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World Liberia's sister squad

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Jun 17, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Liberia's sister squad

    Liberia has not yet fully recuperated after a civil war that ended in 2003 – in fact it looks set to slide back into violence. As the UN calls on the international community to help maintain the peace, female police officers from India are already on the case. The world's first all-female UN peacekeeping squad, the brainchild of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has been patrolling the streets since 2007. Its commander, Seema Dhundia, talks about their progress and the public's reaction

    I wanted to be a teacher when I was growing up – and it's a job that still appeals some nights when I'm ducking mortars in a conflict zone. That life would be so much more comfortable – the nine-to-five definitely has a charm.

    But I was born into the military. My father was a soldier and my brother a pilot. I remember loving their uniforms. When I was 20 I got the chance to wear one of my own, when I joined India's first female battalion.

    Here in Liberia, so many victims of strife are women. In Monrovia, the capital city, they put their lives at risk every time they step out into the street. My troops are caring, we know how to behave and we understand the issues affecting women and children; two-thirds of my peacekeepers are mothers.

    When we first arrived in Liberia, enthusiasm among the locals was high. Some still saw women as too weak, but others hoped that the male peacekeepers, who had sometimes behaved very harshly, could be completely replaced in some areas of the country.

    Now women peacekeepers are a visible roaming force on Monrovia's streets and people tell us that they feel safer. They come up to talk to us. I have met victims of domestic abuse who say that just having strong women in the public eye is an improvement, that our presence makes women feel stronger and men think twice about resorting to violence.
    My girls have become role models for young women – Liberians are such vibrant people but the women have been held back for so long. Since we arrived, there has been a surge in the enrolment of girls in schools and more women are applying to join the national police force here. It makes me very proud.

    The local press has been fairly supportive. They know that our being here sends out a positive message to women that they need no longer live in fear. I don't know what will happen in the long term, but this has to be a good start.

    It's not an easy job and I have to keep morale high for my girls. As a commander, I have to know the strength and abilities of the troops. It's vital that the women are all mentally tough and physically fit – the squadron stays in peak condition with rigorous training. To deal with the stress of the job they practise yoga and meditation.

    I am responsible for every woman in the squad and everything they do – from their discipline to their conduct and their welfare. We come from a variety of backgrounds and faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist – but there's never a conflict. For all of us there is only one faith: "service and loyalty", the motto of our organisation. We observe and celebrate all the festivals together – and with same enthusiasm.

    Although many of them are battle-scarred, few of the women have ever worked abroad before. We are thousands of miles away from our families and many of us have left young children behind in India. I have a 10-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. My husband is also in the military, working as an officer in the National Security Guards.

    My family sometimes gets upset when I'm not able to spare time for them. I often have to miss out on family events because I'm overseas. I've missed festivals, family weddings, my children's birthdays and even my own wedding anniversary a number of times because of my job.

    It's hard on my marriage, too. My husband and I try to maintain trust and confidence in our relationship, but frequent separations and uncertainties can make both of us emotionally weak. However, I think our relationship is strong enough to sustain the pressure – after all it's only because of my family's unflinching support that I have been able to reach this level in my career.

    I believe that women have proved their worth on the front line. Women are more disciplined, task-oriented and dedicated. We are also more approachable and can make children and other women feel safer. With the right training, all-female squads can make a big difference in conflict zones. The next generation of women peacekeepers is already being trained up.

    Liberia's sister squad | World news | Guardian Weekly

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