International Day of UN Volunteers: Sarwah Qader, Iraq

unmiss south sudan northern bahr el ghazal aweil gender affairs officer unv equality serving for peace

Sarwah Qader from Iraq is a Gender Affairs Officer serving with UNMISS in Aweil who very much enjoys her varied tasks as a UN Volunteer. Photos: Emmanuel Kele/UNMISS

5 Dec 2022

International Day of UN Volunteers: Sarwah Qader, Iraq

Emmanuel Kele/Filip Andersson

NORTHERN BAHR EL GHAZAL – Sarwah Qader from Iraq is currently serving for peace in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). A Gender Affairs Officer, Sarwah convenes and connects with community members every day to ensure that the voices of women are fully included in peacebuilding. In this short conversation, Sarwah tells us why her job is so meaningful.

Tell us a bit about your yourself.
I have grown up with stories about war. Being from Iraq, conflict is nothing new to us. So, from an early age I was always committed to building peace because I had firsthand experience of what the alternative looked like, especially the devastating toll on women and girls. UNMISS is my first UN Peacekeeping mission and I’ve also worked with several international nongovernmental organizations.

Could you tell us a bit more about your job and the impact you have on the ground every day?
Being a Gender Affairs Officer, I am an advocate for equal rights for women every day. On the ground in Aweil, I usually don’t sit in an office but am in the midst of communities raising awareness on the need for women to be fully included in politics, governance and decision-making. South Sudan has an overarchingly patriarchal structure and though women constitute 50 per cent of society, their voices are often not heard or counted.

My work ensures that we trickle down the understanding among entire communities—women, men and children—that sustainable peace is only possible if women are fully empowered to participate in taking decisions that impact them directly. With South Sudan fast approaching elections, equal rights for women are critical, I believe.

The other important arc I work on is preventing and ending violence against women and affecting behavioral change slowly but surely by lobbying for an end to harmful cultural practices such as early or forced marriages for girls.

What do you like most about being a UN Volunteer?
Being a UN Volunteer has enriched my own practice as a gender equality advocate. My skills, experience and time have been valued by UNMISS and I have been lucky enough to work on programmatic issues that lie at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve as the world’s largest UN Peacekeeping mission – upholding human rights and shoring up support for gender equality so that peace can be durable. It’s a cause larger than myself.

What’s one thing you have learned since starting your mission?
I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that you must practice what you preach. If you interact with community members, you must be authentic. I believe in equality, and I believe that women and girls are anchors of peace across the world. I think it is my own conviction that has allowed me to be an effective bridge between host populations and UNMISS. It’s been a steep but rewarding learning curve.  

Do you have a message for other young people who want to follow your career path?
There’s nothing more fulfilling than serving for peace. I strongly urge all young people to join the UN Volunteer programme and, if they are lucky, they will be deployed to a UN Peacekeeping mission. It’s not easy, but you truly make a tangible difference in improving people’s lives as a peacekeeper.

Any message for the people of South Sudan?
My message to the people of South Sudan is to encourage them to uphold human rights, including the rights of women. My dearest wish is to see this rich and vibrant country have a peaceful, prosperous future.