29 May is the International Day of UN Peacekeepers – a day to pay tribute to our uniformed and civilian personnel. As international community commemorates the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Africa Renewal magazine is profiling female peacekeepers and hear them tell their stories in their own words. The current edition’s peacekeeper is from Rwanda.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Jackline Urujeni and I am from Rwanda. I’m 39 years old, married with three children. I have been a police officer for 19 years and I’m at the rank of Senior Superintendent.
Where are you based?
I am the Commanding Officer of the Rwandan Formed Police Unit in Juba, South Sudan.
What are your responsibilities in the mission?
My responsibilities are many. Our Unit consists of 160 police officers, half of whom are women. I manage and supervise their work on a daily basis. I coordinate and schedule confidence building patrols in town and in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) protection sites. At these sites I manage the gates, escort visiting humanitarians and UN personnel, and conduct search operations to confiscate weapons, drugs and other prohibited items in the premises. We also engage in different capacity building and awareness-raising sessions with people sheltering at the protection site, especially women.
What does your typical day look like?
I start my day at 5.00 am with a 4-km run at least thrice a week. In the office, I chair a daily morning briefing at 7.30 am where we review what has happened over the last 24 hours, discuss and solve problems that may hinder our work, go through the tasks of the day ahead and assign tasks.
I set aside an hour every day, usually between 10.00 am and 11.00 am, to attend to individual officers who want to meet me in person to discuss all sorts of issues, ranging from the professional to the personal.
I spend a lot of time at my desk, but always monitor my radio and listen in on how our activities are proceeding and make decisions when necessary.
How do you spend your free time?
When I have a bit of spare time, I like to go to the gym or communicate with my family back home. I also socialize with my colleagues and participate in sports, social events, and other recreational games organized to keep our spirits up, to boost morale and mental well-being.
How long have you been a UN peacekeeper, and how did you become one?
I have been here in Juba since June 2019, but before coming to South Sudan I did my first tour of duty as a UN peacekeeper in Darfur during 2016-2017. I had seen a lot of suffering in my own country and I also observed and admired how individuals, not least our national leadership, made a real difference, transformed the country and improved the lives of many people. I was inspired by those actions and decided that I wanted to do my part by doing something meaningful for others. Speaking as a woman, I also want to demonstrate how strong and effective we can be at building peace and unity.
What did your family and friends back home think about your decision to leave your country and work for a UN peacekeeping mission?
When I told my family, they just couldn’t believe it. They were shocked, confused and not at all happy with my decision. It took some convincing to get them on board. I had to tell them “look, many people have done the same thing before me and everything has been okay”. I explained to them that I do see it [going away on a peacekeeping mission] as part of my job, and after some time they began to understand me. Now they are happy and proud of me and what I do.
What are some of the highlights of your service at your current peacekeeping mission?
I like that I can make a tangible difference in people’s lives I’ll give you an example. Shortly after we arrived in June 2019, we were deployed to one of the protection sites and I could tell that there were no ablution units, especially for girls and women. So, my colleagues and I decided to build a pit latrine for them. It is still being used today.
What are three things you like most about the mission and the country?
I admire the resilience and welcoming spirit of the people in South Sudan. Despite going through a very long period of conflict and violence, they are still friendly and manage to stay positive. I love our interactions with the internally displaced women. Feeling how much trust these women have in us is something very special. Many times, they don’t even consider us as police officers – we are more like friends or sisters. In fact, several of them call us “sisters”, and one little boy in there insists on calling me ‘Mommy’.
What part of your job do you find most challenging, and why?
The biggest challenge is when a fellow peacekeeper is attacked or injured. We are here to do good, so when someone is attacked it puts us in a difficult situation, and it makes me sad. Violence against colleagues is one reason why we (peacekeepers), and maybe females in particular, have to be courageous and involve the people we serve in community engagement activities. If we can connect, we can win their hearts and minds and make everyone understand why we are in South Sudan in general and in the protection sites in particular.
Do you think female peacekeepers serve as role models for the local population?
We play a big role in inspiring girls and women here. Most African countries and cultures are male dominated, with many people, both men and women, thinking that a woman cannot be a police officer, cannot carry heavy gear or handle a gun. Women here have asked me a lot of questions, especially when they understand that I’m the commanding officer of a big group of police officers. They ask me: “How can you be a commander? Don’t you have men in your country?” I notice that girls and women here are gradually becoming aware of their rights to become who they want to be. They understand that girls don’t exist just to get married and have babies. We are opening their eyes to new possibilities, to new choices that they should be allowed to make.
What would you say to women considering a career in peacekeeping?
I always encourage women to become peacekeepers because I can see with my own eyes that we are needed and can make a real difference. There are things in such situations that we can handle that our male colleagues cannot, or will find it harder to do, for example, gaining the trust of vulnerable girls and women. That trust yields useful information, which makes it possible for us to do a better job protecting them and improving their lives.
Text adapted from Africa Renewal