News: Shanti Prayas-2 highlights the importance of women in peacekeeping missions
By Lt. Theresa Donnelly, U.S. Pacific Command Public Affairs
PANCHKHAL, Nepal - Experienced subject matter experts at Exercise Shanti Prayas-2 explain the benefits of women in the peacekeeping environment and the valuable role they play in peace support operations.
At Exercise Shanti Prayas-2, Nepal Army Capt. Deepa Khadka seamlessly integrates into a male-dominated military environment, teaching soldiers from 11 platoons, representing 11 nations, how to effectively operate as a peacekeeping team.
"I have learned so much about peacekeeping with the experiences I am getting by training peacekeepers from different countries. We are not only training them, but we are learning from them by gaining their mission experiences from around the world," she said.
Khadka has joined nearly 700 participants from 23 nations as part of Exercise Shanti Prayas-2. Hosted by the Nepalese Army and sponsored by the Global Peace Operations Initiative through U.S. Pacific Command, the two-week training, taking place March 26 to April 7, consists of a senior training seminar, staff officer training and field training.
The exercise exemplifies the Pacific Command strategy, which is in part to build military-to- military relationships. By helping build the capacity of partners and allies involved in this exercise, the U.S. is working to improve the overall stability of the region by building competent peacekeepers that can then improve the proficiency of other peacekeepers.
At all levels of the training, experts from the peacekeeping and humanitarian community help facilitate and mentor international and Nepalese Army and international military trainers so that they will be able to better prepare peacekeepers in their respective nations for future missions.
According to the United Nations, out of approximately 93,800 uniformed military and police peacekeepers from 115 countries, women constitute only 4.1 percent of military and police personnel in UN peacekeeping missions.
Many experts in the field are trying to raise the numbers of women peacekeepers because they say women assist affected communities in ways men cannot. Peacekeepers often must inspect civilians by doing personal searches, and it is particularly helpful to have women search women when it would otherwise be extremely insensitive to have a man do the same job because of cultural beliefs.
"The women usually pose no threat to the civilian populations. In a contentious situation, they can bring about a level of reduction of tension that would allow for meaningful discussion, negotiation and connection with the host population," said Ted Itani, a humanitarian adviser acting as a facilitator for the GPOI team.
Itani also emphasized the power of women talking to other women and how that gives peacekeepers a complete picture of what is happening in a community, a dimension often lacking when peacekeepers are only men.
"Women are an indispensable ingredient to our humanitarian teams. If we don't include women in the peace process, we are denying ourselves at least 50 percent of the power of humanity that could not only win the peace, but secure it for the longer term," he said.
As an example, Itani reflected on his experiences working in the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies doing disaster humanitarian relief in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and three times in Pakistan.
He described the process he took when assessing the needs of the host population. He said that in his experience, men in the community would tell them only their wants, but not what the needs were in a particular area. On the other hand, the women in the community gave a more accurate depiction of what commodities were lacking.
"When these transactions are left in the hands of women, they are an act of humanity. Many times when this is left up only to the men, it becomes an act of power," he explained. "The women are the ones securing the peace, because communication among women is less confrontational, and there's more of a likelihood of a compromise where there is conflict, whereas men by their very nature are prone to act and ask questions later."
At the exercise, facilitators and subject matter experts teach peacekeepers about cultural sensitivities and place large emphasis on how to mitigate sexual exploitation and abuse among other focuses, such as the protection of civilians, code of conduct and respect of human rights.
"Peacekeeping is so different from the missions that a military person normally performs, so you must change the mindset of tactical soldiers into peacekeepers," Khadka said.
For her part, Khadka says she's looking forward to her role as a woman peacekeeper as she's likely to go on a peacekeeping mission next year.
At the field exercise, the Nepalese Army sent two platoons to train on peacekeeping operations, with one of them including 11 female soldiers. In this year’s field exercise, women are also integrated into the platoons from Cambodia, Rwanda, Nepal and the Philippines. And five of the 18 field trainers are women.
As an officer with the Nepal Army for eight years, Khadka says she feels proud of her military service and says she's treated with great respect from her fellow soldiers, and her brother and mother are proud of her.
"It has been very valuable for me to learn from the subject matter experts. Before I came here I was confused on items such as the [United Nations] rules of engagement. Now I think I am confident. I am part of the first group of Nepal female infantry officers to get through our school, so it is a great honor for me to be here," she said.