In her role as the MONUSCO Military Gender Adviser in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Major Rachel Grimes noted that Congolese women did not have a platform to engage with UN peacekeepers.
Rachel provided basic training in engagement and dialogue for Swahili and French speaking women soldiers. Their role was to then meet with women’s groups who were not always included in dialogue with male peacekeepers. After the training the servicewomen began to engage more with local women and they provided what is now referred to as a “Mixed Engagement Capability”.
Rachel also facilitated her Force Commander to meet with a women’s group on the edge of Virunga National Park to listen to the threats they faced. Following the meeting he noted that the women were able to provide a wider context to the situation and were also able to provide solutions to the risks they faced..
As a result of her varied experience Rachel now works as the United Nations’ Military Gender Adviser. This role gives her the opportunity to take her experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the “tactical level” to the more strategic, policy-making level. She spends a lot of time focusing on increasing the number of women in military roles and on the education and training of male officers.
Looking back on the deployment in 2014 and how it impacts her role today, Rachel remarked:
Considering gender in a military plan is new to most military personnel. My current role is to ensure officers and soldiers understand how a gender perspective improves operational effect in UN peacekeeping.
Serving with the United Nations is a totally different experience from working in a UK or NATO Headquarters. You have more responsibility for your own security and a vastly different working environment. Whilst New York is literally and figuratively a thousand miles from DRC there are still a number of layers that have to be negotiated in order to achieve change.
My tour in DRC was fascinating, challenging and at times surreal. The same can be said for New York.