South Asia and Beyond

A Girl Can Do Anything, My Father Told Me About Joining The Army: UN Awardee Major Suman Gawani

NEW DELHI: Meet Major Suman Gawani, India’s first peacekeeper to be selected for the prestigious UN Military Gender Advocate Award. Major Suman served as a Military observer in UNMISS(United Nations Mission in South Sudan) from November 2018 to December 2019. On her mission, she was the principal focal point of contact for gender issues for Military Observers in the mission. She and Brazilian Navy Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, working in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) receive the award during an online ceremony presided over by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29, 2020.

Major Suman Gawani, in this interview with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P Revi recounts her role in CRSV(conflict related sexual violence), mentoring over 230 UN Military Observers and training South Sudanese government forces including women soldiers to launch action against CRSV. The UN and other agencies have documented the masssive scale of CRSV especially violence against women including abduction for sexual slavery, rape and gang rape, forced marriage and forced abortion.

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Major Gawani traces her inspiration to her father and a small village, Pokhar in Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand. An inspiration that she mirrors in South Sudan, when a soldier tells her, his 2-year-old daughter should follow in her footsteps. The Indian Army Corps of Signals officer also points out the barriers she broke on the ground to reach out to villagers hit by violence over 2500 kilometres away from Indian shores. Patience, she says, is one of the virtues she has brought back, especially after learning how to command twelve contingents of UNPOL(UN Police), Military and Civilians at the UN Peacekeepers Day Parade at UNMISS exactly a year ago. She also elaborates on UN goals to increase women peacekeepers across the globe

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war. But that didn’t bring conflict to an end. Civil war that broke out in 2013 after a fallout between President Salva Kiir and then vice-president Dr Riek Machar(who is back in that post) has displaced more than four million people. A power-sharing deal in 2018 is trying to end that conflict. Peace is still on a tenuous return, though, in South Sudan. The deal signed between President Kiir and Dr Machar has broadly stopped a conflict that has killed an estimated 383,000 people and left most of the over 12 million people facing malnutrition and severe food insecurity. The UN estimates more than 2.4 million are internally displaced or refugees in the region. India has over 2,500 men and women under the UN umbrella in the country. India’s Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar is the UNMISS Force Commander. Overall, India has been the largest contributor to peacekeeping missions worldwide, suffered the most casualties and taken part in the maximum missions in history.

Amitabh P. Revi

Russian language speaker and conflict journalist. Amitabh Revi has been there, done that—from the battlefields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to sublime Russia, Australia and the United States. Along the way he's picked up the Dag Hammarskjöld Distinguished Journalist Fellowship, the Ramnath Goenka award for coverage of the Iraq War and RT's Khaled Alkhateb Award for his reporting from Palmyra, Syria.