The Untold Story of Challenges and Possibilities for Female Peacekeepers

February 12, 2020

Charity Munganga-Chanda served under the PKO

Serving as Assistant Director Legal and Professional Standards of the Zambia Police Service (ZPS),Charity Munganga-Chanda was determined to become a “Blue Helmet” officer under the United Nations (UN)’s Peacekeeping Operations (PKO), that when her nomination finally came through, she was ready for deployment as part of her ambition to help affected women in countries of armed conflict.

However, she was not prepared for what she saw in her second peacekeeping mission in Sudan, as a war-ravaged country, where her role was predominantly the protection of civilians. “When I was part of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), I witnessed not only armed conflict but also the effects such conflicts have on women and children, who are the most affected. I saw women nurse orphaned or displaced children who are not theirs. I saw women fail to communicate violations and despair. I had never seen such pain in my life, where women could go for days without water, not because they did not want but because there was no access to water.”

Munganga-Chanda’s experience in Darfur whilst serving as a patrol officer meant protecting civilians, revealed the reality of the suffering of Internally Displaced People (IDP), especially women, children and the elderly.

The UN reveals that over 70 percent of those killed in armed conflicts are civilians with a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who suffer from unprecedented and multi-faceted challenges such as sexual violence, displacement, loss of life and economic upheavals.

This acknowledgement has led various stakeholders to employ strategies that would encourage and support more women to join Formed Police Units (FPU) in a bid to ensure women’s participation in peace processes. The strategies designed are in accordance to the UN Security Council, which called for more women’s participation at peace roundtable discussions through UNSC Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000. 

Recognising Zambia’s commitment to peacekeeping and years of embracing refugees and providing shelter and security, the High Commission of Canada in Zambia in partnership with UNDP Zambia organized a roundtable discussion to propose modalities and means of how Zambia, through ZPS, could develop its first Formed Police Unit  - a police peace-keeping unit - which would ultimately mainstream gender in its composition.

The round-table discussion was facilitated by UNDP under the auspices of its Governance programme, which is underpinned by the desire to support the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies as envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is anchored by the General Assembly resolution 71/243 in its seventh preambular paragraph from the UN Secretary General to the Security Council on the United Nations policing.

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Roland Seri noted in his opening remarks, that “a reformed police service is crucial for peacefully managing and transforming conflict, dealing with societal grievances and fostering sustainable development. This illustrates how peacekeeping acts a powerful lever for the promotion of the sustainable development agenda, which is the reason why the UNDP has been associated with the programme”.

He also underscored that UNDP has been working with the ZPS in numerous areas and at various levels to strengthen the institution in order to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs 5, and SDG 16.

An FPU, according to Mr. Seri, is the backbone of the UN Police and inherent part of peacekeeping. 

Seri said, “FPUs play a critical role in supporting UN Operations to maintain or restore peace and security in war-torn or post-conflict countries through the provision of a range of services around three core duties; Public order management, Protection of UN staff and facilities and Support to police operations requiring concerted response to (non-military) threats”.

The roundtable discussion heard how the resolution has led to an increased attention to gender mainstreaming with specific reference to promoting women's participation in peace processes, increasing the numbers of women at all levels of decision-making institutions, and increasing partnerships with local women's organizations, which is expected to increase women's participation in the UN in senior positions, as Special Representatives and in peacekeeping missions and operations.

Ms Munganga-Chanda who was a participant at the roundtable discussion recalled her years as an Individual Police Officer (IPO) in two PKOs by underscoring that there is need for more women to participate in PKOs as it gave women IDPs comfort, connection and freedom to express themselves in various concerns, which could otherwise be left untold.

“As fellow women it was our responsibility to give them emotional support because there is a language between women that crosses traditional and cultural barriers. Just our presence gave women IDPs confidence and trust. We went further and ensured the provision of social and self-sustaining skills,” said Munganga-Chanda. She observed that the effects of war on women IDPs cannot easily be verbalized because many of the experiences she witnessed left her in tears.

ZPS was specifically chosen because of the country’s leadership in UN peace operations and as a trailblazer in women’s participation rates.

According to Mr. Mark Haynes, the Canadian High Commission Liaison Officer, a significant component of the Elsie Initiative is the establishment of bilateral partnerships with one Police Contributing Country, and one Troop Contributing Country. He said, “after a great deal of consideration, analysis and country visits, Canada reached out to both the Ghana Armed Forces and Zambia Police Service to be our bilateral partners, and we are delighted that your political and police leadership accepted. This partnership was approved by 4 Ministers in Canada, and announced by Zambia’s Minister of Home Affairs, in September 2018 at the UN in New York”. 

Seeing this as opportunity rather than a challenge, Munganga-Chanda opted to take a chance on her ambition to help affected women in countries of armed conflict. Her dream was fulfilled because of the social and economic empowerment programmes she was able to participate in to empower women IDPs by building their confidence and abilities to be self-sustaining. Apart from sharing skills in human rights issues that border on gender-based violence, she was Chairperson of the UNAMID Policewomen’s Network, Munganga, a network of Policewomen established to promote and empower women to take up leadership positions in the mission. The network also lobbied for greater number of women in the mission.

“Upon seeing that the numbers of women in the mission was dwindling, we would lobby for more women to be recruited. We also ensured that the women in the mission did not return home the same but that they attained more skills. For example, we encouraged women IPOs to apply for leadership positions and professional jobs in the mission. As for the female Sudanese police officers, we held capacity-building workshops on gender-mainstreaming and confidence building activities,” said Munganga-Chanda.

Munganga-Chanda was also head of the UNAMID Police Component Public Information Office. Having served as ZPS Public Relations Officer, this was not new but a function that exposed her to providing communication support between the Mission and the populations it served. Importantly, was the support she gave to Darfuri women on their rights as well as building their capacity through skills training. She has since become a member of the Elsie Committee in Zambia, an initiative by the Canadian Government.

Launched in 2017, the initiative aims to increase the meaningful participation of women in UN Peace Operations in police and military forces.

Because of her skills and role in peacekeeping missions, where she was able to be of professional support as a Public Information Officer, Munganga-Chanda has been around the country with the Elsie Initiative sensitizing women officers to join peacekeeping operations. She is now a stronger person because of what she experienced in the two missions. She does not take peace for granted. She is now a more resilient woman.

The roundtable discussion was amongst the many areas that UNDP has been working with the ZPS on strengthening institutional capacity. Its thrust was to facilitate and provide agreed recommendations on the formation of an FPU in Zambia.