillon

UN Women hopes that the course will be adopted by national and regional peacekeeping training institutions across the world. Following the success of the pilot course in New Delhi in March-April 2015, a second course will be conducted in South Africa in September 2015.

The course is also expected to encourage governments of troop-contributing countries to include more women military experts in UN peacekeeping missions.

“UN mandates include the critical responsibility of protection of civilians, said Lt. Gen. Maqsood Ahmed, Military Advisor to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. “An approach that does not involve women when 50 per cent of the civilian population is female cannot be called a comprehensive approach.”

Watch this video about this special training course

Watch this video interview with course mentor retired Major General Patrick Cammaert

[1] According to April 2015 figures, there were 2,840 female troops and military observers out of a total 94,620 personnel deployed in UN peacekeeping missions – representing three per cent.