Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) Lieutenant Maria Aparecida de Almeida contributes to the pioneering history of women in the institution. The officer will be Brazil’s first female service member to participate in a peacekeeping mission in Abyei, South Sudan. She will serve as a military observer in the United Nations (UN) Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
UN Security Council Resolution 1990 established UNISFA on June 27, 2011. The focus of the UN mission is to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian aid, and monitor and verify the demobilization of armed Sudanese forces to demilitarize the area. During her tour in Abyei, Lt. Maria Almeida will monitor, review, and report to the competent authorities from March 2018 to March 2019.
According to the UN information, the region’s 50-year-old territorial conflict forced more than 100,000 people to abandon the area. UNISFA counts with 4,841 professionals responsible for local security—4,791 service members and 50 police officers—as well as support from non-governmental institutions.
Shortly before her deployment, Lt. Maria Almeida explained to Diálogo that Abyei is an oil-producing region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, which has been one of the main points of tension since the peace agreement of 2005. “This is a heavily disputed border region for socio-political and economic reasons. It’s also disputed between the Misseriya tribe, a Muslim group from the north, and the Dinka Ngok tribe, who are Christians from the south,” she said. “The people of Abyei predominantly belong to the Dinka Ngok tribe.”
The opportunity to participate in the mission is very gratifying for Lt. Maria Almeida. “Beside the personal and professional satisfaction, I hope that my work will contribute to guaranteeing the preservation of human rights and peace among people during my operational role there,” she said.
Training in Brazil and abroad
The officer trained for the mission at the Naval Peace Operations School, located at Almirante Sílvio de Camargo Training Center in Rio de Janeiro. “My training was taught by service members experienced in peacekeeping missions. I’m certain that the lessons learned will help me carry out my duties during the peacekeeping mission,” Lt. Maria Almeida said.
In addition to the training completed in Brazil, the officer will also take two more courses before she can actually begin exercising her new role. The first one-week Initiation Training will be completed in Entebbe, Uganda, where she will get her first briefings on the mission, mainly related to security. The other weeklong course will be in Abyei, Sudan, the actual site of the mission. “I’ll learn about specific situations that happen in the area, and I’ll also take tests in English and driving in a 4x4 vehicle,” she said.
The importance of women in conflict zones
Lt. Maria Almeida noted that the UN increasingly encourages female participation in peacekeeping missions in conflict zones. “Women in these regions are more vulnerable to violence in general. It’s extremely important for women to join these missions. Providing shelter and support to someone of the same gender tends to be more effective,” she explained, adding that the increased number of women in field activities during UN missions created the opportunity to participate in the mission in Abyei. “This is the first time that I’ll participate in a mission abroad.”
As for being the first female Brazilian officer to serve in that role in Abyei, Lt. Maria Almeida said that she feels confident and happy, because she believes in the importance to stir interest in peacekeeping missions among other service women. Self-confidence, she said, is a must for anyone who wishes to take part in more operational activities. “We’re capable, regardless of the circumstances, even facing imminent danger. We believe that obstacles makes us stronger and to have confidence is knowing that we’ll achieve our goals,” she said.
The officer rejoiced in the growth of women’s roles in MB with the recent authorization to admit women to officer training courses at the Brazilian Naval Academy. “It’s an unequivocal testimony to the Navy’s dedication as an institution to embrace social changes. It was the first of the three service branches to integrate women into its ranks,” she pointed out. “That accomplishment shows that the Navy recognizes us for our competence to fulfill any given task.”
Lt. Maria Almeida joined MB in 1998 as a seaman, but always sought professional growth as a service member. In 2004, she became a sergeant. With a degree in Accounting, she was promoted to the officer ranks in 2010. Over the course of her professional career, her duties focused in the financial area, as supervisor of the Budget Office, accounting analyst for Military Service Providers, budget manager, financial manager, bidding agent, broker, and requisition assistant.
Brazil’s participation in peacekeeping missions
According to the Ministry of Defense of Brazil, the country’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions continues to increase. “About 250 Brazilians, including Armed Forces service members and police officers, contribute to peace building and peacekeeping in conflict areas,” the Ministry of Defense stated on its official website.
Since the beginning of Brazil’s participation in peacekeeping missions, the country took part in 50 UN missions and sent about 50,000 service members abroad. In addition to South Sudan, Brazilians also serve as military observers and General Staff officers in missions in Cyprus, the Central African Republic, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan.