In Focus: International Women’s Day – Bindeshwari Tanwar, India
Major Bindeshwari Tanwar is an army officer from India and a mother to a young son. This 34-year-old peacekeeper is married to a fellow officer and, in this interview, speaks about her commitment to protect and serve those who need her help the most.
Why did you decide to join your country’s armed forces?
I was born in the foothills of the Himalayas in India into what we call, an ‘army’ family. My father was in the Indian Army himself and, while growing up, all my friends’ parents were from the same background. I grew up steeped in the rich traditions that accompany uniformed personnel and I wanted nothing more than to grow up and join the armed forces myself. It’s the only way of life I’ve ever known, and I am passionate about it.
Were your family and friends supportive of your career choice from the very outset?
Completely. But then, I’m very conscious that I am one of the lucky ones to be born into the background. When I joined the Indian Army, I met a lot of female officers who had to convince their families that they could go through the rigours of life in the armed forces.
How did you become a UN peacekeeper? Is this your first mission?
There’s a multi-stage selection process in India before an officer can deploy to a UN mission which involves having a spotless career and medical clearance. I’m very glad I managed to qualify and come to South Sudan. UNMISS is my first peacekeeping mission and it’s an honour to represent my country in this dynamic, multicultural peace operation.
What are your responsibilities in the mission and what is your typical day like?
I’m a staff officer at the Movement Control wing of the mission and I’m responsible for monitoring the smooth conduct of the mission’s air operations from Juba. It’s a difficult and challenging role, keeping track of large numbers of mission personnel and cargo moving in and out plus ensuring aviation safety for the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, especially due to frequent, last-minute changes to flight plans because of COVID-19 safety measures. Flight operations are critical in South Sudan, especially during the rainy season, when roads are completely flooded, and our peacekeepers have to reach civilians who need their help. My day begins around 6 am and ends when the last flight has departed safely.
What did your family and friends back home think about your decision to leave your country and work for the UN peacekeeping mission?
To be honest it was a difficult decision to leave behind a two-year-old child and your loved ones during a pandemic. However, I’m very lucky to have a husband who does the same job that I do and understands my need to be of service.
What do you like most about UNMISS and South Sudan?
The opportunity to serve with and learn from colleagues across the world is honestly something that I’ve never experienced before my deployment to UNMISS. I’ve been very lucky and have made friends for life. But what has struck me the most is the resilience and strength of communities across South Sudan. People here have suffered so much but they still welcome you with a smile and with open hearts. It’s been a remarkable journey for me.
What impact do you think female peacekeepers have on the local population?
Like South Sudan, I come from a predominantly patriarchal country. There are defined gender roles that many of us are nurtured into from the time we are children. Female peacekeepers break the stereotypical norm just by their presence on the ground and in patrols. More importantly they connect almost instantly with women and young girls, bringing in enhanced perspectives into the mission’s day-to-day operations. I believe that every woman who serves with the United Nations is an inspiration to the many young girls we encounter from the communities we are sent to serve.
What would you say to young girls and women about considering a career in peacekeeping?
If you get the opportunity to be a peacekeeper, grab it with both hands. It’s an incredibly challenging career—you are away for long periods of time from your family, you serve in harsh conditions, there are risks involved—but it is worth every sacrifice you make.