MEDIA

All-Women Bangladeshi Peacekeeping Unit Defies Stereotypes

The UN is working to deploy more women peacekeepers to conflict zones.

The United Nations’ peacekeepers are tasked with bringing order and stability to conflict and natural-disasters zones. But the organization’s 100,000-plus force of peacekeepers has been criticized for lacking women on the force. There have also been reports of male peacekeepers engaging in sex exploitation.

The good news is that women from Bangladesh have responded to the UN’s call for more women to serve as peacekeepers, forming an all-women unit that was deployed to Haiti following the earthquake in 2010. They are one of just three all-women peacekeeping units in the world today.

The unit’s unlikely formation is documented in a new film titled “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers” that premiered this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In an interview with freelance writer Jennifer Chowdhury on lifestyle website Refinery29, the film’s co-director and producer, Geeta Gandbhir, explained that she was attracted to the unit’s story because it “challenges stereotypes of South Asian women and particularly Muslim women.” The women in the unit are their families’ breadwinners, leaving their husbands and children at home. 

Chowdhury’s coverage of the film might seem out of character for a lifestyle website that is generally more focused on fashion, beauty, health and entertainment, but a number of other recent stories on Refinery29 also strike a more serious, solutions-oriented tone that challenges the definition of what a lifestyle media outlet can or should cover.

One recent piece on the site features Chinese human-rights lawyer Wang Yu, who is part of the UN’s #FreeThe20 campaign, highlighting the stories of 20 imprisoned women from throughout the world as a precursor to the upcoming Beijing+20 conference. That conference will serve as a check-in, 20 years later, on the women's rights goals world leaders established at an international meeting in 1995.

Another piece focuses on Stephanie Sinclair’s Too Young To Wed photo series, which aims to build awareness of child marriage. The story is accompanied by a powerful personal essay, also written by Chowdhury, about her own mother, who was married at the age of 15. 

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Bangladesh: National Geographic
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