India sends first all-woman peace keeping force to Liberia

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Arrival at Monrovia airport Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

An Indian all-female United Nations peacekeeping unit has arrived in Liberia, the first such team to be sent on a foreign mission.

More than a hundred female officers and about 20 men engaged in logistics work flew into Liberia on January 30, where they will receive additional training before starting their mission to strengthen the rule of law and maintain peace in the country. U.N. officials hope an all-female unit can inspire and help Liberian women.

Last year, Liberia elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first female head of state in Africa after two civil wars in the 1990s devastated the country, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. The country now has to rebuild its basic infrastructure and economy as well as come to terms with the violence of the civil wars.

Cquote1.svg We hope that the presence of this all-female contingent will serve as an incentive and an attraction to encourage young Liberian women to join the Liberian National Police Cquote2.svg

—UNMIL Police Commissioner Mohammed Alhassan

Commanding officer of the unit, Seema Dhundia told reporters that the attention her unit has received makes her "a bit apprehensive because now we have to exert more to prove our worth, to prove ourselves,"

Eighty-two female U.N. police officers currently serve in Liberia, as part of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

The UNMIL Police Commissioner Mohammed Alhassan hoped that the all-female contingent will serve "as an incentive and an attraction to encourage young Liberian women to join the Liberian National Police".

The team has served before in troubled areas in central India and Kashmir. Dhundia herself has been a peace-keeper for 19 years and says her team are well trained and experienced and will be able to handle the situation.

A U.N. spokesman viewed the role of the all-female unit to not be particularly different from that of the Jordanian, Nepalese and Nigerian units that have been working in the country. The armed unit is to specialize in controlling difficult crowd situations.

"We hope that the presence of this all-female contingent will serve as an incentive and an attraction to encourage young Liberian women to join the Liberian National Police," said UNMIL Police Commissioner Mohammed Alhassan. The U.N. has set up a special education programme to help women join the police force.

Hopes have been high that the presence of the all-female contingent will encourage victims of rape - which is rampant in the country - to report the crime and that it will make more women interested in becoming police officers and peacekeepers.

U.N. peace-keepers have also been accused of sexual exploitation in the past, and Joanna Foster, the gender adviser to the UN Mission told BBC News that missions employing more women had reported fewer such problems.

Sources



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