I would like to thank the organizing committee for this unique opportunity to speak on an aspect of peacekeeping that is often left on the backburner. I have been asked
16 Jun 2018 14:53
Former president Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (left) greets Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa at the 40th anniversary of UNIFIL at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on June 15, 2018. Looking on is Speaker of Parliament Dr Jiko Luveni. Photo: DEPTFO News

I would like to thank the organizing committee for this unique opportunity to speak on an aspect of peacekeeping that is often left on the backburner. I have been asked to say a few words and share my experiences as a wife of a peacekeeper and also a mother; impact of peacekeeping, social issues and personal sacrifice.

If I were to pick one word to describe as best as I could what I perceive to be the role of the wife of a peacekeeper – that word would be “Duty”. That sense of duty devolves from the role of peacekeepers and the RFMF as an institution. An institution that commands and instills respect in its members. An institution that commands sacrifice and selfless service. And as a spouse of a peacekeeper, that sense of duty inevitably becomes part of our being. The very fact that the personal experiences of a peacekeeper’s wife has made it into this very auspicious symposium confirms that the RFMF as an Institution does not only refine and impact on the soldier but also on his or her family.

So what has being a peacekeeper’s wife taught me? How has it impacted on me as a person?

It’s made me self-reliant as a parent having my husband go for a year-long peacekeeping tour in the Middle East a week or so after our first child’s birthday.

Experiencing the many firsts for our eldest child without my husband. I still remember vividly the first time our daughter started recognizing words in a book – at around 8.30pm at night. There was nobody at home to share that with so I covered her head in a blanket and ran her to my mother two houses away to share that first experience with her.

It’s made me see death as a real part of our marriage and at the same time it has taught me to bottle up emotions of fear and sadness in front of our children. Seeing your spouse off at QEB for a year-long tour of duty in the middle-east takes every ounce of self-restraint not to become a crying mess in front of everybody. That fear becomes a badge that you wear around all year long – wondering whether he is ok.

Lessons learned

Being part of a peacekeeper’s family has taught me to be punctual and be the best time keeper in the family. Being married to a military officer is no easy feat. Keeping time is crucial and this is something that I’ve made part and parcel of my life both at home and at work.

Another key learning I’ve learnt from being married to a soldier is the art of getting things done. As a career civil servant I was used to the demeanor of the civil service at that time – lax attitude, service for the people so long as I didn’t have to go out of my way to do it. My peacekeeper/soldier husband taught me different. He introduced me to the art of carrying out the boss’s instructions no matter what and getting out of my comfort zone to get things done. I guess I should thank him and the Army for preparing me for the civil service reform that ensued.

I have also been asked to speak on how we can shape policies to better help support our peacekeepers and their families from my perspective as the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation.

The unique circumstances faced by soldiers and their families present a host of opportunities and challenges. These unique circumstances demand a unique approach.

The peacekeeping family

The peacekeeping family as a community has a lot of real life stories of marriages breaking-up, alcoholism, domestic violence, adultery, neglected children, financial problems and other social issues.

Most of these stories are untold but the impact and ramifications on the lives of loved ones is just as devastating as the stories that we know about. Issues that I see everyday now in my work as the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation. And if we are talking about a family of 4000 plus military personnel which becomes 8000 plus if we include the TF Regiment, that community demands our close attention.

Most of the wives and peacekeepers themselves who go through these social issues often keep the issues to themselves for various reasons. The bitter divorce, separation or the violence that follows become the only tell-tale signs that something is not right.

A great opportunity has presented itself here to look more closely at these social issues as they occur within peacekeeping families and to look at ways in which the RFMF as an institution can better support families going through such issues with the aim of resolving them before they become national statistics.

Whilst these issues are not unique to the Fijian peacekeeping family, the vulnerability of peacekeeping families to these issues cannot be denied. Great policies need a strong data platform. Let’s begin there. Do we know how many of our peacekeeping families are currently facing such issues? Do we have a specialised support mechanism within the institution which is not too daunting to access for our loved ones who are not military personnel?

It will be remiss of me to not make an observation on the increasing role of women as peacekeepers also. Let’s wear our gender lens when we look at our military rules and procedures and make necessary adjustments to welcome in the United Nation’s efforts to increase the global number of female peacekeepers on peacekeeping missions which I understand stands at around 4% of soldiers and 10% of police on deployment.

How have other countries done this?

In 2011 in response to the UN’s Resolution 1325, Nepal approved a national action plan for women, peace and security.

Today, Nepal has more women peacekeepers deployed in support of UN peacekeeping missions than any other nation. Such initiatives begin when we start talking about the increasing role of women in peacekeeping as we are doing today; they begin when we are able to take stock of what we have on the ground through the collation of data and thereafter shaping and impacting on policy which will drive us towards the next decade.

To that end, I must thank the Commander of the RFMF and the Chief of Staff for embracing government initiatives deployed through my Ministry to inculcate gender and collateral issues into military service. I have no doubt that our continued partnership in the years to come will go a long way in achieving our national aim pertaining to gender equality and the empowerment of women particularly as it relates to Fijian peacekeepers.

In closing, I’d like to thank the spouses of peacekeepers out there (both women and men) for the unrelenting support to our peacekeepers on missions over the years. One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that the work of peacekeepers on Missions will not be as successful; will not be as complete without the support of spouses and loved ones back home.


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