Mame Rokhaya Lo: “I Would Like to Be a Source of Inspiration for the Women in Ituri”
Women peacekeepers challenge the traditionally male-dominated landscape in the peacekeeping environment and serve as role models for women and girls to advocate for their own rights and get out of the 0traditional paths. On the occasion of the "Women’s Month" in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we met with Mame Rokhaya Lo, squadron chief and the first woman to lead this Formed Police Unit from Senegal (SENFPU) within MONUSCO in Bunia, Ituri.
With her 87-meter-tall size, she impresses her visitors and even the men under her command within the Senegalese Formed Police Unit (SENFPU) deployed in Bunia, within MONUSCO. Eleven years ago, this Senegalese fresh from the University of Dakar where she had just obtained her Master 2 degree in trade and management of international affairs, entered the school of gendarmerie. Since then, she got another a Master 2 degree in gender and peacebuilding.
“I told myself I could serve my country by opting for the gendarmerie. Even if it was not a childhood dream, but I had always admired the work of the gendarmerie,” she said. On her first United Nations Peacekeeping Mission, she leads a team made up of 135 members, including 21 women.
Mame Rokhaya Lo takes her job seriously because, for her, peace is the most precious thing in life. Her days are similar, but don't tell her it's all routine.
“Peacekeeping requires 24/7 attention. Everything can change at any time, I have to make sure my unit is always ready. My typical workday involves managing and leading my unit's deployment and assuming my responsibility as a commander, ensuring control and discipline in the unit. To achieve this, I personally participate in day and night patrols and various awareness campaigns on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and I ensure that daily missions are carried out successfully”.
SENFPU has been in Ituri for three years. Previously, it deployed in Goma. Mame Rokhaya Lo is its third commander and the first woman to serve in this Senegalese Formed Police Unit in Bunia.
“For the men who are under my command, we owe each other mutual respect and they fulfill the missions I entrust them without worrying. For the men I meet at my work, we maintain a good relationship. Even if it is a first for a woman to command a formed police force in Bunia, we respect each other and we work closely together. Sometimes I come up with a seemingly questioning face, but that may be due to the fact that there had never been a woman as the head of the FPU in the sector. At the end of the day, they encourage me and respect me,” she said.
Be a source of inspiration to others
Since she got to Bunia almost three months ago, this Senegalese has said she is particularly touched by the situation of women and children. “As a woman I am very sensitive to the living condition of the people I meet, especially women and children. In this regard, I want to be an unrivaled role model from which my staff can draw inspiration, in order to carry out the missions devolved to the FPU, in the ultimate interest of the organization and in accordance with MONUSCO mandate", she said.
Mame Rokhaya Lo was particularly shocked by the plight of the displaced persons assembled in camps in Ituri. “The living conditions of women and children in these places call for further reflection. I remain convinced that something more can be done. This may already involve reviewing the way patrols are conducted by my members at these camps, they should get closer to these people with all their professionalism.’’
For her first mission in the DRC, humanism remains key, according to her. “First, patrolling troops should factor in the population, get closer to them, while maintaining their professionalism. Secondly, even if our primary role is not the social component, I would still like to support women as much as possible through training and awareness. And beyond that, to visit the idps camps and the prison to support them with water and foodstuffs”.
Regarding women’s empowerment
During this month of March dedicated to the promotion of women's rights, Mame Rokhaya Lo is not short of ideas and ambitions. Very touched by the living conditions of thousands of women and young girls who fled the atrocities from armed groups in their communities to find refuge across the province and in Bunia, she dreams of few small projects of a purely human and social nature. “I have realized that women here are very brave and try to be autonomous, even if all the conditions are not met and they face several difficulties. This is why I told myself that, even if our primary mission is the protection of civilians, I can still contribute modestly to the empowerment of these women”.
This month of March, the squadron chief is planning to organize training for fifty women as well as awareness-raising and visit the internally displaced persons’ camps and the prison.
“The message I want to send out to the women of Ituri in this month of March is that they fight to be autonomous. May they also be part of the solutions because, for a sustainable future, there must be equality between men and women. I admire them a lot because of their commitment and their courage despite the difficult situation in Ituri,” she explained.
As if to put words to action, on Tuesday March 8, 2022, Mame Rokhaya Lo and her team brought together more than 50 women from Bunia, including people with disabilities, from all communities, for discussions around their empowerment. These women gathered within the ‘’Fraternité’’ association have undergone training in the manufacture of citrodorant (liquid soap for dishes, cleaning, toilets, disinfectants, etc.).
“We are delighted with this training which will help us to become autonomous, to recover our dignity and not always to depend on men or others. With the training received, we will be able to undertake small activities for the survival of our families,” said Noella Mwinda Tshipata, leader of the ‘’Fraternité.’’
The main missions of the Formed Police Units are twofold:
• The protection of civilians, personnel and United Nations facilities: through patrolling, alone or jointly with MONUCO civilian police or the Congolese National Police (PNC).
• Capacity building for local institutions: through participating in the ongoing training for PNC members in law enforcement, as an example.