The goal is to respond to the United Nations’ call to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping missions from 10 to 20 percent.
The Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) seeks to foster women’s interest in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions. The goal is to respond to the UN’s call to troop-contributing nations to increase women’s participation in missions from 10 to 20 percent.
At the end of 2017, the UN released guidelines to facilitate female participation. According to the UN, as of May 2018, more than 90,000 blue helmets of different nationalities participate in 14 peacekeeping operations worldwide. Only about 4 percent of military forces are women.
According to the Peacekeeping Operations Office under the Joint Operations Command of the Brazilian Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, 65 Brazilian service members—armed forces and military police—are currently deployed in UN peacekeeping missions as military observers or as part of the general staff. Of these only nine are women: three from the Brazilian Navy, two from the Brazilian Air Force, one from EB, and three from the Military Police.
The UN’s steps to promote volunteers within the female population include shortening mission time from one year to six months for women with children 5 to 10 years old, developing mission positions with roles other than officer, and creating a female engagement force, a component whose duty would be to embed all troops deployed in the field. For EB Lieutenant Colonel Ivana Mara Ferreira Costa of the Department of Peacekeeping of the Land Operations Command (COTER, in Portuguese), UN guidelines are meant to incentivize women. “The reduction of mission time will allow female service members to better manage their time away from home,” she said.
To encourage female service members interested in taking part in UN missions, EB posted a link on the website of its Directorate General for Personnel at the end of 2017. “So far, of an estimated 3,000 EB career officers and noncommissioned officers, only 49 women enrolled,” said Lt. Col. Ivana Mara.
Another EB initiative consists of enrolling female service members in the peacekeeping mission preparedness internship of the Brazilian Joint Center for Peacekeeping Operations. Some enrollees don’t have a defined mission. “When an opportunity arises, we will have women already prepared,” the officer said.
EB has 42 service members deployed in peacekeeping missions. “There is only one woman in this group, but we already have three candidates to replace service members in these missions,” said Lt. Col. Ivana Mara.
EB service member, a MINURSO pioneer
Lieutenant Colonel Andréa Firmo Louriçal is the only EB female in a UN peacekeeping mission. She joined the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO, in French) as a military observer in April 2018. She is the first female Brazilian service member to take on this role. The officer is based in the city of Laayoune, the administrative center of Western Sahara. Her monitoring duties focus on the maintenance of the cease-fire agreement and operations to reduce landmines and unexploded ordnance in conflict areas between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
The greatest challenge, Lt. Col. Andréa Firmo said, is being separated from her children: two girls, 16 and 12 years old, and a 7-year-old boy. “This is one of the most challenging tasks for a female service member,” she said. “Adapting to operational activities was also difficult. We have to conduct long daily patrols, most of which are near minefields,” she said. The yearlong mission will last until April 2019.
Lt. Col. Andréa Firmo told Diálogo she decided to volunteer to make a difference in the field, and support vulnerable groups in need. “I hope to echo the voices of women and children who need help in areas of conflict,” she said.
According to the officer, her participation may create opportunities for many other women. “I am opening previously unknown paths. I want to be the eyes of other female military colleagues who will come after me,” she said.
An operational need
The presence of women in the field, according to Lt. Col. Ivana Mara, is an essential requirement for mission efficiency. “Female peacekeepers perform a crucial role interacting with the community. When you combine men and women in patrols, the result is much more productive,” she said. The officer deployed to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, in French) in 2013 and in 2017.
“More than a gender issue, a woman who serves in the field is an operational need in peacekeeping missions,” EB Lieutenant Colonel Luiz Cláudio Talavera Azeredo, from COTER’s Department of Peacekeeping, told Diálogo. In 2017, the officer was Sector East chief of operations of the United Nations Multidimentional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA, in French). During his mission, Lt. Col. Talavera Azeredo said, some operations were only carried out with the presence of a female service member. “If there were no female service members in the contingent, then who would conduct on-the-ground screenings of women when necessary?” asked Lt. Col. Talavera Azeredo. “Women have the right to be screened by other women,” he said.
According to Lt. Col. Ivana Mara, EB increased female participation in 2013, in MINUSTAH. “This is when we began to incorporate instructions about sexual abuse and exploitation to prepare the contingent that would deploy to the Haiti mission,” she said. Brazil led the Haiti peacekeeping mission for 13 years. Nearly 30,000 service members participated—among them 200 were women.
According to the officer, a joint man-woman effort is necessary to achieve gender balance in the armed forces. “It’s the responsibility of the UN, governments, international organizations. It’s a commitment for all,” she said.