Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bangladesh and Women: The Critical Actors in Peacekeeping

 By Sadia Saba, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

         On July 22, 2019 the Better World Campaign and Peace is Loud screened “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers” which follows three Bangladeshi women on their road to becoming foot soldiers in an all-female Muslim unit to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Haiti. As a young Bengali woman myself, this event reminded me of the complexities of global civic engagement and how one’s duty to the world can help overcome domestic glass ceilings.
         Bangladesh is the second largest contributor to international UN peacekeeping operations, deploying over 7,000 Bangladeshi troops and officers in 10 missions around the world in 2017. Farida Parveen and Mousumi Sultana, two of the women that the documentary follows, discussed how joining the peacekeeping mission had a major economic incentive for them and their families. Bangladesh is a developing country in South Asia, and as a peacekeeper these women would be making triple their wages as police officers in their country. This unit of women were exercising their duties to their families by performing their greater duties to the world.

The film opened with familiar hymns of the basher bashi (bamboo flute) and sweeping images of the vibrant green hues of the land. The women spoke in their native Bengali tongue as they brought us along their journeys, and told their stories of how they dealt with the harsh realities of joining the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. As the vivid scenery and sounds of Bangladesh resonated with my upbringing in a Bengali household, the societal frameworks these women were in were all too familiar as well. Child care, answering to authoritative male figures, housework these were all responsibilities that the women of the film had to attend to as they struggled with their own career pursuits. Several of the women did not have the support from their families to join the unit for a year abroad. The most skeptical were male figures in the family: husbands and fathers. They feared they would be forced to take on domestic roles in the household that they could not manage to do. But these women were resilient and determined. “I am a police officer… not just a mother,” said one of the foot soldiers. The others held similar sentiments. Peacekeeping was an opportunity – an opportunity to escape cyclical oppression and patriarchal systems of society. Mousumi said she joined the police force in Bangladesh as a way to mitigate the patriarchy in the country. Upon her entrance into Haiti and working with the local populations there, she says “Us, women in uniform, can give women of this country courage and strength.” This dedication towards equality went beyond their personal relationships. It was a commitment to empowering all communities facing similar injustices.  

This documentary showed the crucial work of UN peacekeepers and its vital role in peacefully mitigating the effects of conflict worldwide. The intersection of SDG #5 Gender Equality and SDG #16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions is told beautifully by the three women of the film as they transcend the boundaries of the society in which they live in and the rules they are told they have to abide by. As a young woman who identifies closely with the subjects, I left feeling empowered and inspired by their courage, defiance and commitment to a cause greater than themselves.

Panelists joined in a moderated discussion after the screening. (Left to right: Xanthe Scharff, Executive Director of the Fuller Project, Fiona Pearce, Squadron Leader and Military Gender Advisor of the UN Department of Peace Opertions, Geeta Gandbhir, Producer of “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers”, and Indira Lakshmanan, Executive Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting)

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