General Officer: A Reality for Women of the Brazilian Navy

General Officer: A Reality for Women of the Brazilian Navy

By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo
May 01, 2019

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As of April 2019, two women of the Brazilian Armed Forces have reached the general officer rank— both from the Navy, a pioneer in recruiting women.

The Brazilian Armed Forces marked a historic milestone in 2012. The event was particularly significant for Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) Rear Admiral Dalva Maria Carvalho Mendes. Following a 31-year career with MB, she received the two stars she wears today, becoming the first woman to rise to the rank of general officer in the Brazilian Armed Forces.

It took another six years for another woman to reach the same rank within MB. In November 2018, a naval engineer and until then captain became Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni. Both are the only female service members to become general officers in Brazil. “It came as a surprise to me, but I know that my promotion was based on the same merits used to evaluate all officers in the Brazilian Navy,” said Rear Adm. Dalva.

The rank of rear admiral is the first of four ranks within MB’s general officer hierarchy. To rise to this rank, an officer must make the Armed Forces leaders’ short-list, based on well-defined requirements, and be appointed by the president. “I knew I met all requirements, and, because of that, I wanted to and expected to be promoted,” said Rear Adm. Luciana.

Long journey

Rear Adm. Dalva joined MB in 1981, as part of the Auxiliary Female Officers Corps’ first class. She is the only one who still serves from the group of 203 female students. With a medical degree, she worked as surgical assistant and director for MB’s medical institutions. Rear Adm. Dalva is currently an advisor to the Navy Command and the Navy Health Directorate for matters related to improving service members’ health.

As part of her daily routine, she takes part in conferences, especially those dedicated to female service members. “In these opportunities, I try to focus on the relevance of women in the military,” said Rear Adm. Dalva. “There will always be differences between people, which promotes growth. I typically point out that service members, whether male or female, are ready to carry out any mission,” she said.

Rear Adm. Luciana launched her career in 1989. Today she leads MB’s Communications and Information Technology Directorate. As commander of the division, she defines communications doctrine, manages digital safety guidelines, and provides services and network infrastructure, among other tasks. “I have a very intense routine, especially because technology constantly evolves, and our mission is to adjust our systems and keep them updated,” said Rear Adm. Luciana.

One more step

According to information Época magazine published in late 2018, the Brazilian Armed Forces has nearly 31,500 women. Although the number only makes up 9 percent of the entire Brazilian military contingent, women represent the majority in some areas. For instance, in MB’s medical sector, where Rear Adm. Dalva works, women represent about 54 percent of the professional staff. Among dentists, women make up an even larger number—65 percent.

However, until 2017, female service members’ work was restricted to health and support fields. This changed with the passage of Law No. 13.541. In 2019, MB opened its doors to women at the Brazilian Naval Academy, with an initial class of 12 students, setting them on their way to join the Brazilian Navy and Marine Corps.

This innovative step enables female service members to pursue a career as operational officers, taking part in activities of the naval force, such as serving aboard ships and fighting alongside platoons in land operations. Women may then rise to the rank of admiral, the highest in MB’s hierarchy in times of peace.

With support from the Navy Command, Rear Adm. Dalva took one more unprecedented step. In 2017, the officer participated in various meetings of the Brazilian Congress to discuss the importance of increasing female participation in the military.

The legislation, approved in December 2017, was the result of her efforts. “As I always say, ‘pursue your dreams.’ I dreamed of something I was not supposed to dream about, and suddenly it became reality,” said Rear Adm. Dalva about her journey, an inspiration to many other women.