DAR KIFA, LEBANON -
Along the border of Israel and Lebanon, female peacekeepers are playing a vital role in the United Nations unit that patrols the area.
Captain Annie - French soldiers don’t use their last names - is examining Gomo, a working security dog from France who lives at a base of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
The captain is a veterinary specialist and one of approximately 30 women who live on this French base of 700 peacekeepers, keeping the border secure and assisting the Lebanese government.
She says she doesn’t consider herself a ‘female’ peacekeeper, but rather, a member of UNIFIL. But her feminine traits do sometimes help.
"The secret is to keep the smile and never raise the voice and a little bit of softness and communication and patience is always good," she said.
UNIFIL maintains a peacekeeping force of more than 11,000 in southern Lebanon, with troops contributed from 37 countries. In recent years, the United Nations has been working to deploy women in greater numbers.
Major Akriti Sharma is from Jammu and Kashmir and works to assess the security environment in Lebanon.
"As we all know, women are known for their compassion for their warmth, for their understanding. Being women in uniform it adds on to these factors obviously, and apart from this, we can have better access to the women and they feel more comfortable with us, we can act as a role model," Sharma said.
Women in UNIFIL serve on both the civilian and military staffs. Their roles range from military strategy to teaching French to local Lebanese school children. Male and female peacekeepers live together, work together and play sports together.
Squadron Leader and force commander Eric of the French battalion says women play a stabilizing role in an unstable area.
"Here in South Lebanon they have a more important place than in other missions. Women have always been peacemakers, or have been able to bring some peace, some calm, some serenity, and in this mission that’s an important quality," Eric said.
Although most Lebanese in southern Lebanon hold conservative views on gender roles, UNIFIL’s female peacekeepers say they get along well with the local community - men and women alike.