Belize City, BLZ –
The Tradewinds exercise is crucial to building partnerships within the Caribbean region and providing participating nations a chance to conduct joint, combined, and interagency training. More importantly, it also affords the opportunity to discuss critical initiatives and train service members on those issues.
One initiative that U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) highlighted in the 2022 exercise is the Women, Peace, and Safety (WPS) Program. The program is founded on four pillars: Participation, Prevention, Protection, and Relief and Recovery. While it is focused on developing opportunities and partnership for inclusion, the program also addresses gender perspectives to encourage service members to look more broadly at situations and not make assumptions about gender roles.
“Because we’re dealing with security and defense, this is a very serious initiative,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Duilia Turner, WPS instructor from SOUTHCOM. “The data, studies, and by experience, we have learned that inclusion of women is about making the mission better and it doesn’t mean making the standards lower, it’s just giving the opportunity. Talent does not have gender.”
While women account for about half of the U.S. population, they make up less than 17 percent of the active duty military, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in 2020. The number of women with more than 10 years of service is even less.
“We’re in the business of mindset. If anyone thinks that women don’t belong in the military, that’s really old thinking and we want to change that,” said Turner. “Now the question is how... How can we make it so that the standards are not compromised? How can we make it so we have mechanisms of support for women throughout their career so that they don’t have to make a choice at one point to be a mother or be a Soldier, or Airmen, etc?”
Turner is dedicated to helping people develop this mindset and build a foundation of understanding that improves the mission, strategically and operationally. Her training is filled with examples where assumptions about gender roles can help or hinder a mission.
“Gender perspective is looking at complex problems and going a little bit deeper and trying to fill gaps that before were just generalizing,” said Turner. “It makes a difference on how you engage, how you’re going to solve that issue.”
She further explained that being aware of gender perspectives includes asking, “what are the roles and perspectives of men, women, boys and girls?”
One example tailored to the Tradewinds exercise was seizing a boat that may have drugs or human trafficking victims. She shared that looking through these perspectives can help better identify the women and men who are being trafficked and the women and men who are the perpetrators, recruiters, or part of the criminal networks. Another example involved hurricane recovery activities to relocate displaced people where planners failed to consider perspectives of men and women to identify potential gaps in safety and practicality.
“For SOUTHCOM [WPS] has become a value, not just a program,” said Turner. “Everybody deserves an opportunity, it decreases operational and strategic gaps, and it enhances mission effectiveness because it enhances our professionalism.”
But WPS is not only a U.S. focused program. The initiative is based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, which “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.” It also encourages the equal participation of women and the incorporation of gender perspectives in U.N. peace and security efforts.
Belizean Defence Force Maj. Roberta Usher, operations and training officer at Force Headquarters, has been working as part of the SOUTHCOM WPS training team during Tradewinds.
“[Belize] launched our Women, Peace, Security in 2020 and since then we’ve been focusing on educating and training from the top down and the bottom up why this is important and how we go about doing it,” said Usher, operations and training officer at Force Headquarters.
Usher explained that Belize has implemented three pillars for its WPS initiative. The first is creating equal opportunity in positions, particularly in leadership. Secondly, they’ve had a successful initiative fighting against sexual and gender violence and gender bias. The third is implementing and enforcing the policies. She elaborated to say that they’re not just writing the policies to say it’s done, they want to see it in action and that is the hardest part.
“Not only do we want to make equal opportunity for women in leadership positions, but we also want to stress that we don’t want to just meet quotas,” Usher said. “We want an equal playing field because everyone brings a different perspective to the table and women and men have equal rights and something to give.”
Usher is currently the only female instructor from Belize. She is encouraged by the number of women attending the training this year and hopes it will open the doors for them to come back and be instructors and leaders.
“I think it’s very important to understand that it is not just women wanting to get together and rule the world or bash the men,” said Usher. “We want to have an equal playing field; we also bring something good to the table… and together we can, men and women, make a better security, better defense for everything.”
During Tradewinds 2022, the SOUTHCOM training team conducted nine sessions reaching about 500 service members. When necessary, Turner’s team had no issues leaving the classroom and slides behind to take the WPS discussions into the field.
“We talk about women’s integration at the highest levels, but how do we do it when we’re doing jungle training, why does it matter when we’re doing interrogation training…,” said Turner. “That’s what our job is here; to translate those big ideas and really make it practical. So as the [Tradewinds] exercise develops with different scenarios…they have this additional tool, which is understanding gender perspectives, and exercise that…along with everything else that’s being done.”
Turner encourages discussion and sharing experiences to help people relate to the material she’s presenting. Having participants share experiences is one of the most important aspects of the training. According to Turner, she has learned something new from participants in almost every training session, adding that even though each country is doing things slightly different, everyone is going in the same direction with the common goal to enhance the militaries.
“It’s been amazing to see because…[participants] are engaging with us and sharing what they’re doing in their countries, and their challenges and opportunities,” said Turner. “We have heard amazing stories from Belize, Surinam, Guyana, and today, even groups within our own U.S. military, how they are integrating and that really brings it home because it’s not just a subject matter expert teaching...”
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. David Meagher, platoon leader for 1st Platoon, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, shared his recent experience going through The Basic School for Marine officers. He noted that in a class of over 100, only four women graduated the course. Meagher shared his respect for them, particularly the two female infantry officers, adding that he was proud to work alongside them. He also felt WPS training is important to advancing diverse perspectives that strengthen the military.
“Often times it can be challenging in an environment that is male dominated to consider different perspectives if [people] aren’t challenged with those perspectives,” said Meagher. “By creating conversations and discussion it allows for the introduction of new ideas and new thought processes that maybe weren’t there before.”
Meagher considered his own personal biases from his experiences and background after going through the WPS training and sharing his experience. He felt that reflection would be helpful to provide perspective and more awareness for future situations that he may not have been conscious of without this training.
“Being able to learn from others, to breakdown stereotypes, to challenge cultural norms is important and I think when we can learn…why we maybe hold those certain beliefs, then hopefully it would bring about positive change, positive impacts that would help influence the military, civilian society and the world at large,” said Meagher.
Meagher knows that throughout his career he will be faced with decisions that can alter the success of a mission. He said the main thing that stuck with him from the WPS training was, “to consider the full spectrum of males and females in terms of their participation, whether unwilling or willing, in any kind of conflict.” Meagher added that the training, “…made a good point that women, while they may often be considered victims, can also function as perpetrators and vice versa for men; while they can be categorized as perpetrators, they can become victims themselves.”
SOUTHCOM is a committed partner in advancing the priorities established in the Women, Peace, Security program at all levels and all environments. Throughout the training, Turner stressed that WPS training and understanding gender perspectives is for everyone regardless of rank, gender, or position.
“We have a sphere of influence where we can make change, it might be just with another peer, it might be with a subordinate, it might be a big strategic change,” said Turner. “[WPS] is an additional skill just like if you’re gearing up with your weapon, with your boots, with your knowledge, you’re also gearing up with this knowledge of gender perspectives. …Everybody is really an agent of change when it comes to gender perspective and bringing it home and actualizing it.”