SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
After more than five months of planning, U.S. Army South hosted its inaugural Women, Peace, and Security, or WPS, Symposium in downtown San Antonio Feb. 22-23. Representatives from 16 Central and South American and Caribbean partner nations participated in panel discussions, question and answer sessions, senior leader discussions, and a presentation on the overall WPS framework.
“The United States Women, Peace, and Security strategy is a whole of government approach that guides our departments in implementing strategies that focus on the effects of armed conflict on women and girls,” said U.S. Army South Command Sergeant Major, Ronald Graves. “Symposiums such as this help to build and foster diverse teams of professionals and enable the opportunity for women to serve in leadership positions at all echelons.”
With each of the countries in attendance at varying levels of gender equality in their militaries, this forum served as a space to exchange ideas and best practices that have worked for each respective nation. During the discussions, leaders vocalized the small wins that have gradually contributed to impactful changes.
“While this is the inaugural symposium, we are looking for more forums like this where military personnel from the region can get together and highlight WPS initiatives and the critical roles women in our militaries are playing,” said Cmdr. Judy-Ann Neil, Acting Inspector General of the Jamaica Defense Force. “Events like this give you an opportunity to hear from women in other militaries in the region and learn that despite the geographical and language barriers our challenges as women in the military are really the same.”
One of the female leaders attendees had the opportunity to hear from was retired Lt. Gen. Nadja West, 44th U.S. Army Surgeon General, who served on the panel centered on what it takes to build cohesive teams. During West’s panel, she was asked how other countries can improve teamwork and ensure their voices are heard within their own militaries.
“The advice I gave was that actions speak louder than words, and if you’re seen to be able to do your job just as well as the Soldier next to you, no matter what their gender is or whatever type of identifier that they have, that’s one way of breaking down those barriers and concerns about being a valuable member of the team,” West said.
West also took time to listen and appreciate what other women in the room had faced in their careers and how they overcame their own unique obstacles as women in leadership.
“It was really great to see women from other countries leading and serving in their militaries and coming together to try to determine how they can bring some of the lessons back to improve teamwork within their own militaries and their own countries,” she explained.
One thing that was evident throughout all the discussions was the common theme that the Department of Defense’s WPS Framework and Implementation Plan cannot be headed solely by women. Instead, it takes partnering with men in the profession of arms who are willing to lean forward, be open-minded, and help implement positive changes that lead to stronger and more diverse organizations.
“I had the opportunity to hear the experiences of women who are pioneers in their countries' military services sharing experiences on the development of leaders,” said Brazilian Army Lt. Col. David Alencar who serves on the Brazilian Army Commander’s Personal Staff. “The experiences that were discussed make us reflect on the subject and drive us to want to implement these policies in our countries.”
Overall, everyone in attendance agreed that opportunities to discuss and further WPS strategies should happen more frequently.
“The decision the US Army and participating armies have taken to have an event like this is great because these spaces give us the opportunity to continue enriching the subject of how to integrate women into security and defense,” said Ecuadorian Cpt. Elizabeth Munoz, Chief of Security and Accident Prevention for Army Signal. “I hope we can continue having these spaces so we can continue to have more and more women and men participate.”