Major Felicia Mswane, fire support co-ordinator (FSC) for MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), is nearing the end of her duty tour in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and will return to South Africa satisfied with a job well done.
A MONUSCO report has it Mswane, whose FSC tasking includes the safety of all involved in any and every operation where fire support is deemed necessary, was given an “immense responsibility”. The major, whose unit is not given in the report, said her decision to volunteer for peacekeeping duty was as a result of the “love to serve” and assist in peacekeeping “knowing my country has invested skills in me to perform in the military and organisations like the UN (United Nations)”.
This passion, along with support from her battalion, helped her overcome the challenges faced by female peacekeepers. “The military, as an organisation, is male dominated. Some countries do not have female commanders in their fighting corps I was the only female soldier deployed with males at times, making access to limited accommodation and ablution facilities difficult.”
On the positive side Mswane said “the UN acknowledges female peacekeepers and puts in place all the necessary support for them, as are commanders who always assist to the best of their ability”.
As of December 2021, women constitute just under eight percent of all uniformed military, police, justice, and corrections personnel in UN field missions. Women are essential to peacekeeping because, the report states, they have greater access to communities through women and children, they hold diverse skillsets in planning and decision making and encourage women to become a part of peace and political processes.
“Having had the opportunity to deploy on the ground, I saw females in military teams make it easier for women and children to feel safe and trust the UN, which works to protect women and children. In times of unrest and conflict, military set-ups provided by the UN in DRC become safe havens for women and children,” Mswane said.
Working in volatile situations peacekeepers can achieve extraordinary outcomes, often leaning on the support of loved ones, which for Mswane meant, “serving and engaging with communities and listening intently to them has been my greatest achievement, along with completing my tour of duty with no friendly fire incidents”.
The UN is working to ensure deployment of more women in uniformed functions through its Women, Peace and Security Agenda as per UN Security Council resolution 1325. This advocates equal participation of women in all sectors of peacekeeping operations. Responsibility for deployment of women in the police and military ultimately lies with member states in terms of willingness and proactivity.