By Pratik Tandon
Dressed in military fatigues, Staff Sergent Halimatou Diao walks the ramp-leading her team of engine specialists towards a Mi35 attack helicopter. “Do not wait for an opportunity. Create it. Believe in yourself and do it!”
Deployed with the Senegalese Attack Helicopter Unit (SENAHU) at the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Ms. Halimatou defied odds and traditions when joining the Senegalese Air Force in 2012. Her job is critical.
“As an Mi35 engine specialist I have the responsibility to carry out preventive maintenance to keep the helicopters airworthiness and to ensure corrective maintenance when a breakdown appears in the engine compartment.”
Today, pilots are dependent on her for their safety as she plays an important role in ensuring operational readiness of United Nations helicopters that provide safety and protect civilians from the air in the Central African Republic (CAR).
“I am proud to be part of the UN peacekeeping mission, as an African, to help my dear African brothers and sisters and to participate in the protection of civilians.”
Concerned with the security, humanitarian, human rights and political crisis in the Central African Republic and its regional implications, the Security Council authorized on 10 April 2014 deployment of a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation, MINUSCA, with the protection of civilians as its utmost priority.
“Seeing women and children who were displaced returning in their home give us breath to continue. The population and specially the women are the most affected by the conflict and we as women shall play our role to give support to them.”
MINUSCA’s other initial tasks included support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.
“A woman is the pedestal of the family and is the easy target in conflict to destroy social network and rape. We have a better understanding and we can provide another approach and establish confidence with them. I believe that we are the response to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
But her service for peace is not without sacrifice.
“I left my husband and daughter behind. The weather condition and the security situation reduce the freedom of movement in Bangui, CAR, and the life is limited between the ramp and the camp,” she explains.
From protecting civilians, working with local communities to promote human rights, helping to strengthen the rule of law and fostering political and reconciliations processes, women play a critical role as agents of peace in armed conflicts around the world.
The author is Communications Intern with the Strategic Communications Section of the United Nations Department of Peace Operations.