By Janet Tinsley, Africa project director, international programs
As we were driving through Monrovia during a recent project visit to Liberia, a unit of U.N. soldiers caught my attention. United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) troops, or ìblue hatsî as they are commonly known, are a familiar sight around the city, and they eventually blend into the background after a day or so in the country. But this particular unit captured my attention because they were unique ñ they were all Indian women.
Immediately, I turned to our project coordinator who was sitting next to me in the taxi and asked her about them. She explained that they were a special unit of Indian police officers who had been sent to Liberia to serve as U.N. police officers. She said they were also meant to be an inspiration to Liberian women to join the Liberian police.
I was intrigued. The notion of an all-female U.N. peace-keeping unit was interesting enough, because I was not aware of any other. But the fact that they were from India, another country where CFCA works and one with its own unique issues around the status of women, was exciting to me.
When I got home, I did some digging, and I learned that the U.N. has so far sent three all-female Indian units since 2007 to serve in Liberia. The most recent unit was deployed in early February of this year. They are known as the Indian Formed Police Unit (FPU), and their official mission is to provide crowd and traffic control, anti-robbery patrols, and protection for UNMIL staff and assets. But the less tangible attributes they bring to the job may even be more important.
Research from around the world shows that women police officers are adept at resolving conflicts through non-violent means. In a war-weary country like Liberia, this is a very valuable skill, and this makes the FPUís mission very important. The Indian officers also spend time with schoolgirls teaching self-defense techniques, self-esteem and even Indian dance. The presence of the female officers has been an inspiration to young Liberian women and girls, and the nation has seen an increase of women applying to join the Liberian police force.
The Indian women are certainly an inspiration to me, and I hope their presence leaves a lasting impression on the Liberian people, especially the girls, for whom the sky is the limit.