BEIRUT: One of 1st Sgt. Park GyungAh’s official duties in UNIFIL’s South Korean contingent is to smash through 15 slabs of marble, using just her hands. Park is the operations battalion exercise and training non-commissioned office for the contingent. She holds a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo and teaches the martial art to other UNIFIL personnel, and her rock-breaking routine takes center stage when the South Korean contingent showcases its skills to other units and to locals.
“Here and in Korea, sports and the military are dominated by men, so it’s a good opportunity to show women that they can play a role in the military and in sports,” Park told The Daily Star.
Before being deployed to Lebanon in December 2017, Park served in the South Korean Special Forces’ counterterrorist team for three years, and in operational support in Afghanistan for six months.
In Lebanon, Park says many of her duties involve organizing the training for the battalion’s nearly 130 personnel, but she also has operational support duties that take her into the field.
As one of the members of the Female Assessment Analysis Support Team, Park can approach and communicate with parts of the local population her male colleagues don’t have access to.
The FAAST team undertake “market walks” in different villages in the UNIFIL area of operation, where they “publicize the presence of female personnel in UNIFIL and communicate with women and by doing so encourage them to play a more active role than they usually would,” Park said.
Spending time in UNIFIL’s area of operations in the south of the country has challenged the preconceptions Park held prior to her arrival. Lebanon is “not as conservative as I expected it to be,” Park said, “[but] there’s not enough female participation in the country.”
The important work of the South Korean contingent’s female members is recognized by their commander. The women are “bringing about positive social change in Lebanon such as changing perceptions on gender equality among locals,” Col. Jin ChulHo said, adding that they are, “contributing to enhancing Korea’s status within UNIFIL and the Middle Eastern region.”
The numbers of women in the contingent’s ranks has been steadily growing, with the current cohort of 12 women the largest yet. The next contingent to be rotated to Lebanon will have yet more women, who will play an active role in operations, the commander said.
Park wants the deployment of women like herself in southern Lebanon to be a source of inspiration for locals. “I hope that the women in this area of operation engage in events and are able to be more active in society,” she said.