UNMISS Military Gender Advisor creates network for female troops
On Wednesday 8 February, Major Bettina Stelzer, the UNMISS Military Gender Advisor, organized a first meeting to create a network for female military personnel deployed in South Sudan.
“It is our responsibility to push the headquarters in our respective countries to recruit more female personnel, and to give more of them an opportunity to participate in UN peacekeeping operations around the world”, Major Stelzer told the 21 women gathered in Juba for this first networking and empowering meeting.
Women from Australia, China, Ethiopia, Japan and Nepal, all based in Juba and deployed in the Sector South of the UNMISS Force, were present when Major Stelzer outlined the reasons behind the creation of the female network.
“We, women, have a very real impact on peacekeeping. We have the ability to support local women in building peace and protecting their rights. We can empower women in countries hosting peacekeeping operations by being role models, by showing that they have choices, they can have jobs and careers, just like we have”, Bettina Stelzer says.
Progress in terms of female military participation in UN peacekeeping operations has been made, but it has proven to be slow going. In 1992, the proportion of women among UN military personnel was a paltry 1 per cent. By 2014, that figure had risen to a still rather underwhelming 3 per cent, which also happens to be the current proportion of female military personnel deployed by UNMISS in South Sudan: 349 out of a total of 11,119 UNMISS troops are women.
“It’s an operational imperative to recruit more female peacekeepers”, the Australian UNMISS Military Advisor said, providing a concrete example of why that is:
“Local women talk to us, they can connect with us in a way they just cannot with our male counterparts. They will talk to us about issues that concern all women, particularly incidents of gender-based violence. That has an impact, because that is useful operational information that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. It can let us know what areas that need more protection”.
The network for female military personnel in South Sudan may be in its infancy, but if Major Stelzer gets her way there is more to come.
A Facebook page for female UNMISS troops is in the works, as is a dedicated email group. Both platforms will serve the purpose of allowing women soldiers to share information and experiences, discuss concerns, learn more about each other’s various cultures, network and make new friends. For Juba-based female military, Bettina Stelzer intends to organize regular gatherings, if possible on a monthly basis.
Asked why a network for female troops is created only now, Major Stelzer gives an answer that reflects the lamentable pace of change in this area of peacekeeping:
“I’m the first Military Gender Advisor of UNMISS, it’s a new post and I’ve been here for just seven weeks.”
Facts about UNMISS female military personnel
23 countries have sent women troops to South Sudan.
Ethiopia is the country with the largest number of women troops (103), followed by Mongolia (46), Rwanda and Nepal, both countries with 42 females stationed in South Sudan.