The Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command kicked off 2019 with a milestone in the history of its participation in peacekeeping missions: Female officers joined the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA, in French) for the first time. The IV Contingent of the Peruvian Engineering Company deployed to Africa on January 14 for one year.
A total of 205 officers of the Peruvian Armed Forces comprise the contingent, which includes 20 women—11 from the Army, six from the Navy, and three from the Air Force. Aside from having the first group of female officers to join MINUSCA, the unit has the highest number of female officers deployed in the same contingent.
The Joint Command seeks to increase female participation in non-war military operations, in line with United Nations’ (UN) recommendations. The contingent also includes officers from the three branches of the Armed Forces to equally benefit from the experience.
“For most people, going abroad is a personal experience that marks the professional life,” Peruvian Army Colonel Carlos Sánchez Silva, head of the Peacekeeping Operations Unit of the Joint Command’s Office of International Affairs, told Diálogo. “It increases personal capacity. It’s a great opportunity, especially to get our female personnel further involved.”
According to the UN, female officer participation in peacekeeping missions is crucial for the success of any operation. The tasks blue helmets perform—collecting information, identifying conflict points to carry out patrols, and providing relief to the people—depend on positive interactions with the community.
UN research suggests female officers win the people’s trust with more ease. In addition, they are more aware of the needs of the most vulnerable members of the community.
“I could also say it’s easier for us to approach women and children who are coming out of a problem related to exploitation or sexual abuse in a conflict,” said Peruvian Air Force Major Pamela Vilela, assigned to Sector West MINUSCA Headquarters in Bouar, capital of the Central African Republic. “A female blue helmet is a role model for women in the community. It’s a fact that women can and must perform a leadership role in conflict resolution and in the transition from conflict to peace.”
In 2015, the UN approved Resolution 2242, intended to double the number of women in military and police contingents within five years. In several reports, the Security Council also encouraged member states to deploy the same percentage of women as within their armed forces. However, a UN report issued in February 2019 showed that female officers represented only 4.6 percent of the close to 75,000 service members deployed in peacekeeping operations and some special political missions.
“We are at 12.2 percent,” Col. Sánchez said. “We are going to increase that participation every year. In 2023 we need to be at 15 percent. I’ll be the head of the contingent next year ; my responsibility is to increase female participation in this type of mission.”
Peruvian blue helmets’ participation in the Central African Republic peacekeeping mission dates back to December 2015. Since then, troops conduct various engineering tasks, such as construction and maintenance of airfields in the country; repair of airstrips, roads, and bridges; upkeep of MINUSCA’s headquarters; and transport of construction material, among other activities.
According to Col. Sánchez, female officers fulfill similar tasks in positions their male counterparts use to occupy. They conduct administrative tasks in human resources, logistics, and protocol, and medicine and mental health.
“In terms of contingents, this is not the first experience,” Col. Sánchez said. “Female personnel participated at MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti]. Women are very responsible in the tasks they are assigned; it’s a distinctive characteristic they have. They’re very persistent and create a transmission, a contagious effect that arises from their strength.”
For Maj. Vilela, the opportunity is key not only for her career, but for Peruvian female officers. “Nowadays, when you talk about Peruvian military women, you’re talking about multitasking women,” the officer concluded. “[They are] women capable of working in any area, without any limitations. I believe that having a mixed Peruvian contingent in Africa for the first time means new challenges that will have a great impact on our country.”