Thursday, March 22, 2007

All female UN peace unit in Liberia

Via Salon I came across this article in the Christian Science Monitor:
All-female unit keeps peace in Liberia

Behind rows of razor wire, a machine gun peeking over the sandbags is trained on the road below. This is just one of many fortified compounds in the Congo Town suburb of Liberia's war-ravaged capital, Monrovia. But this compound is different, because everyone inside – from the armed guards to the cooks responsible for the inviting scent of curry that wafts around at lunchtime – is female.

The 103 Indian women who have called this compound home since January make up the United Nations' first-ever all-female peacekeeping unit. The women have quickly become part of Monrovia's urban landscape in their distinctive blue camouflage fatigues and flak jackets. They guard the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, patrol the streets day and night, control crowds at rallies and soccer games, and respond to calls for armed back-up from the national police who, unlike the Indian unit, do not carry weapons

This is an interesting development, and there are some pretty sound reasons behind the all-female unit. One of them, is that the UN and Liberia hope that the female soldiers can act as role-models for the Liberian women

Liberian and UN officials hope their presence will help inspire Liberian women to join a fledgling police force struggling to recruit female officers.

There is also a much grimmer reason for it. Protecting the locals against UN troops.

he all-female unit also signifies a revolution in UN peacekeeping, which has been rocked by rape and abuse scandals in recent years, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. Analysts say an increase in female peacekeepers will help limit abuses perpetrated by the very people sent to safeguard the rights of those already traumatized by conflict.

It's good that the UN is taking steps towards ensuring the protection of the people under their care.
However, this step is not enough, since there are not enough female soldiers to maintain all UN missions. Instead there have to be some major changes in the culture of acceptance of such acts. Until the UN clearly signals that rape and abuse is not tolerated, and the people committing it (and allowing it) will be tried for their crimes, then it won't stop.

Another issue that the article doesn't go into, is that all-female units also protects the soldiers against the kind of abuse that has been reported in the US military.

I hope this is a signal of the UN taking their responsibilities seriously, not only to their soldiers, but to the people under their care.

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