First-ever Albanian female peacekeepers committed to leaving a mark in South Sudan
Trained as a chemical engineer and a lawyer, one would have thought that Viola Hoxha and Valentina Korbi would be tucked somewhere in the comfort of home in Tirana, the capital of Albania. However, now at the ranks of captain and major respectively, and with considerable experience in the Albanian Army, the two would end up as the first-ever Albanian female United Nations Peacekeepers.
Their mission, they say, “is to help others while facilitating the establishment of contacts with the local female population, develop their capacity and make them relevant to society.”
On how it feels like being the first Albanian female soldiers in a UN peacekeeping operation, the two ladies have ready responses.
“It is not easy!” says Valentina. “The military organization has its own arrangements. But being the first UN peacekeepers, we feel proud,” she adds.
“It is a mission; a difficult assignment that carries a lot of responsibility,” notes Captain Viola Xoxha, now with an 11-year military experience. “The best thing I like is to help others and being here [South Sudan] is one of my dreams, to serve and to help,” adds Viola.
For Valentina, seeing her father in his military uniform inspired her to join the army. Now, though, it is more than just that.
“I must point out that I am in this mission willingly with the intention to contribute modestly to the peace in South Sudan,” she says. “I have been in the Albanian army for 15 years as Legal Advisor to the Albanian Armed Forces, and even though my father was also in the army, the joy of having an opportunity to serve my country was what motivated me,” she elaborates, before adding, “And to be selected to serve in a UN peacekeeping operation such as this, was like an icing on the cake.”
In Bor, the two women work in the intelligence unit of the UN Mission.
“It has been a worthwhile experience so far,” notes Valentina. “Delivering intelligence briefs on the security and intelligence situation is most intriguing and valuable,” she says.
And now, they are already looking to inspire more women back home in Albania by sharing their peacekeeping experience with other female colleagues since several of them would love to participate in a similar mission.
“I appreciate the importance of the mission for its purpose, but at the same time I consider it for my own professional career,” says Valentina. “From the human and personal point of view, this will be an experience that cannot be forgotten easily,” she adds with a smile.
The two peacekeepers have joined UN peacekeeping operations at a time when the Organization’s push for women’s involvement in peacekeeping ranks so high.
According to Viola, there are special needs of women during and after conflict, and “this represents a sector with essential importance that only women can provide. A sector that cannot be neglected in any peacekeeping mission,” she underscores.
Viola also recognizes that the presence of women in peacekeeping operations is essential for many reasons.
First, they facilitate contacts with the local population, and they gain their trust. Women, children and elderly feel more comfortable speaking with a woman.
“Because of their sensitivity, patience and regard towards the needs of the others, women peacekeepers provide an important aspect in the contribution to the national peacemaking processes,” says Valentina, coming in to drive the point home.
“Women can do a lot. Their presence could bring many changes,” Valentina further points out.
“The adequate inclusion of women in peacekeeping operations can serve to foster the political participation of women at the local level of governance. In other words, women employed in peacekeeping operations whether as military or civilian can serve as an inspiration and model for the local population,” notes Valentina.
“We think that it is essential to encourage a bigger participation of women in the peacekeeping operations, by identifying and eliminating the main barriers that constitute an interference for their participation.”
In 1993, women made up only 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. Twenty-one years later, by 2014, out of approximately 125,000 peacekeepers, women constituted 3% of military personnel and 10% of police personnel in UN Peacekeeping missions.