Peruvian Army officers Lourdes Aurelia Barriga Abarca and María Magdalena Dibós Mori were promoted to the rank of colonel in October 2018, becoming the first women to hold that position. The officers belong to the first generation of female cadets at Colonel Francisco Bolognesi Chorrillos Military School in Lima, Peru. The country opened military careers to women in 1996.
“In the military, not all officers, and not only women, can reach the highest ranks,” Col. Dibós, head of the Psychology Department at the Peruvian Central Military Hospital, told Diálogo. “You need to keep up a rigorous and constant readiness in different areas, such as daily discipline, physical training, and academic life.”
“Here I am with six bronze stripes on my shoulder, after participating with equal opportunities against other male officers in the promotion process. My family has always supported me through this hustle and bustle,” said Col. Barriga, head of the Army’s Science and Technology Institute (ICTE, in Spanish), a position no woman held before.
Col. Barriga was also the first woman to enroll at the Peruvian Army War College (ESGE, in Spanish), and was a military observer at the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, she participated in an expedition to Antarctica, headed the Peruvian Army General Library, and currently serves as an ESGE professor.
Col. Dibós was an instruction officer at the Peruvian Army Technical School and the Chorrillos Military School. “We support service members’ work to strengthen the institution,” Col. Dibós said. “We are part of this great team. We come to contribute, not to change.”
Step by step
Col. Barriga stressed that the Army was just doing its job and granting the rank to those who deserve it. “My command recognized my efforts and dedication during my 21-year-long career. It’s a short-lived emotion, because the upcoming challenge is harder. The institution trusted me and my capacities to lead ICTE.”
In January 2019, Col. Barriga got the institution accepted as a member of the Latin American and Caribbean University Network for Disaster Risk Reduction, based in Guatemala, to exchange experiences and knowledge on prevention and security with other experts. “In April  the institute will conduct a seminar entitled Armies’ Participation in Natural Disasters, in coordination with the Latin American network,” said Col. Barriga.
According to the officer, international cooperation with institutions of other countries, such as the United States, fosters scientific, technological, and humanitarian research, as well as knowledge and experience exchanges to contribute to consolidating the institution. “We will do this step by step,” said Col. Barriga. “Challenges are ongoing.”
Balance to improve
The Peruvian Army presents itself as a modern, professional, and inclusive institution, prepared to take on the new challenges of the 21st century. In addition to guarding and defending the national territory and participating in the country’s social and economic development, “[members of the military] know that defending the nation also means fighting against inequality and exclusion,” Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra told the press.
In the quest for balance to improve operations with gender equality, “the Army is becoming part of a trend that supports women’s empowerment,” said Col. Barriga. “We have to adapt to changes, because this is a century of changes,” Col. Dibós added. “What’s important is teamwork, [refining] the military approach, and knowing what we’re here for.”
According to Col. Dibós, the main challenge is to change Peruvian society’s mindset, because some people think service members aren’t educated, that they are alienated from the population, and will only protect them in times of war. “The Army is taking part in national security more and more, as well as in the fight against violence toward women,” she said.
The Armed Forces fights violence against women with awareness programs to eradicate any form of abuse and promote equal opportunities among men and women in the force. “I want to tell the more than 9,500 women in our military to rest assured that their example, integrity, and strength have only made our Army, Navy, and Air Force greater,” Peruvian Minister of Defense José Huerta Torres told the press.
“To strengthen the role of women, it’s essential to not view military career or promotion to higher ranks as things women can’t do. There are no men and women in the Peruvian Army; we are all the same, with the same opportunities,” said Col. Dibós.
“Our objective is to move toward the same goal,” Col. Barriga concluded. “The Peruvian military’s values are a mixture of the best values human beings can have, in which dedication dominates.”