A team of women peacekeepers from India has assumed duties in the UN mission in Congo, one of the most challenging peacekeeping missions, with a focus on working with women and children worst affected by conflict.
The Female Engagement Team (FET) from India, comprising nearly 20 women peacekeepers, began its deployment with the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) last week.
Women Peace & Security in action. India's Female Engagement Team deployed in @UNPeacekeeping is on way to assume duties @MONUSCO (Democratic Republic of Congo), India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin tweeted on June 20 along with a photograph of the women peacekeepers leaving India for their deployment.
Military Advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to UN Colonel Sandeep Kapoor told PTI that India's deployment of the Female Engagement Team is in line with Secretary General Antonio Guterres' priority and initiative to ensure increased participation of women peacekeepers in the UN.
MONUSCO is considered one of the most challenging peacekeeping missions under the UN flag, Kapoor said. The deployment of the female peacekeepers from India promises to serve as an inspiration to women of the Central African nation.
Kapoor said the Indian brigade is deployed in the north Kivu province of DR Congo with almost 38 armed groups operating and contesting to control the areas rich in natural resources.
The team of women peacekeepers will help in engaging with the local women and children who are worst affected by the conflict, he added.
The United Nations has been seeking deployment of a female engagement team in its missions as part of its gender parity/sensitisation initiative, Kapoor said, adding that the Indian FET is part of that.
"It will conduct patrolling and engage with women and locals in that country to gain their trust. They will also undertake civic programmes and assist in conduct of investigations and riot control among other duties, he said.
The troops, aged between 26-37 years, have been imparted special training in unarmed combat, weapons handling, tactics, international laws and protocols for this task.
India is the second largest troop contributor to MONUSCO, with 2624 peacekeepers and 274 police personnel deployed as of March 2019.
Earlier, a high-level Indian military officer deployed with MONUSCO had told PTI in a Skype interview that this is the first Indian female engagement team to be deployed in MONUSCO.
Women in the UN are present in all spectrum of activities, in military, police and civil. They have a very important role to play as far as societies that are plagued by these kinds of situations. Women in any field, especially in field missions are seen as role models by the local women here, the officer had said, adding that women peacekeepers inspire women of the countries where they are deployed in contributing in the peace and security of the country.
A young lady officer in the Indian contingent had described the deployment of the Indian women peacekeepers as a big achievement and said a gender-balanced leadership will sow seeds of a peaceful society in Congo.
India, one of the largest troop contributors to UN peacekeeping missions, has the distinction of providing the first ever Female Formed Police Unit for the UN in Liberia, beginning in 2007.
The Indian women peacekeepers in Liberia were hailed by the UN for their leadership for being an inspiration for Liberian women to join the police force.
Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had paid tribute to the all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) from India when it ended its mission in Liberia in 2016.
The UN had hailed the conduct of the FPU as an example of how the deployment of more female uniformed personnel can help the world organisation in its efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.
The deployment of Indian women peacekeepers in Congo assumes significance amid focus by Guterres on the uniformed gender parity strategy, rolled out earlier this year calling for increased participation by women in UN peacekeeping missions.
Targets for women's representation range from 15 per cent to 35 per cent by 2028, inclusive of military, police and justice and corrections personnel.
Guterres had said that the achievement of these targets will represent a significant step towards parity. Since December 2015, the number of women in uniform has increased by approximately one per cent.
Guterres said that a key priority is to increase the number of women in peacekeeping both civilian and uniformed. He stressed that evidence shows that greater numbers of women peacekeepers leads to protection responses that are more credible and meet the needs of all members of local communities.
Women in patrol units are better able to reach both men and women in areas of operation, accessing critical intelligence and providing a more holistic view of the security challenges.
Further, the presence of women at checkpoints has been credited with promoting a less confrontational atmosphere, and more women in troop contingents is credited with higher reporting of sexual and gender-based violence and lower incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse.
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