Women are steadily making inroads into a once male preserve and one of the best examples is the women contingent by the UN for peacekeeping.
Peace-keeping presumes cooperation between parties of the conflict involved and is aimed to keep peace in a conflict- zone. It is not a mission of peace-building or peace-making.
Peace-keeping is a delicate task and needs a softer approach. Liberia, a West African country had witnessed 14 years of civil war that left 200,000 people dead and survivors are haunted by torture and exploitation of boy soldiers. Its former war lord and President Charles Taylor had been put on by an Ad hoc criminal tribunal in The Hague since 2006. And was sentenced for 50 years. Thereafter, Liberia elected a Harvard educated woman Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President, in 2005.
In 2004 the UN report criticized UN peacekeepers in Liberia for assault and abuse of young women by trading food and money. The UN decided to put women peacekeepers in Liberia who brought peace in the country.
Liberia is something of a modern experiment for the role women peacekeepers. The head of the UN mission of peacekeeping is a woman from Denmark Margrethe Loj and the peacekeepers are women from Nigeria and India.
President Ms. Sirleaf stated that women peacekeepers were more caring and sensitive to the needs of people. She was quoted by media saying : “ I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of family, being concerned with children and managing home.”
The Nigerian women who number 59 hold largely jobs, such as supply clerk, nurses police officers, teachers and refugee workers. They live in narrow barracks tacked with photos of smiling little boys and girls let behind at home. For women it has been tough decision to leave a family and often they get call from their children on domestic issues such as “Mummy, elder sister is not listening to me.”
Since 2007 Indian women stood guard outside the President’s office. It is a highly symbolic position for them. The Indian women contingent stands to 103. Some of them are monitoring local police officers. Many of them also patrol on foot the suburbs and this has led to drastic fall of home invasions. The women contingent has persuaded many Liberian women to become police officers.
By deploying women peacekeepers local women are less intimidated. During the civil war it was the men who inflicted harm on women and most of the time the sufferers were women and children. On the street the women peacekeepers are perceived as sober and helpful. They have been able to build trust among public.
Carole Ducet, the senior gender adviser to the UN mission in Liberia reportedly said : “ We need to go deeper to study the impact that this is having and what aspect is really a good practice. We need to be careful about saying it is fantastic. We need to know why.”
Some of the disadvantages for women peacekeepers are separation from children, homesickness and depression. The UN is to study the effects on psyche of female peacekeepers and whether any other approach is needed to calm the psychological effects on them.
It is reported that the Indian contingent is likely to be replaced by Bangladeshi women peacekeepers. As female participation grows, the issue will be critical for the UN which is considering shorter and more flexible rotations.
In 1988, Bangladesh first joined the UN peacekeeping mission whose participants are known as “Blue Helmets”, (after the blue colour of the UN flag) with only 15 military observers.
Presently from Bangladesh Army, Navy and Air Force are deployed in 11 ongoing UNPKOs in 5 countries where in UN peacekeepers total 6089.
Within that more than 4900 personnel from Bangladesh Army are now deployed in various contingents or as Staff Officers/Military Observers in 13 peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh Navy has its ships and water crafts deployed in UNMISS (South Sudan). The Air Force has its helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in MONUSCO (DR Congo) and MINUSTAH (Haiti). A good number of officers from Bangladesh Armed Forces are also working in UNDPKO as well.
In Liberia communication network was improved by Bangladeshi peacekeepers. The BANENGR-8, which is tasked to maintain and repair roads in Bong County, is making all out efforts to reestablish the communication network in the country. They repaired 81 km Gbarnga-Salala Road, 80 km Gbarnga-Ganta Road and 44 km Gbrnga-Zorzor Road. Also carried out repair work of an entry road from CARI Complex to UN Water Point and internal roads in Gbarnga city and constructed a connecting road near CARI, The BANENGR-7, deployed in Nimba County, constructed and repaired 101 km Ganta-Tappita Road, 26 km Sanniquelli-Loguatu Road and 2.85 km road under Ganta city. Twenty-two culverts were built. They also constructed the playground of an orphanage and two passenger-sheds and carried out development work and welfare activities of different organisation.
By February 2010, Bangladesh becomes the largest contributing country to provide peacekeeping troops to the UN and the number stands to 10,574 (soldiers and police personnel). They are deployed in peacekeeping missions in 12 countries.
Since the peacekeeping missions are often risky in tribal-torn conflicts in Africa, there have been casualties of Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops (nine soldiers) in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 25th February, 2005. As of May 2009, a total of 91 valiant Bangladeshi peacekeepers died for the cause of world peace.
Bangladesh observes every year on 29th May International Day of UN Peacekeepers. Bangladesh has set up an Institute of Peace Support Operation Training for the armed forces at Rajendrapur, near Dhaka.
Bangladesh can hold its head high in the global arena because the Bangladeshi soldiers have earned the gratitude of millions in lands far distant from Bangladesh. They have helped restore tranquility and peace in many war-torn parts of the globe and have ushered in an era of hope in countries which had only known despair and war.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.