The women keeping ONUCI on the road

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 03 March 2009... You might assume that the Transport Section at a United Nations peacekeeping mission would be an exclusively male domain. But UNV volunteers are breaking gender barriers, helping to keep missions on the go and setting an example to others.

In Côte d’Ivoire, UNV volunteer Julme Charles Elza is a vehicle mechanic for the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI - Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d’Ivoire). Having worked as a mechanic in her native Haiti for 13 years, including time with the UN mission there, the highly-qualified technician plays an integral role.

As well as routine repairs, her work can include anything from replacing engines to briefing local personnel on modern vehicle troubleshooting techniques. Ms. Elza believes that she also makes a difference by motivating the whole transport section, men and women alike.

"By seeing that a woman can do this work, it gives a stronger motivation to the men," she remarks. "Transport is one of the key sections in any mission ; my performance in my tasks allows the Transport Section to better serve the mission."

Her colleague Mary Kai Sandy from Sierra Leone, also a UNV volunteer, has an equally important job. Her assignment as a Transport Assistant means she is responsible for logging and reporting on vehicle usage and keeping track of where vehicles are and who is using them – an essential administrative function.

Her work on the carlog system has also helped improved road safety by providing ONUCI’s safety awareness campaign with the data it needed.

As a UNV volunteer who has also served in Sierra Leone, Ms. Sandy believes that volunteerism is essential to people "taking responsibility in resolving their problems for better development". "A volunteer should be a guide, not working for their own interest, but first and foremost working for those people in that particular country," she adds.

Vehicle mechanic Julme Charles Elza wants to capitalize on the experience she has gained to empower more women in traditionally male professions. "I’ve always had a dream to open a garage," she explains. "It would have the goal of training a good number of women to take up auto engineering."

"The added value I give, and which helps women, is firstly my contribution to the good functioning of ONUCI," adds Ms. Elza. "I am also showing women that the difference between men and women is just physical. There’s no work specifically for men and other specific destinations for women."


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