Largest Unit of Indian Women Peacekeepers in Sudan Conflict Zone
The contingent has 25 women soldiers from the Corps of Military Police (CMP) and the Assam Rifles, senior Defence officials familiar with the matter said.
India Friday deployed a platoon of women peacekeepers in Abyei on the border of Sudan and South Sudan as part of the Indian Battalion in the United Nations Interim Security Force.
It includes two women Army officers – a Major from the Corps of Signals and a Captain from the Corps of Engineers.
The contingent has 25 women soldiers from the Corps of Military Police (CMP) and the Assam Rifles, senior Defence officials familiar with the matter said. The CMP is the only arm of the Army which was opened for recruitment of women soldiers in 2021.
This is India’s largest single unit of women peacekeepers in a UN Mission since it deployed the first-ever all women’s contingent from the Central Reserve Police Force in Liberia in 2007 as part of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
A fully formed Female Police Unit with CRPF personnel was deployed in the African nation in 2007, making it the first exclusive female team of police pressed into action in any UN peacekeeping force. The mission had drawn praise from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the then Liberian President, who had said that the country had 17 per cent women in Liberian security service as compared to less than one per cent a few years ago, and the country owed that to India.
A top Defence official told The Indian Express that the soldiers will be performing general duties and not CMP roles.
“The UN had requested member states to deploy female engagement teams (FET) with infantry battalion groups in UN Missions to deal with situations involving women and children who suffer the most in a conflict situation,” the official said.
“The tasks given to FETs include conduct of joint patrols, dialogue with local women or girls, assistance during humanitarian crises, information gathering and perception management,” the official said.
Earlier in the day, a statement by India’s Permanent Representative in New York said the soldiers will specialise in community outreach, besides performing extensive security related tasks as well.
The contingent will remain deployed in Abyei for a period of six months.
Another Defence official said that the UN seeks at least 19 per cent women officers of the total vacancies released to the Army. “However, the Army had sent a larger share of women officers, taking the percentage to 21,” the official said.
In the past too, women officers have served in various conflict-torn countries in challenging assignments – in medical duties and as military observers among others – as part of UN Missions.
However, this is the first time an all-women Army contingent has been deployed in Abyei on a UN mission.
A woman Army officer who served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo told The Indian Express that serving in a conflict zone as part of the mission is challenging, enriching, and satisfying.
“There were a handful of women officers in the Indian Army contingent of about two dozen officers. But we have an upper edge in such assignments since we are able to reach the populace in a better manner, especially the women and children who are majorly affected in conflicts,” the officer said.
“We served there for 14 months, learnt to interact with the population and NGOs in French and local Swahili and took part in various quick impact projects such as facilitating the operation of vocational training centres in the country and setting up of power connections,” the officer said.
Stating that the role of police and other paramilitary contingents in the UN is law enforcement in situations such as rioting and stone pelting, she said the Army’s job there is to assist the local population and empower them as well as the local Army there under UN resolutions 6 and 7.
With doors yet to open for women soldiers in the Army at that time, there were only women officers sent for the missions. “But we did come across women soldiers from various other countries who were serving there as peacekeepers,” she said.
Government officials said the move is in line with the United Nations’ Gender Parity drive and deployment of similar engagement teams is planned in other UN Missions in the near future.
According to the statement by India’s Permanent Representative in New York, the deployment will also herald the country’s intent of increasing the number of women in peacekeeping contingents.
“Their presence will be especially welcome in Abyei, where a recent spurt in violence has triggered a spate of challenging humanitarian concerns for women and children in the conflict zone,” it stated.
It highlighted that women peacekeepers are highly regarded in peacekeeping missions throughout the world for their ability to reach out and connect with women and children in local population, especially victims of sexual violence in conflict zones.
“Indian women particularly have a tradition in Peacekeeping. Dr Kiran Bedi, UN’s first Police Adviser, Major Suman Gawani and Shakti Devi have made a mark for themselves in UN Peacekeeping. Our teams in the Congo and South Sudan have also done sterling work in mainstreaming women and children into Community and Social developmental projects at the grassroots level,” the statement added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the move, saying he is proud of the development. He said India has a tradition of active participation in UN peacekeeping missions. “The participation by our Nari Shakti is even more gladdening,” he said on Twitter.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in a Twitter post, said, “Our cherished tradition of UN Peacekeeping reflects #NariShakti again. Confident that they will discharge their blue helmet responsibilities fully and do the nation proud.”
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