A Woman Could Become Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army
By Carolina Contreras/Diálogo March 31, 2017“There will no longer be areas that are off limits to women,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said, upon announcing Public Law 21001, which establishes the Chilean Army Service Career Ladder. The law allows men and women to serve together with the same professional opportunities in their military careers and to rise up the ranks to the highest levels of the military. In this way, Chile opened the possibility that, “a female combat officer might rise to the rank of general and even become commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army,” the president announced during the ceremony commemorating International Women’s Day, organized by the Ministry of Defense in Santiago’s Plaza de la Ciudadanía on March 9th. The event was attended by Minister of Defense José Antonio Gómez; the commanders-in-chief of Chile’s three services; Aviation General Arturo Merino Núñez, chief of the Joint Staff; and Minister for Women, Equality, and Gender Claudia Pascual. In 2016, the Army’s Infantry and Armored Cavalry divisions included women in weapons handling and heavy vehicles, such as tanks. So with this new regulation, which eliminates the Female Service Career Ladder, the Army has taken the final step to integrate all of its active duty servicewomen, a process that began in 1995. “We have been able to broaden the scope of women’s military careers and completely entrench the process of female inclusion,” noted Javiera Ascencio, legal counsel and gender advisor for the Ministry of Defense. As a result, there will no longer be any kinds of restrictions keeping women from performing in any service and any areas of career development, just the same as their male counterparts. They will now be able to rise up to the rank of brigadier general, not just colonel. “Being a soldier is challenging; being a woman soldier, even more so. And the Army has made positive strides for us in that regard,” Lieutenant Colonel Paola Pérez acknowledged. She is section chief of Budget Assessment and Analysis in the Office of the Director of Army Accounting, and comprises that 15 percent of women serving in that service. With a 23-year military career, she has witnessed the steps that her institution has taken on the gender issue. Lt. Col. Pérez was among the first group of women to enter the Military School in 1995, along with 21 other women and 600 men. “The institution has undergone a re-education process. It has learned from our experiences and capabilities,” she added. Since graduating in 1996, she has gone on to a fulfilling military career, first as an officer in the Quartermaster Corps and later as an instructor at the Military School – the same academy where she trained. In 2003, she traveled to Ecuador as a guest instructor to train the fourth generation of women entering that country’s Army. Returning to Chile in 2005, she assumed administrative duties as the director of Accounting for Beginners Courses. And in 2007, when the Polytechnic Institute opened its classrooms to women, she studied Systems Engineering. She recently was promoted to lieutenant colonel and is now in charge of overseeing and managing the Army’s annual budget. “In military life, you go all in. Men and women carry out the same duties, and we even have the same remuneration,” Lt. Col. Pérez said. Women in the Chilean Air Force The Chilean Air Force (FACh, per its Spanish acronym) is the second service branch in the country to solidify a process for integrating women into its ranks. In April, women will be welcomed into the barracks of FACh for the first time, and in 2018, they will be able to enter that service’s officer corps. “It has been a huge challenge incorporating women into our institution. We had to evaluate many cases to avoid mistakes,” said General of the Air Force Jorge Robles, commander-in-chief of FACh, at a press briefing. FACh opened its career ladder to women in 2000, with the entry of the first 40 women into the Air Force Academy. Three years later, it had commissioned its first female line officers. Today women represent 17 percent of the total personnel in this service branch, a number that has held steady over time. “We have excellent female instructors, doctors of engineering, women who have participated in peacekeeping missions, and who have lived outside the country as part of their military work. There are also female pilots flying the president or deployed to Antarctica,” Gen. Robles noted. Flight Captain Daniela Godoy, chief of Staff and commandant of the Education Squadron at the FACh Technical and Helicopter Training Center, is among the group of women Gen. Robles is referring to. “We are fully integrated within this institution,” Capt. Godoy acknowledged. “Clearly, there are fewer women but the idea is that little by little the female contingent should keep increasing.” She graduated from the academy as an officer in 2006, and in 2007 studied aeronautical engineering. In 2010, she began training as a military pilot. Over the next two years she completed flight training with instrument qualification and graduated as a helicopter and combat pilot. She is now in charge of FACh training for helicopter mechanics and crew members, as well as periodically certifying the work done in all of the units across the nation. As a FACh helicopter pilot, she also has assisted the population during natural disasters. The last experience to leave an impression on her was a deployment of more than 15 days to Chile’s northern zone, following the 2015 floods. There, she carried out rescue operations in isolated areas and in the mountains, transporting babies in incubators and sick and injured people from the regional hospital to other cities around the country. “Seeing the excitement and joy in peoples’ faces when they were being rescued from far-flung places was the best reward for the effort,” she said. The Navy is not far behind The inclusion of women in the Navy is now underway. The Naval School opened its doors to women in 2007, and the first 27 officers graduated in 2010. The NCO Academy opened its doors to a female contingent in 2009. Two years later, the emblematic training ship Esmeralda welcomed for the first time the first co-ed crew aboard on a training cruise around the world that included officer instructors from the academy. This year, the Navy will work on a plan to incorporate more women into military service by 2018 and in its officer corps by 2019. Gender work The proportion of women in the Chilean Armed Forces has reached 14.4 percent. Even though female inclusion dates far back, it has been only in the last decade that it has seen its most substantive advances – such as women being able to move up a career ladder that had traditionally been occupied by men – thanks to the combined work of the three service branches, government officials, and civilian experts on the issue. The first action plan to deal with the issue of female participation in the military was put into action in 2005, during President Michelle Bachelet’s first administration. Called the Policy on Integration and Participation in the Armed Forces and Public Safety and Security, it was coordinated by the Ministry of Defense. It is worth noting that President Bachelet was also the first and only female Minister of Defense (2002-2004) in the history of Chile. “That’s seen by many as a milestone that positively drove the issue of integration,” Ascencio said. “[President Bachelet] opened up greater opportunities for including women in command positions within the Army, and in other roles as well,” Lt. Col. Pérez added. The issue of cost was the main hurdle that had to be overcome in the process of integrating women into the Armed Forces, due to the need for appropriate infrastructure, or facilities reconfigured for women. Women’s integration also involved new management models. But the biggest hurdle is the cultural aspect, both within the military and in society. That is why “a different cultural model has to be internalized,” said Aldo Meneses, Ph.D., a sociologist who serves as assistant director of the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Chile. “Women think and do things differently than men. Appreciating that difference helps enrich our perspectives and our outlooks so that we are even able to take up issues like state security,” he added. Accordingly, the gender agenda at the Ministry of Defense created an Inclusion and Non-Discrimination Desk which, among its other activities, has held seminars, talks, and training with all of the actors involved in issues of gender, equality, and inclusion. On a parallel track, President Bachelet’s first administration also included women in international issues, based on the 2000 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security which called on nations to increase female representation in peacekeeping operations. “Women are able to establish closeness with the community, with their environment, something that is not so easy for men. This helps us intervene better in areas that have been torn apart, such as in our international [peacekeeping] missions,” Gen. Robles said. To date, 230 servicewomen have participated in Chile’s peacekeeping missions around the world. Haiti is the country with the largest female contingent. Meanwhile, through the second National Action Plan launched by the Ministry of Defense in 2015, the number of women in the military and in peacekeeping missions will increase.