For the first time, a Zimbabwean peacekeeper has been chosen to receive the prestigious 2021 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award, UN Peacekeeping announced on Tuesday.
Commending Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, as “a role model and a trailblazer”, Secretary-General António Guterres, will present her with the award on Thursday during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
‘Building trust, advocating for peace’
Throughout her 17 month assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Major Zharare advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.
As the Chief Military Information Officer in the UNMISS Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection and build trust between host communities and the Mission.
The Major also contributed to an increase in gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would be fully recognized and given their due importance.
“Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” said the UN chief.
Building a legacy
Major Zharare advocated for gender parity and women’s participation in a traditionally male-dominated environment that has often excluded women from decision-making,
She also encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve women in UN meetings.
Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues of women’s protection and rights.
During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, the well-regarded UN peacekeeper also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and constructing dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.
Commitment and perseverance
Created in 2016, the UN “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
“Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table, and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres said.
Expressing her gratitude and pride, Major Zharare said that being selected “motivates her to maintain her course towards gender equality”.
Climbing the ladder
At home in Mhondoro, Zimbabwe, the UN peacekeeper’s parents raised their seven children without gender stereotyping.
“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” Major Zharare said.
From 2015 to 2019, she worked as a Protocol Officer before being nominated to serve in UNMISS as a Military Observer in Bentiu, in roles that included Chief Information Officer, Training Officer and Gender Focal Point.
When her tour of duty there ended in April, she returned to serve in her home country.
Before joining UN peacekeeping, her military career began in 2006 as a Second Lieutenant and later an Infantry Platoon Commander, where she doubled as a matron, in Mutare.