One of Canada’s top female Military Police Officers is the Provost Marshal on UN Mission South Sudan (UNMISS)

March 6, 2020 - Defence Stories

By Lt(N) Michèle Tremblay, Public Affairs Officer, Canadian Forces Provost Marshall

Upon reporting to Task Force South Sudan, Colonel Vanessa Hanrahan was informed that she was the most senior female within the Task Force composed of 17% females.

Created in 2011, UNMISS comprises approximately 15,000 military personnel and 2,800 civilians. Col Hanrahan deployed in November 2019 to assume the role of Provost Marshal of Task Force South Sudan, advising the Task Force Commander on all aspects of military policing in South Sudan.

Three months into the deployment, Col Hanrahan, who is in charge of the Force Military Police explains that it has been a rewarding challenge. She stated it is an excellent experience in terms of working at the operational level with military police officers of several nations who bring a valued diversity of MP experience and cultural perspective. "Though we bring a variety of methods of addressing the challenges we face, at the end of the day we are all the same - members of our respective militaries working together to provide safety and security to South Sudanese," describes Col Hanrahan.

As one of Canada’s senior military police officers, she has served in positions such as the Canadian Army Provost Marshal and Special Advisor to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Col Hanrahan brings a wealth of military policing and leadership experience to UNMISS. "She was selected amongst top candidates from five nations - and that is a success…

She is the first female Provost Marshal on this UN mission - and that is pretty cool too! ", stated BGen Simon Trudeau, CF Provost Marshal and Commander of the CF Military Police Group.


Referred to as Sir vice Ma’am, Col Hanrahan was initially dismayed in the first few weeks of her deployment. Upon discussing with individuals why they were using this term, she came to appreciate that in their military culture and country, it was a sign of respect.

When asked about being the top female within the Force, Col Hanrahan responded, "It is quite humbling and daunting to me at the same time! I aspire each day to not only represent Canada but, also to ensure that I am doing justice to the many female members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and military forces everywhere, who have paved the way for me to have the opportunities I have. For me, it is not about being a female, it’s about doing the best I can at every position I fill. It is my true belief that the best person for the job deserves the job – male or female."

Do women MP bring a positive diversity and strength to UN PM? Col Hanrahan’s response, "…Having a diverse team, based on gender, experience, etc. allows the team to look at issues through various lenses therefore providing a more holistic approach to solving issues. Given that some of the civilian population - women and children, may be more comfortable speaking with women, and therefore ensures that they are afforded this opportunity."

Col Vanessa Hanrahan who is currently serving as the Provost Marshal of Task Force South Sudan in charge of Force MP answered questions about her experience to date on UNMISS.

Do women bring a positive diversity and strength to UN PM? And In relation to the type of social and cultural issues that UN MP face in South Soudan?

"I think diversity as a whole is a strength. Therefore, the presence of females within the mission (12) is a strength and within the FMP most certainly a positive. Having a diverse team, based on gender, experience, etc. allows the team to look at issues through various lenses therefore providing a more holistic approach to solving issues. Given that some of the civilian population - women and children, may be more comfortable speaking with females, having women within force ensures that they are afforded this opportunity. In turn, we are able to gather all of the information when conducting an MP investigation or extending it to the force at large when collecting information while on patrol."

Compared to your past leadership experiences, what is the most striking to you after weeks as PM in a male dominated environment?

"I think the most striking leadership experience that this position has afforded me is to work with the various countries contributing to this mission to understand how it is that they view women. For example, in the first few weeks I was often referred to as Sir vice Ma’am. I was initially dismayed that this was taking place. Upon discussing with individuals why they were using this term, I came to appreciate that for them it was a sign of respect as that was the military culture of their country. For me, I saw this as an opportunity to provide some education as to why, coming from Canada whereby it was expected that a person identifying as a female would be referred to as Ma’am, would see the use of the term Sir as a derogatory term. It is again striking a balance between not being offended, appreciating our individual cultures, while planting the seed about some of the things that we have adopted in Canada which in my opinion leans toward a better integration of women within the military environment."


Being a woman in a male dominated profession has not been a barrier to date for the colonel. She was forged excellent working relationships with all of the senior leaders within Force and they afford her the support required to perform her job.

In a male dominated profession in most countries, is this a barrier for you as a PM?

"This is not a barrier for me to date. I have forged an excellent working relationship with all of the senior leaders within Force and they afford me the support required to perform my job. There are 12 female MP employed in many locations across the country and they perform the same tasks as their male colleagues."

What are some of the challenges you face as Provost Marshal in South Sudan compared to when you were CA Provost Marshal?

"The diversity of the contributing nations within the Force structure and the role of the military police within the UN. For example, Cambodia is the troop contributing nation for the Force Military Police (FMP) Company, however each nation can, and most nations do deploy with their own national military police, each of which has its own distinct but intertwining role within the Force. I am working to enhance the professional relationship between the FMP and the MP that are embedded within the respective troop contingents, all of who have varying degrees of authorities and responsibilities based on the role of the MP within their home country."

"A second challenge I face is a personal challenge. As the most senior female member of Force at this time, I want to ensure that I am representing all of the female members in the most appropriate manner. As well, I want to ensure that the role of females within PSO is highlighted. What is the challenge you may ask? It is that I personally do not like to be highlighted because I am a female. I prefer to be seen as a competent, professional individual. That said I now realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. I must balance the fact that I can use the position I have to represent females within the mission and it is not about me personally but about the group of individual for which I am just one. If the use of my story exposes the excellent work being done by all, then I am proud to do it."

Are there challenges due to varying levels of training and education among the MP?

"Yes. I am somewhat lucky as the FMP are from the same country therefore have relatively the same training though varying levels of experience, which is nothing different than what one would expect even from the Canadian Military Police. When working with the national MP assigned to the various contingents across the mission, I must ensure that I have an understanding of their training as it may be quite different from the FMP. In general, the training and education of the Canadian Military Police is notable greater than many of the nations."

How many female Force MPs currently in your Task Force?

"There are 12 female FMP."

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