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People for Peace: Téné Maimouna Zoungrana on breaking gender barriers in the prison and corrections field

More than two million peacekeepers have served for peace under the UN flag, but they are not alone in the pursuit of peace. Peacekeeping is powered by strong and diverse partnerships. In this new series, we bring you the voices of peacekeepers and partners across the world, to mark the International Day of Peacekeepers, 29 May.

Edited by: Maya Kelly & Urjasi Rudra

Téné Maimouna Zoungrana is a prison officer from Burkina Faso serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) who has broken many gender stereotypes and barriers in a typically male-dominated space. Now she trains and inspires other women in the corrections field and is a nominee for the United Nations Trailblazer Award for Women Justice and Corrections Officers.

Zoungrana is the Coordinator of the Security Teams at the Ngaragba Central Prison, which is the largest and most notorious prison in the Central African Republic (CAR), housing 1,335 inmates, which accounts for 69% of the entire prison population in the country. Working with national partners and building their capacities to maintain law and order and effective justice systems is a key function of peacekeeping. As the main trainer and coordinator of rapid intervention activities, she and her team of 42 officers support national prison staff in incident and crisis management. Zoungrana is responsible for introducing rapid intervention training modules into the national curriculum of CAR’s prison administration.

“In my professional environment, the field of security, women are often placed second or even ignored, because of stereotypical perceptions that men are better suited for the job. I had the courage and strength, and vocation, to break down barriers and assert myself confidently in this field.

I believe that a key factor in my success as the main trainer and coordinator of the rapid intervention activities at Ngaragba Prison in CAR, is my perseverance. Where other colleagues resist, I volunteer to lead. This has helped reduce certain prejudices about the capabilities of women in this work environment. I give maximum effort to the tasks entrusted to me; often more than male colleagues.

Today my colleagues admire and encourage me to move forward. This has made other women from MINUSCA and the CAR prison administration more interested, with some women opting to train and work in rapid intervention.

To help increase the number of women deployed in non-traditional roles, I organize team meetings where I sensitize women to take an active part in the tasks that some consider are (better suited for) men. I invite women to take part in training that aims to give them opportunities and allow them into spaces that were once considered men’s domain. I also entrust them with tasks in the same way as men.

My proudest achievement is the recruitment and initial training of 300 civilian professional prison officers, including five women, who are part of the prison administration’s rapid intervention team set up in 2022.

By setting an example as the Commander of the Rapid Response Team of MINUSCA’s Corrections Unit, I am changing the position and perception of women… in the field of security.

To be nominated for the Trailblazer Award for Women Justice and Corrections Officers is a great honour and it motivates me to redouble my commitment. Together, with all the other women pioneers, we have a responsibility to carry the torch and break down the gender stereotypes, prejudices and barriers against women in the field of corrections and security.”