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Breaking Barriers from Azerbaijan to South Sudan: Major Latifa Rustamova's Historic Journey for Peace

Of the 112 peacekeepers deployed by Azerbaijan to a UN peacekeeping mission since 1991, Major Latifa Rustamova is the first woman. Hailing from the capital Baku, Major Rustamova’s journey from the Azerbaijan Military Academy to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) not only reflects her personal dedication but also a significant shift in the traditionally male-dominated military service. Major Rustamova arrived in UNMISS in March 2023 as a Military Observer. In this role, she has actively engaged with local communities through regular patrols, supporting the mission’s work to restore peace.

Leading the way

“It is a groundbreaking and historic moment for me to be deployed as the first women from Azerbaijan to a UN peacekeeping mission. I feel this with a sense of pride, success, and excitement. Breaking barriers and being a leader in a traditional male-dominated field has been inspiring, not only for myself but also for my fellow countrywomen in the military aspiring to enter similar roles.

I feel it comes with some pressure and responsibility. But the weight of being a symbol of progress and representing women in the military can be amazing.

I decided to apply because I wanted to take the first step [for uniformed women in Azerbaijan] and write history as the first woman ever to deploy to a UN peacekeeping mission. To those who told me it wouldn’t be easy, I said: "Don’t worry, I can do it." And I did!

Before my deployment to UNMISS I had the chance to participate in a UN Uniformed Women’s Outreach Course in 2022, in Entebbe, Uganda. This helped me grasp how to contribute to peacekeeping as an officer. I also learned techniques and technologies to improve my communication and observing skills, and my overall confidence in my work. 

Making a difference in South Sudan

A typical day as a military observer involves a combination of fieldwork, reporting, coordination, and information analysis. Working with peacekeepers - civilians, military and police - of all walks of life is a wonderful experience which makes me really happy. 

During patrols, it’s important to be in regular contact with the people we serve and really try to understand their difficulties. I have experienced that South Sudanese women seem to interact more easily with women peacekeepers than with men.

I can feel their happiness when they meet a uniformed woman wearing a Blue Helmet who works for their peace.

Young girls around the world have the power to break the stereotypes and gender norms that limit our roles, and to make a difference as UN peacekeepers. Their will, courage, and commitment can contribute to building peace and promoting equality. 

Read more about Major Rustamova.

This story is part of the "People for Peace" story series. More than two million peacekeepers have worked for peace under the UN flag, and they are not alone in their efforts: peacekeeping is powered by strong and diverse partnerships. In this series, we bring you the voices of peacekeepers and their partners across the world.