Pakistani Female Engagement Team in MONUSCO

Female peacekeepers improve overall peacekeeping performance in United Nations peacekeeping mission because women have greater access to communities and so they can help in promoting human rights and encourage women to become a meaningful part of peace and political process in conflict zones. Female Engagement Teams (FETs) can better assess the population including women and children, by interviewing, counseling and supporting against violence on women and children in conflict areas, thereby generating critical information that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. FETs help obtain situational awareness that men may not be able to as effectively.
The first Pakistani FET was deployed in Democratic Republic of Congo on June 18, 2019. The team of 15 women provided a range of resources to the region. They were psychologists, stress counselors, vocational training officers, gender advisors, doctors, nurses, operations officers, information officers and logistic officers. The mission of FET envisions engaging women, children and youth of conflict areas for their personal social grooming and to equip them with skills to face challenges of practical life. Some of FET’s roles that we had to perform included:
● Building greater trust within the local community through interactions with the female population and understanding their problems. This helps not only in providing women and children a greater sense of security, but also sharing besides gathering valuable information. 
● FET’s interactions with the local female population during patrols improve information gathering, especially with respect to women and children, allow to assess the security situation and to identify genuine need for quick-impact projects
● Enhancing local women’s engagement at grassroots level and allowing the contingent commanders to develop all-encompassing understanding and resultant strategy to benefit this relatively neglected but needy segment of the population
● Providing psychological support to local women as they cope with conflict related violence, including sexual abuse, and resultant depression and stress
● Conducting special lectures on UN observed mental health days and also encouraging young girls and women to discuss their emotions and experiences
● Delivering awareness sessions for women regarding health, female empowerment, self-protection against violence, child abuse, and other issues
● Conducting training workshops like IT support, handicrafts, etc., for faculty of vocational training centers to introduce new trends
● Spreading awareness about small business programs, community shops, etc.
● Providing technical assistance to local educational institutions in establishment of computer labs and training facilities for enhancing computer literacy of locals
● Providing first aid training to local population and general awareness on importance of female and children’s health. Plan lectures on general hygiene, gynecological issues, and conducting visits and lectures on UN observed health days
● FETs assist command at all levels of command activities to encourage local women to play their role more significantly.

Alhamdulillah, I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the Pakistani FET in 2021. Since I am part of the Pakistan Army Medical Corps, it was a unique experience for me. Having always worked in a hospital environment and then going on to participate in the UN mission, particularly with an infantry battalion, gave me the opportunity to observe Pakistan Army’s operations up close. 
My cognizance regarding the culture and values of African societies increased as a result of participation in many community-level activities during the UN assignment. Security concerns make it difficult for us, but the spirit of serving humanity under the flag of Pakistan Army always raises our emotions. Undoubtedly, it showed me how important it is to assist those in need, even when considering the most basic necessities of life. Poor and needy patients, especially those at medical camps, always appreciate our work because we provide them with complimentary medical examinations, free supply of medication, conduct lectures for them and give them information in the form of leaflets. 
During my UN mission, I became familiar with Long Range Patrol (LRP) and had the opportunity to perform it. I was aware that throughout the patrol, we would need to lug around hefty firearms. But it wasn’t until we got to the area we were supposed to patrol, that I realized we had to wear heavy bullet proof vests. It was then that I noticed how difficult it was as it got harder for me to breathe and was extremely exhausting. On top of that, the weight of the MP5 rifles and vests made it very challenging for me. I think it felt more so because I had little to no field experience having spent my whole career working in hospitals. Every mile of patrol that we conducted was difficult for me to complete but one’s endurance and resolve to accomplish particular life goals are strengthened by these experiences. One particular experience stands out for me; we had to ride in an Army Personal Carriage (APC) vehicle. We arrived in a steep region via helicopter. Our commander told us that they had a surprise for us, so we were excited and eager to find out what it was. We believed that it would be wonderful to receive a surprise in such a stunning location. As pleasurable as the event may sound, it was far from the truth, when we learned that the surprise we were going to receive was that we had to travel by APC to a medical camp, our excitement died. The inside of the APC was a very cramped space. The area was hilly and had no roads, and I worried that the APC would tip over. Although the trip there took only around 25 minutes, it seemed to last a very long time. They reason they had to take us in the APC was for our own safety, since the area was dangerous and vulnerable to raids by rebels. Eventually, we arrived at the medical camp and evaluated patients, including women and children of all ages. It seemed as though the weariness from the challenging travel had vanished as we felt a great sense of satisfaction after taking care of all the patients. To serve under the flag and uphold Pakistan Army’s stellar reputation, soldiers and officers in the force endure all of these trials and adversities. Embracing all the difficulties and tribulations during the mission was definitely worth it for me because it felt good knowing that I actively contributed to upholding peace and helped those in dire need. HH

The writer served in Monusco in 2021.

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