Guterres hails UN Gender Advocate Award winner Major Sen as ‘true leader, role model’

United Nations, May 30 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called Indian Army Major Radhika Sen a “true leader and role model” while presenting her with the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.

“Her service is a true credit to the United Nations as a whole,” Guterres said of her work as a Peacekeeper in the Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

An Indian Army medic, Naik Dhananjay Kumar Singh, who died while serving in the same mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year, was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold medal during the ceremony.

“Despite direct attacks by armed groups, harsh operating environments, and the emergence of new weapons of war — including digital technology and artificial intelligence — our Peacekeepers persevere,” Guterres said.

Speaking on the occasion, Major Sen said she was “deeply honoured and humbled” to receive the award “on behalf of my esteemed colleagues in MONUSCO and my home country, India”.

“This award is special to me, as it recognises the hard work put in by all the Peacekeepers working in MONUSCO’s challenging environment,” she said.

Major Sen also said that she hoped one day a man would get the award she received because “gender-sensitive peacekeeping is everyone’s business, not just women’s”.

In a video of her work shown earlier at the ceremony, Sen said, “It is very rewarding for me to see women and young girls come up and say that they feel very happy and empowered when they see a woman soldier leading a team comprising both male and female soldiers.”

Recalling Sen’s work as a Peacekeeper in the DRC, Guterres said that as commander of the Indian contingent’s engagement platoon, Sen led her unit on countless patrols “in an escalating conflict environment in North Kivu”.

“Under her leadership marked by humility, compassion, and dedication, her troops actively engaged with conflict-affected communities, including women and girls as she earned their trust,” Guterres said.

Because of the “safe and welcoming platform” she developed for women to share their ideas and concerns, Monusco could better respond to their needs”, he said.

She was also the battalion’s officer charged with preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, Guterres noted.

Besides her military duties, she also undertook educational and vocational efforts for women in the DRC, he added.

Sen said, “We had the opportunity to engage with the communities on topics ranging from women’s health and education to childcare, gender equality, women’s employment, and combating sexual violence in conflict, along with interactions on various skill development programmes to foster self-reliance.”

“Women and girls are disproportionately affected in conflicts, facing increased risk of abuse,” she said, adding, “The need of the hour is to mainstream women in nation-building, particularly in sectors of security and governance.”

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, received Singh’s Dag Hammarskjold Medal on behalf of the country and his family.

Singh, who belonged to the Army Medical Corps, worked as a nursing assistant with MONUSCO.

Sen was assigned to MONUSCO in 2023 as the Engagement Platoon Commander with the Indian Rapid Deployment Battalion, and completed her tenure in April 2024.

Sen is the second Indian Peacekeeper to receive the honour after Major Suman Gawani, who served with the UN Mission in South Sudan and received the award in 2019.

Of the 6,063 Indian personnel in UN peacekeeping operations, 1,954 serve with MONUSCO, including 32 women.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed at @arulouis)

–IANS

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