The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) integrated women into its ranks for the first time on July 1, 1980. Since then, the military organization promotes gender diversity through integration, education and a focus on equity.
“To be a woman in TTDF means that we have an opportunity to make a difference,” said Trinidad and Tobago Regiment Major Jozette McLean, the first female commander of the Support and Service Battalion and the first female commandant of the battalion’s Army Learning Center, to Diálogo. “We’ve shown we can stand toe-to-toe with the men; we’ve also shown that despite having to embrace the traditional roles of women, we are still able to transition into military professionals and keep pace with everything.”
After 23 years in the military, Maj. McLean feels TTDF gave her the same opportunities as her male counterparts. “TTDF allows women —once they meet the standards— to be employed in any job,” she said. “It’s even better now, because we have female commanders, females at the highest levels making a lot of decisions. We’re fully integrated.”
Women in TTDF compromise 13.60 percent of the troops. Of those, 7 percent are female officers and 93 percent are enlisted. They have progressed from administrative and support roles, such as cooks, to pilots, ship captains, and other high-ranking positions.
“There are no barriers for women in regard to their contribution in any area or specialization they may choose,” said TTDF Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, chief of Defense Staff
“I have seen the effectiveness of an organization that has removed barriers to the participation of women. It’s more useful and effective to utilize the talents and energies of all elements of the military in an integrated way.”
Making a difference
Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Kele-Ann Bourne, in charge of logistics, training, and medical services administration, remembers one of her first challenges as a new soldier in 2002. “I didn’t fit right in the uniform. A lot of the uniforms back then were not tailored or custom made for women, but it didn’t matter,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure I was achieving our objectives.”
TTDF made organizational and logistics adjustments to uniforms, accommodations, policies, and procedures to better integrate women in the military. “The main benefit of being here is to serve our country and be able to see the men and women developing under our command […]”, said Lt. Cmdr. Bourne. “You have subordinates that look up to you, and you’re to provide guidance and mentorship that a lot of them don’t have in their homes,” she said.
For Trinidad and Tobago Regiment Warrant Officer Class 1 Nadine Pompey, command sergeant major, being a soldier is rewarding. “As a female soldier, we have to be willing and able to perform not as a female, but as a soldier,” she said. “Even though we are women in traditional roles —being mothers and so forth—, we are expected to stand alongside with our counterparts, our brother soldiers, to perform as they do, and even better.”
WO Pompey joined TTDF in 1992. “The biggest challenge for women in the military is to balance work and family life. Sometimes it’s challenging for a woman to continue to play the traditional role and be a leader within the organization,” she said. “However, I think that within everything we do, we have done quite well.”
Twenty-seven years later, she has no regrets and is convinced she made the right choice. “We were very small in numbers then. I was a clerk. From then to now, women have grown tremendously in terms of what we do,” said WO Pompey. “We have continued to strive, to achieve alongside with our male counterparts, and to grow as a part of TTDF.”