For the first time in the history of Colombia’s participation in peacekeeping missions, a female Army officer deployed to North Africa. Colombian Army First Lieutenant Zuly Vannesa Lugo Varón works as a military peace observer since February in the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO, in French).
The participation of 1st Lt. Lugo is a landmark for the Latin American nation, and reaffirms the Colombian Military Forces’ commitment to integrating women and ensuring equal opportunities. According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense’s latest 2020 data, women represent 9 percent of the total Armed Forces.
“Colombia is committed to working on equality issues,” Karen Pineda Mejía, a member of the Ministry of Defense’s Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, told Diálogo. “Based on the experience that the first lieutenant might gain, this will motivate those who follow her to better prepare for participating in more missions.”
First Lt. Lugo, 27, who comes from a family with a military tradition, is fluent in English and trained for peacekeeping missions through the Colombian Navy’s Training Center for Peacekeeping Operations (CENCOPAZ, in Spanish). Her military background also includes advanced courses in combat, parachuting, free jump, and infiltration at high altitude.
As a peace observer, the officer will participate in a mission that seeks to put an end to the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front — the liberation movement that represents the native Sahrawi population — that dates back to the 1970s. First Lt. Lugo will deploy and conduct her observations on Moroccan soil.
According to January 21, 2020 United Nations (U.N.) data, MINURSO has 186 service members, 43 of which are women. The U.N. Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy, launched in 2017, targets to reach between 15 and 35 percent for female personnel representation in all its peacekeeping missions by 2028.
“Female patrol units are able to communicate better with men and women in areas of operations, have access to essential intelligence, and offer a more holistic approach to security problems,” said António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, during a Security Council session in mid-2019.
First Lt. Lugo will serve in the Western Sahara until February 2021. “I’m going with the best attitude to make a name for Colombia, the Army, and myself, because it depends on me that they continue to send more women next year ,” the officer said.