ARTICLE

South African Exemplar

April 5, 2019

South African Exemplar

Major Seitebatso Pearl Block from the South African National Defence Force received the accolade of UN female Peacekeeper of the Year in 2017.

She is interviewed by SecurityWomen:

Major Block (center) is holding the award she received from Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau (left) and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Juan-Pierre Lacroix (right).

  • What was the act that led to you being awarded the Peacekeeper of the Year accolade?

The second time I was deployed on a UN Peacekeeping mission to the DRC, I was based at the MONUSCO Force HQ in a Staff Officer role. The main task as Information Operations Planner was to distribute key messages to the local community as well as the Armed Groups in the area affected by conflict. Often local people were forcefully recruited to these groups and the pressure of GBV was huge. We wanted to communicate with the population and the armed groups with messages such as: surrender your weapons and recruitment of child soldiers is a crime. My suggestion was to use technology rather to supplement the leaflets to try and get our messages across especially in the remote areas of the Eastern DRC. The project was called the SMS Bundle Project. We found we could target a village through sending an SMS via a cell phone tower in the vicinity and thereby contain the communication to a specific area and targeted audience.


  • Describe your career path to reaching this award and what you did as a UN peacekeeper

I am grateful for the training I’ve received from basic training to being a Commissioned Officer. Having worked as a Team leader during exercises, deploying on borderline protection as well as deploying with a Contingent contributed immensely in my experience and thus boosting my confidence to carry out my duties effectively on my last tour of duty.

 

  • What is your background?

I was brought up by a single Mother in a small village in Rustenburg called Magong in the North West Province. I am married to a Captain in the Infantry who currently works as an Instructor at the Peace Mission Training Centre in Pretoria. We have two girls aged 5 and 10. I acquired a National Diploma in Security Risk Management and now studying Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations (2nd Year).


  • How were you recruited, both initially into the SANDF, and as a peacekeeper?

I joined the SANDF in 2004. I found out about the SANDF from a family friend in Pretoria. After completing my Matric, I was unable to further my studies due to financial constraints at home, so I took a gap year. I was 18 years old when I joined the SANDF and I know this career is my calling. In 2015 there was an advertisement for a post to deploy in MONUSCO, DRC and I applied, went for through the Selection Board and interviews. My request was granted, I received mission-readiness training and deployed in 2016/17.

 

  • What is your current role?

I am Staff Officer for Land on Doctrine Development within the Joint Operations Division based in Pretoria. I am working at a level which I enjoy and bring my experience from the field to the table.

  • How have you managed to advance the cause of women’s greater participation in the military and Peacekeeping? And more generally, women’s empowerment?

In my current role, I am working to make the SANDF a more conducive working environment for women. There is a lot of sexist behaviour and women’s response to this is not always helpful to their cause. There is stigma as a woman about leaving one’s children and family to go on deployment. The criticism comes just as much from other women. I am working on gender sensitive training programmes for military personnel.

  • What plans for the future do you have?

I am very excited about the Elsie Initiative in cooperation with Global Affairs Canada and how much it will encourage young women that joins the SANDF to deploy in Peacekeeping operations and make a difference. We have started a campaign on Gender Based Violence and Anti-Femicide within the Department of Defence with an intention of raising awareness amongst our fellow colleagues. My main objective is to encourage young women in the SANDF to empower themselves by going on courses, exercises and Peacekeeping missions and gain as much experience as possible to be able to advance in our male dominated work environment.





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