First all-women peacekeeping unit at work in war-torn Liberia

By staff writers
January 29, 2007

The first all-women peacekeeping unit has begun work in Liberia, joining the United Nations Peacekeeping operations. Though they are well armed, they are also developing the use of unarmed and non-violent interventions, “changing the balance of approach”, some experts say.

The specialised Indian police unit, comprising 125 female officers, has received training in conflict diffusion, crowd control, disarming people with weapons, and unarmed combat.

Around 250,000 people have died in 2003 civil war in Liberia, with elections due in the near future. In an interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme Women’s Hour today, a spokesperson for the UN said that it wants actively to encourage the participation of women in such operations – and added that people respond differently to women in conflict situations.

He added that it was a critical time in the country’s history, to ensure that the political process does not slide back into horrific violence after a period of stability under President Ellen Johnson.

Police chief J.K. Dutt said: “This is a unique moment for us, it's a historical moment. Because it is not just the first woman contingent which has been going from India on a UN assignment, but for also the first woman contingent in the world which has been entrusted with a task such as this for maintaining law and order, restoring peace over there so that the country is able to progress.”

The group will undertake joint patrolling and area supervision, besides riot control and training of officers of the Liberian National Police, during its year-long stay in the crisis-hit West African nation.

Non-violence experts point out, however, that this particular unit will be heavily armed and that “the basic assumption is still militaristic”. They hope, however, that there will be “a difference in emphasis” and that the move will "empower women".

The United Nations Mission in Liberia took over peacekeeping duties from the Economic Community of West African states in October 2003 to bring peace between the warring ethnic groups.

Worldwide there are 15 UN-led peacekeeping missions on three continents employing 50,000 operatives. The number of these ‘blue helmets’, a term derived from the symbol of the UN personnel, poses a funding challenge too.

Critics say that the nations of the world need to invest much more in peacekeeping, and the transition away from military to explicitly peacemaking and conflict transformation roles.

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