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A female RCMP officer stands outdoors with a mountain range in the background.

RCMP officer helping women in Iraq

RCMP Supt. Marie-Claude Côté is in Iraq on an international peacekeeping assignment to help improve women's participation within the security sector. Credit: RCMP

The desire to broaden her horizons prompted RCMP Supt. Marie-Claude Côté to consider international police peacekeeping. The 26-year RCMP veteran joined the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad in October 2019. Paul Northcott spoke to Côté about working in Iraq to help women and enhance their role in the country's security system.

What attracted you to work in a peace operation?

I've worked many years in Protective Policing and on Parliament Hill and travelled to dozens of countries. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to open my Western eyes to policing in a different country that had different challenges.

Tell me about your role.

Part of my year-long deployment is to understand how the militant group Daesh uses women within its operations, then assist, support and mentor the Iraqis to find ways to counter those actions. In addition, I want to increase women's participation within the security sector. Their numbers are extremely low in the military and with the police; they often focus on things like domestic violence. So finding creative ways to include women within Iraqi security is also among my responsibilities. Part of that includes identifying people who are interested in change and can help.

What's the best thing about the work?

People here are very creative and determined. You can learn a lot from them. I've also come to feel that I'm empowering people by just being here. Many are fascinated that I'm a Superintendent in the RCMP. People, especially women and girls, see me and say: If you can do that, maybe things can be changed in Iraq so more women can have important positions in the police and military.

What's the hardest aspect?

You need to take more time to understand the mission you're on, who's involved and how it works. When I arrived, I was the gender expert, but still had many questions and much to learn. You need to take time to really prepare and continue to learn. In March, it was the pandemic; COVID-19 hit Iraq hard. We live on the coalition base Union III and take many precautions, but I'm used to meeting people face-to-face to discuss issues and problems, not over the phone. Now the biggest problem is the heat. You know when it's – 35 C in Canada, you go outside and your skin just hurts? That's what it's like here in the summer when it's 50 C.

What's your advice for an officer who's considering peacekeeping?

Do it! In capital letters. In the amount of time I've been here, it's helped me grow. I've always been committed to my work but I have learned to take time to care for myself not just others. It's also taught me how important it is to hear the opinions of different people and voices when you're trying to make a decision. Only then can you make the best decisions.

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