On 22nd October 2019 WIIS-PORTUGAL had its second meeting, at the FLAD (Luso-American Foundation for Development) headquarters in Lisbon.
Several women in top positions in internal and external security and defense, from government, armed forces, security forces and academia have attended, including the Defense Secretary of State, Ms. Ana Santos Pinto.
The guest of honor was General Regina Mateus (MD Surgeon), the first woman promoted to the top rank in the Portuguese Armed Forces and currently the Director of the Portuguese Armed Forces Hospital.
Air Force General Regina Mateus, MD Surgeon
General Regina Mateus recalled Portugal had parachutist women nurses in the Colonial War since 1960, who were extraordinary pioneers, although they were not members of the military. 1988 was the year in which women were finally accepted in the Portuguese Armed Forces. Nowadays they make with around 12% of the military.
She described her own progression since she joined the Military Academy in 1993, already graduated as an MD Surgeon. What attracted her to the military was her search for a stable job and one which would afford her the possibility to develop her practice as a surgeon. She raised in the Air Force participating in numerous humanitarian and defense missions in Portugal but also in Africa, Europe and Afghanistan. She conducted numerous health evaluation missions for NATO. She never felt discriminated in the Air Force, although she admitted that belonging to an elite specialized corps helped explain it . She felt that, in the beginning, there was even some kind of positive discrimination towards women in the Air Force. However, in other branches of the Armed Forces, the situation was different.
She noted the access of women into the military had a very positive impact in the general behavior of military men. She also stressed the importance of having women in military missions not only because of their ability to reach out to other women, namely in the local population, but also for their indispensability in missions in countries where, for cultural or religious reasons, only women can render medical, humanitarian or other services to local women. She thought that sometimes women elicited discrimination, for instance, by attempting to skip heavy duty. She recalled when her male colleagues would patronize women soldiers, preferring not to have them assigned to front line missions in order not to have “to worry about them”. Nowadays, all inquiries to young women participating in National Defense Day (enlistment promotion) did show a majority of them declaring their wish to be assigned to front line combat.
1st Sergeant Maria Campinos was also invited to share her recent experience in the Centro-African Republic, with the Portuguese battalion integrating the UN forces. She was there for 6 months leading a team of drivers of armored trucks and was commended for her performance in extremely hard conditions in a mission which integrated 8 other women. She noted the importance of the participation of women in the mission for the relationship they could establish with the local population, and the valuable intelligence thus collected, namely from the local women, as well as the information they could also effectively impart to the people.
1st Sergeant Maria Campino
She had chosen to go into the military as she came from a poor family with numerous children, was used to work hard since her childhood and wanted a career which would ensure economic independence. She described her own progression in the Army specializing in truck driving and mechanics, always experiencing strong competitiveness from male colleagues in a field where there were few women (in her recruit intake, only 10 out of 110 were women). It was extremely hard and competitive and she understood she needed to excell and work even harder than others. She thus had been able to choose to join Cavalry. She always behaved very consciously of her responsibility as a role model for women and also for men, since they felt stimulated to measure up to her level. She had developed a cold and professional personality inside the Army, while being a normal and joyful woman outside duty. Worse than discrimination, she thought, were the lack of conditions suitable to women in some branches of the military, namely in suitable barrack dormitories and bathsrooms, adequate uniforms and shoes and also the difficulty to conciliate professional duties and family life.
This difficulty to conciliate family life with professional duty was identified as a major impediment to have more women joining the Armed Forces and participating in missions abroad. But an impediment that, more and more, is also discouraging men, concurred other military women around the table.
The Defense Secretary of State, Ms. Ana Santos Pinto, stressed that this is a question that must be considered in determining what is the ambition and the mission attributed to the National Armed Forces: if they are to exist and perform as expected, they must enlist and equip both men and women. The growing problem of scarcity of recruits, both men and women, speaks volumes about the urgency to politically address this fundamental question.