In Focus: International Women’s Day—Ritu Pandey, Nepal
Captain Ritu Pandey is a 29-year-old army officer from Nepal currently deployed to UNMISS. In this interview, she speaks about being a female military officer, serving in South Sudan and leading an all-women engagement team in deep field locations across the world’s newest country.
Why did you decide to join your country’s armed forces?
I come from a military family – my father and grandfather both served in the Nepalese army. I used to be awestruck whenever I saw my dad in his uniform and always wanted to be able to wear my country’s colours. So, when I finished my education it was the most natural career choice for me.
Did your family and friends support you from the very outset?
Absolutely. Nepalese women have always fought alongside men to defend the country’s honour. Luckily for me, my husband is in the army too, and we’re both currently deployed to South Sudan. We do not need to explain our professional goals and hurdles to each other; life does become easier when your partner is as well-versed in the same profession as you are.
How did you become a UN peacekeeper?
Like the United Nations, the Nepalese army is also doing its best to increase the number of women in its ranks. Across the world, there is a growing realization that women constitute 50 per cent of any society. As such, organizations, even those such as the military and the police, should reflect the societies that they serve. This holds true for peacekeeping operations as well. I was, therefore, nominated by my country to be part of the Nepalese troop deployment to UNMISS.
What are your responsibilities in the mission and what is your typical day like?
At UNMISS I am a military gender focal point and the commanding officer for my battalion’s Female Engagement Team. It’s a challenging role that involves going on regular patrols and ensuring gender is mainstreamed across all activities we undertake on behalf of the mission. What I find most fulfilling is the community outreach activities that we undertake—we’ve done a lot of COVID-19 awareness raising among remote rural populations. More specifically, we’ve also sensitized women and young girls on issues such as mine awareness and menstrual hygiene. Women and children were perhaps the most affected by ongoing conflict and violence in South Sudan and we as an all-female peacekeeping team find it easy to connect, to share hopes, dreams and fears with local women.
What impact do you think female peacekeepers have on the ground?
I believe that when we’re out patrolling, young girls especially get motivated seeing us. They gain confidence from seeing women in uniforms, working with male counterparts. More importantly, I’ve noticed that women open up to us much more. As women and as mothers we share similar concerns about our children, our families. I genuinely feel that female peacekeepers make for more effective peacekeeping overall.
What would you say to young girls and women considering a career in peacekeeping?
Representing one’s own country at the international level and wearing the blue helmet is a matter of pride. My message to every young girl who wants to be a peacekeeper is—go for it. There’s nothing a man can do that you can’t.