IADB-Sponsored Conference Discusses the Role of Women in the Military

IADB-Sponsored Conference Discusses the Role of Women in the Military

By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo
June 24, 2021

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) held the conference “Women, Peace and Security (WPS),” on June 16, 2021. The objective was to disseminate successful experiences and lessons learned regarding gender integration in the armed forces and security forces, particularly in peacekeeping, military, and security operations, and education, recruitment, and development of military women, among other topics. “Valuable experiences were presented to participants of the WPS Conference in order to increase their professional knowledge on the issues that represent a challenge for both decision-makers and operational personnel,” said Peruvian Army Colonel Guillermo Santolalla, chief of the Division of Hemispheric Cooperation at IADB.

The conference attracted more than 8,000 viewers from 39 countries, who participated virtually. Speakers from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States shared their collective progress and lessons learned toward the effort to better incorporate women in the military. “It’s much more than women; it’s about how we make our world more secure. How do we really change things if women aren’t represented across our sector everywhere?” asked Civilian Deputy to the Commander and Foreign Policy Advisor at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Ambassador Jean E. Manes. “It is not a women’s issue. It’s how I can be the best at my job by utilizing the full potential of all my people across all sectors. It requires structural change across recruitment, retention, training, advancement, promotion, and identifying the barriers for full utilization of talent,” she said.

 Women feel unsafe

Regarding El Salvador, Ambassador Manes reported that even though heavy investments are being made in Salvadoran security with significant progress against most types of crime, the metrics still show that women’s sense of safety has not changed. “Women still feel unsafe. The data showed that women taking public transportation felt most unsafe.”

How to better integrate women in the military was the main topic brought up by U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Turner, who heads the WPS Office at SOUTHCOM. “The importance of women’s inclusion is very simple, but it has great impact. Female service members from partner nations participate and serve in all ranks of their military, but it’s still not enough. We need more professional military education, specialized schools, certified programs, the incorporation of concepts, and modeling of behaviors. What I’m trying to say is that anyone in this program can be a teacher, a role model.”

Spain is an example

According to Spanish Navy Commander Eva Ara Montojo Oróstica, war has multiple negative effects on women, to include physical, verbal, and sexual violence. “But women are not only victims, they are initiators of change. For 32 years, Spain has participated in different military missions abroad to increase peace, security, and stability. These actions demonstrate our commitment to the world, and also to advancing the role of women,” she said. Additionally, according to Cmdr. Montojo Oróstica, Spain is the leader in the discipline of gender training for U.N. peacekeeping missions in the European Union.

On that same topic, Brazilian Navy Commander Carla Araújo, who is the Force Military Gender Advisor for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), said that women’s participation in peacekeeping missions minimizes the risk of sexual abuse. It also helps with medical care. “A lot of local women do not want to be touched by a male doctor. The lack of the presence of women in these situations can make a local woman not want to receive medical treatment,” she explained.

Some key participants in the conference included: representatives from the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and armed forces from IADB member countries, along with think tanks related to the subject. IADB announced that the institution is committed to holding similar seminars every year, and plans to publish a compilation of essays from the presenters as well as conclusions and recommendations from each event.