Observed every year on 29 May, the International Day of UN Peacekeepers honours all uniformed and civilian individuals who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations around the world for their valuable contributions to peace.

This year’s celebration also marks the 75th anniversary of UN Peacekeeping. The 2023 theme, “Peace begins with me”, calls on each of us to join the global movement for peace, while recognizing the service and sacrifice of peacekeepers past and present, including the over 4200 peacekeepers who have given their lives under the UN flag.

As peacekeeping has evolved throughout the years, women have been increasingly deployed in police, military and civilian operations. Their heightened representation continues to have a tangible impact on peacekeeping environments, helping to protect women’s rights and support the role of women in building peace.

On International Day of UN Peacekeepers, we highlight the voices and celebrate the contributions of women peacekeepers from across Europe and Central Asia:

Celebrating women peacekeepers from across Europe and Central Asia​

Gordana Mitrovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina​

Growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Commander Gordana Mitrovic saw firsthand the role played by the United Nations in a conflict and post-conflict setting. “The UN work stayed with me,” she says, “and served as my motivation to become a peacekeeper”. Despite their equal abilities, Gordana notes, women in peacekeeping sometimes face heightened difficulty in earning the respect of local communities. But she believes this is all the more reason for women to join the field and “help communities to overcome the challenges in ensuring gender equality”.

Gordana Mitrovic. Photo courtesy of United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus

Women are disproportionally affected by conflict. For example, women are often targeted by gender-based violence. We need to respond to the specific needs of these women, by ensuring we listen to their needs and implement more inclusive approaches to address their needs for protection.

Dilya Akhmetova, Kazakhstan​

As a Staff Officer with the UN Interim force in Lebanon, Dilya Akhmetova worked to distribute humanitarian aid among 109 cities and villages. Women’s inclusion in this process, she says, was essential to its success: With many educational and care facilities run by women, Dilya was able to gain the trust of their directors in a way her male colleagues could not. Conversing openly with these women allowed her to better understand the problems they were facing and determine how to allocate aid.

Dilya Akhmetova. Photo courtesy of Dilya Akhmetova

If the number of women peacekeepers in military and police contingents is increased, this will help us achieve sustainable peace and improve the situation of women and girls in conflict-affected regions.

Natalia Lefter, Moldova​

Before entering peacekeeping, Major Natalia Lefter faced significant discouragement from those around her. “Everyone said to me, “you don’t stand a chance,” she recalls. But she pushed forward anyway: “I went ahead studying all the theoretical and practical aspects to be enlisted”. Her efforts paid off, and while deployed she found she was able to give other women and girls the support she had lacked: “Women need a model that can give them the confidence that every person can become strong.”

Natalia Lefter. Photo courtesy of Natalia Lefter

My dream was to go on a mission under the auspices of the UN to feel useful, to be a proud military woman because I could contribute with my experience to maintaining peace in the world.

Vasilija Joksimovic, Serbia​

There were many factors that drew Captain Vasilija Joksimovic to peacekeeping, but key among them was the chance to make a tangible impact on the lives of people in need. As a woman peacekeeper, she has experienced, “some level of uncertainty if we belong there and if we are capable of accomplishing given tasks”, she says. But her experiences on the ground have also made her more certain than ever that women are essential to the success of peacekeeping missions.

Vasilija Joksimovic. Photo courtesy of Vasilija Joksimovic

Engaging women peacekeepers is essential for the overall success of a mission. They need to be involved as medical staff, trainers or advisors and they should always be available and approachable.

Milica Stanković, Serbia​

Women’s involvement in peacekeeping, says Liutenant Milica Stanković, is as essential as it is everywhere else: “As in every part of life, women have an important role as peacekeepers.” Being a peacekeeper is more than a job, she emphasizes: It’s a way of living, and the biggest challenge—for men and women both—is to be the best version of yourself every day. A medical doctor, Milica cites the “wonderful people” she serves as driving force that keeps her going.

Milica Stanković. Photo courtesy of Milica Stanković

For me, the biggest inspiration to become a peacekeeper is also a characteristic of this job: helping people.