Captain Cecilia Erzuah, 32, who has served in Abyei since March last year, as the Commander of the Ghana Engagement Platoon, will receive the award from Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers this Thursday, said the Department of Peace Operations in a press release.
Abyei is a disputed and resource-rich area between Sudan and South Sudan, which is claimed by both sides. The Security Council authorized the deployment of a peacekeeping force there in 2011, as tensions rose ahead of South Sudan’s formal declaration of independence.
UNISFA works to strengthen the capacity of police service, in support of the 2011 agreement, and facilitates the delivery of humanitarian aid, the free movement of aid workers, and provides protection for civilians under threat.
‘Leading the way’
Created in 2016, the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
“Resolution 1325 reminds us that our women peacekeepers are not only supporting global peace and security. They are leading the way. By every measure, Captain Cecilia Erzuah of Ghana is one of those leaders,” said Secretary-General António Guterres.
“On every front, Captain Erzuah’s work has set the standard for ensuring that the needs and concerns of women are reflected across our peacekeeping operations.”
‘An award for all of us’
Captain Erzuah expressed her gratitude for being selected to receive the prize which she called “an award for all of us,” referring to her platoon members.
An advocate for gender equality and community engagement, Capt. Erzuah made sure that her 22-strong platoon, composed equally of men and women, conducted regular patrols and outreach to local leaders as well as women’s and youth groups, to better understand and address community concerns and needs.
Together with civilian UN colleagues, she has also hosted discussions on domestic violence, gender equality and childcare, resulting in an increase in the number of women enlisted in Community Protection Committees, which were initially male dominated.
The engagement with community members led to improved early warning about threats of violence against civilians and broader security issues.
The monthly market walks she initiated with her battalion also contributed to building strong and enduring relationships between traders, local residents and the UN.
In January this year, following a spike in community violence in Majbong, a village in southeast Abyei, Captain Erzuah’s platoon stepped up its presence, regularly checking on the plight of displaced people in the volatile area and enabling the Mission to provide necessary support.
Community members, who had sought sanctuary from the fighting in the surrounding bush, gradually began returning to their homes in the village and women reported feeling much safer. “The mixed patrols are…boosting the confidence of members of the community to go about daily activities safely,” said Deng Paul Mankuol, a traditional chief in Majbong.
Captain Erzuah is the first Ghanaian peacekeeper, and the first recipient from a contingent or a unit, to receive this prestigious award.
Ghana is currently the largest contributor of women military peacekeepers to the United Nations with 375 now deployed.