The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Breaking Barriers podcast features in each episode guests from the Defense and Security forces of Latin America and the Caribbean. This platform shares powerful stories and valuable insights on gains being made to recognize women as equal partners in preventing conflicts and building peace.
On an early July 2021 episode, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Turner, chief of SOUTHCOM’s WPS Program, who, among her many missions, deployed to Afghanistan and Bosnia, interviewed the honorable Krishna Mathoera, minister of Defense of Suriname. Minister Mathoera served in the Suriname Police Force for more than 34 years, and during this time she was appointed national representative for Suriname to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (2010 -2015). Below are extracts of the conversation between Lt. Col. Turner and Minister Mathoera. The full episode can be found at: Krishna Mathoera, ministra de Defensa de Surinam. http://www.southcom.mil/WPS/audio/668721/
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Turner: Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself and share some of your experiences as a career police officer, now serving Suriname at the highest levels of security and defense?
Krishna Mathoera, Minister of Defense of Suriname: I have worked for the Police Force 38 years now, and it’s a great experience. I have learned a lot, and it’s not an easy job I think for anyone serving in security institutions, in the Suriname Police Force, but I think it’s worth doing it. However, I started my career with discouragement. When I was at the Police Academy, someone would always ask me if I would succeed. And that was the challenge that I got from the first moment: To show people that I’m able to do that. So, I was confronted with discouragement, even from women within the security forces in my country. On top, I got pregnant right after graduating from the Police Academy. So, people would ask what I was going to do: being a mother or serving the community. I decided to just focus on my goals and keep going because, at the end, what’s important is your attitude, attitude of integrity, insistence… to keep your focus on your goals, invest in your skills, especially your communication skills, and gain knowledge. As a policewoman, you have the opportunity to learn your society, to learn different cases from all levels within the society. So, it’s a great source of knowledge and experience. And the main thing within the Police Force is that you are contributing to safety and security. And I think that those are the conditions for freedom. And freedom is very important. We have seen with this COVID pandemic, how important freedom and how important safety are. And I think if we are contributing to freedom, we are allowing people to enjoy their human rights.
Lt. Col. Turner: What has been your role in empowering communities and individuals, in particular women and girls, in Suriname?
Minister Mathoera: I think we, as humans, have our role, and we have a responsibility to do our job in a very good manner. We have to leave an example for other women, but also, we have to empower other women within the security forces. We have to create a part for those women, create opportunities; we have to work in the belief system, and that I have done. One important thing, I believe, is that we should train women and make them capable. At the end, are the capacities, not the gender role, which makes someone capable of doing a good job, having good results and high performance. I have encouraged people. I always tell them: Invest in yourself. Don’t adjust yourself in a male dominated culture. Don’t be one of them or change yourself to impress someone. Don’t do that. Be who you are. Be unique. Accept the differences and invest in your knowledge, your attitude and your skills. That will improve your self-confidence and those are the attributes of success in life.
Lt. Col. Turner: Is there a personal story, or anecdote, that you could share with us about working closely with the community as a woman in security and defense, in creating a positive impact?
Minister Mathoera: There are many stories in my long career. I think one of the stories that had an impact on me is that, when I was in charge of safety within the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, we had to keep order and we had a great festival. I think one of the paradigms was that, being in a leading position, you had to stay in your office and lead from there. And I chose to go to the field and be with my police officers. And it was such a paradigm shift because the people could never believe that the assistant commissioner of the Police was on the field, on the streets, patrolling with the officers. People came to me and hugged me. In the end, people want to connect with you, and you want to engage with the community.
Lt. Col. Turner: Would you comment on the role of women in sustaining peace and security?
Minister Mathoera: I have noticed that women and children are the ones mostly exposed and affected by conflict, by crime, and violence. And I think, let them actively contribute to a violent-free, and peaceful society. I believe, from a gender perspective, we should encourage more women within defense and security institutions. We have very low numbers around the globe of women representation in these institutions. Having more women in the security and defense sectors will send a strong message to communities that our girls and women are equally part of the society and able to fulfill any jobs. Secondly, I think, as leaders, we should hire people. We should promote people on every level of the organization. Because if women and children are mostly exposed, let them be part of the decision-making process. Let them be part of the organizations that are providing, and are responsible for, safety and security.
Lt. Col. Turner: What advice or words of wisdom would you give to women in this hemisphere and beyond who would like to follow your example and join and serve in defense and security?
Minister Mathoera: My message to women who want to work in peace and security is that it is not an easy task, but it’s not impossible. It is very possible. It’s a male dominated environment, but that’s the challenge. Let’s be the pioneers for others. You will first have physical activities, mental challenges, irregular working hours. You will deal with risk, but at the same time know that contributing to peace and safety will enable people to enjoy human rights, and to contribute to happier people, and that’s something worth doing. Women must keep demonstrating that being a woman should never be an obstacle to be successful or to do the extraordinary. Women should never let anyone discourage them with negativity and subversion. Women in peace and security face discouragement, but they should commit to their goals. I believe that everyone in society — and any role you have like a mother, military officer, police officer, a sister, or a daughter — have to strive for being the best mother, the best sister, the best military officer, the best police officer, in serving your community and serving your family, and serving your organization. You have to fulfill these roles. At the end, you want to be remembered as the best sister, the best mother, the best military officer. Everyone should do that.