UN: Award-winning Kenyan Peacekeeper Sparks Confidence in Empowering Women in Military 

With the result of the award-winning Kenyan peacekeeper, the United Nations system is now more convinced that empowering women in the military should remain a top priority

Just two months ago, the Under Secretary-General  for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, was hammering that achieving the goal needs “all hands on deck”.

UN chief, Antonio Guterres, has lauded 32-year-old Military Gender Advisor Steplyne Nyaboga who served in the recently completed UN-African Hybrid Union Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), for the excellence of her work, for which she was awarded the 2021 UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.

“Peace and security can only be achieved and sustained if all members of society have equal opportunities, protection, access to resources and services and can participate in decision-making”, he said.

“Through her efforts, Major Nyaboga introduced new perspectives and increased awareness of crucial gender dimensions across the Mission and helped strengthen our engagement with Darfuri women”, Guterres added.

Mainstreaming gender dimensions

Reflecting on her peacekeeping role, Major Nyaboga said that she was “elated” that the UN’s efforts in serving humanity have had a positive impact and were being recognized.

“Peacekeeping is a human enterprise: placing women and girls at the centre of our efforts and concerns, will help us better protect civilians and build a more sustainable peace”, she said.

Major Nyaboga deployed to the UNAMID mission in February 2019. Throughout her two years in Zalingei, a town in western Sudan, she worked diligently to mainstream gender issues in military activities by bringing awareness to dynamics in the field.

 

Specifically, she encouraged gender-sensitive outreach to local communities, to enhance civilian protection. She also focused on gender education for other military peacekeepers, training nearly 95 per cent of the UNAMID’s military contingent by December of last year.

Additionally, she advised the force on how to better identify and integrate the needs of vulnerable men, women, boys and girls into UNAMID’s analysis, planning and operations – a move that greatly improved the mission’s understanding of, and response to, protection needs.

Working together with human rights, gender and communications colleagues, the Major also organized campaigns and workshops for staff and civil society activists to address issues affecting Darfuri women and girls.

Awarding gender actions

Created in 2016, the Award recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of the landmark UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in a peace operation context.

Nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations, Major Nyaboga is the first Kenyan peacekeeper to receive the prestigious accolade.

It will be awarded to her during a ceremony online, presided over by the Secretary-General on Thursday, International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

“The United Nations remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that women sit at the political table and make their full contributions to peace, and Major Nyaboga’s dedication has advanced the vital clause”, said the UN chief.

Lacroix was was however speaking in March this year at a side event focusing on “Women Leaders in the Military”, part of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSM).

“Increasing women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in UN Peacekeeping has become one of the top priorities of my Department”, said Lacroix, adding that “it is anchored in the Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, and in the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping Initiative(A4P).

The guiding framework for peacekeeping over the past three years, A4P aims to increase the number of civilian and uniformed women in peacekeeping at all levels and in key positions.

“It will continue to be a priority for the next phase”, Mr. Lacroix underscored.

Slow progress

Despite making great strides towards achieve gender parity within uniformed components of peacekeeping missions, Mr. Lacroix said progress overall remains slow.

In January 2021, less than one-fifth of Military Experts on Mission and Staff Officers were women and made up only 5.4 percent of personnel in military units.

Lacroix noted that two women are currently serving in the most senior military level within the 12 field missions: one is the newly appointed Force Commander in the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus (UNFCYP), and the other is a Deputy Force Commander in the Western Sahara mission, MINURSO.

“We still have a long way to go, but we are seeing progress,” he said.

Diverse leadership

“Diverse leadership and teams bring diverse perspectives so we can take better decisions and improve our operations,” said Lacroix, stressing the need to “ensure that this is rectified, that barriers are broken, and that more women can make it to the top positions.”

He went on to emphasize the importance of recognizing women’s leadership in different roles and positions, as well as creating enabling environments, at Headquarters and in the missions, to allow peace operations to be effective and succeed with their mandates.

The UN peacekeeping chief also highlighted initiatives focusing on gender parity such as professional development, networks and mentorship, talent management, and workplace culture. Initiatives are also in place to combat sexual harassment, discrimination, unconscious biases and stereotyping.

Advocates and agents

“The Department of Peace Operations depends on the collaboration with all contributing countries,” said Lacroix, stressing that everyone, regardless of gender, needs to be engaged as “advocates and agents of change for gender equality.”

He urged Troop Contributing Countries and all peace contributors, to recognize gender equality, women, peace and security and gender parity as a shared political priority and continue to allocate resources and political will to this cause.

“We certainly cannot do this alone”, he said.

 

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