LA PAZ – Women wanting to make a career for themselves in Bolivia’s armed forces took another historic step forward with the mustering out of the first group of female soldiers in the 192-year history of the country’s military.
The pioneers include 131 young women who this past week were mustered out after completing their one-year military service, just as eligible males must do in this South American country.
One of them is Xiomara Villarroel, 18, who performed her military service in the Tocopilla regiment stationed in the Amazon region of Beni.
Sgt. Villarroel told EFE that she enlisted to learn “how the experience is” because she plans to continue with a military career in the Bolivian navy.
“We’ve undertaken the same duties as the men. Some say that we women can’t do it, but that’s not true,” said Villarroel, who urged other young women to perform military service because it’s a “unique” experience.
Stationed at the other end of the country, in the Andean region of Oruro, is the “Heroic Camp Followers” Logistical Battalion, which evokes the women who accompanied the infantry on military campaigns in the 19th century, fighting on two fronts.
“In the fight against the enemy and in the daily battle of feeding the soldier” – that is, the two fronts according to the book “Women and Armed Forces in the Multinational State of Bolivia” by the country’s Defense Ministry.
Rosalinda Guarachi did her military service with that regiment “to be able to know what military life is like and learn from it,” she told EFE.
Guarachi, who intends to study medicine, said that being in the military was a “unique experience” during which she learned many things, such as how to go through “the good times and the bad times” with her comrades, and the overall experience helped her to mature.
This first group of women shows that the armed forces “is adjusting itself to the situation of a modern, inclusive state, where men and women have the same rights and the same obligations,” said the country’s military commander, Gen. Williams Kaliman.
“Women can be at all levels, and so why can’t they be soldiers? Here is the example of the inclusion that there’s been in the armed forces. For us, it’s a big leap, a very big achievement,” Kaliman told EFE.
This is the first female “class” to graduate from military service, but the participation of women in Bolivia’s armed forces goes back to the 1980s, when the first group of 47 female army officers graduated, the Defense Ministry said.
The first woman, and so far the only one, to attain the rank of general was Gina Reque Teran, who in 2016 took over command of the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kaliman noted that “now between 8 and 9 percent of our troops in each military branch are women.”
Up through 2018, a total of 1,101 women had served at different levels in the Bolivian army, navy and air force, the Defense Ministry said.
The recruitment of women is supported by a 2017 law allowing women aged 18 or older to enlist voluntarily, in contrast to men, for whom military service is obligatory.
Kaliman said that female soldiers “have the same experience as the males,” given that “they are sent to operational units, to military ports, they perform guard duty and they go out on operations.”
The pending task to be able to have greater ability to incorporate women into military service is “adjusting the barracks structures,” the officer said.
This year, the target is to recruit a total of 188 women into the armed forces and about 20,000 men.