Brazil: Naval Academy opens its doors to women
By Dialogo April 07, 2014
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – There are just 12 women among 867 men.
But these 12 aspiring officers represent a historic milestone for Brazil’s Naval Academy. It’s the first time the country’s oldest institution of higher education has opened the doors of its officer training course to women.
“I always dreamed of being in the military,” the top finisher from the applicant pool, Jéssica Custódio, a 20-year-old native of the state of Ceará, said during an April 2 event to present the new midshipwomen. “I always said that if they ever had openings for women, I would sign up.”
The competition for admission was fierce. A total of 3,355 female candidates nationwide took the Public Exam for Admission into the Naval Academy – an average of 279.5 women per opening. The candidates were required to be high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 23, single and without children.
“The preparation was pretty intense. I dropped everything to prepare for the exam,” said Rebeca Ferreira, a 19-year-old native of Rio de Janeiro who was inspired by her brother, her uncle and her grandfather, all of whom served in the military.
In addition to written exams, male and female applicants must pass the same physical tests and medical evaluations.
“The only difference the women have in the physical part was being able to do push-ups with our knees on the ground,” said Custódio, whose father is a corporal in the Brazilian Army.
The Navy was the first of the country’s three military branches (Navy, Army and Air Force) to accept women, 33 years ago, with the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. Based on the institution’s needs, they were admitted through public exams and expected to hold a university or technical degree.
They would participate in a course to prepare them for service in the Navy, where they had no chance of ascending past the rank of frigate captain. In 1997, the Navy did away with the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and distributed women among the institution’s ranks, where they gained access to the same positions as men.
In 2012, Capt. Dalva Maria Carvalho Mendes was promoted to medical rear admiral, becoming the first woman to hold the position of general officer in the Brazilian Armed Forces.
The 12 aspiring officers in the Naval Academy, which has been on Villegagnon Island in the Guanabara Bay since 1938, are the first to enter without prior training and with the opportunity to earn college degrees as naval officers.
“There were intense preparations in relation to the midshipmen and the officials who welcomed them here, not just in terms of the rules, of course, but in terms of leadership, coexistence and how to deal with midshipwomen,” said the commander of the Midshipmen Corps at the Naval Academy, Capt. Rocha Martins.
The Naval Academy’s structure also has undergone adjustments, as there are female-only housing units, bathrooms, infirmary beds and laundry facilities. Video cameras and alarms were installed in corridors and entrances of the midshipwomen’s housing unit for safety reasons.
“Just as it’s an adaptation process for us, it’s an adaptation process for them,” Custódio said. “But there’s a significant amount of mutual respect.”
The 12 midshipwomen will receive training in logistical, financial and administrative matters pertaining to the Quartermaster Corps. The other two training Corps at the Academy – considered to be in combat areas – are Armada (activities aboard ships) and Marines (troop actions on the ground), which remain restricted to men.
However, men and women from all three Corps perform the same routines of study and physical exercise. It’s only in the second through sixth years of the course when the midshipmen are separated.
All midshipmen and midshipwomen wake up at 6 a.m. and are in bed at 10 p.m. They spend their nights at the Academy, only allowed to leave on weekends.
Despite their efforts to overcome it, homesickness seems to be the hardest part for midshipwomen.
“I really miss my sisters,” Thais Oliveira, an 18-year-old from Brasília, said.
But they have each other for support.
“We’re very united and we can count on each other,” Ferreira said.
The midshipwomen adhere to strict rules of appearance, which include short or pinned-up hair, discreet makeup and earrings that are smaller than their earlobes.
“I think it’s important to get dressed up and use makeup, especially because the uniform takes away a bit of our femininity,” Thais Afonso dos Santos, 22, said. “We don’t stop being women in here.”
The midshipmen who complete the course will be promoted to the rank of Navy officer (guarda-marinha) and embark on a six-month trip through the Americas and Europe.
Upon their return, they’ll be promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant and stationed at Navy bases nationwide.
“The entry of women is an important step that will be evaluated,” Naval Academy Commander Vice Admiral Antônio Carlos Soares Guerreiro said. “We’re going to analyze the results of this first class after five years to see their performance and consider expanding the number of openings or expanding participation into the courses for the other Corps.”
There will be 12 openings for women annually for the next five years at the Naval Academy.
A total of 22,208 women make up 6.34% of the Armed Forces, with 5,815 in the Navy, according to the Ministry of Defense.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in August of last year signed Law 12,705, allowing female soldiers to enter areas that previously had been restricted to men in the Army.
Still, the presence of women remains higher in administrative sectors and in the medical and dental services. But it’s different in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), which has a military-high 9,927 females, including many who have combat roles piloting fighter planes and helicopters.
Asked about her dreams for the future, Ferreira’s answer seems unanimous among the midshipwomen: “I want to be one of the first female admirals trained by the Naval Academy.”
Now, it’s up to them.
See the photo essay here.
What should I do to join the Brazilian Navy?
Do I have to go to some kind of preparation course? What should I do to join the Navy? It depends on what field you want to get in. There are always public tenders with adaptation positions being announced, as mentioned, that you, being already graduated, you get it, get an adaptation course and take an administrative position (most part of the time). If it is like the Merchant Shipping, the limit admission age is 40 years old.
On the presented case, the tender is to capacitation, and afterwards is what already has been said, the limit age is 23, and you will finish it with an undergraduate degree.
The preparation course is optional, and it depends from person to person. There are people who study by themselves and manage to pass the tender.
I hope I helped you. Can join without prep courses, but will have to go through tests . One day, I want to be in the Navy, be a part of this military service. I dream about that every minute and always seek this topic for myself, one day to fulfill my dream of being a Marine. This dream that I will be there. These women are the proof that dreams can come true and I know my dream will come true. I am 15 years old and in a few years I'd like to join the Marines, I admire them a lot and it is my dream. I am 17 years old and Iâ€™m already preparing myself for a military careerâ€¦ #Love#Military# Do we need to do a test or we just go under training once inside, I would like to know what should I do to join the Navy. I am 16 years old and Iâ€™ll be 17 this yearâ€¦ I am 15 years old, and I dream with this profession since I was a little girl. In a few years I intend to do the test and in Jesus name I will pass!! What do I have to do to join the Navy? Are there any scholarships or aid? I'm 22. Thanks. I am very proud of them. They are true warriors, in particular, the aspiring Maria Carolina. I know how hard she worked for this competition, which is so competitive among so many girls. Now, all she has to do is move forward with a wonderful career. Congratulations to all of them! Hello, I am 19 years old. My biggest dream ever since I was little has been to join the Navy. It's a profession that I admire so much I even get emotional when talking about it. I love the profession dearly and hope to make my dream come true. Love and kisses. I am 15 years old. How do I become a military officer? I love that profession. Hello, I want to congratulate all of these warriors for joining this remarkable school! I am 14, and my biggest dream is to join the Brazilian Navy. With faith and my abilities, I will get into this Naval school. God willing! Hello. I am 15 years old. What do I need to do to get into the profession? My dream is to become a sailor. I am 15 years old. I really want to join the Navy! I study at Instituto Federal IFRN. This is my first year. What do I need to do? You can't just go into any profession. You need to take a test, if you want to get in. Good luck because they're only 43 openings for 5,000 people. I'm a 14 year old girl. I turn 15 this year on 03/07/16. I would really like to enter the Navy's school. My dream is to be able to be a sailor. That is the dream of all women like me. It is my dream, God willing, to be part of the Navy.