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A matter of honour and privilege: UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Awardee Major Radhika Sen

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United Nations, May 29 (PTI) Major Radhika Sen, an Indian peacekeeper who will be honoured by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with a prestigious gender advocate award here, has said it is a matter of honour and privilege to represent India at the multilateral forum.

Major Sen, who served with the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), will receive the prestigious ‘2023 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award’ from Guterres on May 30 on the occasion of International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

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“This is indeed a matter of honour and privilege for me that I get to not just represent my team but all the esteemed colleagues of mine, the peacekeepers in MONUSCO, and especially my home country India,” Major Sen told PTI in an exclusive interview here on Tuesday.

“Representing the country at such an international forum is a feeling beyond description,” she said.

Major Sen, who served in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from March 2023 to April 2024 as the Commander of MONUSCO’s Engagement Platoon for the Indian Rapid Deployment Battalion (INDRDB), will be awarded by the UN chief during a formal ceremony at United Nations Headquarters here. She is the second Indian peacekeeper to receive the prestigious award after Major Suman Gawani, who had served with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and was honoured in 2019.

Major Sen also met with India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj at the Indian mission. In a post on X, the Indian envoy said: “Major Radhika Sen will be honoured with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award on May 30th for her outstanding service in DR Congo. Her dedication and bravery highlight the invaluable role of #women peacekeepers in building a better world. We are incredibly proud of her achievements and inspired by her commitment to peace and equality.”

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Born in Himachal Pradesh in 1993, Major Sen joined the Indian Army eight years ago. She graduated as a biotech engineer and was pursuing her Master’s degree from IIT Bombay when she decided to join the armed forces. She was deployed to MONUSCO in March 2023 as the Engagement Platoon Commander with the Indian Rapid Deployment Battalion and completed her tenure in April 2024.

Congratulating Major Sen for her service, Guterres said she is a “true leader and role model. Her service was a true credit to the United Nations as a whole.” He said that in an escalating conflict environment in North Kivu, her troops actively engaged with conflict-affected communities, including women and girls. She earned their trust, doing so with humility, compassion, and dedication.

Major Sen said that the main motto of being an engagement platoon commander was to inspire people to do something different. “In any conflict area, it’s always the women and girls who are disproportionately affected,” she said adding that her endeavour as well as that of her team was always to reach out to them, get to know their problems and try to address them. Among the measures they took was to educate and encourage them to speak out against any human rights violations and discrimination.

She added that it is very important in today’s world that women support each other, and fight discriminatory norms that exist in society.

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“Employment also has a very big role to play when it comes to empowering women,” she said.

“At the same time, it is very important for the men to support women, women leadership in every sphere,” she said.

She said that apart from the mission mandate, she and her contingent were involved in creating situational awareness for the people as well as getting to know the security concerns of the local populations, including men, women, the elderly and children.

“We tried to educate women about what their rights are, especially with respect to gender-based violence, the importance of education, and employment for women. We focused a lot on the health issues of women, which included childcare, health and hygiene.”

Focus was also given on training the youth as well as skill development cadres, including baking and tailoring for women and self-defence and English training for children.

Major Sen led mixed-gender engagement patrols and activities in a volatile environment, where many people, including women and children, were leaving everything behind to flee the conflict.

The Community Alert Networks she helped create in North Kivu served as a platform, including community leaders, young people and women to voice their security and humanitarian concerns, which she would in turn help address together with her colleagues in the Mission.

Major Sen facilitated English classes for children, and health, gender and vocational training for displaced and marginalised adults. Her efforts directly inspired women’s solidarity, providing safe spaces for meetings and open dialogue.

As a gender advocate, she encouraged women in the village of Kashlira, near Rwindi town, to organise themselves to address issues collectively, advocate for their rights and amplify their voices within the community, in particular in local security and peace discussions.

India is currently the 11th largest contributor of women military peacekeepers to the United Nations with 124 now deployed. India has traditionally been among the largest troop and police-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions.

In January last year, a platoon of women peacekeepers had been deployed in Abyei as part of the Indian Battalion in the United Nations Interim Security Force, Abyei (UNISFA), India’s largest single unit of women peacekeepers in a UN Mission since it deployed the first-ever all women’s contingent in Liberia in 2007.

On the importance of ensuring enhanced role and participation of women peacekeepers in UN missions, Major Sen said that in any conflict, the majority population that gets affected are women and girls. “Once you increase the number of women peacekeepers, you increase a reach-out to that section of the society.”

“If you increase and employ women in the right role, I think that will help us in reaching out and then addressing the problems of all those who are in conflict,” she said adding that “we also can act as a role model for the society, where people can see how women and men, they work together to bring a positive change in the society.” PTI YAS NSA AKJ  NSA

 

 

 

 

 

 

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