In what is a landmark in the history of Indian peace-keeping (blue-helmets) missions Major Suman Gawani has been selected as the first Indian woman to receive the United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.
Gawani was given the award for her role as a woman peacekeeper in the conflict-torn South Sudan.
Major Gawani’s served as a military observer in the UN peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) from November 2018-December 2019
Commenting on her achievement, Major Gawani said, “It a great honor to receive this award, which I dedicate with great pride to all Indian peacekeepers. Women and children are the most vulnerable and worst-hit during conflict situations.”
Prior to participating in the peacekeeping mission, Major Gawani who hails from Uttarakhand in India attended specialized training on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) at Nairobi and participated in various UN forums to demonstrate how a gender perspective can help in protecting civilians, especially from conflict related sexual violence.
One of her role supporting the UNMISS Force was to train South Sudanese forces on CRSV related aspects. In course of her tenure, the officer participated in joint military patrols to maintain gender balance, amidst hardships and extreme field conditions. She visited various mission team sites across South Sudan to integrate gender perspective into the planning and military activity in the mission.
Her role was specially appreciated by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during an online ceremony organized in New York. The officer also commanded the UN Peacekeepers Day Parade organised at UNMISS, where she commanded twelve contingents of UNPOL, Military and Civilians.
India has a long tradition of sending women on UN peacekeeping missions.
More than 200,000 Indians have served in 49 of the 71 UN peacekeeping missions established around the world since 1948.
In 2007, India became the first country to deploy an all-women contingent to a UN peacekeeping mission. The Formed Police Unit in Liberia provided 24-hour guard duty and conducted night patrols in the capital Monrovia and helped to build the capacity of the Liberian police.
Indian peacekeepers have also brought the ancient Indian practice of yoga to UN missions.
But Major Suman Gawani deserves the credit for being the first Indian woman to get the Gender Advocate of the Year Award.
All this is symbolic of a long and honorable journey for the Indian blue helmets in distant lands ahead.