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Engagement - Women play a pivotal role in peacekeeping


Peacekeeping has come to play a crucial role in management of emergency situations around the world. India, interestingly, has carved out a niche for itself in this international peacekeeping role. The country first participated in a UN peacekeeping mission organized by the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in the Middle East in 1948 and, since then, has participated in nearly 65 UN missions. It has so far deputed more than 1,76,000 troops on various missions and achieved the distinction of being the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions after Pakistan and Bangladesh. In coordination with the Military Training Directorate, the ICRC Regional Delegation in New Delhi has been conducting International Humanitarian Law (IHL) training programmes for units assigned to UN missions since 2005.

The CRPF women’s contingent being sent on a peacekeeping mission to Liberia under the UNMIL attends a briefing conducted by the ICRC. © ICRC

As peacekeeping has progressed to embrace a wider humanitarian approach, women are increasingly becoming part of the peacekeeping process. This deployment of women peacekeepers is important as the vulnerabilities of women and children in areas that require peacekeeping are specific and different from those of men. Also, since women very often are deprived of the decision- making processes, their inclusion in such missions is seen to significantly boost the confidence of the local people and to help increase reportage of gender- based violence. It was the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in India that was the first to take a progressive step in 2007 by including a women’s contingent in its Rapid Action Force (RAF). The first all- women contingent in a peacekeeping mission — a formed police unit from India — was deployed to the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

The ICRC, led by D.K. Arya, IPS (Retd), Consultant to the ICRC, recently organized a dissemination session for a 126-member women’s contingent deployed for peacekeeping duties under the UNMIL. Some members of the contingent had previous experience of working for the UNMIL and said that they had instinctively understood and ingrained local social sensibilities and, therefore, were very well accepted. The Assam Rifles contingent that went to Haiti previously reported a similar experience.

This training session focussed on International Human Rights Law and good practices and IHL and endeavoured to sensitize the women to mission- related issues. The session also presented hypothetical scenarios based on real-life cases, while emphasizing the importance of understanding religious, social and cultural patterns of local people.

Talking about the impact of such pre- deployment trainings, Indian Air Force Wing Commander (Retd) Praful Bakshi, Consultant to the ICRC, says, “A few years ago, I had trained an Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent that was heading for Congo and one of the IAF pilots wrote back to the ICRC detailing situations in which the security personnel upheld humanitarian values and how the pre-deployment training helped them earn a good name during their missions.”


A CRPF woman officer shares her experience of IHL training
ICRC staff responds to queries of the women police contingent being sent on a peacekeeping mission to Liberia under the UNMIL 

ICRC staff responds to queries of the women police contingent being sent on a peacekeeping mission to Liberia under the UNMIL

This is the second ICRC training on International Humanitarian Law I have attended. I clearly remember the lessons I learnt in the first training. Thanks to the dissemination material distributed in the first training and the recent pre-induction capsule course, my knowledge on the subject has been enhanced. I now have a better understanding of certain situations we commonly face in the line of duty and how to best address them while respecting IHL and human rights. For instance, how to respect someone’s rights while arresting him or her in a situation of agitation or what precautions to take while using firearms. The aim of our peacekeeping mission in Liberia is to maintain law and order in that country with complete understanding of the human rights and, hence, this learning and dissemination material will surely be of great use.

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