India is sending an all-woman police unit to join U.N. peacekeeping operations the West African nation of Liberia. This is the first time an all-woman force has been deployed in the volatile region.
At a sprawling police camp on the outskirts of New Delhi, more than a 100 policewomen dressed in blue camouflage uniforms are honing their skills in controlling crowds and handling rioters. The drill includes training in the use of firearms, unarmed combat, and self-defense.
These police officers are no strangers to volatile situations, they have been drawn from India's special counter-insurgency units. The all-woman police team is to join U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia, which is recovering from a long drawn-out civil conflict.
Seema Dhundiya, 39, who heads the unit, is putting her team through its paces for the African assignment that begins next month. She says the women face a "tough challenge," but are ready for it.
"They are handling arms and weapons. We are training them in light machine guns, AK-47s. And, of course, we are taking regular classes in mob psychology, human behavior," she said. "The training part is very strenuous. We are keeping them physically fit, mentally strong and emotionally strong also."
The mood among the women is upbeat.
"This is a new assignment, new excitement, new challenge," said Poonam Gupta, the chief operating officer of the unit.
The United Nations says India's unprecedented decision to deploy an all-female police unit sends a powerful message to other contributing nations about the importance of women officers.
The United Nations wants to increase the number of women peacekeepers, who account for between three and four percent of its peacekeeping forces.
Dhundiya, a mother of two children, says that women can play a useful role in Liberia, where thousands of girls were combatants during the conflict.
"I think women by nature are very tender and caring, and when they put on their uniforms, automatically they get empowered," she explained. "Moreover, there the situation in Liberia, where the females are very vocal, they form large number in the mob and the mob becomes very unruly sometimes, so that is why Indian government has decided to send female contingent."
India contributes about 400 police officers to U.N. peacekeeping missions worldwide, but so far has only sent 15 female officers.