For the first time ever, women can now join the Brazilian Navy and Marine Corps, paving the way for future participation in combat operations.
The Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) was the first within the Brazilian Armed Forces to confer the rank of general officer upon a female service member. The promotion of Rear Admiral Dalva Maria Carvalho Mendes took place in 2012.
In December 2017, MB took another innovative step with the passage of Public Law No. 13.541. The regulation opens the door for women to follow careers allowing them to rise to the level of admiral, the highest rank in the naval force’s chain of command in times of peace. In wartime, the highest rank is fleet admiral.
The change also means women can now join the Navy and Marine Corps and take part in combat activities. “Until now, women took part in operational activities in the areas of health and support services—that is, in logistics activities—and weren’t thrust into direct combat situationss,” explained Admiral Celso Luiz Nazareth, MB’s director of Personnel Management. “With the newly enacted law, they will now be able to take part in preparatory activities and exercises that are, in fact, intended for combat—as members of the Navy, for naval battles, and as members of the Marine Corps, for battles on land after disembarking.”
Implementing the changes the new law brought about involves different areas and regulations of MB. Adm. Nazareth cited physical abilities, for example. According to the admiral, physical requirements of combat activities are more intense than for logistics duties to which women were previously limited. This involves making changes to rules governing military physical training and physical assessments for women.
Another important aspect concerns remodeling ship facilities and training schools. “There is a need for small changes and adaptations to allow for prolonged cohabitation among male and female professionals, both on long deployments aboard ships, which can last for months, as well as boarding needs at our educational establishments, as part of naval military training,” Adm. Nazareth said.
The goal is for change in the near future. In 2018, for example, MB’s selection process for the Brazilian Naval Academy already includes admission of female candidates into the Navy and Marine Corps.
From 2014 to 2017, the Brazilian Naval Academy admitted women only to train for the career of quartermaster. The first class of female service member quartermasters graduated in 2017. Tasks of the Navy Quartermaster Corps consist of supply and transportation logistics, budget oversight and implementation, property management, internal controls, and the administration of the payment system for those serving in MB.
Women in the Navy
MB has 8,124 female service members— 3,706 officers and 4,418 enlisted. In some fields, women are the majority, representing 77 percent of medical assistants, 65 percent of dental surgeons, and 54 percent of doctors. Rear Adm. Dalva, a doctor, is the first and only woman in the Brazilian Armed Forces to earn the rank of general officer.
Rear Adm. Dalva joined MB in 1981, in the first class of the Female Auxiliary Naval Reserve, together with 202 other women. In 1997, female service members were reassigned across the corps that existed at the time. That year, Rear Adm. Dalva joined the medical staff of the Navy Health Corps as an anesthesiologist.
“I’ve had a number of stand-out moments in my career, but certainly my promotion to general officer was the most emblematic. I was overcome by a feeling of intense joy—an indescribable emotion mixed with my awareness of the heightened responsibility that the promotion brought,” Rear Adm. Dalva said. For her, the passage of the new law and the admission of women into officer training classes at the Brazilian Naval Academy are a “testimony that the Navy is an institution sensitive to social changes.”
As for female service members taking part in combat operations, Rear Adm. Dalva says she doesn’t see any problem. “Regardless of their gender, service members are ready to carry out any mission, because they have traits that can be translated into the values required of professionals, such as dedication, responsibility, selflessness, and a spirit of sacrifice, among others.”