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    Colonel Léa Ghislaine Yangongo became Commander of the Bangui air force base and Secretary-General of the Superior Council of the Military Condition. Working together with the United Nations in the country, she has played a central role in reforming the Central African Republic’s security sector. Credit: MINUSCA/Hervé Cyriaque Serefio

Colonel Léa Yangongo: Inspiring women to join and thrive in the military in the Central African Republic

Colonel Ghislaine Léa Yangongo first joined the Central African Republic’s army (known as Forces Armée de la Centrafrique, or FACA) as a volunteer in 1997. After graduating from officers’ school, she rose through the traditionally male-dominated ranks to command the Air Force base in the capital, Bangui. Currently the Secretary-General of the Superior Council of the Military Condition, she has contributed to key security sector reform efforts that have helped build more effective and accountable security institutions. An advocate for the inclusion of women at all levels, she helps implement the Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan in partnership with the UN Peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA. In this story, Col. Yangongo reflects on the traditional patriarchal culture that permeates security institutions and encourages women to use their unique skills, perspectives and experiences to make security institutions more effective at all levels.

Overcoming challenges

“The military is, first and foremost, an environment of men. When I joined, I had to adapt to this environment. It wasn't easy, but I made it.

The first women joined the national army in 1971, that is more than 53 years ago. When I joined the army in 1999, there were unfortunately still very few women in the ranks. So, when I was admitted at the Air Force Academy it was the first time for us to have a female officer, especially one reaching leadership status straight after graduation. I'm proud that I was able to advance to the strategic level.

There have been challenges, but I don't consider them as obstacles. Our environment is made up of 95% men who are not used to working with women at certain levels. They are not used to seeing a woman express herself in front of them or commanding them! In my department and in my previous tenures, I had to lead men who had started their career before me. Gradually, I was able to gain their trust, and today, I can confidently say that I am comfortable with them.

My family, friends and colleagues all support me, and that counts. But, as a woman, I work double the amount of time as my male colleagues: when I get home from a 10-12-hour shift, I tend to my family, the meals and my home."

Inspiring others and fostering change

"My greatest achievement is to have inspired other women, motivated them, and given them the courage to pursue a career in the national army just like their male counterparts. These women used to think they didn't have the intellectual and physical abilities to evolve in their careers. It took some time, but finally, today, many are inspired, and many are fighting the good fight. 

Equality as such is not yet there. Although women have access to training and are recruited in all military disciplines, there is still a long way to go. The number of women entering the security forces is still very low, making it difficult for them to climb the ladder. They need to be employed at all levels, including in military operations and not only in social or support-type functions, which is unfortunately still the norm. But change also comes from within: we women also must develop our own skills, train ourselves, and follow high-level training to integrate decision-making spheres.

Today, after more than 25 years of professional experience and facing all related challenges, I would tell young women who are still hesitant that they have their place in the national army, in the defense and security forces. I also invite parents to encourage girls to join the national army by sending them to school instead of keeping them at home to handle domestic tasks.

Women always foster change, especially within our Forces. When I interact with my male colleagues, I feel like they all want to improve as well so my presence in the army also leads them to give the best of themselves.

If all of us embrace change towards gender equality, it will bring peace to our country!”

Learn more about Col. Yangongo's story here:

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.