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STORY: The Women of AMISOM; Pressing for

Progress Towards 50/50

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Under a clear sunny morning in Mogadishu, Somalia, two hundred women have gathered
within the AMISOM basecamp, situated in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa country’s
International Airport. Even if they are adorned in regular matching white, pink and blue t-
shirts with uniform branding on their backs, it is hard to misunderstand what they are and
who they represent.

Neat in their sturdy boots, camouflage trousers and with vibrancy in each one of them, the
women are a fraction of the eight hundred and fifty (850) female peacekeepers who
currently make up part of the 22,130-strong force of the African Union Mission in Somalia,
AMISOM, combating the militant group Al-Shabaab and other armed actors to enforce
peace and restore stability.

They have gathered in the capital city today to take stock of their contribution to global
peace, to mark International Women’s Day. Importantly, they are congregating to chart new
ways to bolster this contribution for the sake of the ordinary woman, understanding vividly
that their struggle for peace is critical for the rights of women and girls, not just in Somalia,
but in Africa and the world.

“Women’s Day has a special significance to women in peacekeeping. The United Nations
Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security also was launched 18
years ago today,” Ms. Stella Maranga, a Gender Officer with the AU Mission notes. “It is a
very exciting day for the women of AMISOM,” she adds.

According to Ms. Maranga, International Women’s Day is a celebration, of women in this

part of sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. Equally prominently, it is a call to action for
global policy and decision-makers to put into action and practice the foundations of gender
equality and equity, so the world can achieve 50/50 representation and participation of both
men and women by 2030.

As part of their activities for this year’s celebration, and the reason for their assembly under
the scorching tropical sun this morning, the two hundred women, representing their various
contingents, will march through the expansive AMISOM basecamp to demonstrate their
solidarity with women all over the world, especially Somali women who have borne the
brunt of insecurity in the Horn of Africa where they serve.

“We are spread out across headquarters and rural Forward Operating Bases in our Areas of
Responsibility, attending to our various Mission posts daily. Today is special because it’s a
day we get the chance to come together in large numbers, know one another and advocate
for a common cause dear to all of us as women in peacekeeping,” Lt. Col Glenna Josephine
Nicholson, an officer from Sierra Leone says.
Once they arrive at the imposing prefabricated JMTC conference hall on the other end of the
camp, they will have reached their destination. Here, they will settle down to a four-hour
conference where they will be joined by their Somali counterparts. Together the women will
exchange views and insights amongst themselves and with the Mission leadership, for the
purpose of advocating for more women to serve not just in Somalia and specifically the AU
Mission, but in peacekeeping across the globe.

An International Peace Institute study of 182 peace agreements signed between 1989 and
2011 found that when women are included in peace processes, there is a 35 percent
increase in the probability that a peace agreement will last fifteen years or more. But what is
it exactly that the AMISOM women stand on to boldly call the world to attention to hear
their plea of advocacy?

“There is a common misconception that when women call for action on issues such as 50/50
participation and representation, we want half the roles simply portioned off and handed to
us for the plain biological fact of our gender. No, this is not the case,” Chief Inspector of
Police Mavis Kabila, a lively police officer from Zambia, chipping in in the spirited mid-
morning discussion submits. “We make the call because we know well that we can back it up
with practical facts and evidence-based arguments detailing our vast contribution.”

Ms. Christine Alalo, AMISOM’s Deputy Police Commissioner, now acting Head of the African
Union Police in Somalia and the Mission’s top woman in leadership agrees. “We do not
believe in being handed things. We call for more women in peacekeeping because we have
seen what contribution they make. We recognize, our leadership recognizes, the continent
and the world recognize, the difference we have made in the cause for peace in Somalia. We
have put in the work and we see how much we have changed.”

Commissioner Alalo adds that had they been of even a bigger number than they are
currently, this impact would be multiplied several times over.

The African Union Mission in Somalia is a clear example of the impact that women are
capable of in peacekeeping and a model for women in peacekeeping for global
policymakers. The largest and deadliest peacekeeping mission in the world, one would
especially think its leadership would shy away from the involvement of women in such
difficult and dangerous work as active combat, commonly believed to be better suited for
men and restricted in many of the world’s armies.
“AMISOM female peacekeepers are an inspiration to many women and men, especially in
the host communities across Somalia,” the Head of the AU Mission in Somalia, Ambassador
Francisco Madeira Caetano says. “They are members of specialized units, doing critical work
to ensure the Mission’s effectiveness. They are out in the towns building the capacity of
their Somali counterparts in the security sector and they stand with the local Somali woman
every day.”

For Lt. General Jim Beesigye Owoyesigire, the Mission’s Force Commander, he could not be
prouder of the women who serve under his command.

“The women of AMISOM are commanders in their units, they are out in the trenches
fighting Al-Shabaab, manning heavy artillery including tanks and massive guns on the
frontline,” he says. “They are in Information and Communication Technology sectors,
providing critical IT support and gathering intelligence to enable operations and keep entire
battlegroups alive and safe. In the offices, they are in administration and in leadership and
work with their male colleagues to ensure that battalions stay organized, accountable and

Given the undeniable contribution of female soldiers in conflict resolution and peace
enforcement, one wonders why there aren’t more of them in peacekeeping. Of the forces
serving in the many Missions across the world, less than 5 percent are women. According to
Ms. Stella Maranga, the issue of the number of women in these operations starts first and
foremost with the number of women in the militaries that contribute the peacekeeping
troops themselves.

“To address the issues of the small numbers of women deployed in Missions, we must
address the factors that are preventing more women from enlisting into the army.
Widespread beliefs such as women are not physically strong enough or emotionally tough
enough to be fit for military work are some of the questions we must factually address,” she

Inside the world’s missions such as AMISOM, however, the absence of appropriate and
adequate facilities necessary for female soldiers to maintain proper health in physically and
mentally less than ideal conditions is a deterrent to the willingness of countries to deploy
their female troops, Ms. Maranga adds. Increasing funding to peacekeeping would be one of
the ways to solve this problem.

Having, for years, called for increased, predictable and sustainable funding for its operations
with little and slow response from the international donor community, AMISOM continues
to grapple with delivering an ambitious mandate within limited resources. The Mission also
took cuts on troop allowances two years ago, of up to 20 percent, when its biggest donor,
the European Union cut its funding over competing priorities.

There is need to do more from the country level all the way into the missions, starting with
encouraging and supporting girls into the military, and female peacekeepers such as the
women of AMISOM have a big role to play in this endeavor, being frontline role models for
the world. Whether global leaders will heed their call and tackle the issues hindering the
participation of more women in peacekeeping is another story. But one thing is for sure: the
women of AMISOM are a sterling example of the benefits the world stands to reap from a
50\50 reality.