“Serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and being an active member of the network for peacekeeping policewomen in Malakal has been a fulfilling experience. We have nurtured our skills and knowledge and also learnt a lot from our various interactions with local communities, especially the women.”
Sergeant Grace Mushimiyimana, and Inspector Assoumpta Manishimwe, both from Rwanda, speak as one when they talk about their time as peacekeepers. The 240 police officers from their country’s contingent, including 46 women, are about to return home after one year of duty. The time is ripe for the two gender focal points to reflect on their experience.
In 2021, the Rwandan police and other UN police officers serving in Upper Nile State collaborated to create the Malakal UNMISS Policewomen Network.
”Going on patrols has been an eye opener allowing us to see for ourselves that people are living in very difficult conditions, and nobody more so than women and children,” says Sergeant Mushimiyimana.
“Observing the lives of local women made us want to support them and build their confidence by sharing our experience and skills with them. Our duty as peacekeepers is to protect civilians and build and support durable peace, but our wider vision is to contribute to a world in which women’s abilities and rights are strengthened,” Inspector Manishimwe adds.
As times passed by, the policewomen’s network kept growing bigger and stronger. Their activities are often focused on raising awareness on different topics, building the capacity of local women and, when possible, hand over material supplies they may need. Reducing malnutrition, improving women’s health and providing tools for family planning have been some of the network’s key objectives.
“In January 2021, we started a kitchen garden with a group of internally displaced women staying at the Protection of Civilians site. After two months, these female gardeners were happy to see the benefits of their work: local greens and egg plants were ready for harvest. Seeing their continued success is very rewarding for us,” says Sergeant Mushimiyimana.
Another goal, that of giving women conditions to live healthier lives by facilitating adequate female hygiene, has also been at least partially achieved. Together with the other peacekeeping policewomen of the network, the two Rwandese officers have distributed disposable sanitary pads and trained women to sew cloth sanitary pads using local materials. More than a thousand girls and women have benefitted from these initiatives.
But the dreams of Inspector Manishimwe and Sergeant Mushimiyimana don’t stop there. Far from it.
“This cooperation between female police officers serving with UNMISS aims to support peace and resilience by empowering local women and their chances of achieving gender equality, but why stop in Malakal? Our vision is to expand the network to the rest of South Sudan, and why not around the world as well?”