Desire Karakire @PeopleDailyKe
Neat in their sturdy boots and camouflage trousers, a group of 200 women gathered in the Amisom basecamp in Mogadishu, Somalia on International Women’s Day (IWD) to celebrate their achievements, address challenges they face and take stock of their contribution to global peace.
The women are a fraction of the 850 female peacekeepers who make up part of the 21,626-strong force of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), tasked with combating outlawed groups such as al-Shabaab.
On a day that the world focused on the contribution of women on a global scale, the female peacekeepers congregated to chart new ways to bolster this contribution to peace, understanding vividly that their struggle for peace is critical for the rights of women and girls, not just in Somalia, but in Africa and the world.
“International Women’s Day is significant to women in peacekeeping, and putting into consideration that the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was launched 18 years ago today, it is important to appreciate the far women have come in promoting peace,” said Stella Maranga, a Gender Officer with the AU Mission.
According to Maranga, as the world marks IWD, equally prominent is a call to action for global policy and decision-making to put into action and practice the foundations of gender equality and equity, so the world can achieve 50/50 representation and participation of both men and women by 2030.
As part of their activities for this year’s celebration, the women representing their various contingents, marched through the expansive Amisom basecamp to demonstrate their solidarity with women all over the world, especially women in Somalia, who have borne the brunt of civil unrest in their country.
“We are spread out across headquarters and rural forward operating bases, in our areas of responsibility, attending to our various mission posts daily,” says Maj. Marvis Katungi, a soldier with the Ugandan contingent.
An International Peace Institute study of 182 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 found that when women are included in peace processes, there is a 35 per cent increase in the probability that a peace agreement will last 15 years or more. But what is it that the Amisom women stand for to boldly call the world to attention to hear their plea of advocacy?
“There is a common misconception that when women call for action on issues such as 50/50 participation and representation, we want half the roles simply portioned off and handed to us for the plain biological fact of our gender.
No, this is not the case,” said Olivia Achieng’, a police officer from Kenya. Amisom Deputy Police Commissioner Christine Alalo, who is also acting Head of the African Union Police in Somalia says: “We do not believe in being handed things. We call for more women in peacekeeping because we have seen what contribution they make”.
Female peacekeepers are a clear example of the impact women are capable of in peacekeeping and a model for women peacekeepers for global policy-makers. The largest and deadliest peacekeeping mission in the world, one would especially think its leadership would shy away from the involvement of women in such difficult and dangerous work as active combat, commonly believed to be better suited for men and restricted in many of the world’s armies.
“Amisom female peacekeepers are an inspiration to many women and men, especially in the host communities across Somalia,” the Head of the Amisom, Ambassador Francisco Madeira Caetano says. “They are members of specialised units, doing critical work to ensure the Mission’s effectiveness.”
Lt. Gen Jim Beesigye Owoyesigire, the Mission’s Force Commander said he could not be prouder of the women who serve under his command. “The women of Amisom are commanders in their units, they are out in the trenches fighting al Shabaab, manning heavy artillery including tanks and massive guns on the frontline,” he says.
Given the undeniable contribution of female soldiers in conflict resolution and peace enforcement, one wonders why they are few. “To address the issues of numbers, we must address the factors that are preventing more women from enlisting into the army. Widespread beliefs such as women are not physically strong enough or emotionally tough to be fit for military work are some of the questions we must factually address,” says Maranga.
There is need to do more from the country level, starting with encouraging and supporting girls to join the military. But one thing is for sure: The women of Amisom are a sterling example of the benefits the world stands to reap from a 50/50 reality.