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Major Radhika Sen gets UN award for pushing women’s rights amid conflict

New Delhi

Major Radhika Sen of the Indian Army was conferred with the prestigious United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award for the year 2023 by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the global body’s headquarters in New York.

The award for the Himachal Pradesh-born Indian Army officer is for her outstanding service in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she was deployed as part of the MONUSCO ( United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

She served in the MONUSCO from March 2023 to April 2024 and the UN has since stopped its operations there.

According to a release from the UN, while serving as the Engagement Platoon Commander of the Indian Rapidly Deployed Battalion at North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, Major Sen demonstrated exceptional leadership and commitment.

Indian Army reposted a video of major Radhika Sen receiving the award at the UN headquarters in New York:

She led a team of 20 women soldiers and 10 male soldiers. Her work primarily focused on interacting with civilians, addressing security concerns of Displaced Persons (IDPs), and advocating for the voices of women, girls, and children in conflict zones.

Under her leadership, the engagement teams conducted educational sessions on essential topics, including women’s health, education, childcare, gender equality, and employment. These initiatives, coupled with skill development programs, have not only enhanced self-reliance among local populations but also built trust and facilitated effective information gathering.

Major Radhika Sen expressed deep gratitude to her dedicated engagement platoon, particularly Major Saumya Singh, her second in command, for their unwavering support and guidance from her contingent members.

Congratulating her, António Guterres said, “Major Sen is a true leader and role model. Her service was a true credit to the United Nations as a whole,” he said. “In an escalating conflict environment in North Kivu, her troops actively engaged with conflict-affected communities, including women and girls,” he explained. “She earned their trust (…) doing so with humility, compassion, and dedication.”

Major Radhika Sen receiving award from UN chief Antonio Gueterres

After receiving the award, Major Sen expressed her gratitude for being selected and reflected on her peacekeeping role: “This award is special to me as it gives a recognition to the hard work put in by all the peacekeepers working in the challenging environment of DRC and giving their best to bring a positive change in the society,” she said. “Gender-sensitive peacekeeping is everybody’s business – not just us, women. Peace begins with all of us in our beautiful diversity!”

The Community Alert Networks she helped create in North Kivu served as a platform, including community leaders, young people, and women to voice their security and humanitarian concerns, which she would in turn help address together with her colleagues in the Mission.

As a Platoon Commander, she also helped foster a safe space for men and women to operate together under her command and quickly became a role model for both women peacekeepers and their male counterparts. She also made sure that peacekeepers under her command engaged in a manner that was sensitive to gender and socio-cultural norms in eastern DRC to help build trust and thereby increase her team’s chance of success.

Major Sen facilitated English classes for children, and health, gender, and vocational training for displaced and marginalized adults. Her efforts directly inspired women’s solidarity, providing safe spaces for meetings and open dialogue. As a gender advocate, she encouraged women in the village of Kashlira, near Rwindi town, to organize themselves to address issues collectively, advocate for their rights, and amplify their voices within the community, in particular in local security and peace discussions.

Her work has had a profound impact on the local communities in the DRC and has set a high standard for future peacekeeping missions worldwide.

UN release said, “Major Sen’s achievements exemplify the values of service, integrity, and a steadfast commitment to building peaceful and inclusive societies.”

Major Radhika Sen with Children in Congo

Major Radhika Sen hails from Sunder Nagar, a small town in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. B‹oth her parents were teachers in the government and have since retired. Her younger sister is pursuing an MD in Anesthesia.

Major Sen completed her high school studies in Sunder Nagar and moved to Chandigarh for higher education. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering in Biotechnology and was pursuing her M.Tech from IIT Mumbai before joining the Indian Army.

She was commissioned into the Indian Army on September 10, 2016, and joined the Army Service Corps.

In her Army career, she has served in challenging conditions in J&K, Ladakh & North Sikkim. The Indian Army and the nation celebrate Major Radhika Sen for her remarkable achievements and her unwavering dedication to advancing global peace and gender equality.

The UN “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” was set up in 2016 to recognise the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.

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Major Sen is the second Indian peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award following in the footsteps of Major Suman Gawani who was a co-recipient for 2019. Other past honourees were from Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, Niger, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

India is currently the 11th largest contributor of women military peacekeepers to the United Nations with 124 now deployed.

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