No profession is exclusive to either gender— UNPOL officer Ahlam Al-Habahbeh's message to young girls
07 March 2021
"I wanted to be a police officer ever since I was a child. My parents were always encouraging"
IN FOCUS: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY:
Captain Ahlam Al-Habahbeh from Jordan is currently serving as an UNPOL officer in South Sudan. In this short interview, Ahlam speaks about her work and why, she believes, serving for United Nations Peacekeeping is a career highlight.
Why did you decide to become a police officer? Were your family and friends supportive of your decision?
I wanted to be a police officer ever since I was a child.
"My parents were always encouraging and I’m very glad they taught me to follow my heart because it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made".
How did you become a UN peacekeeper? Is this your first mission?
It was serendipity – I was assigned to a team dealing with obtaining international accreditation for pre-deployment materials at the Peacekeeping Operations Training Centre in Jordan. This gave me the opportunity to see firsthand the meaningful work that my colleagues deployed to peace operations were doing. I was very motivated and made sure I was considered for deployment. UNMISS is my first mission
What are your responsibilities in the mission?
In my current role I deal with building the capacity of the South Sudan National Police Service in dealing with cases of sexual- and gender-based violence. Women and young girls have been disproportionately affected by violence here and rape is often used as a weapon of war.
"Our goal is to empower and educate local policing counterparts so that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence feel supported in reporting such crimes officially so that perpetrators can be brought to justice. It’s a tough role which requires a combination of cultural sensitivity, policing knowledge and the ability to build relationships based on mutual trust, respect".
Tell us about some of the challenges you've faced during your time at UNMISS
Being a first-time peacekeeper and coming to a different country to work on complex, politically sensitive tasks was a challenge in itself. But it was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because we have a duty to keep ourselves and the communities we serve safe from the virus, building relationships with local police officers and interacting with communities across the country with frequent lockdowns has been difficult, I must admit. But we’ve done the best we can in the current circumstances. There are days when I feel I can do much more, but I take solace from the fact that the entire world is having to adapt to this ‘new normal.’ I’m still conducting workshops and moving to deep field locations whenever possible.
As I said this is my first peacekeeping mission and I have to say all the challenges have brought us as a team closer together though we all come from different countries. We’ve enhanced each other’s skillsets and come up with innovative approaches to make each day count.
What impact do female peacekeepers have on the ground according to you?
Speaking from my own experience, I think every time I’ve interacted with national police counterparts, I’ve received appreciation and admiration for the expertise that female UNPOL officers bring to the table. More importantly, I see young girls across the world’s newest country wanting to wear a uniform when they grow up, be independent and make a difference.
As police officers our duty is to protect and serve. I think this resonates with everybody who meets us, and we definitely are an inspiration for young people.
Do you have any message for young girls and women considering a career in peacekeeping?
Always keep an open mind and don’t allow any prejudices or stereotypes to influence your decision. Many people, including your families, may try to dissuade you from serving for peace because they are afraid that it’s a hard life for a woman. You need to understand that while it’s a challenging career choice, it can be the most rewarding experience of your life. No profession is exclusive to either gender—what your brother can do, you can as well. For me, personally, serving under the UN flag has been worth every sacrifice I have made!