MACAPA, Brazil – “The enemy doesn’t know if they are fighting a man or a woman,” said Brazilian Army Brig. Gen. Gomes Bonifacio, commandant of the 22nd General Infantry Brigade. “The training and demands have to be the same for all because the enemy is not going to see who they are fighting.”
This was a focal message during the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Gender Panel held at the 22nd Jungle Infantry Brigade (22ª Brigada de Infantaria de Selva) in Macapá, Brazil, today.
More than 150 participants from the U.S. Army, Brazilian Army, and local government were in attendance as panelists addressed critical questions about the integration of women into their respective armed services in various roles as well as the current challenges our forces face and the way forward for the future.
“It’s incredibly important to improve on our own internal systems, to ensure that we are more inclusive and diverse and representative of the needs of the Army,” said Brig. Gen. Isabel Smith, the Director of Joint Staff for the New York National Guard. “Providing a stronger more diverse military, that includes women at all levels only add strength to the joint force.”
The U.S. Southern Command WPS program is part of a national effort to promote the meaningful contributions of women in the defense and security sectors around the world as agents of peace via political, economic, and social empowerment.
“This panel was developed in response to the need for military training to operationalize a gender perspective outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on WPS and subsequent supporting resolutions,” explained Maj. Tifani Summers, U.S. Army South Gender Focal Point and a master of ceremonies for the WPS Gender Panel.
On the panel was Brazilian Army Brig. General Gomes Bonifacio, the commandant of 22nd General Infantry Brigade; U.S. Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Isabel Smith, the Director of Joint Staff for the New York National Guard; U.S. Army Col. Regina Pistone, U.S. Army South Chief of Staff; Brazilian Army Lt. Col. Monica Da Costa Fernandes, Chief of Medical Operation of 8th Military Region; 2nd Lt. Bruna Plentz, the commander of the Advanced Maintenance Platoon assigned to 8th Jungle Maintenance Battalion; and Master Sgt. Chistopher Cappel, the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) operations sergeant major.
The panelists spoke to the audience about the importance of women in significant leadership positions.
Smith stressed the importance of women having a seat at the table from the lowest to the strategic and national levels to continue to advance women’s meaningful participation.
“I can give you an example for my own personal experience. In my state, we conduct senior leader selection boards for battalion command positions,” she began to explain. “We have 7 Army general officers in our state who are voting members. Of those seven, I am the only female at the table so that goes to show you there’s still work to be done.”
The audience was able to hear from the youngest panelist, 2nd Lt. Bruna Plentz, the commander of the Advanced Maintenance Platoon assigned to 8th Jungle Maintenance Battalion. She explained her source of inspiration.
“Women are joining the Brazilian Army little by little. Lt. Col. Monica paved the way for us,” she said, crediting a fellow panelist. “A lot of time we don’t believe in our potential because we haven’t seen anyone like us do it. When I see them do it, it lets me know that I can.”
Lt. Col. Monica Da Costa Fernandes joined the Brazilian Army in 1999. She is one of the highest ranking women in the Brazilian Army. She is viewed as a pioneer of women integration in the Brazilian Army and uses that to inspire the generations of women who will come after her.
“I think the leadership for the military is something that came natural,” explain Monica. “I tried to blaze the trail for the women that come after me and inspire those who look up to me. I want to show that we are together and united.”
Overall, the audience gained valuable insight on best practices, lessons learned, and remaining barriers that are preventing women from having meaningful participation in security and defense roles.
The opportunities for women in the military will continue to flourish, and the panelists shared their excitement for the progression.
“I tell the young cadets, ‘The space will not be given to you, you have to win your space,’” said Bonifacio. “That’s why I am at ease with the evolution of women in the army. They will win over their spaces and the doors will natural open. Women are winning!”