Tanzania: Leaving Women Out of Peace Processes, Blind and Costly Decision

A COLD sweat broke out on Major Justina Gessine’s forehead as she went through the essential items recently donated by Her Highness Sheikah Fatima Bint Mubarak of the United Arab Emirates to Tanzanian women in international peacekeeping.

As she mopped the sweat with her forearm, she explained the items had swept her back to 2016 when she was on a United Nations Peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region of Sudan, as second-in-command in the Tanzanian Battalion.

“It was not easy to get items such as sanitary towels, because supplies were erratic in the wartorn region. While we received some provisions from the Tanzanian Defence Forces, the demand was very high, mainly due to the harsh weather conditions,” said Major Gessine.

She was speaking this week following the ceremony to hand over the items to the women on international peacekeeping missions, at the Peacekeeping Training Centre in Dar es Salaam. The commodities were received by the Minister of Defence and National Security, Mr Elias Kwandikwa from the UAE Ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Khalifa AbdulRahman Al Marzouqi.

Over 12,000 essential items, including sanitary towels, a mix of hygiene and health items, toiletries, and hijabs, will be distributed soon to Tanzanian women currently on peacekeeping missions in the DRC, the Central Africa Republic, and Lebanon. “This support is going to boost the morale of the women peacekeepers, and also enhance the execution of duty,” she said.

In 2016, alongside other women peacekeepers from different countries, the tough women had not only braved the war but also the torturous heat that has since perpetuated chronic food insecurity and water scarcity in this dry and remote region of Sudan.

“Staying hydrated was a matter of life and death. Most of us had not imagined that we would not only fight to protect the local communities but also to survive the harsh weather conditions.” However, there was more to the struggle, as narrated by Major Gessine: “As women, we also had other needs and looking at this consignment, I can only imagine the joy they are going to bring to our colleagues on mission,” she said.

Recently the UAE Ambassador, AbdulRahman Al Marzouqi, said the gift was part of efforts by Her Highness Sheikah Fatima Bint Mubarak, to empower women in the peace and security sectors in and beyond the UAE.

This follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United Arab Emirates and UN Women, under the facilitation of the General Women’s Union, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and the Family Development Foundation in 2018.

“The MoU was signed after the success of the first training with the aim to expand the scope of the support to include other countries in an initiative unprecedented in the history of the UAE and UN Women partnership,” Ambassador AbdulRahman Al Marzouqi said. In support of advancing the provisions of the UN Resolution 1325, a total of 357 women from 17 Arab, African and Asian countries participated in a series of trainings.

The UAE and UN Women partnership is expected to enhance women’s participation, and establish networks that will promote the strategic goals of the UN Resolution 1325.

Critically, the Resolution emphasizes the importance of women’s effective participation in fostering lasting peace and maintaining security through investment in capacity development initiatives and creating gender-responsive peace and security systems that would enable women to equally contribute in all processes and programmes.

The UN Women Representative in Tanzania, Ms Hodan Addou has applauded the launching of the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Women, Peace and Security Initiative by the UN Women Liaison Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “This will enhance capacities of women military officers to lead international peacekeeping missions and also contribute to the creation of gender-sensitive militaries in all countries,” Ms Addou said.

The women in the military in Tanzania also welcomed the initiative, with Major Gessine explaining this would present opportunities for learning through South-South Cooperation. She said while in the Darfur, she had learned that women in peacekeeping have a lot in common.